There’s a new show on Comedy Central that’s paying respects to everything black comedy comes from and where it’s headed. The first iteration Comedy Central’s The New Negroes began in 2014 at the Bridgetown Comedy Festival in Portland, Ore. The festival brings acts from around the country.
Struck by the range of styles black comedians were using, comedian Baron Vaughn and rapper Open Mike Eagle created a stand-up showcase called “The New Negroes” that feature a spectrum of black comedians. Fresh faces like Naomi Ekperigin, Clayton English and Josh Johnson are sharing the stage with more established comedians like Donnell Rawlings of “Chappelle’s Show,” former “Saturday Night Live” cast member Sasheer Zamata, and Lil Rel Howery of “Get Out” and “Bird Box.”
“There’s a full generation or maybe even two generations of black comedians that haven’t had to adhere, I guess you could say, to the segregation that the comedy scene has always sort of had,” Vaughn said.
The two creators grew up loving sitcoms like “In Living Color,” “Def Comedy Jam,” “Amen,” and “Robert Townsend and His Partners in Crime.” These comedic influences were entwined with the structure of the original anthology the show gets its name from, The New Negro.
The original book The New Negro was a collection of poetry, fiction, essays, and art from new and established black writers in the early 20th century. Vaughn noticed that new voices — at the time — like Langston Hughes or Neale Hurston were published alongside more established voices like W.E.B. DuBois and aimed to bridge the gap of comedy generations in the same way.
Baron Vaughn and Open Mike Eagle’s The New Negroes showcases black comedians and music artists who are expressing their individuality and shared experiences.
On the importance of being earnest
The term black comedy or black comedian tends to be a very, you know, specific box. You know, like, people expect you to look, talk, feel a certain way and that your content will always be a certain thing as well… I guess I would say like sometimes talking about, quote- unquote, “the hood,” life in the hood, sex or sexuality in a very specific way, something that’s been established in the past.
There’s a full generation or maybe even two generations of black comedians that haven’t had to adhere, I guess you could say, to the segregation that the comedy scene has always sort of had and have influences from all over the place, have styles from all over the place, want to talk about everything. Sure, they might talk about the hood. They might talk about sex if that’s their genuine experience. But the expectation that they have to talk about those things, I would say, is gone.
On comedic influences for the show’s intro
The intro is a tribute to a lot of those shows, like black sitcoms that we grew up loving: “Family Matters” and “What’s Happening!!” and “Sanford And Son” and, you know, like, all of these different — like “Amen” — “Amen” was how I wanted to start the thing… And just have the - like the blue sky that says “New Negroes” and you come down. And then I get out of the car like I’m Sherman Hemsley, do the little dance. There was going to be - we had all these ideas. These are sitcoms that, you know, we used to love — “227.” We wanted to try to do all these different things. So those shows are influential to us.
On making jokes about politically sensitive subjects
There’s all these different kinds of issues that Mike and I are very confused about or, you know, want to dig into. So it’s like, how can we talk about these things with a little consideration but then also make them silly? A lot of comedians go, “Yeah, there’s, you know, audiences are too PC. They’re too sensitive.” And I don’t agree with that. I just think that the sensibilities of the audience have evolved beyond what we all assumed was comedy before. So I don’t think that a comedian is supposed to be like, oh, I can’t even do a joke. It’s like, no, just evolve. You know, do better jokes; learn more.
On creating a traditional stand-up comedy showcase
I think the value in this format is to see that stand-up comedy is its own thing. You know, in the world of social media, it is very easy to get big. But being able to get on stage in front of a group of people that came to see something and report, whether it be on your experience or how you feel about the world around you, in a way that is structured in the standup comedy style is its own thing.
On successfully transitioning from live showcase to TV show
All I can think of is ways to do it better. You know, my personal mission is to show somebody their new favorite comic. That is my personal mission. If people watch the show and walk away with, I really liked that comic and then will follow that person’s career for the rest of their career, then my job is done. The work is done, as far as I’m concerned.