Serious Comedy Talk with Shalewa Sharpe

By: Unisa Asokan

How the f*ck are you and where the f*ck you been? Why’d you leave ATL and be a comedian in NYC? Was it something we said? If so, We’re sorry.

 

“I’ve been in Brooklyn a little over 4 years. I moved just for comedy. Just to see what it would be like to do it here. I didn’t really have any serious ties to Atlanta. My parents and sister were here, but didn’t have the kind of things that make you have to stay like a mortgage or a kid or a spouse.”

 

Stone Mountain native, Shalewa Sharpe moved to NY with Goldie, her vibrator-husband, which she keeps in a storage bin somewhere, maybe under the bed. Her father gave her away in a wedding ceremony 15 years ago.  She laughs, “If I need to introduce him to people I could.” He still has googly eyes and everything. She reflects on him for a moment, “It’s very funny but also real weird.”

 

I tried to keep track of all the shows she has going on with so many people by entering the info into a spreadsheet, but I still lost track. Column 1 gig, column 2 partners, column 3 event details. It’s impossible to keep up. Her shows come down like Tetris. The Atlanta based Shake Show with Kevin Saucier, who will resurrect the night in Brooklyn early next year.  She and Courtney Fearrington are invested in an esoteric table read series of 1990s era classic black cinema. They hosted an open mic, Thug Passion, every Friday for over two years. And, in Queens, there’s Comedy Freaknik, a monthly night of stand up at the Creek in the Cave. It was started by comedians based in Atlanta. Lots of comedians started out there. Aaaaannnd Wilson, a weekly show she runs every Tuesday with Noah Gardenswartz in Bushwick at Father Knows Best now for more than a year. You can listen to her album Stay Eating Cookies. Here’s something from her album taping at the Star Bar, in Atlanta. 

 

“I plan for nothing. I’ve never have. That I’m even doing this is crazy. Because when I started comedy, it was 8 years ago. I wanted to just see how far, let’s see what happens. I remember telling my parents I was going to start doing stand up comedy and they were like yeah sure that makes sense. I’ve told them I want to do lots of things.

My dad pulled me aside and asked me about my end game. That’s how I know he knew I was taking it seriously.”

 

     Anything else?

 

We started doing a table read where comedians read classic black cinema. So far we’ve done three: Baby Boy, New Jack City and Set It Off. We print out segments of the script and pick out scenes to act out, we cast comedians. Also for the live show, show clips of the movie and the two of us are up there doing a running joking commentary. It’s really ridiculous. We plan on doing a podcast. We talk about the movie and act it out. Talk about its influence. Most of these movies are the last real black cinema of the of the 1990s. Celebrating 20 years. That’s the thing I’ve been working on very seriously.

It’s 60 percent laugh track and 40 percent dialog. They read the script. They interpret the script. They question the script. There’s a break to a disturbing, yet fascinating dance singalong about the infamous line, “Let me smell your dick.” at 20:00.

     Day Job?

 

I have a day job as the office manager at the Andy Warhol Foundation for Visual Arts. Tried to find something that’s not going to take up too much brain power. I needed to have my nights free. I told them I do stand up comedy. I’ll be at your office every day, but just know that at night, that’s the thing I do.

 

     What do you do there?

 

Answer the phones, make sure everyone has pens and snacks. It’s very simple. Today I called someone to fix the ice maker. I like it because I don’t have to think that much and it pays rent, which is you know, roughly a million dollars a day. Everyone has to have a day job, walking dogs or something.

 

     How do you feel about misogyny or racism. I know you’re not pro either. Which one to you is worse?

 

She reassures, she’s not pro misogyny or racism. “That’s tough because I wasn’t raised to be observant of misogyny. My parents stressed the blackness first above all else. So that’s what I noticed first. Racism too, tho that has more proof of us getting killed. Boy oh boy. That’s a tough one. Being brown and a woman, ugh. It’s just never-ending.”

 

I hear a lot of women talking about terrible things. Comedians, they talk about their experiences. But I’m glad I’m hearing you talk about it. Because then I know to look out for it. I’m so busy looking out for the race thing, I’m more attuned to it. I’m like what?! Why are we even talking about that? I thought this was a black thing.

