We talked with “Insecure” star Amanda Seales about comedy, empowering others, and the importance of speaking your mind
“When you find yourself ensnared in other people’s fears and bullshit, you’ve got to remember that your vision is bigger than their moment and rise above.”
That’s just one of many inspirational gems Amanda Seales shares on Instagram. At first glance, this has certainly been The Summer of Seales. The comedian has quickly gained popularity from playing Tiffany alongside Issa Rae on HBO’s Insecure, performing standup, hosting a monthly comedy show celebrating black culture, and writing and producing a popular web series — among other things.
But Seales is no stranger to Hollywood. When she says she’s been in the business for a long time, she means it — and she has the credits to prove it. She appeared on Nickelodeon’s My Brother and Me in the ‘90s, VJed on MTV, VH1, and BET in her 20s, and has created countless other projects from scratch throughout the years.
We spoke with Seales about Insecure (which just got renewed for a third season!), her refreshingly honest comedy, and her viral takedown of Caitlyn Jenner. Ahead, she shares tons of empowering advice, proving that she has one of the most important voices in Hollywood right now. And seriously, if you don’t follow Seales on Instagram, please remedy that. Her PSAs will change your life.
HelloGiggles: You perform in many different ways: acting, standup, hosting, writing. What’s your first love?
Amanda Seales: Standup is my first love. Making people laugh is my first love, and standup is the most authentic space to do that in. Second is writing and producing — writing something and then seeing people do it is super fun. I like to see other people take my stuff to another level of funny. And then I would say acting. Acting is a whole other muscle: getting into character, going down the journey of someone else’s path. That’s its own skill that I’m working on every day, in a different way than I am the other ones.
HG: How do you describe your style of comedy?
AS: I would say I’m a witty social commentary-based comedian. If I could just talk about racism and sexism, I really would. [laughs] But whether it’s talking about relationships or sexism or racism, or the proper etiquette on a flight, it’s always coming from an intellectual space that intends to make people think while they’re laughing.
HG: You’re not saying something just to say something.
AS: And that’s why I get so offended when people insinuate that. Sometimes people will try and correct me, and I’m like, Did you listen to it twice? Because I don’t mince my words. I don’t say words carelessly. There’s a reason why I’ll say You know, most men… as opposed to Men. It’s for obvious reasons, but every word I say is thoughtful. I’ve always been that person. People just say whatever the fuck! But I take it literally, because I am a literal person. If I say I don’t like you, I mean it. And everyone should know that who’s listening! [laughs]
HG: Earlier this summer, you made headlines for having a conversation with Caitlyn Jenner about white privilege during Katy Perry’s live-streamed Friends and Family: Dinner With Discourse. After, you penned a thoughtful post for The Hollywood Reporter about your experience. What has the response been like?
AS: The response has been overwhelmingly positive. It’s actually an anomaly how positive the response has been. Like, no bullshit. It’s very rare that something happens and you get a 95% approval rate. I’ve literally not had one person say anything adverse to me about that situation. Ok, I had one. But I didn’t have to answer, because everyone on my Instagram was like, What are you talking about? It’s very exciting when other people get it.
“When you can add comedy to any mix, I think that changes so much about people’s ability to perceive it.”
HG: In your opinion, is it more important to change somebody’s mind, or help someone feel represented and supported?
AS: At the end of the day, if you can get both accomplished, that’s awesome. But a lot of times the person whose mind you’re trying to change is someone who’s been choosing to be ignorant. The accomplishment there is cool, but it’s not really about you. That person has decided, Ok, I’m going to stop being an ass. Whereas when you empower someone, you’re giving them something that hasn’t been given to them in that way before. You’re creating a positive trajectory that helps folks share that with other people and empower other people.
In the Caitlyn situation, people ask me, Do you think she heard you? And I genuinely don’t care. I’m gonna say what needs to be said, but I won’t feel any way if you don’t receive it. If we gave any energy to expecting people who know better, to know better, we’d go crazy. All these politicians know better; they’re choosing to be this way. These are not stupid people. These are not idiotic people. They’re ignorant because they’re choosing ignorance in the face of facts. And a lot of it is not even shit that they actually believe; it’s what they’re driven by. They need to believe these things to keep their interests making sense in their mind. Most of their interests are money-based anyway.
HG: This is what you do with your comedy — talk about serious stuff in a funny, approachable way.
AS: Yeah! A lot of this stuff is frustrating and hurtful and confusing. And when you can add comedy to any mix, I think that changes so much about people’s ability to perceive it. A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.
HG: Some comedians and celebrities shy away from talking about politics.
AS: What’s the point? You have a platform because people made you that platform. But I think it does take a certain level of acuteness and astuteness and awareness to be able to turn those things into humor. I think for some people, it’s maybe a cop-out from not knowing how to turn it into humor, for whatever reason. Maybe because they’re too angry about it, or they’re not interested in it, or they just don’t find anything about it funny. But I think sarcasm is a very high form of humor. [laughs] And it is needed in these times.
HG: If you met Tiffany, your character from Insecure, out in the world, what would you think of her?
AS: She would annoy the bejesus out of me. [laughs] She’s just so… [slips into character] about her man, her man, her man! And she’s so uptight and particular in ways that sometimes seem very feudal. It’s like, Why are you this deep on this? Why does this matter? I have some of those traits in myself, so I can’t totally hate her. But she is extreme in those ways.
