It was a hot summer day in New York City in 2015 when I wandered into the Upright Citizens Brigade training center to attend day one of my improv 201 class. I did the usual scan around the room that every black person does to see if there are any other comforting brown faces and to my surprise, there was a kind-faced black dude with a tiny ‘fro sitting near the door. When we went around to introduce ourselves for the first time, he said his name was Mamoudou and I immediately was intrigued by this young gentleman with the remarkable name who made me happy to not be the token minority student for once. I quickly learned he was witty, hilarious, and hungry to jump into the NYC comedy scene with his unique take on the world.
In the past couple years, Mamoudou N’Diaye has made a name for himself through his very progressive style of ‘woke’ comedy and using his personal experiences as a black, Muslim, immigrant to make commentary on the state of the world. But not only are the things he tweets hilarious and constantly have viral potential (how has he not been verified yet?), but as a human being, N’Diaye emanates kindness and support for his friends and the underrepresented in entertainment who deserve a voice. And he has a mad obsession with Space Jam that is incredibly justified.
N’Diaye got into comedy in high school while making video announcements. His sketch ideas didn’t always get the best responses though.
“Someone told me specifically, ‘You’re not funny,’ and I was like, ‘Actually, I think I’m pretty funny.’”
In spite of this, after high school, he started to perform stand up comedy and on his first try out the gate the set went as well as it could possibly go for a first time. A dopamine rush of confidence gave him the, “Oh wow, people think I’m funny. I should do this forever,” feeling that every comic needs to feel this field is worth the struggle.
In college, he kept up the craft, performing for his peers and writing sets that made him some fans on campus. His final show before graduation received an audience of 200 people who came out to hear his jokes. And with that, he was off to New York City to be a middle school teacher and try his hand at making people laugh in the east coast entertainment capital.
Since rolling into the city, his stage time has gone from the odd open mic to paid gigs (catch a taping of his half-hour set on December 2 at Union Hall in Brooklyn). His style of storytelling has the audience connected and happy to come back for more, especially in the current political climate.
“I think that what people are calling ‘woke comedy’ is just me poking holes in the logic that I’m not allowed to tell my story since it’s not the same as an Anglo-Saxon, heteronormative, white male’s stand up. ‘Oh wow, you’re so brave to talk about what happened to you this week.’ Uh, no, I told you the truth of the situation and I’m making it as funny as possible. And sometimes it gets hard because the truth of the situation for people of color, or being Muslim and coming from a family of immigrants, is not a fun truth. But I try to find palatable and interesting ways to tell the story and it’s always been fun.”
His comedy accidentally became activism. In his early days, he wasn’t taking the hard cuts, but instead joking about his unique name or status as an immigrant. But as police brutality became a more prevalent topic, his performing evolved. The social currency of being different than the mainstream started to come into popularity and he could start to discuss being a Muslim and the color of his skin and the issues that surround that. N’Diaye thinks people need that catharsis to know that someone else feels the same way in this crazy world and they’re willing to voice it.
“It feels like there are two Americas and two realities, and people want to hear a voice that they can relate to and is comfortable enough to have a conversation with. I try to make my comedy not demeaning and more about commentary from my POV.”
N’Diaye likes the challenge of telling harder jokes. You’ll rarely find bits about his romantic relationships or family in his sets. Instead, he prefers the provocation of taking big societal concepts and breaking them down. Whether or not you think he’s funny, he wants everyone to be able to take something away from his performances.
“There’s so many communication gaps in the country and comedy is a great translator. Not the only solution but it’s an avenue.”
When it comes to making his content easy to understand for a wide audience, he returns to the improv analogy of ‘base reality.’ When people of color do comedy, they aren't playing with the same base reality that white people have because of different cultural upbringings. But due to growing up in Ohio, where he was a minority, his experiences with friends and their interests (Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Naruto, Dragonball Z, emo music), gave him the ability to bridge the gap of both worlds and make use of pop culture references in his stories, but also sneaking in his take on the world.
“It’s like making people take their medicine, but putting it in applesauce. You knew you got your applesauce, but you didn't know you just got some woke ass knowledge dropped on you too. Maybe someone who heard me perform wakes up the next morning like, ‘Yo, maybe I'll vote for Obama,’ and that's the whole goal.”
