We’re not stupid or more racist: “Daily Show’s” Dulcé Sloan says New Yorkers get Southerners wrong

You know Dulcé Sloan from “The Daily Show,” where she delivers witty commentary from the desk as a correspondent and plays hilarious characters like Black Karen. You can also catch her on Fox’s animated series “The Great North,” where she voices the beloved character of Honeybee. When I talked to Sloan recently about New York (where the “The Daily Show” is based), she said, “It’s cold, and I hate it!” But in all seriousness, one thing Sloan shared is why she thinks America’s idea of racism is incorrect.

“New York was one of the [most] racist places I’ve ever lived in my life,” Sloan said when I asked her about the biggest misconceptions about the South. Sloan, who grew up in Atlanta, says there’s an idea that “we’re stupid and that Southern Black people are more docile than Northern Black people. That we are somehow lesser, that we’re more racist. There’s so many things.”

Sloan’s new memoir “Hello, Friends!: Stories of Dating, Destiny, and Day Jobs” tells her story, including the uncountable amount of jobs she had before working in comedy full time. She writes about how she takes full responsibility for her career–– acknowledging that sexism and racism do exists and cause barriers, but how she always has used her talent to push through, and not letting those factors impact her dreams, goals and success. “People spend a lot of time wanting to talk about trauma, and it’s exhausting because it’s not anybody’s business,” Sloan said. She continued, “I made my lane. I worked.”

Watch my “Salon Talks” episode with Dulcé Sloan here, or read a Q&A of our conversation below to hear more about the ways in which being bullied contributed to her sense of self, why some comic are just not funny and why the South is the best place for Black people.

The following conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

You perform stand-up, but with a book, what you say is so permanent. How do you feel about that?

People are calling it a memoir, and I feel like it’s memoir-ish. The way I approached it was, I called Michelle Buteau and I was like, “How do I do this?” Because she wrote her book “Survival of the Thickest,” and so she was like, “Start with stories that are too long for you to tell on stage.” That’s where I started from. I was like, “OK. These are lists of things I would’ve liked to tell on stage, but they’re just too long,” and then I just filled in life experiences and then working at “The Daily Show” and other little funny anecdotes, but I started from a place of comedy with it.

Did you feel like when you’re on stage you want the time to be able to unpack some of these stories and talk more? 

“They’re called day jobs because they’re not what you want to do with your life.”

No, these stories go exactly where they’re supposed to because these are stories that you need the context for. I’m not a comic who does very long setups to jokes, and also you need the context of, this is the thing that happened to me as a kid. There’s the storytelling aspect of it, and then there’s the joke writing aspect of it. All of the stories that I put in there, are comedic stories that have multiple jokes in them, but you need the context of something that happened before or something that happened after just to be able to put it together.

The book is funny throughout. You have so many childhood stories. Some girl with a “W” name and her agent, and how they tried to bully you and different conflicts you had with teachers. Do you feel like all of these experiences led to who you are?

One thing I wanted this book to do was to show people that I’m a whole person because I think we as a society like to see people as one thing, but I was an actor first and a singer and an improviser, and then I was a comic. Because I’m more well known as a comedian, that’s the only identity people have for me, but I was four different things before I started. I’ve always been an actor and a singer my entire life. All of these experiences made me who I am as a performer as a whole.

You had a lot of jobs, a whole lot of jobs. That’s actually one of my favorite sections of the book. What were some of your favorites?

My last day job I had was working at a Stucco Supply company, and my boss, who is referred to as Abby in the book, was very supportive of me pursuing stand-up. I was supposed to get five days off of work, and she let me take 13 days off to do multiple comedy festivals and to go to L.A. for a couple days and have meetings with people and then start performing at colleges and going to different events so I could perform at colleges.

That was the best day job that I had because I had a boss that I didn’t have to hide from, what I was doing. I would yawn at a job, and they’re like, “Oh, are you tired because you did stand-up?” I said, “No, I’m tired because I’m bored and this doesn’t tap into any of my abilities as a person. But, sure, let’s say I’m tired because I told jokes at 8:30 p.m. last night.”

