In honor of Black History Month, for the second year in a row, Yahoo In The Know gathered a group of talented individuals to discuss how they carved their niche in a highly competitive industry.
On February 9, The Know introduced the five comedians to a sold-out event at Negril Village, an authentic Caribbean restaurant in Greenwich Village. The theme of the event was a celebration of black joy, a sense of vision and a visualization of what the future of comedy might look like.
The group included Saturday Night Live writer Alex English, comedian Amina Imani, comedian and writer Brittany Carney, host Reg Thomas and Teklai, host of the hit comedy show Fool's Circle.
With no moderator, and the panelists having crossed paths for years at the New York Comic Con, the group asked each other questions about their favorite jokes, how they got started, and how serious their parents were. Do you think they are going for comedy?
As Imani says, after growing up in the Caribbean, where her mother made many decisions for her, she had a moment to explore her newfound freedom while studying at Howard University. That led him to comedy. Open mic tickets in Washington DC and Imani.
"Comedy is what I want to do and what I've always wanted to do," Imani explained.
"I'm not fit for anything other than entertainment," the Englishman joked. "Nothing else would do for me! I had to convince my mother that I wasn't going back to school. Before SNL, he still asked me, "Well, now that you live in New York, NYU is there." I said, "I'm not learning anything, it's different."
Thomas agreed, saying that signing up for a comedy show was the first time she felt like she had to work hard. He didn't sleep in the weeks leading up to his first set and admits he failed, but something clicked where he wanted.
"I had to tell my Haitian parents that I wanted to do a comedy," Thomas said before pausing to gauge the audience's reaction. "It didn't go well."
For Teklay, comedy was a defense mechanism growing up in Oakland.
"I have these layers, but I'm a thin person," Tekle said. “I grew up with the Hi-Fi movement. I had to stand up for myself somehow, so comedy became my tool.'
Teklay also noted that his comedy style was nurtured by his father, a former Eritrean freedom fighter, who challenged him with his friends' political ideas. Teklay's comedy show Circle of Fools has been described as an "experiment" to question the foundations of comedy.
"If any of you are in coffee shops in East Africa, you can only talk about the politics of Starbucks," he said to laughter from the audience. "That's something I always run into."
Carney also says some of her favorite jokes involve her unusual upbringing, moving between the United States and Japan, often being the only black woman in academia.
"As a kid and even as an adult, I feel like I've been in all these different places where I don't feel," Carney said of why she emphasizes comedy. “You can build a career on your observations and what shapes you. It's very unusual."
To learn more about the panel, check out footage from the event in the video above.
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The fifth post on our favorite black comedians, discussing how they broke into the entertainment industry, has appeared on In the Know.
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