As a neuroscience studies graduate and former teacher in New York City (he’s since been able to become a full-time artist), his time spent in education crafted how he approaches reaching people through his art.
“As not just a comedian, but as a person, neuroscience has been incredibly important to me because I've always been sensitive to other people's problems and it's to the point where I have a stupid hero complex. Not that I want to save everyone, but I want everyone to understand everyone because we're not all speaking to each other in the same way. I want to be the bridge that brings it all together.”
N’Diaye wants to be on the right side of history with his commentary and he’s willing to put in the work and emotional labor that comes along with being as vocal as he is. He also is humble enough to admit that he has a lot of things to learn about everything and all it takes is some time to listen and understand. In the past, he’s made mistakes when it comes to different topics and taken a step back to improve himself for the future by educating himself so he can stay on people’s good sides.
This comedian is a pro is his ability to use his platform for the underrepresented and be an uplifting spirit to those in the community. Many comedians only look out for themselves and their best interests, but in a world where white people and men still have a huge amount of power, N’Diaye knows the value of his communities and helps to create opportunities for diverse shows where multiple voices can be heard. As an intersectional activist, he keeps himself in check when it comes to issues outside of himself.
“I feel for women of color. They’re historically devalued and ignored. I’ve seen time and time again them be ignored, have their ideas taken advantage of, and widely discredited and misunderstood by white people, only to be called their ‘savior’ weeks, months, years later. It’s a cycle that needs to be broken and I want to use whatever resources and art I can to contribute to breaking it. Every time I’ve listened to a black woman, they’ve been right. They’re the culture, they’re the future.”
And then there’s Twitter. With almost 10,000 followers (his goal is to hit that number by the end of 2017), N’Diaye has sculpted out a place on the internet to speak his truth. He’s even gotten celebrities like RuPaul to take notice of his tweets. But even with all this power, he doesn’t take the platform too seriously and uses it as an open mic of sorts.
“I don't want to go to a lot of actual open mics because you hear a lot of misogynistic, racist, homophobic material and when I hear it I'm like, ‘I'm going to give one of you these hands and then I'm going to go to jail because of the way America is set up.’ So I'm not going to do that to myself and I post on the internet instead.”
On Twitter, he tries to keep his online persona as 100% real and true as his real life. He believes you shouldn’t have to pretend online and create a false identity. This is why you won’t see him getting into fights with trolls, which is a waste of his time. If you think you can describe racism to him in 280 characters, you're not worth his energy.
N’Diaye believes that social media has made people more distant, but knows that comedy brings people together. With this complicated tool, all the strangers he can reach who like and retweet his voice, gives him a way to spread his comedy even further than just through a live event.
“I don't look at my tweets as masterpieces, but in the future, there's going to be tweets in history books and I hope one of mine makes it into one. Trump's tweets will be in there and I want one of mine to be right next to his just flaming him.”
His viral tweets have put him at the forefront of people’s minds as he maneuvers his way through the comedy community towards future gigs and projects. This busy comedian is currently working on a feature-length film, “Hashtag,” about the constant presence of police in a person of color’s life. He’s also in the process of writing a book about the human experience and the realism of imperfection we face. A television pilot based on his life is in the works, which will show the comparisons and differences between coastal liberal bubbles and the center of America.
On any given day you can see him performing at venues all over New York City, writing spec scripts about Broad City (and their need to tackle Ilana’s cultural appropriation problem), spitting some hot takes in video form, and working on projects for Michael Moore, Roy Wood Jr., and various other notable people.
And as for his candid feelings on his Space Jam obsession (noted in almost every online presence he has);
“Space Jam is a cultural nexus. I feel like people don't understand that at the time Michael Jordan was poppin' and Looney Tunes were having their renaissance. It was a perfect time for the two to come together. Space Jam just reminds me of being a kid. You can drink a Capri Sun and have a good ass time just being yourself. Also, the Space Jam soundtrack is super hot fire, don’t @ me.”
I mean, where’s the lie?