Comedy Wing Contestants on How They Got Their Starts
By Fiona Shea
The five contestants in ABFF 2019’s comedy competition reflect on the tumultuous beginnings that sparked their passion for stand-up.
The American Black Film Festival (ABFF) celebrated its 23rd annual event in Miami, Florida, reinforcing its commitment to identifying and cultivating the next generation of storytellers. HBO, a presenting sponsor of the festival since its inception in 1997, has been dedicated to furthering ABFF’s mission to empower Black artists and showcase quality film and television content, as well as emerging comedians. This year’s event marked the collaborative participation of WarnerMedia, which along with parent company AT&T, Warner Bros. and truTV, served as supporting sponsors.
The 2019 edition of ABFF included the Comedy Wing’s Competition featuring five up-and-coming comedians from across the country. Held at Miami’s New World Center, the seventh annual event was hosted by Deon Cole of Blackish and introduced audiences to Allan Cunningham, Reg Thomas, Brian Tucker, Ty Davis and Kevin White. Ahead of the competition, HBO sat down with all five comics, who reminisced about their humble beginnings before honing their individual stand-up style.
“I had a real crazy upbringing. A lot of painful things happened to me during my childhood and everybody noticed how it affected me. But I stayed silly through it all and because of that, people told me I should try stand-up. One of my teachers even let me do stand-up in front of the class if I finished my work early. So it seemed like it was meant to happen.”
“For me, stand-up comedy started when I saw Dave Chapelle’s Killin’ Them Softly. When I was in undergrad, someone suggested I give it a shot. It’s the only thing I naturally work hard at so I just keep doing it.”
“I was at a festival and there were like a thousand people in the crowd. We’d been drinking for two days straight, and they called me up after an auction to tell my jokes. The crowd did not care about my material. They booed me so bad. I told this girl to record me but after my set, I didn’t even ask for my phone back. She had to find me after the show. I didn’t even care about that phone. I was fully prepared to buy a new one.”
“People always told me I was funny and that I should try stand-up. My entire life was crashing to the ground around me, but I gave it a shot. One day I went on stage with a girlfriend and vented about my entire life and the audience thought it was funny. It was therapeutic and love at first mic for me.”
“I had been doing comedy for like five or six years and one time, my Mom came to see me perform. I picked her up and brought her to the show, went up there — and absolutely ate it. I was so nervous because my Mom was in the audience and I had never cussed in front of her. After the show we got back in the car and she was like, “So what else… do you want to do with your life? Like, for real?” And I was like, “This is it!”