A former MTV VJ with a master’s degree in African American studies, Amanda Seales uses her platforms to explore the black experience in ways that range from hilarious to humbling. Over the past year, she has embarked on a sold-out, 23-city tour for Smart Funny & Black, her live-comedy game show that’s something between Black Jeopardy and a black barbecue (the tour continues through the summer). She wrapped her third season on Insecure as Issa’s bestie Tiffany (the one who’s got her shit together); produced her weekly self-help podcast, Small Doses; and debuted I Be Knowin’, her first stand-up special, on HBO. Along the way, she’s rallied audiences into singing the black national anthem and invited white hecklers to the stage to unpack their motivations. “My philosophy is [that] comedy is the filter through which information is shared,” she says. Her book, Small Doses, is due out this fall.
Fast Company: You’re the second black woman, after Wanda Sykes, to have her own stand-up special on HBO. How does that feel?
Amanda Seales: When people ask me who my comedy idols are, I tell them, Chris, Dave, and Jerry. They’re always like, “No women?” And I’m like, “When have we ever had black women comedians presented to us at the same level of stardom?”
FC: Each stop on your Smart Funny & Black tour has a different focus and tone. How do you produce a new show in every city?
AS: It requires tapping into what’s going on in the zeitgeist and matching that to my guests. When we were at Princeton, we had Imani Perry and Eddie Glaude, two of the greatest African American history professors of all time. So I allowed them to exhibit their next-level knowledge [of history]. That’s different from the show with actresses Tichina Arnold and Tisha Campbell, which I wrote to demonstrate their musical capabilities.
FC: How do talk about the black experience without hitting people over the head with what you’re trying to say?
AS: That speaks to my commitment to humor as the base [of my storytelling]. My philosophy is [that] comedy is the filter through which information is shared. And that information is not limited to–but really strongly points to–black history, black culture, and the black experience. When you can keep people laughing, it’s timeless.
FC: You’re known for your epic Instagram stories–in fact, you were recently ranked as one of the top 10 comedians on social media based on engagement analytics. What’s your secret?
AS: It’s funny, because I feel like the secret to literally all of my work is just authenticity, which is not a new find. The secret to my success is that I keep it a buck. It’s also why some people don’t like me: There’s folks who don’t think I’m keeping it a buck because they themselves aren’t–or because they feel like it’s not possible that anyone truly can.
FC: Is it tough to decide where to invest your creative energy?
FC: I just keep the engine running so that whenever I need it to take off, it can go. It’s important, while you’re paying the bills, to continue to feed those creative spaces, to give them as much attention as you can until until you can make them a priority. I want to write a novel, but I don’t have time right now. But [last night] I came up with a lead character’s name in my half-awake, half-asleep state. It had been avoiding me for weeks. When I finally have the time to write, I won’t be starting fresh.