Comedian Dewayne Perkins On Being Black, Gay And Funny As Hell In Hollywood
'Being a Black gay man in this country is a specific and unique experience.'
October 18, 2019 at 6:58 pm
Dewayne Perkins knows he’s funny. He has the confidence of a veteran comic, which is why his upcoming one-man show is titled How Being Black and Gay Made Me Better Than You. However, his mental toughness doesn’t come from his comedic experience. It comes from a much darker place.
“It’s because I’m dead inside, but in a good way,” Perkins told Blavity. “There aren’t many things that I feel feared for because my whole life has been fear, and [my upcoming show] is about taking fear, and how you can make fear a superpower.”
The actor and comedian, who currently writes for NBC’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine said his one-man show, which premiers next year, will be more than just a standup comedy show. Instead, it’ll be an interdisciplinary experience, showcasing some aspects of Perkins’ background in dance and theater while chronicling his life as a Black gay man in comedy.
Born and raised in Chicago’s South Side, Perkins said the constant bullying he experienced during his upbringing because of his identity made him ready for whatever Hollywood had for him.
“Chicago really influenced me to take my identity and not be afraid of it and still be a real ass n***a,” Perkins said. “Based on my upbringing, I had to face certain things that prepared me for Hollywood. Now that I’m here, there is not many things that I fear, because I’ve already feared real things — like death. So that has given me a strong sense of self. When I walk into spaces, I feel like I can take up space.”
After discovering improv in high school and later graduating from DePaul University with a B.A. in film and a minor in theatre, Perkins began a more proactive pursuit of a comedy career in 2013. At that time, he began training at The Second City Conservatory in Chicago, the infamous improv troupe responsible for fostering superstar talents like John Belushi, Tim Meadows, Tina Fey, Keegan-Michael Key, Chris Farley, Joan Rivers, Bill Murray, Amy Poehler and Mike Myers.
Through Second City, Perkins was able to find his own comedic cohort, when he became a member of the 3Peat improv collective. 3Peat's propensity for hilarity eventually captured the attention of Comedy Central, leading the troupe to produce the original digital short The Blackening, written by Perkins. A satirical take on the horror film cliché about Black characters always being among the first to die, the sketch eventually went viral, reportedly hitting over 15 million views.
YouTube | Comedy Central Originals
Perkins has cultivated an impressive resume as a comedy writer and performer ever since, with credits on Netflix’sThe Break with Michelle Wolf and Nick Cannon's Wild N' Out. A former StandUp NBC finalist, he's also a well-respected standup performer, who's considered one of Comedy Central's "Up Next" comedians and has been dubbed one of TimeOut New York's "Breakout LGBQT Comedians to Watch." One of his jokes was even included in the 2018 White House Correspondents' Dinner, which The New Yorker later included on its list of “Best Jokes of 2018."
Recently, Perkins began working as a story editor for Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Though he is currently the NBC sitcom's only Black writer, this lack of diversity in the writer's room is not an uncommon reality across the industry — a reality Perkins first had a taste of when he was still pursuing his undergrad degree.
“In my freshman year [of college], I was the only Black male in my entire major. That was the first time I'd ever been in a situation like that, so I was forced to deal with that very early on. Most of the environments I’ve been in since then have been similar,” Perkins shared. “When I came to Hollywood, nothing was a shock.”
He also acknowledged how isolating being a Black, gay man in comedy can sometimes feel, especially considering how other heterosexual, Black comedians, like Dave Chappelle and Kevin Hart, have occasionally resorted to cracking jokes with homophobic undertones for cheap laughs. Though Perkins was initially concerned that his sexual identity could be a deterrent in the industry, he no longer feels this way.
“Because the numbers are so small, we kind of created this little group. We delightfully support each other,” Perkins said of his relationship with other Black gay comedians. “I don’t feel any competition, but we know that societally we run the risk of people seeing us as the same person, so the fight is not between us. It’s for us to prove to the world that we are different.”
As a standup comedian, Perkins doesn’t feel the need to use controversial punchlines while discussing topics that don’t affect him. Instead, Perkins mainly uses his comedy to describe his own experiences and the world around him from his unique perspective as someone who is Black and queer. Whether it’s bringing lightness to the heavy topic of hyper-violence in Chicago or giving a humorous anecdotal spin to his coming out story, Perkins’ comedy isn't designed to offend. Instead, it illuminates the common complex adversities he's had to face throughout his life, like racism and homophobia, via a thought-provoking approach that engages listeners while simultaneously getting them to also confront these uncomfortable subjects — and ultimately educate them.YouTube | Comedy Central
The community he’s made with Black queer comedians is a small reason why he doesn’t feel the need to engage with comedians who are homophobic. It doesn’t serve him. As for comedians who think the newer generation is too sensitive and cancel culture is too harsh, Perkins doesn’t agree. In his opinion, comedians are not being affected by cancel culture at all. They get to continue on with their lives and tell their jokes. However, Perkins believes there is one group that is being physically canceled.
“The idea of cancel culture is not real,” Perkins said. “All of these arguments and rage just don’t affect me because I just don’t see it as an actual thing. You know who has really been affected by cancel culture? Trans people because they are being murdered for their identity.”Although Perkins said "the field of comedy has currently been negative," he also believes it’s the best thing in his life. He recently wrote his first TV episode for Brooklyn Nine-Nine season seven, which was a full-circle moment for him as a fan of the show.
“There’s this sense of security because I’ve watched this show and I love this show,” Perkins said. “No matter what I do, [the creators and writers] know how to make a good show. It’s a brilliant thing because I’m there to tell them jokes that they might’ve not thought of, so it’s a nice environment.”
Along with being a writer for Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Perkins, who cites Jordan Peele as a creative inspiration, is also working on a feature film and a TV series that’s in development. However, he’s mainly focused on his one-man comedy show, which will preview in Chicago in December.
"That’s the greatest knowledge that I have is of me and my experiences as a person,” Perkins said. “I think most problematic jokes come from people just talking about things that are not their story to tell. That’s not where my comedy stems from. My comedy is really about how being a Black gay man in this country is a specific and unique experience, and I don’t think it’s one that’s heard often."