The Rise of Diversity: Utah Through the Eyes of a Stand Up Comic

Performance & Theatre

"Being a stand-up comic has brought out a side of my personality that I have longed to show."
Photo: @robtookthis

I’ve been doing stand-up comedy in Salt Lake City for a while now, and the best thing about my experience so far has been the people I’ve met along the way in our local scene. While Utah is not known for being a diverse place, I can tell that more doors are being opened, and there are increasingly more opportunities for cultural diversity to be celebrated here. There are Black Utah groups popular on social media and Black events popping up all over the valley. Many Black men and women have come forward in this state to set up their own events, serving as beacons for anyone who wants to show appreciation and support Black businesses and artists, and people are coming from all over the country to answer the call.

 

“While Utah is not known for being a diverse place, I can tell that more doors are being opened, and there are increasingly more opportunities for cultural diversity to be celebrated here.”

I started doing comedy here in 2019, and it’s been the most inspiring and fulfilling path I have ever been on in my life. I can take everything that I feel and think and break it down for people in the funniest way possible, and in turn bring joy and laughter into someone else’s life. Being a stand-up comic has brought out a side of my personality that I have longed to show. Every day I get the chance to face my own ideas and beliefs head on. In the face of the obvious difficulties brought on by the current COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve been fortunate enough to have been featured on several shows and have jumped at every opportunity to get better at my craft. As I worked these audiences, there was something I was beginning to notice: There was a response to my point of view that I had not seen with other comedians. And not just my point of view—any person of color that got on the stage.

I grew up in the South. As a kid, I moved around a lot, and I’ve lived in most of the Southern states. In my travels across all these very different places, there was one thing that remained consistent: Black people. There are communities in the South that I have lived in that were made up entirely of Black and brown people. This ethnic clustering is the result of the segregation in America that established those communities, and as a result, these types of communities exist all across the country. So you can imagine the culture shock I experienced moving to Utah just six years ago. It was like going to a place you only see on TV.

 

“I started doing comedy here in 2019, and it’s been the most inspiring and fulfilling path I have ever been on in my life.”

"Every one of those cultural beacons is vital here, in this place that is so hungry for diversity."
Photo: @robtookthis

Utah is a beautiful state. The landscape is beautiful, the people are beautiful and the possibilities are endless. But because of its history with the LDS church, the state’s geographic location and several other factors, Utah doesn’t have the aforementioned Black communities or communities that are particular to any other marginalized groups of people. But what it does have is room in the soul of its culture that is being filled one beacon at a time.

Every one of those cultural beacons is vital here, in this place that is so hungry for diversity. In capitalism, the product that is the most unique, if marketed correctly, will have an advantage on the competition. The value intrinsic to the growth of these diverse cultures also brings social richness and understanding to a community. Stand-up comedy is an art form based on a direct translation of the experience of the comic. In a predominantly white city like Salt Lake, the comics are going to bring unique experiences, but those experiences will be more directly parallel to their audience’s than a comic from a different place or of a different ethnicity. I notice that when I’m on stage, there are times I may say things in my jokes that get laughs, even when I wasn’t expecting them to. Usually, it’s when I say something that either the audience has never heard anyone say or they didn’t expect to relate to. Those simple footholds of relation, and the empathy they allow, can bridge gaps in people’s minds that keep this country divided.

This country is riddled with scars from years of systemic racism and white supremacy. Every political attempt to heal those scars has been met with intense pushback. So, a lot of the healing has to be done socially and communally. America is a democratic country, stitched together with the ideals of advancement and a right to the pursuit of happiness for all people. Promoting representation of every demographic in every field—whether that be art, politics, entertainment, business or anything else—is the best way for us to ensure that every person gets an opportunity to be heard. This is the lifeblood of democracy. I feel the most effective way to expand a person’s mindset is to help them understand and empathize with other people from disparate places and cultures. Our growth is determined by our ability to adapt to our environment, and when you grow to accept other people, that’s a beautiful thing.

 

“I feel the most effective way to expand a person’s mindset is to help them understand and empathize with other people from disparate places and cultures.”

"Comedians, in my opinion, are modern-day philosophers who value thought over everything else."
Photo: @robtookthis

Comedians, in my opinion, are modern-day philosophers who value thought over everything else. We observe our experiences and translate it into something funny, then deliver it to you in an entertaining way. The more ethnic diversity and representation we have in stand-up comedy, the more people have a chance to hear the experiences of people of color in their community and relate to or further understand us. And that goes for more than just comedy. Any Black event that is held here is inherently valuable, and more Utahns should attend those events to be introduced to new ideas and people that could change your perspective.