“Comedy taught me a lot about how Black women communicate,” says Chelsea Sanders, Refinery29's VP of Communications on the latest episode of Go Off, Sis. “Laughter was the way I learned about how Black women love each other; how Black women live through things.”
For decades, Black female comedians have found ways to speak about their sexuality, their bodies, their experiences as Black women at large, all while making people laugh. They’ve used comedy as a vehicle for positivity and release, while confronting some of the hard, often traumatic intricacies of their experiences with injustice. In a way, Black comedy is about finding ways to wield laughter as a source of power.
"A lot of Black comedy comes from trauma” says Sasheer Zamata, a writer, comedian, and actress, most recently featured in Hulu’s new original comedy series, WOKE – a show that follows an African American cartoonist, Keef, as he grapples with questions of success and identity. “It’s a way for us to cope, or survive, or thrive, or just, well, be joyous.”
To celebrate that very ethos, in this episode, we’ve asked Black women across creative fields – from media and television, to production and communications – to talk about the pivotal role Black comedy plays in their lives. For Chelsea, it was the pleasure of watching her mom laugh with her whole body growing up. For Whitney Carlyle, Content Operations Associate for Vice Media Group, it’s about debunking stereotypes through humor. For R29 video producer Shirley Williams, it’s about confronting unfiltered truth and processing trauma.
Watch the video above to hear them talk family laughter, childhood films, and the visceral, long-standing importance of Black comedy.