On a recent Tuesday night, a line winds its way through the warren of bookshelves at Meltdown Comics on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, populated with people eager to snag a seat for the monthly comedy game show Smart, Funny & Black. As a regular, I know to arrive early — a lot of these people will wind up standing, but they're probably OK with that.
Created, written and hosted by actress-comedian Amanda Seales, the show explores the convergence of black popular culture, politics and current events. “I wanted to create a show that was celebratory of black culture,” Seales explains.
Known for her supporting role on HBO’s Insecure, Seales is irreverent and intellectual; she addresses the audience with the confidence and candor of someone who knows her time is valuable and who'll tell a mediocre white man to have a seat. She's quick to remind non-black audience members to listen, observe, learn and "know [their] place."
Ushering in content for people of color is significant when black people too rarely have the opportunity to share their own narratives. This has led to a misunderstanding of black culture that's been perpetuated in the media, and Seales aims to disrupt this cycle. “Tonight," she says from the stage, "you’re going to see a bunch of games that deal with black history, black popular culture and the black experience.”
After her opening monologue, she introduces two black comedians and the battle of wits begins. On this evening, Lamorne Morris and Damon Wayans Jr., both from Fox’s New Girl, face off for the chance to be inducted into “the illustrious league of blacksperts," which currently includes former winners Issa Rae and Wayne Brady.
With games like “Blebates” (black debates), “Black Facts” and “The Final Blackstination," the competition serves dual purposes: making people laugh and raising cultural awareness at a time when understanding can seem as if it's in short supply.
The debate for this particular show, for example, touches not only on racial inequality but gender disparity. It was appropriately titled “Which Sista Should Have Been Paid Top $ for the Elevation She Brought to the Situation,” honoring the hard work of Michelle Obama, Phylicia Rashad and Lauryn Hill.
In between rounds for each game, Seales also makes a point of sharing relevant online content, such as videos, tweets or memes, for additional edification. Tonight this includes the viral clip of Maxine Waters turning the procedural House floor phrase “reclaiming my time” into a rally cry for women of color.
After a couple more games aimed at sparking cultural awareness, our comedians square off in “The Final Blackstination.”
The scenario is established as this: Black people have decided to leave Earth and colonize Mars. What are three things that you would bring on this trip that represent black culture? Answers ranged from the didactic, such as a collection of all of Barack and Michelle Obama’s speeches, to those that would inspire comfort, like soul food.
At the conclusion of the show, the audience is surveyed on who should win Smart, Funny & Black by vote of applause. However, Seales has the final say.
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With a drum roll from the live band, The Clap Backs, the winner is announced: Lamorne Morris is inducted into the league of Blacksperts. He is outfitted in a crown and cape and presented with a book by a black author, a gift brought to each show by Seales’ mom.
After a victory dance from the winner, Damon Wayans Jr. also makes his way to the stage, where he is given a necklace with the letter "L" on it, along with a sign of the internet meme of Michael Jordan crying.
Taking on the gargantuan task to educate, elevate and empower attendees, Seales’ brilliance makes us laugh and inspires us to keep seeking change. As a black woman and an audience member for a year running, this is the kind of content that I need.
Smart, Funny & Black, Nerdist Showroom at Meltdown Comics, 7522 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood; Tue., Oct. 31, 7-8:30 p.m.; $15, $12 in advance. holdmyticket.com/event/298287.