Editor’s Note: Comedian, actress, writer, producer Amanda Seales performs stand-up comedy across the globe and delivers comedic lectures on college campuses about sexism, diversity, relationships and black popular culture. The former MTV VJ holds a master’s degree in African-American studies from Columbia University and is a series regular on HBO’s “Insecure.” Seales also has appeared on “Black-ish,” “Late Night with Seth Meyers” and has opened for Chris Rock. She also is creator/host of the comedy game show, “Smart Funny & Black.”
I can’t even believe that in 2018 I still have to lay out why diversity in anything matters.
But, when a white Fox News anchor denounces “massive demographic changes … foisted on the American people;” and folks don’t understand why Roseanne got the boot for saying senior adviser to the Obama administration Valerie Jarrett looks like a monkey; and at the Just For Laughs festival in Montreal, I was forced to share the stage with a hack comic who exclaimed to an audience that, “Comedy ain’t for talking about racism or sexual orientation or being an immigrant – it’s about making people laugh,” it is clear that everyone could use a bit of a refresher on the topic.
So, I’ll keep it simple.
America was made for white men.
Literally, at the time of the writing of the new country’s Constitution, only white men could own land, and only men who owned land could vote.
So, because of this, white guys basically got dibs on all the “spaces” first. Then they filled them up.
They filled them with their property, their money, their families, their legacies and their voices. Loud and clear.
Comedy was one of those spaces they found, and they filled it up, too.
I’m a black woman in America, and I grew up watching comedy performed by every single kind of white man across various stereotypes: from the loveable big guy, to the handsome douche, to the awkward nerd and the neurotic Jew, to the witty everyday dude, to the loud angry man, the sociopolitical genius, the one who talks about nothing, the misogynist Italian, the anti-social savant, the whimsical dad, the rapey frat boy, the geek-to-chic, the previously obese, the currently divorcing, the recovering addict, the closeted gay racist – the list goes on and on and on.
They were the ones with the most space, so they ran everything, they were everything, and became the mainstream bottom line of what was funny.
However, times have changed and one thing we all know by now is that white guys may still have the monopoly on monopolies, but they don’t have it on laughs.
I remember watching Jerry Seinfeld, one of my comedy idols, say this on an episode of “BuzzFeed Brews” with CBS in 2014:
“Funny is the world that I live in. If you’re funny, I’m interested. If you’re not funny, I’m not interested. I have no interest in gender, or race, or anything like that. But everyone is, with their little, calculating, is-this-the-exact-right mix? I think that – to me – it’s anti comedy. It’s more about PC nonsense than, ‘Are you making us laugh or not?’”
I remember saying to myself, “OH CUT THE CRAP JER! Just say you wanna hang out with your friends, and leave it.”
Of course, my fav, Jerry, is not the only one to say that, but to claim that giving a damn about diversity and inclusion is more about being politically correct than being funny suggests the two are mutually exclusive, when they’re so obviously not.
Yes, in comedy, funny is what matters at the end of the day.
The other fact though, is that even with that argument, there is value and necessity in seeking out different kinds of funny and acknowledging the truth that – for the longest time – white men have unfairly dominated the comedy space.
To act like everyone has had the same access to share their funny is willful ignorance at its best – and just a good ol’ fashioned front at its truth.
Diversity is necessary because funny is what matters.
To not care about all these other untapped sources of hilarious is to limit yourself to such a short list of laughs.
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When I speak of diversity I don’t mean replacement of white comics. I don’t mean acceptance by white comics. We comics who weren’t born into the white guy paradigm of “funny” don’t need a hand out. We don’t need a PC push. We don’t need “a look.”
No one’s stealing American jobs, or jokes.
We’re simply saying, “We’re here, we’re coming, and we’re making our own spaces, and if you truly care about this craft, you’ll want all the great jokes to be heard, not just the ones you can relate to.”