In the seventh grade, I made my best friend pee herself during recess and I was damn proud

I wasn’t some 12-year-old sadist preying on my classmates to put them in embarrassing situations. I felt happy because I’d made her laugh and knew exactly how to do so (this time involved making a strange noise and squeezing a grape between my fingers...being a kid was a simpler time). I knew my audience. As I grew up and found my way into writing, I didn’t make the connection that I could write comedy specifically. I still incorporated it into my poems and stories, but unintentionally. A lot of comedians have a self-effacing way of brushing off compliments, so all the times I’d been told I was funny didn’t occur to me. It wasn’t until I start watching Broad City, a web-series-turned-TV-show on Comedy Central about the friendship of two young women living in New York, that I thought “Hey...these girls are just like me. Maybe I could do this.”
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  But they aren’t exactly like me. They’re white. Which isn’t a problem, but where are the shows depicting the friendships of women of color? I asked myself the same while I was watching another show whose comedy I admire, Key & Peele. It stars two black men doing sketch comedy and often includes jokes that black people would find especially relevant, which I appreciate. https://www.youtube.com/embed/Rg58d8opQKA I wanted a combination of these two shows and I’d started researching writing for TV. I read an account of working in a writer's room and it sounded like the dream career — telling jokes with a group of likeminded people to create something that makes audiences laugh. I’m just starting out but I hope that one day I could be part of showcasing the comedic talent of Black women of all shapes and shades. Living in Chicago, an improv and comedy hub, seemed like a good starting place. I saved up and researched programs and chose iO Chicago’s Comedy Lab. On my first day, I thought I would be the only girl there, given that about five dudes were already sitting there when I walked in. The final count consisted of 11 people. Two women, myself included, the other being white. The other nine were men, one a POC, the rest white. It wasn’t surprising because, as we can see from looking at all the late night hosts, comedy is definitely dominated by White men

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I was worried. Being the only brown woman in the class was intimidating. I always felt the need to not be average in comparison to these men. I didn’t want to be written off, so I put a lot of pressure on myself to really bring it. I bet they put pressure on themselves as well, but it’s different being a black woman.  Because as Papa said once said, you have to be..

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As the weeks went on, the class was given a writing assignment based on the voice and style of a late night talk show host. Although I originally chose Conan O’Brien because I love how goofy and bizarre he is, he doesn’t take much of a stance on political issues. The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore had a style that seemed to be more in line with the issues I wanted to write about. The show addresses race often, something you could contribute to the host being a black male, as well as the head writer, Robin Thede, being a black woman. But more than that, this is a news show that lets us know what’s going on through a comedic lens. These events reflect our current racial climate.
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My pitch/assignment went as follows: Celebrity Trivia with Larry: Fave Ruiner Edition Larry takes to the street to play some trivia with passers-by about popular celebrities. The catch is that each question will include some crime or charges from the celebrity’s past that most people don’t know about because hey, when you’re rich and famous (and white) people will love you anyway. And then it finally happened — what I’d been wary of since signing up for a comedy writing class as a black woman. When I read it to everyone else, one guy commented, “You really don’t like white people, do you?” The others laughed because this obviously wasn’t the first time I had brought up race. Now pause. I feel like someone out there might be thinking, “Really Trina? You’re gonna write this whole article about a one-off comment when we’re out here protesting for bigger black issues?” Or maybe no one is thinking that, but I want to be self-aware and recognize a point of privilege in writing this. Though it might seem small, it’s still a microaggression and part of the bigger system of racism. It meant more to me because I’m working on having confidence in myself and voicing my opinions. Every single time I had to read a pitch where I mentioned white people, I was scared. I was worried about other people’s discomfort and feelings, even though I was just making true points. This is what it’s like to be Black. Your race isn’t invisible to you like it is to some white people. That’s why some of them get so up in arms when you point it out to them. When we question if someone’s actions are motivated by their perception of our race, we’re invalidated — we’re just “playing the race card.” Even if he didn’t mean to, my classmate was erasing the truth of what I was saying and boiling it down to me just not liking white people. We see distortions like this on a larger scale all the time; for example, how the media reports on the #BlackLivesMatter movement. These distortions lead to double standards, especially in comedy. The point of my pitch was to point out how being rich and white in Hollywood helps controversies get swept under the rug more easily. I can differentiate between the white people who this applies to and who it doesn’t. The entire race is not what I don’t like; what I don’t like is that Sean Connery can sit on Barbara Walters and say he sees nothing wrong with slapping women and be lauded as James Bond, but Idris Elba is “too street” for the role, as one example. What I don’t like is white people staying quiet about these double standards, but suddenly having the voice to call me out when I shed light on them. https://www.youtube.com/embed/oo0d1zTAFKA When white comedians want to talk about race or ignore the benefit of diversity in their shows, they’re allowed to whine about how being politically correct is ruining their ability to be funny. If that’s the case, I shouldn’t have to worry about my white peers being bothered by white people jokes — after all, if you think you should be able to joke about minorities, why can’t we do it back? Unless for some (cough, racist, cough) reason you think you’re more entitled to making politically incorrect jokes. Looking to Twitter, this seems to be the case. I see jokes on there often about white people having no lips, loving Starbucks and not seasoning their food. And they can’t stand it! They cry reverse racism. They can say we like watermelon and it’s funny, but if we say you like pumpkin spice, it’s racist. Or they say it doesn’t make sense because everyone likes pumpkin spice, as if watermelon is exclusive to the black community. They can magically see that a stereotype isn’t just true for one group of people when it concerns their own race. Jokes are getting thrown back at white people and they can’t take what they’ve been dishing. No one has said to them, “You must not really like black people” when they make jokes that perpetuate stereotypes and the dehumanization of our community. These jokes will always be more harmful than, say, minorities thinking white people sound funny when they swear. https://www.youtube.com/embed/VOEupm3btOs After ruminating on the incident, I felt insecure. I had a pitch for the next week that was based on studies showing that people initiate contact the least with black women on dating sites. I wanted the people who fetishize and sh*t all over black women to be the butt of the joke for once. But my stomach hurt and while everyone else presented I was debating whether I should keep it to myself. At the last second, I stood and shouted, “BRAD, WHAT’S GOOD?” — I’m kidding, that wasn’t even the dude’s name. I did, however, say the idea anyway. This led to a class brainstorm on how I could make it funny, but more importantly, brought an awareness of this disparity. If I kept quiet about race, this discussion wouldn’t have happened. My next class is the SNL Sketch Packet Class (yes, the Saturday Night Live that demolished any ounce of integrity left by letting Trump host) and I don’t feel so nervous anymore. Actually, as Drake would say, I’m pretty charged up. Not that I’m going to kick in the door and start roasting everybody, but I will continue to point out racism in my jokes. I will remember to stay loud when inevitably confronted with more blatant attempts to silence me. I will use my comedy to make my community laugh and humanize us in the public’s eye.