Amanda Seales is bringing the laughs and ignoring the white gaze

Amanda Seales has no time for the white gaze, and he comedy shows it.

“I’m not hostile. I’m passionate.”

These are the words that stood out to masses when comedian Amanda Seales confronted Caitlyn Jenner last month during a live-streamed “dinner with discourse” hosted by Katy Perry. Others in attendance included comedian and activist Margaret Cho, CNN commentators Van Jones and Ana Navarro and recording artist Yung Skeeter.

With those five words, Seales, who stars in “Insecure,” rebuffed centuries of antagonism that black women, and black people, have faced for voicing their opinions in manners not respectable enough for others. And in the same breath, she called into question Jenner’s white and class privilege and how the former Olympian’s transgender identity would appear at odds with her political beliefs. That portion of the conversation trended online for days.

“I feel like so often we have people brought to the table to have these ‘discourse’ conversations and all they're doing is being passive with each other and trying not to hurt anyone’s feelings,” Seales said just days later. “But there’s a reason why the phrase ‘the truth hurts’ exists, because it can be very painful to face the facts.…

“We are in this world now where we [are] letting everything slide because we don't want someone to not like us. It's like we’re living in a Facebook post where we just want the likes. That being said, it’s been a surreal experience, the amount of positivity outpouring toward me.

“It shows me how hungry we are for truth.”

And therein lies the root of her comedic style and plan to take Hollywood by storm.

How did you get your start in comedy?

Well, we can talk about how I was in “Cop & ½” at 10 and “My Brother and Me” on Nickelodeon at 12. [laughs] But I’ve always just been the loud, short, flat-chested funny girl.

I was in the music industry as Amanda Diva for 10 years, but I realized that I had bigger work to do and needed to get busy doing that work. I really do believe that I’m here for a bigger purpose and I want to be a role model and speak for the black community and black women specifically. Humor was the way it felt most organic and effective for me.

What was your first time on stage like?

It was in Williamsburg at Over the Eight. I had to take two trains to get there but the second train didn’t work because someone jumped on the tracks. It was the day before Halloween. I go outside and a white girl comes up to me who was also trying to get to Williamsburg and asks me to share a cab. I was like, “I’m in ‘Girls.’ What is happening?”

We get in the cab and start talking about Halloween. This was the year blackface was really big, in 2013. She didn’t know what it really was. In talking to her, all these jokes just materialized and by the time I got to the venue, I was like [forget] the other stuff. I went on stage, did it and the audience was with me.

Then, “Saturday Night Live” was looking for a negress and all these shows popped up in New York with people [hosting] black women in comedy showcases. I randomly got a call for one of them and was on stage with Marina Franklin and Sasheer Zamata, who ended up getting the job, and all these women. That’s how I started stand-up. It was in a very elite space.

Amanda Seales hosting a comedy game show at the Nerdist Showroom on July 10, 2017.
Amanda Seales hosting a comedy game show at the Nerdist Showroom on July 10, 2017. (Christian K. Lee / Los Angeles Times)

What do you love most about being a comedian?

I believe it's a meritocracy. In music, you ain't really got to be able to sing. In comedy, you may be cute, you may be able to add a little extra to your routine, but if you're not funny, no one's really rocking with you — and if you're a black woman you better be hilarious. As usual, we always have to do the most. You better not just be funny, you better be hilarious, writing and able to host

How would you describe your style of comedy?

My style of comedy is definitely very heady. I wouldn’t say it's different than my peers’, but for the mainstream view of what black women comedy has been, I think we’re ushering in a type of comedy that’s not [about] just sex and relationships, but also sinking our teeth into political and social issues in a way that black women haven't really been lauded for in the past.

Most of the time we’re being given platforms and then expected to speak about our [vagina]. My comedy is different in that it's rooted in social commentary and if I could just talk about racism and sexism and wack dating, that would be all I talk about. I have planted my flag in my comedy being useful for social change.

And how did you come to decide that style was best for you?

I just got over the [expletive] [expletive]. I spent a long time trying to figure out how to get into the mainstream, be the “it girl” and get the whites to like you — to cross over. Then I went to see “12 Years a Slave,” left the theater, stood on the street at Lincoln Center and said, “That’s it. We’re done crossing over. We’re going to break through and do it by being as black as we want to be.” At that moment, I felt like if that wasn’t how [success for me] was going to happen, I wasn’t interested.

Talk about your recurring role on “Insecure.”

It is so bizarrely amazing because in L.A., you just want to get a job, any job. If you’re on a show, that’s fine. You’ll take it. For me, to be here less than a year and be on a hit show that is inspiring black people, black creatives, that's changing the climate of the black creative canon and to be a character that I really get to act in because she's the complete opposite of me, that's a crazy blessing ... that I very much deserve. [laughs]

This is opportunity meets preparedness, because I’ve been grinding a really long time and I’ve been broke for a lot of years. I may not have looked like it because if you're fly, you don't need a dollar. You just need charisma. But I was riding hope as currency for a very long time. I feel like now, more than ever, I’m in my purpose and comedy is the foundation of that.

What is your long-term career goal?

I want more options. I’m all about being a creative force. I want to be a multimedia mogul and be able to have work that exists in my voice across many platforms, to be able to do stand-up year-round globally. I feel like I have a unique voice that’s true and authentic, and we need more of that.

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