When I was a little girl, I always wanted to perform. I loved being on stage in front of people, making them smile, cry, feel, think. I danced, sang and performed my way through elementary school, and it wasn’t until I was eleven that something happened that changed my life: I saw my first episode of Saturday Night Live.
And I fell in love.
It was the perfect intersection of politics, music, performance art and, of course, comedy. I thought to myself, “Yes. This is what I want to do.”
[bctt tweet=”Today, the demographics of the comedy scene are hardly changing. ” username=”wearethetempest”]
It didn’t take long for me to realize, however, that while the cast was large and ever-changing, female cast members, let alone female women of colour, in comedy were few and far between.
Today, the demographics of the comedy scene are hardly changing. Yes, there are more female driven comedies, but for every “Bridesmaids,” there’s a “Neighbors,” “Ted,” and “Hangover.” And more rare than a female comedic presence is the comedic woman of colour. Thank God for the rise of Mindy Kaling.
That’s why Jessica Williams was, and will remain, one of my favourite comedians to watch.
In an age when the 24 hour news cycle seems more comical than concentrated, shows like Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, The John Oliver Show, and, of course, The Daily Show do very important work. Satire syllabus staple Jonathan Swift would be proud. The usage of comedy and satire to point out the hilarity of reality and societal norms proves to be more effective than straight up news at times.
When Jessica Williams joined The Daily Show four years ago, not only was she the youngest cast member, but she was also the first ever black woman on the team. The team that housed Asif Mandvi, Hasan Minhaj and Trevor Noah had never had a black female on their team?
It was about damn time.
Considering that the majority of the news today bounces between news impacting women, people of colour, young Americans, or all of the above, William’s presence was much needed. From her refreshing take on Beyonce’s “Formation” (pointing out to many who seemed not to notice that Beyonce is, indeed, black) to “Jessica’s feminized atmosphere” where we walked with her to work, her work was among the most memorable pieces produced by Stewart (now Noah) and his team over the past four years.
But there’s more.
One has to consider why so few women of colour drive comedies. We’ve seen the success of Amy Poehler and Tina Fey over the last decade, and “colourful” comedies like Jane the Virgin and Black-ish have proven time and again that ratings come in many shades.
[bctt tweet=”That’s why Jessica Williams was, and will remain, one of my favourite comedians.” username=”wearethetempest”]
But there seems to be very little overlap. Shows like The Mindy Project and Cristela are groundbreaking because they both star and are created by women of color. The Mindy Project first launched in 2012, while Cristela’s pilot aired in 2014. Both shows were hailed as refreshing comedic contributions, but the surprise of the general public always had a slight sting.
We’re funny, too, damn it.
If every ethnic woman is faced with a stereotype — Latinas being seen as “spicy” or “sassy,” Middle Eastern women dealt with extremes as either “oppressed” or “exotic,” and Black women as “angry” — then the women in comedy, few as they are, are using their craft to claw out of these pigeonholes. What women like Jessica Williams and SNL’s Leslie Jones are doing is tearing down the “angry Black female” trope by showing, yes, we can be angry, but we’re going to use humour to show you why.
By talking about many of the issues that leave us angry in a humorous manner not only gives us people of colour a breath of fresh air, it actually helps us deal with real-life moments with humour. If you look carefully at her career, Williams has handled a number of incredibly sensitive issues with humor, from police brutality to LGBT rights. Like all correspondents on The Daily Show, she interviewed a number of people who’ve said things that made me want to bang my head against a wall. But she never did. Williams taught me how to shake off infuriating statements with sarcasm and style.
Because of her, I can now handle ignorance with a smile and a one-liner.
Watching Williams succeed and make a unique comedic footprint of her own has me excited for the future. I literally cannot wait to see what genius satire she will create for us next. God knows today’s headlines are providing more than enough inspiration.
Jessica Williams isn’t gone from our lives forever. She’s actually signed a deal to have her own show, which is a pretty big deal. And if you take anything away from this somewhat embarrassing love letter to my favourite comedian, it’s this: the comedy scene has always been a little vanilla. And while there are activists fighting on the frontlines for racial equality and gender equality, there’s a similar fight happening in the entertainment world.
Williams just happens to be commander in chief.