Pat Brown has been on the comedy scene for 22 years, appearing on BET’s Comic View, in Vibe magazine, and receiving honors at the Las Vegas Comedy Festival and the She-Devil Comedy Festival, but you might only have heard of her more recently, on the occasion of the release of her debut comedy album Sex Tape, which came out this past July.
The album is a hilarious and frank look into Brown’s life, whether it’s as a black, female, or lesbian comic, or any combination of the three. Brown named Sex Tape accordingly; she believes comedy is about exposing yourself to people.
Brokelyn sat down with Brown to talk about the changes in comedy audiences through the years, the pitfalls of indie comedy, and why black comedy clubs still matter.
How did you get into standup (or comedy in general)?
I’ve always had funny around me. Everybody in my family has a good sense of humor. And I realized at an early age that being funny was highly valued.
And you started out in Atlanta, right? When did you move to New York and why?
I moved to New York in 2010. I felt the South was too suffocating for the comedy that I wanted to do and was doing. It was too religious, too narrow, and racially sensitive.
Having been in the scene for more than two decades, how do you feel things have changed? Are there certain topics that audiences are more receptive to than they were in the past?
The discussion of race, gender roles, and sexuality are discussed in more authentic ways.
Do you feel your material has changed significantly, in terms of themes and what you talk about?
Yes, it has gotten more personal and analytical. A lot of comics can talk about “what” happened, but not “why” it happened or what causes it. I love understanding the “‘why” of a thing. If I get dumped, it’s not the dumping but the why you’re dumping me that I want to understand.
What made you decide to record your first album now?
There are now many platforms for digital streaming where a comedy album can live forever. ♫I want to live forever…I want to learn how to fly.♫ It is also cheaper to produce an album. But mostly I had a lot to say and there is an absence of viewpoints and perspectives by bw [black women] and WOC [women of color] in comedy.
Speaking of underrepresentation, we’ve heard that there was a time where you were performing more at black comedy clubs when other clubs weren’t giving you time on stage. When was this, and what was it you think didn’t appeal (or show producers didn’t think appealed) to non-black audiences?
Yes, I did more urban rooms when I moved to New York because more black and urban comics knew me before from TV and road gigs, so they vouched for me to get bookings in urban rooms. Also the spot pay is better in those rooms and I needed to make money. I’ve always done urban and mainstream rooms, but I had more personal relationships established with black comics, which made the transition easier to get booked in urban rooms. The thing I often hear from white comics when they first see me perform is, “You’re so good, but I’ve never heard of you.” I don’t think my being black was ever, or as much of, a factor as my being an unknown and having few or no referrals from comics on the mainstream side.
What do you consider to be the crossover point where you knew (or bookers knew) you could appeal to broader audiences?
I think the crossover period is happening now here in NY. It’s mostly due to having lived here for six years, and people are beginning to talk about me and my comedy outside the circles of just black comics or female comics.
Being black, gay, and a woman has put you at the intersection of a lot of marginalized groups. Do you feel that it’s led people to pigeonhole you as a certain type of comic?
Of course, but my comedy speaks to the humanness of people, and my talent has allowed me to shatter those small boxes people would like to put me in.
People usually think of NYC as a pretty progressive place, but do you think black comedy clubs are still important?
Black comedy rooms, clubs and shows are as important as black music. Music is cultural and black comedy is cultural. And because of that the way black comics can speak to our experiences and express our thoughts in ways that can be more authentic in those settings. Also black audiences laugh differently than mainstream audiences. It is more free. It’s powerful. It’s second only to the way people in treatment — NA or AA — laugh, when I have performed for them. It’s the most honest laugh you’ll ever hear, from people that intimately know struggle.
Do you find any differences between the audiences as a mainstream comedy club and more indie shows?
Yes, generally an indie or alt room gives you more leeway to create and is more forgiving if you’re not funny. But that is also the trap. If you’re trying to be a stand-up specifically, you should work to BE funny.
So would you say that comics don’t necessarily have to work as hard in an indie room?
There is more pressure to be funny in a traditional way in a mainstream setting. These audiences are accustomed to more established traditional acts and expect a consistent, high level entertainer. I don’t know if I would say comics don’t work as hard in indie rooms but the consequences of bad humor are not as severe in an alt or indie room. The pressure from mainstream rooms will make comics edit the weak spots in their act much quicker.
Ok, so what’s been your worst comedy gig?
In Tampa, Fl. I got booed so badly the promoter gave me half my money and I said “Thank you” and drove the eight hours back to Atlanta the same night.
Ouch. What happened?
It was a perfect storm of bad production and my inexperience. The show started late, people started dancing on the dance floor, when the show started the host didn’t get anyone to sit down, and the sound system was bad. I started with a joke immediately instead of addressing the problems in the room, giving up too soon. I hadn’t yet developed the patience, or the audacity to command the stage.
Too many to count. The ones that remind me that I am of service to the larger good… and the ones I get a standing ovation are nice, too.
What service do you feel you’re providing?
Definitely hi-speed internet because there’s no password on my wi-fi. You’re welcome, seventh floor! But sometimes fellowship and connection of our human-ness or oneness. When it’s good, it’s spiritual. And sometimes, when I’m good, and engaged, people see me, happy and passionate about what I do. And I give them license to do that for themselves, to do something they love. And on a lesser note, sometimes I just give ’em a good time. And that’s good, too.
The bit on Sex Tape you did about mediocre successes, using Soulja Boy as an example, really spoke to me. As I’m sure it does to a lot of creative people. When you’re creating, do you ever find yourself worrying that you might just be a “Soulja Boy?”
I don’t worry about being mediocre at what I do. I’ve put in the work to perform at a high level in comedy. I do sometimes worry about being more commercially successful. It takes work to be excellent, but not as much to be famous. But to the credit of Soulja Boy, he put out an album and it was well received. He did what he was supposed to do. The power is in the doing. That is my mantra.
I don’t know how my album will do or be received. I can’t worry about that. I have no control over that. I can only control putting that album out, to be received. So that’s why I created and produced this album. The power is in the doing! With any luck it will do as well as Soulja Boy’s. He is my spirit animal.
As he should be for all of us. What other projects are you working on?
I’m writing essays for a book. I am creating a weekly comedy segment of “Pat Gripes.”
Do you have any advice for the aspiring comedians in our readership? When they should start considering doing an album?
The artist in me has an answer and the realist has an answer. A lot of comics will do an album as soon as they have 45 minutes. But a good album says something. It has a theme. But an album on iTunes or other digital platforms can generate residual income. So I understand it from that side.
Hey, we can all get behind residual income. What was your worst non-comedy job?
I worked at a car wash. I washed ONE car and quit.
Sex Tape is available for download on iTunes, Amazon, Soundcloud, and all the other platforms, as well as on comedianpatbrown.com