Shalewa Sharpe is a New York-based comic who set the Internet aflame this month. She appeared on Jimmy Fallon giving a standout review of Black Panther for a segment in which fans discussed the film and Chadwick Boseman surprised them afterwards. When meeting her Boseman astutely observed, “You should work in show business. That was like a stand up routine. That was amazing.” Sharpe began performing in Atlanta, where she honed her slyly observant style and assured delivery for several years. She then relocated to NYC, where she’s become a staple of renowned showcases like Night Train with Wyatt Cenac (RIP) and Comedy at the Knitting Factory. She’s served as panel on WBUR’s “You’re The Expert” and performed at RiotLA, the Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival, Comedy Exposition (Chicago) and Red Clay Comedy Festival (Atlanta). She returned home to record her debut album Stay Eating Cookies at Star Bar, which was released in May 2016 on Rotknee Presents Records. She co-produces and hosts several shows around the city, including Thug Passion Presents, a lively table read and celebration of classic Black movies. Shalewa was kind enough to answer our questions about moving to a bigger market, recording an album, and making inroads in a competitive industry.
WICF Daily: What was it like moving from Atlanta to New York to pursue stand up? Was there any particular milestone that motivated the move or did you just go when it felt right?
Shalewa Sharpe: I had been doing comedy in Atlanta for 3+ years and it was more and more meaningful to me. I didn’t have any serious obligations, like home ownership or children. I decided that I’d give New York City a try while I still had some life in my knees. Also, on a personal note, it was time for a shake up in my life. So I packed a couple of suitcases, dropped my dog off with my parents and flew to Brooklyn. I proceeded to have tiny panic attacks every day for six months, which I guess is how my body deals with a life shake up.
Comedy in New York is fast. Your sets are short, so you gotta cram them with jokes. Then you gotta run to another set. On top of that, there’s the bracing realization that you are not a special flower – you may have been doing well at home with your weird jokes, but go to a few open mics in New York and you’ll discover you’re not the only one with your point of view. The trick is to let that drive you to really hone your voice.
WICF: Did you encounter any challenges in preparing to record your album Stay Eating Cookies?
Shalewa: There were a couple. Rodney Leete, the fellow who runs the open mic where I started, decided to record some of his favorite local comedians. He floated the idea to me and I agreed. A few months later, my mother passed away the day before we locked in a recording date. So that was a challenge. Another one was that I only had one chance to record and about a month to really prepare. So, two days after my mother’s memorial service, I recorded my album in one shot. It was A LOT, but I’m glad I did it.
WICF: What are some of your favorite clubs/rooms to perform in across the country?
Shalewa: Naturally, I’m partial to Laughing Skull Lounge and Star Community Bar, both in Atlanta. There’s a show in Huntsville, Alabama called Epic Comedy Hour and it is fantastic. In New York, I really like performing at Union Hall and Littlefield, both in Brooklyn.
WICF: What advice would you give women seriously pursuing stand up?
Shalewa: Be diligent and patient. Make sure your jokes are strong. Build a crew of people you respect who get you. If you don’t see what you want to do, make it yourself – especially if you’re not in a “highly desirable” demo. Trust the little hairs on the back of your neck. Block or mute or unfollow anyone who bothers you. Know your worth and ask for more.
These are all things I have to tell myself on the regular, by the way.
WICF: How can people keep up with your work / find you online?
Shalewa: If you look for a user named “silkyjumbo” on Twitter/Instagram/Facebook, you’ll find me. My website is Shalewa Sharpe dot com – that’s where you’ll find a show calendar and contact info and all that jazz. I’m a one-woman operation right now and I’m a little pokey, but I try to keep things updated!