If you had to go back to one of these jobs, which one would that be? 

None of them. I never wanted to do that. They’re called day jobs because they’re not what you want to do with your life. None of them, not a single one. No. Why would I do that? That’s not what I want to do in my life.

It seems like the grind and the hustle of being a full time artist now is still being able to juggle so much. You do stand-up, you are on “The Daily Show,” you act, you have your own lip gloss company. How do you manage and maintain all of that?

“I’ve always found interesting is that people always call Black women angry, but no one asks us why we’re mad.”

I think it’s the same way that I did it before. In the way that it’s multiple jobs, it’s still one job. As in, all of these are different aspects of doing one job. My job is being a performer and then, “Daily Show” and then “Great North” and then, when it comes to Giggle Gloss, the lip gloss company, that is supporting me being on the road, and this is merch to sell on the road. We also sell online and we’re going to start partnering with other comics for them to be able to sell it online. It’s multiple jobs, but it’s all underneath the umbrella of Estrella Productions, which is my company, because I’m a company. All of these jobs together still equate to a life as a performer.

Speaking of jobs, “The Daily Show” wasn’t initially a dream situation for you.

No. My dream is to be a Klingon on “Star Trek.”

You’re such a natural though. Has that sketch and political satire grown on you since you started?

Our characters on the show are heightened versions of ourselves. Even though I’m going by my name, or I’m Black Karen or I’m playing different characters like that, it’s still that heightened version of myself because when you see us at the desk being ourselves, that’s still a heightened version of me. I’m not always coming out and yelling at America, which is I think my character on the show. It’s, “Hey, we need somebody to come yell at America,” and it’s just like, “Hello!” And then I’m at the desk.

America needs a Black Karen in real life who’s out in these streets stopping people from eating wet chicken.

Why put her through that?

Why is Batman, Batman?

He’s stopping actual crime. Stopping people from eating wet chicken . . . Listen, salmonella will stop a lot of things. Black women have better things to do. We can’t keep helping y’all. We’ve tried for so long; y’all don’t want to listen. Here’s multiple cookbooks. Here’s a whole food network that y’all choose to ignore. Sunny Anderson is doing real work, and y’all don’t want to listen.

Do you feel like, as a Black woman, sometimes society just tries to put unnecessary pressures on you just in general? 

Yes, and the thing is, it is not just white society that does that, it’s Black society. It’s society, it’s the world, it’s America as a whole. The thing that I’ve always found interesting is that people always call Black women angry, but no one asks us why we’re mad. If we’re so upset about us being angry Black women, why are we mad? We’re not walking around just being upset for no reason. Something happened; so ask us what happened. But nobody cares about that. 

You would rather just put us in this box of, we’re hard to deal with, as opposed to we’re constantly in pain or bombarded with so much so it’s a defense mechanism. Because what you don’t do is constantly try somebody who was angry. When you go down all the things you can do to defend yourself, you get to anger, and if that’s the one that works, that’s the one you go with.

It’s 2024, how do we get past that? 

Why does a year matter?

Because, I mean, we should be evolved enough as a society. 

How can we be evolved enough? 

Because, I feel like we should want better for us. 

We do this every year. I’ve been asked this question – it’s 2023, it’s 2022, it’s 2021, it’s 2020. I’ve been asked this question since I started doing comedy full time. It’s not on us. In the same reason in 2020 when we started having the Black Lives Matter marches, and we finally, as Black people, went, “It is not our job to fix this because we did not create this problem.” 

“Since I did not create a society that puts all of these pressures and issues onto Black women, don’t ask me how to fix it.”

