It was 2012 and Amanda Seales had a choice to make. For years she was a host who could admittedly read the hell out of a teleprompter, but Seales had more to say. The only problem was agents didn’t want to hear it, not unless the curly-hair Cancer was willing to participate in reality television.
” ‘Unless you’re willing to do a reality show no one is interested in you,’ those were words said to me by numerous agents,” the 37-year-old reflected.
With her back against the wall, Seales produced a one-woman show titled “Death of The Diva” and used music, comedy, and characters to dissect the way reality television diminished the image of women. She didn’t know it then, but it was her formal introduction to comedy. Fast forward seven years and Seales is now gearing up for her first hour-long HBO special. Titled I BE KNOWIN’ and filmed in her old Harlem stomping grounds, Seales tackles everything from catcalling, sexual autonomy for women in their 30s (something she calls a vagenda) and those annoying co-workers who CC everyone on a work email.
The Insecure actress sat with VIBE inside HBO’s New York City offices on a blistering cold January day and expressed the hope that those unfamiliar with her work even if they don’t like the message, “[they] respect the message.”
VIBE: How long did it take you to prepare for your hour-long special? A few weeks? Months?
Amanda Seales: I would say for any comedian who’s doing their first special the duration of your life is the amount of time. In terms of what material goes in and what material goes out, that was about nine months.
Did you have any other names for your special before you landed on I BE KNOWIN’?
Would you mind sharing some of those names?
I was going to call it Dashiki Chic, and for the record, this might eventually happen. I was going to call it Dashiki Chic and I was going to ask the audience to wear their best Dashiki fabric and have them looking like the extras in a Black exploitation film. I wanted the artwork to be a reenactment of the Muhammad Ali photo that he took in Zaire where he’s standing in the Dashiki and he’s got the people behind him. I wanted to reenact that photo in Harlem.
So why did you decide not to do that?
Well, the budget. (Laughs) The way the budget is set up…I was like, “You know what?” (Laughs) I also was like this is my first special and it should be personal. Lord willing, I’ll have the opportunity to do other specials that touch the people and topics in different ways, but I felt like with this first one, I should actually attach it to the uniqueness of the voice I’m bringing to the people. That’s where I BE KNOWIN’ came from.
When did you first realize comedy was a vehicle or a platform that you could have an inconvenient or touchy conversation?
I was always funny.
Were you voted class clown in high school?
I was voted Most Talented from the Class of 1999.
Shout out to you.
Thank you. I was more the teacher’s pet than a class clown, but at the same time though, I was comic relief because I was fearless.
It was after realizing that hip-hop didn’t feel like the vehicle that I started with. I realized I needed to shift gears. I knew that I had a voice, and I knew that I had something I wanted to say. In 2012, I did my first self-produced one-woman show Death of The Diva and in that show, I used music, comedy, and characters to speak to the ways that reality television had diminished the image of the black woman, and not even black women, just women in television.
At that time, I literally could not get work. “Unless you’re willing to do a reality show no one is interested in you.” These were words said to me by numerous agents. So comedy became a vehicle at that point for me to express not only my thoughts on this but my talent because up until then I was just known as a host. I could read the hell out of a teleprompter but I had other stuff to say, so that ended up becoming a vehicle I would use for years.
The Responsible Ho is somebody who is conscious of their sexuality, owns it but is also accountable for how they move in that space.
During the stand-up, you mentioned you have your Masters in African-American Studies from Columbia University that you’re still paying for.
I say that because I was hoping that maybe they’ll like, you know, lower the balance. (Laughs)
You titled your show I BE KNOWIN’ and for someone who doesn’t have the funds to go back to school, what can they do so they too can be knowin’ just as much as you?
I think reading is essential and fundamental. Knowing what to read is also important. I think also adjusting how you use social media can affect what you know. A lot of us are plugged into a lot of fluff and you have to make a conscious decision to say, ‘I want to have certain intellectual spaces come into my space’ on a regular basis, whether it’s on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etcetera.
I think another way you can be knowin’ is by getting out and going to see places and spaces that are outside of your comfort zone. Whether it’s down the block or to another country. When I say, I be knowin’, it’s not just facts. It’s about knowing myself and knowing there are other perspectives outside of mine that are also valid.
One of my favorite parts of the stand-up was your reference to the “Responsible Ho.”
Ah yes. The Responsible Ho.
When did you first come to experience or encounter what a Responsible Ho is?
Once you’re over 30 and you’re still single your consciousness of how you’re engaging is different.
It should be.
I think in our 20s we’re expected to go through a ho phase, which is essentially having a sexual awakening that at its best, awakens you, but on your own terms.
The Responsible Ho is somebody who is conscious of their sexuality, owns it but is also accountable for how they move in that space. They’re not using youth as an excuse for doing foolishness. They’re not using ignorance as an excuse for doing foolishness. They understand that at this age you are not making mistakes you’re making choices.
How has your vagenda matured from when you first entered your 30s until now?
I am at a place at this point where I am looking for moderation.
I seek to be sincere and clear as possible, and I want whoever’s watching this, even if you don’t like the message, respect the message.
I have come to understand that any excess on either side of the spectrum with these dudes becomes a problem for me.
Super facts, for me as well.
So either hyper-hood or hyper-intellectual results in problems because both of them create hyper-ego. So at this point I know I’m hyper, so I need something to counter that. Moderation-nation! I need somebody who has money, but they ain’t crazy wealthy. They are knowledgeable, they seek out information, but they’re not a genius to the point where they can feel like they can be–
HBO has a wide audience, for those unfamiliar with Amanda Seales what do you hope they gain after watching your stand-up?
That it’s authentic. I seek to be sincere and clear as possible and I want whoever’s watching this, even if you don’t like the message, respect the message.
You’re a public figure. How do you decide what parts of yourself to share and what parts you should let simmer?
I feel like I need to simmer more parts.
Because people get very comfortable with their accessibility to you and not everybody is considerate or careful with what that accessibility affords. The Internet has done that, where it opens you up to far too many people who simply don’t take into consideration that you have feelings and that you’re human, so they don’t.
I’m just thinking. They don’t curate their accessibility to you. They take it for granted so it makes you say “I gotta chill out” because that’s a lot of slings and arrows by people who don’t really care about how you’re affected by where they land. So it’s been fun, but I definitely am going to have to shift.
It’s fascinating that you smile. To me, it’s like you haven’t let it get you down.
Nah, cause f**k these hoes.
Sometimes I’ve asked public figures hard questions and they get sad.
I can’t get sad. Look at what we’re doing. I’m in New York. You know what I’ve done in this city. I’ve literally waited for the train next to a crack pipe being smoked, waiting there like, “I hope my jacket doesn’t smell.” (Laughs)