 

EDITORIAL PSA: Husbands and boyfriends across the United States kill three women every day according to the CDC’s recent report on Racial and Ethnic Differences in Homicides of Adult Women and the Role of Intimate Partner Violence  That is a hate crime. That’s 225 women murdered since Aug. 12th, the day of the Charlottesville white supremacist rally. Not just shot, but stabbed, raped first, strangled, dismembered, decapitated – all the most depraved psycho shit you can’t even imagine. That ain’t murder, that’s entertainment. That ain’t love. That’s systemic hate. “Across all women, over half of female homicides for which circumstances were known were intimate partner violence or IPV related, where more than 90 percent of these women were killed by current or former intimate partner.” That’s slaughter.

 

Growing Up in Stone Mountain, what was that like?

“A co-worker overheard me say I grew up in Stone Mountain, so she was like, ‘OMG what was that like? It had to be terrible.’

 

It’s not like the Klan was burning stuff all the time. That’s not the issue. Yes, They were still having rallies on top of the mountain, but they weren’t burning crosses in my apartment complex.”

 

Once you feel it for a while, that’s when it can be oppressive. It’s not always big things. It’s microaggressions.

 

I try to do that in my comedy too, try to explain. More often than not I’m front of audience that is mostly white people. Mostly hip young white folks who are pretty sure they know what’s going on, but not exactly. They enjoy it, usually. I have to do quick explanations in my jokes so they understand what I’m referencing.  It’s not just set up punch lines. It’s story like things that at the end I showing something or use an absurdity to make a point.

 

How do you feel about the current trends of white people getting riled up about white supremacists?

 

Bless their hearts. White dudes are having a real hard time right now. Why are we having discussions? Why is everything a talk? This has been evil for years, for decades, for centuries. This has been pure evil, and I can’t.  But no, that’s what’s hot in the streets right now. It’s OK but befriend all kinds of folks.

 

I had this talk yesterday with a woman who was asking me why there even need to mention other colors, “Were all one race.”  

 

People have their experiences and you can’t discount it. I’m watching white comics, “I know white men are terrible. I know, we’re horrible.” I’m like, you’re not really taking it in. You’re just saying that because that’s how the world is right now.

 

Comedy Math & Inherent Bias

 

I have to tweak my jokes for different audiences, but not a lot because I don’t want to change who I am, These are my jokes, this is what I find funny. I hope you do, too. But I don’t want to crap all over everybody. I want to make sure my point is heard. It’s something I’ve been struggling with. When telling jokes, and they don’t really like it at all, it’s because you are talking about people and their beliefs as if it’s a hypothetical, and you say it to people who may actually truly believe it. So you have to figure out how to do it.

 

Ask yourself. Is the audience working form an inherent bias that is not mine? Is that coloring how they are listening? Or, am I working from an inherent bias? Am I explaining myself clearly enough so we’re kind of on the same page, or I can get them to my page. There’s a lot of comedy math.

 

That is really heady stuff when you are trying to tell some dick jokes, or while talking about Tinder.  It can be tough, but I like doing the work.

 

Have you made some friends out there?

My roommate is a comedian, there were comedians from Atlanta made their way up here. I’m dating a comedian. It’s a nice community. It’s overwhelming. Find people you click with. People who you are willing to see in the sunlight.

 

When you move to NY. It’s daunting to see the different versions of you that came from other cities. That throws people off, too. They are like I thought I was the only crazy liberal in my town and now there are literally five of you- same build, same hair color, same style and everything. It takes some adjusting. So you have to really believe in what you are saying and your voice. Because it’s the only thing you have.

 

Do you have any plans for the future?

 

I hope to have a book out, maybe about the time I worked at the porn store. I was there for seven years, so that’s all kinds of stuff. I spent holidays ringing up porn for people; it helped with observation. I was a relatively quiet kid who watched stuff, taking in all the different types and judging people – not being too judgy. People all have their things.  I stopped by the porn store to visit, last time in ATL. It’s still a beast, but fascinating.

 

I also am toying w/ the idea of a one-woman show. That’s another kind of discipline. It’s more on the storytelling. Both my parents died recently. Trying to figure out how to deal with the grief. I haven’t yet. I want to work on grief, but not just see a counselor. I want to do all the things to better myself, all kinds self-help, hypnosis, floatation tank thing. Then write about it. Therapy for me is writing things out. I want to give it a try. 

 

I moved here for comedy, I need to make sure I’m doing it. It’s 3.5 years straight. “Maybe I should go see a movie.”

 

Jen Kirkman
The “All New Material, Girl” Tour 2017
feat. Shalewa Sharpe
Friday, Nov. 3rd, 2017
Variety Playhouse

 

 

 

 

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