The oppressor cannot look to the oppressed and go, “How do we fix this?” If you kick a hole in the wall in my house, don’t ask me how to fix it. Go to Home Depot and fix this drywall. I shouldn’t be required to fix this. Since I did not create a society that puts all of these pressures and issues onto Black women, don’t ask me how to fix it because I didn’t do the thing. You can’t look at me as someone who’s oppressing me and then ask me, “But how do we make you better?” We’ve already answered the question. 

You can only march so much. You can only tell people, “We need these things.” If someone says no, you can’t keep asking us. The only way for this to get fixed is the people who are [doing] misogyny, misogynoir, all of those things that are, people who are hurting Black women, hurting Black trans women, all of the women, y’all can’t keep asking us, “How do we fix this?” 

We are not passing legislation to take our rights away. Men are. Men have to look at men. The only reason that the Civil Rights Act got passed was because, white men looked at white men and said, “We have to fix this.” There weren’t enough Black people in Congress, there aren’t enough Black people in Congress today to fix stuff. You can’t keep asking the group that’s being oppressed how to fix the thing, when the people in power don’t want to fix the thing. Stop asking us; we can’t fix it. We literally do not have the power or the ability to fix it. 

That’s one of the things that I like about your book so much because you’re not jumping out there and trying to do a step-by-step explanation of why the world is the way it is or why society is the way it is. You’re just telling stories, and people get to understand and learn, but they get slices of your life. You don’t have to tell a person why you feel a certain way or why you think a certain way or why you move a certain way because they get to share in your experience, and I would like to think that storytelling and being honest and having these conversations will push some of these conversations forward, but like we just said, they don’t.

We’ve been having the same conversation since the Civil Rights Movement. I don’t understand. What do we think the question is? Because what we don’t want to acknowledge is that America first and foremost is about money. America does not care about your rights, America does not care about your freedom, America cares about money. The reason that the Civil Rights Act was passed is because of the Montgomery Bus Boycott that lasted 18 months. It almost bankrupted the City of Montgomery. These White people did not all of a sudden want to give us rights; it was because a city almost went bankrupt. That’s why. 

The day we start remembering that America cares about money, first and foremost, and not about your feelings or your freedom or your rights, things will actually get done. I do not understand how people who have lived here their entire lives do not understand that America is about money. That is it. America was started as a business. Corporations started America. Colonization, all of the Western Hemisphere, was about money. That’s it. Why do we keep forgetting what the basis and soul of this country is? It’s about money.

The Constitution was written for White men who owned property. It wasn’t even written for regular white men. The Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights and all of this independence was for White men who had money. It’s never been about everybody from day one. All of these additional bills that we’ve had to add, and all of these amendments we’ve had to make to the Constitution, was to fix the original document. You had to put in the right to vote for Black people, but it only applied to Black men. Then you had to put in the right for women to vote, but it still only applied to white women. 

We still had to have a whole act to make sure that Black women got to vote, but Black men didn’t want Black women to vote, and White women didn’t want Black women to vote. We literally couldn’t vote until the ’60s, but we watched all these other people get rights before us, while we were taking care of everybody. Again, we’re going, “Well, what’s the issue?” What do you mean? Before anybody can go, “Well, how do we . . . And people are hurting . . .” America has never cared about that. It’s about money and that’s it.

We’re big fans of “The Daily Show.” We’re big fans when Trevor Noah was there. We had Roy Wood Jr. on our show. Roy said that the show became mentally stressful being a correspondent. Do you share that?

You’re trying to get me fired? Next question. You’re not going to get me. Oh, no. You’re not finna Geraldo me, sir. This ain’t no Sally Jessy Raphael. Nah, this ain’t Donahue. Next question. You ain’t going to get me.

It’s a hard job. It’s a hard job, and you know it’s a hard job. 

No, we are not trying to get you fired. We love watching you. and I imagine that so much goes into the skits than you actually executing those skits. 

It’s a difficult job. He wasn’t wrong. It’s mentally exhausting. That’s right.

You’re from the South. Do you still live in New York or are you in L.A. now?

I’m in L.A. I go back and forth.

