The Kennedy Center termed the three-night run of performances by comedian/actress Amanda Seales, familiar to many as Tiffany on HBO’s “Insecure,” as a takeover. And while many consider that a takeover is usually an act of hostility, Amanda Seales’ takeover was humorous, educational and groundbreaking.
In three shows that started Thursday night with a jazz interpretation of the Wu-Tang Clan’s iconic “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers),” Seales segued into her popular Instagram game show “Smart, Funny and Black,” backed by a live band, for the midpoint of her trifecta.
“Smart, Funny and Black: The Hip Hop Culture Edition,” which was the Friday night offering, called on the smarts of two local radio personalities, Joe Clair of WPGC-FM and Angie Ange of WKYS-FM, in a battle of the wits and knowledge.
After a brief introduction, Seales, donned in a velvet 80s style track suit, brought on the contestants, but before the game began, invited the audience to sing the “Negro National Anthem,” “Life Every Voice and Sing.”
Whipping through categories beginning with “Blackguistics,” where Seales threw out a phrase in the “Queen’s English,” and asked the contestants to identify the song where the lyrics came from, in Black vernacular, it was evident that Joe Clair was racking up points. But ultimately, Angie Ange took the crown while Joe wore the oversized “L” for loser.
With other categories such as Blebates, where the two contestants selected a year — either 1994 or 1998 — and argued the merits of the iconic recordings that came out in those years; Nas’ “Illmatic” and The Notorious B.I.G’s “Ready to Die” against 1998’s “Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” and Jay-Z’s “Vol. 2 … Hard Knock Life” among others. Each was to make the argument about which year was more notable for its hip-hop output and why.
But Seales’ game show did more than just entertain and make people laugh — it was a classroom for Black knowledge, as one segment was actually termed “Black Facts.”
“What is very real is my goal to always create work that speaks not only to me creatively, but also my audience with social impact,” Seales said. “It is not enough to simply make them laugh or applaud. Ideally, I want the work to inspire though and learning that resonates long after the venue has emptied, touching them with intellectually [and] emotionally in spaces that they may not have yet discovered.”
The educational leaning of Seales’ work comes as no surprise, in light of the fact that she holds a master’s degree in African American studies from Columbia University.
Claiming frustration with the persistent negative stereotypes of African-American people, Seales created “Smart, Funny and Black” to bring to the forefront Black history, the Black experience and Black culture to what she calls a “safe Black space” that she has titled the “Hall of Flava.” In the end, the winner becomes a member of the “Illustrious League of Master Blacksperts,” which has also seen Tiffany Haddish, Estelle and Angela Rye.
Her final segment of the sold-out shows focused on her HBO comedy special, “I Be Knowin'” that premiered on the cable channel in January. Her one-woman stand-up comedy act covers the topics of relationships, sex, racism and police brutality with her special brand of humor — it’s funny/not funny but always enlightening.
“Amanda Seales brings her authentic self to every performance,” said Simone Eccleston, director of hip-hop culture and contemporary music for the Kennedy Center. “She is brilliant, fearless and her reflections on race and culture are a poignant example of why Black women need a seat at every table. She has found the perfect balance of insight, truth-telling and humor that makes her comedy resonate in our social landscape.”
Seales keeps a full schedule performing stand-up around the world and touring colleges doing comedic lectures. She produces a weekly podcast, “Small Doses,” and will release an accompanying book this fall.