By Emily Schorr Lesnick
Walk into a comedy club or watch a Comedy Central special and you might drown in a sea of Whiteness; a sea of White maleness. With Larry Wilmore and Trevor Noah hosting late night shows, the tide is turning, but those two shows stick out as anomalies because of the overwhelming presence of White faces. While there is certainly diversity within White men, there can also be a lot of similarity.
Six years ago, Keisha Zollar, a New York comedian and actor, set out to create other pools of comedy. She created The Soul Glo Project, a diversity variety show whose title is a nod to the jeri curl product in Eddie Murphy’s Coming to America. “Soul Glo was a show built on diversity that started in the East Village of New York,” says Zollar. “It was often a complaint of many performers who didn’t fit the strict, improv or sketch aesthetic that they wouldn’t get stage time. The Soul Glo Project was born out of myself, Rob King and Horse Trade Theater wanting to make a more diverse performing community.”
Soul Glo is an inclusive comedy variety show, featuring diversity in the type of acts and the background of performers. “As an immigrant whose first culture is not American, I found some comedy shows and their themes to be alienating,” said NYC-based comedy performer and Soul Glo co-host, Anna Suzuki. “But when I joined the Soul Glo team as a producer, I was immediately embraced as a vital part of the mission; my voice mattered. It’s been a very gratifying experience.”
Soul Glo started in the East Village at Under St. Marks in 2009, moved to the Upright Citizens Brigade in 2011, and is now moving to Silvana in Harlem for a renaissance. “We hope to create an positive, low cost comedy experience to build a sense of community in Harlem,” shares Zollar.
Soul Glo prides itself on its range of performers, from folks getting on stage for the first time to more well-known performers, like Roc Nation’s Cipha Sounds, SNL’s Natasha Rothwell, Mulaney’s Seaton Smith and performers you don’t know (yet) who got on our stage and said “this is my first time doing stand up.” Audience member Johnnie Jackow reflected on the show: “Each performer shared his/her comedic talents that was not only incredibly funny but also so relatable. Its truly amazing to see how a packed house can roar with laughter from each performance. Yes the show highlights diversity in comedy but how our experiences cross color lines I think shows how more alike we are than different.”
The Soul Glo Project also launched a podcast as a forum for longer conversations about diversity and identity in comedy. The podcast, available on iTunes and Soundcloud, has featured comic Hari Kondabolu, Racialicious’ Kendra James, reality TV star Sabrina Vance, creator and actor Jen Bartels from TruTV’s Friends of the People, and The Experiment Comedy’s Mo Fathelbab.
The Soul Glo Project has a free live show coming up on Monday, April 20 at 7PM at Silvana in Harlem, NY. The show, celebrating Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, will feature stand-up comic Sheng Wang, spoken word artist Kelly Tsai, J-pop group Azn Pop and have improv led by Catherine Wing and Nicole Lee.