New York definitely wasn’t your dream place to live. 

It’s a trashy city. It should be burned down. 

What’s the biggest misconception about the South?

That we’re stupid and that Southern Black people are more docile than Northern Black people. That we are somehow lesser, that we’re more racist. There’s so many things, but the thing I think is the most interesting is the idea that the South is more racist. 

That was the thing that was the wildest to me that people really think that the South is more racist than other places in America. New York was one of the [most] racist places I’ve ever lived in my life.

Where do you feel like is the best place to live in America as a Black person?

Atlanta. It’s wild right now, but I can say that not only did I grow up seeing successful Black people and Black people with money and Black professionals and generational Black wealth, white people saw Black professionals and generational Black wealth. I’ll tell you this, if I’m flying first class, the only time I don’t get a dirty look from people on the plane is if I’m flying into or out of Atlanta. That’s it. Because the white people in Atlanta are accustomed to seeing Black people do well and they’re near those Black people. 

W. Kamau Bell said something to me that really affected how I see stuff, and it’s [about] just racism in America as a whole. He was saying, “Southern White people don’t care how close Black people get, as long as they don’t get too high. Northern White people don’t care how high Black people get, as long as they don’t get too close.” 

“If I’m flying first class, the only time I don’t get a dirty look from people on the plane is if I’m flying into or out of Atlanta.”

I grew up in the South. Whatever Southern state I went to, there were Black people around, everywhere. People don’t ever acknowledge how segregated New York is. “Oh, it’s a melting pot.” No, it’s not. It’s a salad bowl. Every city is segregated, first and foremost. But, we don’t ever want to acknowledge that this is supposed to be a bastion of liberal ideas. Liberal white people still don’t want Black people in their neighborhood, and I’ve lived here and I’ve been to one of the most liberal places in the country is supposed to be Portland. Portland’s racist as hell. 

It’s this idea that the South is so racist and then Black people just decided to stay. We had the great migration, so many people left. But I remember as a kid, people’s kids coming back down to see their grandma or their auntie because not everybody left, and then having them come down and be like, “Oh, there’s Black people everywhere.” Because they had their specific neighborhoods here, but they didn’t leave their neighborhoods. That was the craziest thing when I got here, and I was like, “These people in Washington Heights.” I lived in Astoria, which was a Greek neighborhood, and I was like, “Greeks? Y’all this deep cutting the white folks that y’all putting Greeks in one place? Are you kidding? I didn’t even know they still had them.”

In Chicago, they got Ukrainian, Polish, Russian neighborhoods. I was like, “What are we talking about?” But everybody wants to blame the South for all of these things. It’s like, if we can just pick on this one part of the country and just go, “Well, they’re this and they’re backwards,” y’all still aren’t letting people live in certain places in New York. The prices are still high. What are we doing? 

Well, what you said about Atlanta is right. I remember I was staying in Atlanta for a while and my homeboy got his teeth knocked out, his tooth got knocked out playing ball. This is something wild that you just don’t see in a place like New York or in Baltimore, but we was trying to call around to find a dentist to give him another tooth, and he called four people, not even being intentional, but they all were Black. 

That’s what I learned when I would meet Black people from up North like Philly and Jersey and they were like, “Well, I didn’t see a lot of Black doctors or Black lawyers.” And I was like, “We had Black lawyers on buses, we had Black sheriffs, we had corrupt Black sheriffs.” Do you know how long you have to have a Black sheriff before they can be corrupt?

Do you know how long you have to have Black politicians before they can be corrupt? Because if they’re the first ones, they got to be good. By the time you get so many, you’re like, “We can steal money now,” right?

We have Black cops. I’m afraid of the police, but, Black police officers? Do you know how many police officers I’ve yelled at because they are Black?

You got to be like eighth generation Black sheriff before you could be the first corrupt one. 

