Our Reading Lives

Advice from Women Comedians of Color

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I’ve been feeling restless lately. Not like insomnia, more like a Melvin “What if this is as good as it gets?” kind of restless. Life definitely isn’t bad, but I’m feeling that it could be more. More what? I have no idea. Just more. As always, I have turned towards books. My version of self-help books doesn’t involve the life-changing nonsense of talking to your belongings or something about habits of people who clearly have no sense of imagination. I instead turn towards comedians and women of color comedians to be specific. I figure if anyone would have anything to say on the stresses of life as a woman of color and add to that ways to shake things up, it would be them. So, within a few weeks I have devoured Self-Inflicted WoundsIs Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, How to Make White People Laugh, and I’m the One That I Want. Each of these women is quite different from the others and they all have insightful, honest, funny, and sometimes heartbreaking things to say. If you’re also someone looking to shake things up in your life more than a tattoo or a haircut, I would like to share some things I’ve taken away from my most recent quest for wisdom.

Fake it ‘til you make it. Act “as if.” But what Aisha Tyler adds, that no one else who ever says this cliché adds, is that you actually need to get off your ass and do the hard work so that you “make it.” So that you become what your “as if” is. It is unlikely that someone will just hand you what you want, especially as a woman of color. Sometimes you’re going to have to do things you don’t want to do to get what you want in the end. Work the thankless job for a while. Go to the open mics. Go back to school. You have a say in what you become.

Stress is not a legitimate topic of conversation in public. Mindy Kaling’s take on talking about how stressed you are (hint: don’t) made me take a step back and think. She points out that everyone is stressed out and no one wants to hear about how stressed out you are. “It’ll never lead anywhere,” she writes. I’m inclined to agree and have cut back on talking about it and increased my actions in actually addressing what is causing the stress.

Even microrevolutions can make an impact. Negin Farsad is a social justice comedian and she believes we can all effect change at many levels. Sometimes even being seen is the revolutionary act. I am what Farsad refers to as a “Third Thing,” a hyphenated American. “You know because you’ve been squeezed into a category that may technically be true but still doesn’t fit right.” It’s okay. Many of us are these Third Things. The great thing is that we get to define what we are. Farsad reminds us that our lives aren’t for our friends or for our people; we must live for ourselves.

I feel I found what I needed from Margaret Cho. “We must know who we are, so we can know what we want, so we don’t end up wanting the wrong thing and get it and realized we don’t want it, because by then it is too late.” But I don’t know what I’m searching for, Margaret! A few chapters later she boldly states, “I will live for now and stop wasting my time… I vow to live, to be mindful, to pay attention to life and hold it hard to my heart.” Have I been concentrating too much on what I don’t have and things beyond my control? Have I been ignoring that which I do have the power to change? Perhaps I have. “Never underestimate the power that you have in the world.” Thank you, Margaret. I think there are a lot of us that need to hear that.