Amanda Seales already knows what the title of her next stand-up special is going to be: “I’m Not for Everyone.”
The comedian, best known for playing Tiffany DuBois on HBO’s Insecure, opened her first hour-long special for that network, titled I Be Knowin’, by calling out all of the people her comedy wasn’t for, a list that included “racists, rapists, sexists, misogynists, narcissists, folks that are calling the cops on blacks folks for just living our lives” and, of course, Trump voters.
The night before our interview for this week’s episode of The Last Laugh podcast, Seales had encountered a heckler who seemed to fit many of those descriptions during the International Myeloma Foundation’s annual comedy celebration at the Beverly Hilton hotel.
“Whenever I’m in those situations, I’m expected to make white people uncomfortable,” Seales tells me. “I’m the only black person on the bill. It was a bunch of straight white guys and Caroline Rhea, so I was just playing my role.”
At one point during her set, when Seales was making jokes about the difference between white women and women who “happen to be white,” an older gentleman in the audience yelled out, “I love white women!”
Seales reveals that she got a DM later in the night from a black woman who was sitting at his table. She wrote, “Thank you for being the voice in the room because oftentimes I am the only black person in the room and I don’t feel like I get to have that voice.” The woman said she knew the heckler was “racist” because when she sat down at the table, he asked her, “Are you here from a prison release program?”
When I respond with shock, Seales tells me, “White people, you don’t understand what other white people are saying to us!”
A self-described “truth-teller,” Seales imparts pearls of wisdom like this, acquired over an eclectic career that includes stints on Nickelodeon, MTV and Def Poetry (as her alter-ego Amanda Diva) in her new book Small Doses: Potent Truths for Everyday Use, which codifies on paper what she shares with listeners of her popular podcast—also called Small Doses—on a weekly basis.
Like with her stand-up, Seales’ target audience is fellow black women who are trying to make their way in a world primarily run by white men. “I know for me, I would have appreciated this type of book,” Seales says of her early days in show business, “because it would have given me a little more peace in the process.” As an artist, she spent so much time asking herself questions like, “Will people like this? How do I get people to like this? Am I enough?”
She may know she’s “not for everyone,” but she’s no longer willing to compromise.
On becoming celebrity tabloid fodder
“The more visible you are, the more people there are that see you and the more opportunity there is for you to get rained on. So I think that I get really positive things that get written about me and I think I touch people in a lot of positive ways. But I also think there’s a thirst for conflict in the current state of the world. And I have a demeanor that quenches that thirst. Anyone who knows me and anyone who reads this book will know that’s why I absolutely detest fame. It’s a byproduct of working hard in an industry that relies on visibility to enhance your clout, your access, your options. And the thing about fame and celebrity is that so much of it is out of your control. As a type-A personality, not being able to control a narrative or the way that you are perceived, is very disconcerting. And for me it was not a light switch flip to realize, you know you no longer have control of your narrative, right? I know you think you do because you have an Instagram, but that is incorrect.”
Why she decided to start stand-up comedy in her thirties
“I was afraid to bomb but I wasn’t afraid to try. Because I’d been hosting for so long, not just on television but also live shows. So I’m not necessarily shy about being on stage and engaging with a crowd. But it was a process to find my voice. I knew that I needed to get out of the music space, that it wasn’t the space for me anymore, but I didn’t know where to go next. I started just comparing different careers that I knew. So I looked at Chelsea Handler, Ellen [DeGeneres] and Chris Rock. I looked at their careers and was like, what do they have that I don’t have? Because they have careers that I aspire to. And all of them had stand-up. And that was the one thing I didn’t have that all of them had.”
On the vibe at the ‘Insecure’ set after her Emmy after-party drama with Issa Rae
“The beauty is that we’re all professional people who have worked together for four seasons. And I think we all understand that there aren’t even enough black shows for us to even let that scenario bleed over into what we’re doing. So I’m fortunate to be able to work with folks who understand that. And I think what a lot of people don’t grasp is that when you’re doing television and you’re doing this work, you’re still at work. We’re friends on the show, but even on the show there are strained moments and ups and downs. So if you’re on the set every day for 15 hours a day, there are going to be those things too. Things happen.”
On confronting Caitlyn Jenner over her ‘white privilege’
“One thing I know is that, for the most part, situations are happening in a multi-layered way. There’s the surface and that’s involving the two people that are there. But then there’s also this other layer, which is how it’s affecting the people who are witnessing it. And it’s the people that are witnessing it in the immediate space and the people who are witnessing it on the outside looking in. What I’m most proud of in that situation is that a number of people made it clear to me that them watching me choose to be honest in a space where politeness would have probably been the safer bet empowered them to feel like they had a voice in spaces where they would have been expected to also be polite. I’m a truth-teller in any space. And I think that if I had asked certain people how I should have gone into that space, I think they would have said to play it cool. And I think if I had played it cool, I would have been playing myself.”