The question was first raised in 2009. Where are all the other black gay comedians?
In an interview with Pink News, Stephen K. Amos worried that the lack of diverse voices on the comedy circuit then would have consequences later. “Show me the other Black gay comics who were talking about their experiences,” he said. “I worry that if it doesn’t work out, then when’s the next guy going to get a chance?”
His concerns were valid. We probably wouldn’t have an answer to the question if it wasn’t for social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter.
Social media stars like Jay Versace, Branden Miller (better known as Joanne the Scammer), and Johnny Sibilly are queer comedians of color who’ve made a name for themselves through hilarious viral videos. Both Versace and Miller have roughly 2 million Instagram followers each. And Miller’s Joanne the Scammer has partnered with brands like Calvin Klein and scored a production deal for a forthcoming TV show in December. Each of these comedians is funny in their own right, and they’ve got the views to prove it. But their comedy is largely LGBTQ-specific, and even with millions of followers, it’s tough to find anyone outside of our community that’s familiar with them.
Let’s say the definition of success is a Netflix special, like the ones Mo’Nique and Wanda Sykes were offered paltry sums to perform. Or a big-budget movie deal similar to the ones Amy Schumer has scored in recent years. Or a national sold-out tour like the ones Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock routinely headline. When we talk about real comedy success, which can also be rare for a white, hetero, cisgender comedian, it’s especially foreign to Black queer comedians.
For some, a taste of success is within reach, but it comes at a price, one that often means identifying as Black first and LGBTQ second, if at all.
Comedian Sampson McCormick has booked work on major networks like OWN, BET, MTV, and VH1, but feels support within the Black community, and even in the LGBTQ community, is lacking. His sentiments are echoed by fellow queer comedian Tammy Peay. In an interview with NBC News, she spoke about the audience’s lack of comfort with jokes about homosexuality, and she addressed the LGBTQ community’s reluctance to book Black comics.
“At Pride celebrations, when it comes time to book talent, they will find a coked-out disco queen right out of rehab before they’ll sign up a Black, LGBTQ comedian,” she said.
In addition to the limits of LGBTQ material appealing to a mass audience, and having to claim blackness over queerness, there’s also the issue of the stereotypical gay. It seems that mainstream audiences feel most comfortable with flamboyant caricatures but not with fully formed people who often share the same life experiences as them—something both Peay and McCormick addressed in the interview.
But the story isn’t all bad. There have been some moments of positivity and visibility in the last 2 years. For example, comedian Solomon Georgio brought his jokes about being a gay, Ethiopian immigrant to the Conan show, and he booked time on the Viceland comedy showcase Flophouse. And, Miller’s half-hour Joanne the Scammer show proves there’s growing interest in Black, queer comedy.
To be fair, as evidenced by the public spat between Mo’Nique and Netflix, diversity, as well as gender discrimination, are still big issues in comedy, and the greater entertainment industry. In order for us to book time, it seems comedy has to expand its mind and allow everyone else to book time too.
As far as the way forward, McCormick hopes to use his comedy as a forum for honest discussion, and hopes others use it the same way.
“I’m not politically correct, I believe in saying what I want to say,” he told The Fader, “but there’s a way to do that without being offensive. Will everybody in the audience be happy? No. So this new trigger warning, political correctness thing is taking the power out of things. It’s enabling bigots to hide.”
His comments ring true. Perhaps, if there are more Black queer comedians at the table, not only will the bigots be exposed but also get less time in the spotlight. It’s time to usher in a Black, queer comedy renaissance.