( ENSPIRE Entertainment ) Black Women in Comedy Laff Fest Heads Into Third Year of Production, Continues to Spotlight Talented Female Comedians
ENSPIRE Contributor: Halima McDoom
In 2018, while on a Facebook group chat, Joanna M. Briley was discussing the lack of diversity in an NYC festival lineup that had recently occurred. Briley recounts an article being shared in the chat and realizing that it solely referred to an “all-white women” roster when, in fact, there were women of color taking part in the festival. This blatant erasure of women of color infuriated Briley but called her to found the Black Women In Comedy Laff Fest later that year – a space where women of color, specifically Black women, would be adequately celebrated for their talents.
“When I created this festival, it was for us to embrace ourselves. I did not even for a moment think about anyone else’s opinion. This was my gift to all the voiceless Black women from yesteryear to now. We have our own platform, and no one can take that away from us! I created this festival because I knew we were worthy, we have the skills, and we can deliver the best punchlines out there. I’ve been in this business for over 20 years, and I’ve seen what a stifled Black woman looks like. I knew it was time, once the conversation became clear in 2018, that we needed our own”, says Joanna. After speaking with Joanna, I ruminated on these words by John Lewis: “If not us, then who?” In a world that denies Black women spaces of visibility and positions of power, Joanna’s incentive for creating Black Women In Comedy Laff Fest is not just a reaction to this reality; it’s an exposure of its absurdity and, even more so, an invitation to witness its undoing.
In 2019, the festival held its first showcase in Brooklyn and featured a rather impressive lineup of up-and-coming talent. Headliners included Meme Simpson, Jenelle Jackson, and Stephanie McRae, to name a few, with guest appearances by Mugga, Erin Jackson, Ashima Franklin, Sam Jay, Yamaneika Saunders, and Dulce Sloan. “I love all of these comedians. These young up-and-coming comedians are fearless and hilarious. They’re unique and so different from one another. We are not a monolith,” asserts Briley. Despite COVID-19 regulations, the festival saw its second year through, selling out shows in 13 venues, including Caroline’s, Gotham, NY Comedy Club, The Stand, and Stand Up NY, along with West Side Comedy Club and Broadway Comedy Club.
Now heading into its third year of production, the Black Women In Comedy Laff Fest has been met with deserved recognition and success. It is set to take place June 15-19th, 2022, in New York City. The festival continues to showcase local talent, while also being an advocate for nurturing comedic genius in young girls. Sponsored by Stand Up Girls NYC, an organization that mentors and teaches young Black students the art of standup comedy, Black Women In Comedy Laff Fest is truly laying the groundwork for the voiceless and underserved. “Conflict resolution, public speaking, and confidence-building are amazing tools that stand-up provides, and seeing more funny Black women will encourage and empower others to pursue this as a career,” affirms Briley. “We have been the underdog for years, and when we shine, everyone shines.”
Joanna hopes to broaden the conversation regarding the lack of representation of Black women on television, both in front of and behind the camera. She intends to provide workshops on how to become a showrunner, writer, producer, et cetera, with the hope that more women will discover their power and thus have a positive impact on the world.
You can learn more about Joanna’s story, as well as the Black Women In Comedy Laff Fest, here.