Kaye Winks is a Black female comedian currently touring her show, “Token,” with the tagline, “I’m your token Black friend.” We found this absolutely intriguing, and decided to chat with her about her show, about hair, and about how to make it in comedy!
To quote Childish Gambino: Oreos, Twinkies, Coconuts, Delicious.
Kaye grew up in Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio—almost always leaving her one of less than five total Black people. While she loves and appreciates all her friends, she found herself frequently insulted or even mistreated by her white companions, and eventually she got fed up.
Kaye’s show “Token” grew out of a series of microaggressions that made her—well, straight up angry. She wrote a violent, upset script, and then put it aside for a few years. When she came back, her personal life, and the political atmosphere surrounding race had changed. Kaye decided:
“The bitterness was justified—don’t get me wrong. It was just that I think that in the interim I learned more about comedy…I realized that in order to relate to my audience, I needed to de-rate some of my jokes.”
It’s not just about knowing your (often-white) audience, though: Kaye says she realized, personally, that bitterness wouldn’t make the change she wanted.
— BuzzCenterStage (@BuzzCenterStage) May 5, 2017
“These white people just don’t have a lot of interracial experiences. They don’t want to be these assholes, and we always assume they should know better, but why would they? If I’m the only Black person around, then when I’m not there they’re only around themselves. If they’re only in echo chambers, they don’t know what they’re saying. I grew a spirit of forgiveness, I got on stage, and I learned more about comedy.”
At the same time, she kept the satirical voice. She truly believes that instead of alienating her audience, she can teach white people about race—by making fun of and with them. She’s found a “trick” that makes this work: she makes fun of other ethnic groups first, to ease the white people into getting made fun of. How? Because Kaye’s also the Token “white Black girl” in all her Black groups—so she starts the joke picking on those groups and experiences. She’s also got some other cross-racial humor tips of the trade:
“When I make jokes about white people, they’ve gotta be funny. Or they have to be about groups of white people that they’re okay with laughing about.”
What kinds of things got her angry in the first place, before she took out the darker lines from her comedy script?
1. White girls thinking it’s okay to call Black guys ugly for being Black.
“I hate when I’ll be sitting with one of my white girlfriends, and I’ll see a cute Black guy, and she’ll be like, ’Eh, I don’t really find Black guys attractive.’ It’s like…”
“‘Who asked you,’” Samantha adds.
(Hint: this also goes for Asian guys saying they’d never like a Black girl, btw, says Jen)
2. “When they say ‘you’re not really Black.’”
“If I’m not Black, then what am I? Just because I speak a certain way and like certain things does not negate my entire view of the world through my Black girl eyes. That denies a fundamental part of my existence, of my humanity.”
It’s not just an insult towards educated Black people—it’s a slur on the whole race. Like “Blackness isn’t smart; Blackness is dumb and uneducated and poor.”
“It’s basically saying, ‘oh, you’re one of the good ones.’”
While Kaye’s confident in her own Blackness now, she admits that this comment hurt a lot when she was younger—especially coming from her Black peers. Black people are almost more brutal about this “non-Black-ness,” Kaye says.
“Black people don’t do micro-aggressions,” Samantha jokes. “We do aggressions.”
“I know I’m Black,” Kaye finishes. “I don’t need anyone to validate my Blackness.”
3. The HAIR STUFF.
“‘Do you wash your hair?’ Well, clearly I wash my hair!”
Both Kaye and Samantha weighed in on this one: Black woman are always judged about their hair, to where they can get fired from jobs for keeping their hair natural (which means fros and a bunch of other styles white people call “unprofessional”). This SUCKS because the products that make Black people hair “white-looking” can cause early-onset puberty and cancer! Going bald because of relaxer, or even getting your scalp BURNED, is a “normal” experience for Black women because they feel pressure to make their hair “white”! The US military only JUST recently relaxed requirements on Black hair, but the fact is, not only do white girl beauty standards cause Black women to feel ugly and sensitive about hair, but white girl beauty standards actually physically harm us!
“Because it’s usually white people making these kinds of rules, it’s really important for white allies to support natural Black hair, and say it’s beautiful.”
So how can white allies support Black hair?
“Just don’t touch it,” Samantha says. If you want to compliment a Black woman on her hair, just say it—tell her she looks beautiful, and don’t ask if it’s a weave.
And if you’re dating a Black woman, don’t tell her to make her hair look white. Kaye Winks talks about dating a guy who wanted her to take down her fro for his parents, because his parents might be afraid of her hair. “I’m like, wait, is my Big Black Hair gonna scare them?” The boyfriend said that having her hair natural made her look like she was “militant,” or making a statement. “‘Oh, she must be angry, or militant, or like a Black Panther or something.” (WHOA: Why is it inherently political for a woman to just WEAR THE HAIR GOD GAVE HER?)
