comedians you should know

Yamaneika Saunders Has Been Forged in the Fire of the Apollo

Illustration: Franziska Barczyk

This week, we’re highlighting 24 talented writers and performers for Vulture’s annual list “Comedians You Should and Will Know.” Our goal is to introduce a wider audience to the talent that has the comedy community and industry buzzing. (You can read more about our methodology at the link above.) We asked the comedians on the list to answer a series of questions about their work, performing, goals for the future, and more. Next up is Yamaneika Saunders.

What would your Real Housewives tagline be?
“If you want it I got it, but don’t ask me for shit.”

What of your work do you think you’re best known for, and what of your work are you most proud of?
I would say I’m best known for playing Maya on Life & Beth or Dr. Flowers on Flatbush Misdemeanors. I love being known for them, but I’m most proud of my Instagram Lives because I get to share myself and connect with people instantly. There is nothing like instant connection — that’s why I also love stand-up.

Tell us one story from your childhood you think explains why you ended up becoming a comedian.
Going into my senior year of high school, stand-up comedy was added as an extracurricular. My mom was already doing stand-up and saw this as a sign from God. I initially got zero response and zero laughter. But I kept coming back.

If a network green-lit a semi-autobiographical series for you to star in tomorrow, what would your character’s name and job be?
My character’s name would be Yamaneika, because why not? The job would be running white bitches into the ground. It would be a reverse Sex and the City, a real bitch with real problems.

If you had to come onstage to just one song for the rest of your life, what song would it be and why?
George Benson singing “On Broadway,” or DMX’s “Where My Dogs At,” or Meghan Trainor’s “Me Too.”

Tell us everything about your worst show ever.
It was amateur hour at the Apollo. My mother had told me not to go up there. I had three minutes. I came out there looking like a nerd — I had some tight pin curls because I was still very saved. I walked out, my name was mispronounced, and people were like, “What? Yamma who? What’s going on?” My first joke was something unauthentic to me and they could tell, and they just started booing. Now let me tell you, one of the most painful things in the world is to see a bunch of Black people booing you. My heart was breaking. I was so disoriented that I tried to exit the stage the wrong way, the winner way. They forced me to walk back the other way off the stage, and I got booed again on my way back across the stage.

I’m then in the holding area, and nobody is talking to me. Nobody wants that boo energy getting on them. One of the PAs said they could get me out through the side so I didn’t have to sit there uncomfortable. As I start to walk up the theater, people start noticing who I am, and they start booing me again — so much so that they have to restart the other act on the stage. After the show, a PA could tell I was devastated and offered to ride the train with me to my stop to make sure I made it back okay. So, I put my hood up and got on the train with him. He’s innocently talking to me and consoling me. There were three dudes on the train who heard that we were talking about the Apollo and pulled my hood back and recognized me again. They then booed me on the train and the whole train started following. I rode those boos all the way to 68th Street.

Nominate one comedian you don’t know personally who you think is overdue for wider recognition and why.
I have a little different take on this question. Honestly, I started out not liking Jerrod Carmichael. Now I’m obsessed with him and his authenticity. I also want to add Jo Firestone.

When it comes to your comedy opinions — about material, performing, audience, the industry, etc. — what hill will you die on?
I will never let someone reduce what they think it means to be a Black female comic.

What’s an embarrassingly earnest goal you have?
I would love to be known as the fastest knitter on the East Coast.
What is the best comedy advice, and then the worst comedy advice, you’ve ever received, either when you were starting out or more recently?
Best advice is to just slow down onstage.

Worst advice would be anytime someone with little to no experience in something (normally a man but there are a few dusty bitches too, running their jibbity jabs) tried to tell me what I should do when they have never done it themselves.

In terms of advice, remember not everyone giving you advice is giving it to you for good intentions. If it don’t feel right to your spirit, don’t receive.

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Yamaneika Saunders Has Been Forged in the Fire of the Apollo