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Why We Put Black Women First

What inspired me to create the Black Women in Comedy Festival came about in a FB group chat on the lack of diversity in a festival that was occurring in NYC. The article about the festival appeared in the online magazine with photos of the headliners who were all white Women. The discussion was important and handled with respect and clarity. However, during the discussion, it dawned on me that no one seemed to notice anything awry with the depiction of an all-white women festival. Although that wasn’t the case, the author of the piece chose to highlight ONLY the white headliners even though there were women of color in the festival. (I found this out later)


This was important to me because even though the festival had Black Women as headliners, I felt emboldened and empowered that our voices needed to be amplified on the stage in a way that draws attention to the lack of industry opportunities.


The reason I chose February because it’s Black History month which would highlight us even more. It never dawned on me that it was a short time frame. I just knew from a marketing stance that Black History & Women’s History was a great way to win a diverse audience.

The tasks at hand are securing venues, headliners, build a website, start the campaign for submissions, and pray that others understand the importance of what you’re doing. Finding sponsors makes everything better. Not having sponsors causes others to doubt you. I truly believed if we asked, we would have received. 


I have to add, a lot of faith and prayer went into this. There were a few people that didn’t see what I saw. 


For me, it felt the same as producing a show because the elements to putting on a successful event requires marketing, locations, reasonably priced tickets, headliners. The overall difference is there were at least 6 shows going on at once.


As a comedian and successful producer with over 10 years of sold-out events, being kind, compassionate, encouraging and bold has always been my forte...sometimes, no most often, I feel people underestimate me. It’s cool. I don’t do it for them. What I do is part of my comedy evolution. I’ve always held innovative ideas and looked for collaborations with other like-minded people. Some worked and others didn’t. I never give up! 


The skills I used to succeed was to NEVER DOUBT MYSELF even when others around me did. It was scary and I used it as fuel. 


I was one of the volunteers of the New York Underground Comedy Festival in the early 2000s and most recently a festival coordinator for the Cinderblock Comedy Festival in ‘16 & ‘17. I learned a lot and felt comfortable enough to bring Black Women in Comedy Festival to the forefront. I had notes, google docs, and the assistance of Festival Director of Cinderblock Coree Spencer’s ear or Cathy Humes CB Volunteer Orientations Coordinator notes to look over. I appreciated their assistance and it helped me a lot. Also, Rosa Escandon was on the CB squad too so she had experience as well as Vanetta Schoefield who curated the Harlem Comedy Festival two years in a row. I also had an angel in Chaundra Daniels who I know God sent my way. She held my vision up in a mirror and it was amazing to feel so much support from a stranger! The fact we never met in person made it all the more spiritual and law of attraction ish! Lol


One of the most memorable moments is when I came out from the Brooklyn House of Comedy’s showroom and found Rick Younger in the bar area. He has been a mentor and offered assistance as soon as he heard I was putting this festival together. Then he and Franqi French, a DC headliner start singing old R&B songs at the bar. It was magical. Then on Saturday during our Mental Health & Wellness panel, we shared, laughed, cried, hugged and vowed to be our “SistersKeepers” it was poignant and so needed. 


As for performances, all of the women brought their “A game” but I must say TaTa Sherise, Lekisha McCullough, Glo Shantae Butler, JMonet, Nkechi Chibueze, & so many it’s unfair for me to choose just one. Oh and the headliners mannnnn they killed it! I know I’m blessed. That’s all I can say. I’m truly blessed so I bless others. This festival was a wake-up call and a vessel for us Black Women in Comedy to love one another and find strength in numbers.


My advice to comedians coming into the business: Be kind but assertive. Don’t take every gig. Create your path based on what you love not what someone else dictates. Align yourself spiritually and seek veterans that you admire and see if they’d be willing to give you advice on jokes, opening for them, and overall support.


Next year, I will seek to add a few new showcases such as a gospel show, a show for young girls/teens, another panel or two and as suggested a few fun activities for festival performers. I’m also seeking a few more venues. The response to this year’s festival was amazing and it showed me that I was right in regards to audiences recognizing Black Women are so much more than one-dimensional caricatures. The Black Women in Comedy Festival had sold out events with audiences. They are ahead of the curve, now we need the entertainment business to follow suit.


- Joanna Briley, Founder

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