Interview: Comedian Shalewa Sharpe
Diversity in the Entertainment Industry
BanterGirl catches up with the extremely funny comedian Shalewa Sharpe to talk about how she first discovered comedy, the skills that she’s developed that have helped with this life pursuit, and her aim to find true happiness within herself.
How did standup comedy become your life pursuit?
When I was 15, I watched some comedy awards show on TV. The winner of female comedian of that year was Ellen Degeneres. I recognized her – I had watched her special on something, maybe PBS? At any rate, I thought she was really funny and I decided I wanted to be that funny. I wanted to do stand up. I didn’t attempt it until I was 37. I danced around the idea for several months, then finally gave it a shot at an extremely popular open mic in Atlanta. As I got halfway through my set, I realized, “Oh, great – this is what I have to do for the rest of my life.” And that was it. My life literally changed that night. Sept. 07, 2009.
What is one of the greatest lessons that you’ve learned during your time creating things throughout the NYC comedy community?
Probably that it’s gonna take a minute. And not just for jokes to hit or to get “noticed” – everything. It’s going to take a minute to navigate the city. It’s going to take a minute to adjust your writing style, to get people to stay and listen to you at an open mic, for your sparsely attended monthly bar show to build an audience, for people to respond to you. You’re probably thinking, “I know that already,” but you don’t. You’re not the only comedian out here; you’re not even the only version of YOU out here. Even if you get here and you seem to blow up immediately, that will fade in two months – then it’s gonna take a minute. You have to be sure and believe in what you’re doing because it might be all you have to hold onto while you wait.
Outside of being funny, what is the most important character trait for someone pursuing comedy to have?
Ooh, so many things. You need patience. You need delusion. You need humility to temper that delusion. You need confidence – not necessarily that loud "I’M THE BEST" Kanye confidence. It can be a quiet, glowing kernel in your gut and your heart that tells you that you can do this and you are good at it.
Who are some female comedians that you admire, and why?
Okay, Janeane Garofalo for sure, but especially the Garofalo of today. She has really nailed it down to a thing and her thing is beautiful and sly and I love it. I’m old school, so Elayne Boosler is a big influence. Ellen DeGeneres. But weirdly enough, the biggest female influences are from the music world: Kim Deal & Kelley Deal. Bjork. k. d. lang. I just admire women who are as much themselves as possible, no matter what they’re doing.
What projects are you working on now?
I seem to be running all of the shows! I have a weekly show in Bushwick I run with the fantastic comedian Noah Gardenswartz. I run the monthly show Comedy Freaknik with Jake Head. I have a mic called Thug Passion that I do with the great Courtney Fearrington – in fact, Courtney and I have spun that off into Thug Passion Presents, when comics do a table read of classic black movies. We have big plans for the Thug Passion brand: podcast, cocktail napkins, time-share properties.
What career/life goals would you like to see yourself accomplish over the next 3-5 years?
Whew. That’s the question, isn’t it? I’ve been so loosey-goosey with comedy, just doing it cuz it’s fun – then I run into people with serious goals. “I thought we were all having fun, y’all.” That said, here is what would make me happy: doing a set on TV. Getting a book out there. Perhaps some voice acting? Man, I’m really baring my soul right now! As far as life goals are concerned, I want to happy with me. I want to be so happy with me that I forget that I was only doing it to maybe attract others to me and I end up actually and honestly happy with myself.