Creative Women Speak on Womanhood: An Interview With Paris Sashay
For Women’s History Month, Carla Thomas is here with us to highlight women who inspire her. Working in creative fields, these women hold valuable insights into what it takes to make it, and the unique challenges they’ve overcome in their careers. In this interview, Carla caught up with comedian Paris Sashay to talk about comedy, pain, and paying Black women what they’re worth.
I was once told by a man that women can’t be funny. What a lowly and ignorant thought about women. Making blanket statements about women in such an authoritative tone with no such facts is just another example of how misogyny runs deep in our society.
It can be easy to internalize things like that, and what might seem silly can be damaging to our core. I think about all the funny women I know, and I imagine what if I had believed this. I could be denying my gifts by suppressing a very important part of who I am.
My mother has always made me chuckle with her silliness. A friend in college, Tooty from Brooklyn, might be the funniest person I’ve ever known. Her storytelling was vivid, enthusiastic, and entertaining. My friend Nataile Joy Johnson of Broadway’s Kinky Boots is as funny as she is talented; she can make you laugh about topics that should usually be met with a straight face.
Comedian Paris Sashay is someone who has something to say on the matter. She knows what it takes to hold her own in a space often dominated by men.
From DC, she is creating such a name for herself that she was shouted out in season 2 of They Ready, Tiffany Haddish’s Netflix series. She’s performed at The Howard Theatre, The Kennedy Center, Caroline’s on Broadway, Hollywood Improv, Comedy Store, and The Comedy Cellar. I had the pleasure to talk to Paris about navigating a male-dominated industry and how a woman’s honesty is refreshing, funny, and sexy.
What do you think about men who say women can’t be funny?
I don’t think that men can handle women who can be free. Since they are used to dominance, when they feel like a woman is funny, it makes a man feel like he’s less than because they’re used to being on top. I heard men saying women can’t be funny when I first started out, but it drove me to just work harder. I know I’m funny.
I think men are just scared of dominant women. For a woman to be funny, there’s a level of confidence that you have to have to not care about what anybody thinks. We just need more women to tell their truth and not be concerned about what men will say.
But when it comes to sex…
They say that women aren’t funny and women comedians always talk about sex. But if you listen to male comedians, they also always talk about sex. But they want to be the only person in the driver’s seat talking about sex so when women climb over to the driver’s seat and is like, ‘Oh, let me talk about sex,’ then it’s, ‘Oh, it’s not funny, it’s degrading.’ But men are doing the same thing.
Men go out there performing and they talk about sex for 20 minutes. Women are having sex… so why can’t she talk about it? Because the idea that women have to be sacred but why do we have to be sacred in public? Women deserve to live the life that they choose and live out loud.
What makes it so important to live out loud?
I personally think some of the best humor and comedy comes from real experiences. Maybe three years ago, you were really in a dark place and you really didn’t understand what was going on. You had to feel all those feelings but three years later, you go, ‘let me talk about this because I’m not in this place no more.’ But the fact that I was in that place, I know I wasn’t the only one who probably experienced that and now, let me figure out a way to tell this in a joking manner. I feel like the deep, dark honesty creates the best jokes.
How Mary J. Blige and Keyshia Cole make the best music when they go through a heartbreak - we need that passion.
How do you protect yourself and your creative energy from those who might try to take it away?
I don’t believe everybody deserves answers. I also believe that some people are so hurt. Sometimes just having a conversation with somebody could change the way they’re thinking or fix their day, but you also have to put yourself first. The key is putting yourself first and then figuring out how to move around by dealing with everything else. I put myself first in every situation and if somebody calls me for a show and they’re like, ‘It’s this large amount of money,’ but the person on the show isn’t a good person, I will pass on the money just to avoid dealing with the situation.
I have two managers and an agent - all women. I think women have my best interest in mind as far as what I want to do and the opportunities that come in.
How can women continue to help other women, especially in sensitive situations, like when Mo’Nique sued Netflix for pay discrimination?
Mo’Nique knew her work and she also knew that eventually Netflix would come back and change their minds. Because how often does that happen? All the time in negotiations. She turns down the initial offer, continues working, and then Netflix comes back around and she makes them pay double for the doubt.
She did some type of superhero thing. She opened the door and showed other Black women - don’t just take what’s offered, fight for what you’re worth. That’s her work.
She did a special, Mo’Nique and Friends: Live From Atlanta, and she put other Black people on and talked about what she went through with Netflix. I think they (Netflix) later realized like, ‘Wow, she is really worth it.’ And Netflix also had The Parkers (Mo’Nique’s hit show) on their platform. How could you tell her she’s not worth it? And you’re playing her show? Mo’Nique did the right thing. I’m gonna stick with Black women until the end. Know your worth and don’t let nobody tell you otherwise.
Article header image created by illustrator Nicole Medina.