Amanda Seales is very clear on who her comedy is for–and even more clear on who it’s not for.
In the opening lines of her first comedy special I Be Knowin’ (now on HBO), Seales states that since it’s comedy, it’s for everyone (specifically black women, of course), but definitely not for “racists, rapists, sexists, misogynists, narcissists, Trump voters, coons, people who don’t believe that white men can be terrorists…” You get the picture.
One could argue that a comedic firebrand like Seales (who has a masters degree in African-American studies from Columbia University) should, in fact, point her energy toward enlightening the ignorant. But as she explained on the latest episode of Fast Company‘s podcast Creative Conversation, she’s not here for that.
“I am not here to educate idiots,” Seales says. “And the reality is that the majority of the people that I’ve listed, they are operating in willful ignorance. So why am I wasting my energy? It’s not a debate if you know the facts and you choose not to listen to them. That’s just foolishness.”
Seales draws a distinct difference between educating and checking people, as evidenced by a recent incident at a comedy club where a white woman in the crowd thought it wise to interrupt Seales’ set claiming that white women have it just as hard as black women.
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*Law & Order intro voice* This woman of white privilege was in a disruptive huff at my material. I confronted her about it and invited her to get on stage if she really wanted to be verbally mollywhopped by a smart, funny, and black woman, with a mic. She did. This video is the result of her hubris. #proteckyaneck #ngmfu2019 #wokefam ????: @chineducomedy
“I’m not educating her. I’m checking her. I’m not patiently sitting with her and pulling down diagrams and PowerPoint presentations on why this is wrong. No, I am not having a dialogue because I’m not interested. You’ve already stated your point. Your point is erroneous. It’s arrogant. It lacks nuance, so we’re not having a debate,” Seales says. “As a comic, we deal with hecklers all the time. You’re trying to come on stage to talk about your problem? Because let me tell you, I’ve got a microphone and a brain. This ain’t gonna end well for you.”
In this episode of Creative Conversation, Seales talks more about using her comedy for change, and how being a multi-hyphenate developed her creative voice. Oh, and she also sings a snippet from what’s going to be every black woman’s anthem. Just listen.
The power of being indirect
“I think that I win when I don’t talk directly to those folks [i.e. people unwilling to learn] because it is incredibly difficult not to be condescending, not to be antagonistic, not to be petty. So I feel like my messaging, even though very valid for them, comes across in a much more effective way when I’m talking to the choir and they’re just via satellite from the Reggae Room. Because I feel like so many white people that can’t handle it, it’s like, ‘It’s daggers coming at me!’ But if they can be, like, spectators, they’re like, ‘Oh, so what happened over there was about us.'”
How to carve your own path(s)
“I started as an actor but then I was a poet. I’m a linguist, so I am a writer. Then I was a rapper, a singer, and in any of these mediums it’s about getting your ideas out in a way that you want people to understand them. But at a certain point, I wanted to be doing more. And I realized that no one knew I could do more. So then I started writing one-woman shows. My first one-woman show was Death of the Diva, a musical based on how reality TV had changed the role of the woman in entertainment. And that was directly related to the fact that I could not get work. Agencies were telling me, ‘People aren’t interested in what you’re doing.’ Colleges were like, ‘[We’re not] interested in [booking] you because you’re not on a reality show.’ Reality shows were like, ‘You’re not crazy and you’re not hypersexual, so what are we really supposed to do with you?’ So I was basically put to the side for not acting a fool. And so I say all that to say that my development of my voice has come through these very different mediums.”
Her most important creative advice
“Stick to your guns even when it feels like everyone else’s are pointed at you. The nuance of that is: Don’t be rigid. So you have to know the difference between when people are pointing guns at you or when people are holding their hands out. The hardest part for us as creatives is to learn the difference because rigidity will be your biggest enemy.”
I Be Knowin’ is available to stream on HBO Go and HBO Now.