Kemah Bob is a stand up comic and made waves across the Edinburgh Fringe during her mega stint there through August, performing her show Bob and Buds, hosting the FOC It Up (femmes of colour) comedy club, as well as taking part in organising a fundraising evening called The Wacky Racists. Nemo Martin interviewed Kemah for The LGBTQ Arts Review while they were up in Edinburgh, read on to find out more.
NM: Tell me about yourself and how you came to work in the arts…
KB: I always had stage fright. I remember the incident where I developed performance anxiety; I was five, my mum entered me in to a talent competition and there was all of this pressure. I choked and I froze and I still remember it. So much so that I brought it up with her earlier this year, because I want to start talking about my childhood with her. I was dipping my toe in the water and she literally said ‘I’m sorry I traumatised you!’ I don’t know if she sounded that sorry…
I always felt pulled towards performance, but was always quite nervous and apprehensive about it, but towards the end of high school I auditioned for a play, I feel a lot of my life has been spent thinking that if you allow fear to take over, then you’ll never do anything you want, and you’ll watch other people going after their dreams and feel left out. I used to be jealous of Beyoncé. I saw her and thought she’s going out – doing that – being who she wants to be. So I auditioned for that play and I got in and played a character who PCP addict named Janice. I died by gauging my eyes out with knitting needles because I thought there were rats behind my eyes. So Janice – yeah… Then I did theatre in undergrad and in one of my classes my professor held me back after and said ‘You talk so much in my classes, but I enjoy your comments, so try out for the improv team.’ I did and I loved it. I still do, but it’s quite a white male bubble. I went to study in LA, to study improv at UCB. Which is an awesome institution, but it is an institution, so there are all of the usual barriers; classes are $400 dollars a pop, so they’re all full of 29 year old white guys named Zac. With improv you don’t have a lot of control over your narrative, and everyone’s not on the same page – and I just got tired of the scenes me and Zacs would come up with. I wanted to do stand up, so I could have control over what I say. I’m really enjoying that.
NM: Controlling the narrative – that’s really cool. And in your own words, what is your show about?
KB: It’s not about coming of age, but it’s an exploration of my journey from a place where I didn’t know myself and I didn’t feel comfortable to be myself. To where I am now – which is an open discovery and being open to share that. It also discusses different issues, so an exploration of my journey from not knowing and appreciating myself, to now embracing the life that I’ve chosen and the path that I’m making and blazing for myself. It’s saying this is me and I’ve survived.
NM: I feel like you may have already answered some of my next question, but what inspired you to make it?
KB: It was the Zacs. And that question of what is comedy talking about? I’m tired of going out and seeing the same thing – I want to hear some other stuff. I want to see and appreciate some other perspectives. The market is quite saturated with Toms and Daves and Chrises, so I feel honoured to be a part of what is being labelled as the ‘most diverse fringe so far’. Which is so sad.
NM: Yeah – I saw one Asian person the other day –
KB: Was it Scarlett Johansen?
NM: Now that I think about it…
KB: Every time.
NM: Why is this piece important for 2018?
KB: I really appreciate this Fringe of Colour spreadsheet which has been made by Jessica Brayer – I think that’s awesome. This piece is important because comedy feels like the spoonful of sugar that helps people swallow the opinions of people they wouldn’t ordinarily respect or listen to. So I think it’s important that little, black, queer me is speaking about this stuff and to put forward a challenging perspective. There are often a lot of older people in the audience, sitting with their arms folded. At first I found that uncomfortable, because there’s a part of me, that no matter what I’m saying, I still want to be liked. I think a the Ed Fringe audience has stayed much the same, since the diversity of the performers has increased, so although the audience are much the same, but now they hear a wider perspective.
NM: What do you hope audiences will take away from this? And I expect you have different kinds of audience – like you said, so maybe it’s different things –
KB: It’s so weird because I think you put the stuff out there, I’m trying to be purposed in what I’m doing, which is not being message, message, message driven, I want to make sure that if I’m talking about my blackness, that it’s not in a derogatory way. I hate it when I see comments of colour pandering, saying ‘I know the stereotypes and we’re going to embrace them.’ I don’t feel like a representative in any way, but I do think it’s important to share my perspective as one black woman, as one queer woman, as one person with bi-polar disorder. And to allow people to see those intersections. And to remind people that black women are women. It’s important to me to put that forward, and what people take away is really up to them.
Huge thanks to Kemah for taking time out for this interview with LGBTQ Arts. Although Kemah has finished performing at the fringe now, visit her Twitter @KemahsVoice to keep up to date with all of her latest work. If you would like to donate to the Grenfell Fund you can do so here.
Interview © Nemo Martin for LGBTQ Arts 2018