HG: The internet has so many thoughts on Tiffany.
AS: Do they really?!
HG: Yes! Quite a few people have compared her to Regina George from Mean Girls.
AS: She is not Regina George! Tiffany’s not trying to create any issues. If we talk about that jacuzzi scene [from the Season 1 finale], she was just laughing, and Issa came for her neck. She was defending herself. And at the end of the day, don’t throw rocks in glass houses if you ain’t trynna get cut! [laughs] I think Tiffany also has an affect in her language that seems very condescending. But we haven’t learned a lot about Tiffany yet. We haven’t had the opportunity to get to see her generosity and her kindness. To me, those are the things that end up trumping all those other things. I can get over a lot if I see that you’re just a good person.
HG: Are we going to get to know Tiffany more this season?
AS: Yeah! We get to see her in other situations. We’re going to get to know her more, see more with her and her husband, and her and the crew. Their conversations and her point of view and her stance in those conversations will reveal more to y’all about Tiffany that you think you hate, but you’re gonna love!
“When you empower someone, you’re giving them something that hasn’t been given to them in that way before. You’re creating a positive trajectory that helps folks share that with other people and empower other people.”
HG: Tell us about your comedy show Smart, Funny & Black.
AS: Smart, Funny & Black is my game show that I created based on black popular culture, black history, and the black experience. We have two guests that come every month to compete in a number of games that I write and create. They involve using humor and wit to talk about black culture, black history, and the black experience in ways that educate and entertain. It’s a fucking riot! It’s crazy. We break into song on a regular basis. It’s very ‘90s heavy, because ‘90s nostalgia is the best era of black culture. It creates conversation and it exposes audiences who don’t typically have access to that conversation to the point of view of black folks. And for black folks, it creates a space of celebration that we often don’t get to have.
I got tired of seeing all these negative images, whether it’s of cops brutalizing black people or the choice of wording in the media on how to refer to different black individuals. I said, Let me create something that is a counter to this. That I can enliven and encourage folks — not only black folks, but everybody. And ta-da! We’ve been doing it for over a year at NerdMelt in LA the first Tuesday of every month. We’ve had an incredible list of guests: Issa, Tiffany Haddish, Nicole Byer, Wayne Brady, Lamorne Morris, Damon Wayans Jr. — the list goes on and on. They come, have a great time, and create great art and great comedy in the name of celebrating blackness. Right now we’re pitching networks, and hopefully we’ll be able to get it to a bigger realm of fans in no time.
HG: What are you focusing on now that Season 2 of Insecure has wrapped?
AS: I’m focusing on selling Smart, Funny & Black, 100 percent. And more standup, and getting my book shopped and out to the people — it’s going to be a book of essays and quotes and sketches. It’s humor-based self-help. Which is essentially what my standup has become. I feel like my standup these days sounds like funny TED talks. And I’m fine with that! When people leave, they’re like, I learned so much, oh my god! And I’m like, Good! You laugh, too? And of course, auditioning for movies and working on my own scripts and really wanting to continue to create projects that can enliven and encourage and empower people. That’s always what I’m trying to do.
“Yes, you need to be great at your work and your art. But you need to be even better at your sustenance — your ability to sustain. ‘Cause you’re not the only one. There are a lot of talented folks out here, but not a lot of people that can keep working hard.”
HG: Do you feel like you had one “big break” in your career?
AS: There are always these little breaks that happen. I’ve been at it for a while, but doing Insecure opened a new door. And the Caitlyn Jenner moment introduced me to a whole bunch of other people. And then randomly, my Instagram stories have introduced me to a whole group of other people. I would say that instead of there being one big break, there’s been a number of small breaks that came from having relentless stamina. I tell artists this all the time. Yes, you need to be great at your work and your art. But you need to be even better at your sustenance — your ability to sustain. ‘Cause you’re not the only one. There are a lot of talented folks out here, but not a lot of people that can keep working hard. People get bored, or they get diverted, or they have a baby. The stamina part is the key, and that comes from having people around you that believe in you.
HG: Through the years, were there any moments that you thought of quitting the business?
AS: Of course! I’m an artist. When you’re not making money and you don’t want to keep asking people for shit, you’re like, Let me throw in the towel. I should have become a nurse.
HG: Do any specific times stand out that encouraged you to keep going?
AG: Oh my god, there are so many. It could happen because you were on the street and someone stopped you and was like, I’ve loved you since yada yada yada, I appreciate your work, please keep going. And you’re like, Well fuck! Now I gotta keep going for Tyrone who I just met on the street! Or it could be something as big as taking the risk of doing a one-woman show. I did Death of the Diva back in 2012, and we needed money. It was one week before we were going up, and I still hadn’t met our crowd fund. One night I went on Twitter and was relentless, and we raised $8,000 that night! So when you see that, you’re like, Okay, people DO care. But then something negative will happen and you’re like, I have to keep going, because I have to be part of the balance. The positivity that swings the pendulum.
HG: We hope you keep going and going!
AS: Keep a lookout to see if I’m coming to your city. Come on out and say what’s up. Be the loudest laugh in the crowd!