“I’m not supposed to have hair like ‘Becky,’ and I don’t want to sacrifice my health to do it,” Samantha says.
Check out Chris Rock’s awesome documentary Good Hair: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1213585/
Final comedy tips from Kaye Winks:
1. “It’s always important to remember the humanity of your opponent.”
Comedy can bring people together—“it’s a social equalizer,” Kaye says. Design your show cleverly to make your audience comfortable before you drop your message on them.
“Assuage some of that hurt by humanizing those you’ve been hurt by—and then you’ll find the funny.”
2. If you’re going to be bitter, you have to be REALLY bitter. But don’t be bitter.
But wait, Jen asks, what about George Carlin? Wasn’t his bitterness funny?
“That was his brand,” Kaye says: she can’t pull that off, because she’s not that angry miserable guy. If you can pull off bitter as your entire brand, then you can’t just be upset about politics—you also have to be bitter about things like food, and make it your whole schtick.
But does that evoke real change?
That’s the question.
3. “You have to see a lot of comedy to know what you think is funny, and to try to figure out why it’s funny.”
Study Netflix, go to shows, study the greats and analyze their jokes—and then find your own voice. When she sees other funny people, Kaye will ask herself “why did I think that joke was funny? Well I think that was funny because of XYZ. Well, that’s like the time my cat did XYZ…”
“I don’t watch comedy just for fun anymore. It’s completely about analyzing.”
4. To go on stage, “I use what I call ‘the arrogant technique.’”
Before a show, to fight down her stage fright, Kaye will lecture herself on how awesome she is. “I’m ‘bout to slay,” she tells herself. “Everyone in this room loves me.”
5. Be more educated in general. The more conscious you are, the more well-read, the more topics you have to joke about.
6. “My main tip for Black women trying to get into comedy, is please get into comedy. Just do it! My biggest challenge is that I’m alone!”
Black women need to get their voices out there on stage and just go for it, Kaye says.
7. FIND YOUR OWN VOICE, LADIES!
Kaye finds people often assume women aren’t funny, and partly, Kaye says, some women comedians are to blame for this. “A lot of women comics have a habit of, because a lot of guys talk about certain things, they want to talk about those things—instead of having their own voice, they adopt a male voice.”
“I don’t love dick jokes from girls. Unless you are that kind of girl, it doesn’t sound authentic.”
“Find your own voice. You don’t only have to joke about the stuff the guys joke about, or about men and periods. If I hear another period joke I’m gonna die.”
“It’s almost like the extreme of the other end,” Jen says. “I’m a girl, so I have to joke about being a girl—not I’m a human being, so let’s talk about human experiences. Almost like self-stereotyping.”
We don’t need more Amy Schumers, we need your unique voice.
So what about Black comedians who always talk about being Black?
But wait, Jen says, “Almost every Black comedian who talks about being Black educates in some way, whereas women who talk about periods aren’t usually educating. I have yet to hear a female comedian get up and educate about women’s rights in a way that actually teaches: ‘oh wow, that’s funny and that’s true, I should go be feminist now.’ A lot of Black comedians it’s like, ‘that’s funny, that’s true, wow, I should stop being racist now.’”
And Kaye agrees: “Comedy should have some semblance of a purpose, not just to shock and offend your audience. Conscious comedy—I’m all about it.”
Want more? You can find Kaye’s conscious comedy at:
- @kayewinks on Twitter and Instagram
- Here are some clips from Token:
- Or, you can go see Kaye Winks LIVE at:
- CHICAGO: Token will run on Fridays @ 7:30pm from May 19 through June 9, 2017 in The Beat Lounge at The Second City. Tickets available at http://www.secondcity.com/shows/chicago/token/
- NEW YORK CITY: Token premieres in NYC on Saturday, September 16th at 9pm in The Studio Theatre on 42nd Street (Theatre Row) as part of United Solo Theatre Festival, the world’s largest solo fest. For tickets visit http://unitedsolo.org/us/token-2017/
Study, learn from her, and go out and make your own wonderful things! We need your voices:
“Be prepared to kill it, ladies.” ~ Kaye Winks
**Enjoyed this transcript? Listen to the full podcast to find out:
- What ethnic groups laugh at what jokes
- Samantha’s secret past crush
- How drunk you’ll get if you take a shot every time someone says to someone else “no, you go ahead”
- Would we let a non-Black person do our hair?
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