Four, you’re fine. But it’s just like, we always had Black mayors. I always saw Black excellence. There’s four HBCUs in Atlanta. All the schools are in the hood, but I always was able to see Black people excelling and then I left, and then I was like, “Well, where are the Black people at?” The first thing I got to New York, I was like, “Where are the . . .?” Same thing happened when I went to L.A. I’m like, “Hold on. Where do y’all put them? I know they’re here. I’ve seen rap music before.” But I gotta get on a train to see [them]. I’m not getting on a train to see nobody.

We know how the industry, entertainment and comedy especially, has been extremely racist and sexist. You have a story in the book about a booker not bringing you on because they said they already had a woman doing a set. 

It was a Black club. That’s the main places I heard that.

What rules or blueprint would you give to a Black woman that’s coming up as a comic right now? 

“There’s also a lot of people complaining about stand-up right now about them not getting up because of X reason . . . and what they cannot fathom is that they’re not funny.”

Work. As in, the shows that told me that we’re not putting any more women on the show were Black shows, but that was just the way that those shows worked. Instead of going, “I can’t go up,” I found places that I could go up. Instead of complaining about the fact that I couldn’t get up at those rooms — because you have to remember, I was new starting out, so the Black woman that could get on those shows, were the Black woman that already had to go through this gauntlet of getting past the, “Well, we got eight dudes on the show – you know we only putting one female on.” She’s been at this longer than me, so that’s her spot. Instead of me being upset, I just went to where I could get a spot. 

At the beginning of my career, at the beginning of me doing stand-up, it was just about getting up. Instead of me sulking about, “Well, I can’t get up at this one show,” there was a bunch of other shows in the city, so I went to those. If you can’t perform here and your city has enough shows, go perform somewhere else.

Would you open a comedy club, just to cut through bulls**t like that for other people? 

Do you think that’s what will fix it? People spend a lot of time wanting to talk about trauma and it’s exhausting because it’s not anybody’s business. People want to know, “It was so hard for you. Tell me about it.” No. Why? Because people want to hear about the bad thing. You overcame this and this is about business. In the beginning and the end of the day, it’s about business.

Trauma is a commodity. People sell it all of the time. 

Right, and so that’s what people ask about it. But that’s not what I wrote a book about. I didn’t write a book about trauma. And so, in the place of, instead of me opening up a comedy club because one thing happened to me, I made my lane, I worked. I found the places that would put me up, so that was the solution. Because at the beginning, I only had five minutes. I wasn’t even in a place where I was performing at clubs. I’m just trying to let anybody and everybody let me get up, let me see what I can do. The idea of trying to fix this with opening a comedy club, it’s not how you fix that. It’s people understanding that, one, nobody owes you anything. And so, if there’s an obstacle here, don’t complain about the obstacle. Go around it. 

That’s what all of this book is about, is finding different ways to get to where you want to be. The whole book is me going, “This didn’t work, I did this. I did this, and then I fit this and I hit this.” That’s what I wanted people to know. Don’t let people tell you no. If you know you’re good at what you’re doing, then go do it. But there’s also a lot of people complaining about stand-up right now about them not getting up because of X reason. “I’m a woman, I’m this, I’m that,” and what they cannot fathom is that they’re not funny. Maybe that’s actually the answer.

Who will tell them?

Everybody told you that’s why you can’t get up. It’s not that, “I can’t get up because I’m a woman.” No, girl, you can’t get up because you’re not funny. But how could that be the answer? “Well, I can’t get up because I’m Black.” No, you can’t even get up in Black rooms. These White folks won’t put you up. These Black people won’t put you up. Could you ever fathom the fact, ever entertain the real idea that maybe, you’re not good?

If this is talent-based, maybe you’re not good at this. No one ever takes that into account. I’ve seen comics that are trash complain and complain and complain for years. “I’m not getting what I deserve.” You’re getting exactly what you deserve because you’re not good.

What can we expect from Honeybee this season on “The Great North”?

I don’t remember. Listen, she’s having fun. She’s always having fun. It’s her exploring more of the Great North. It’s more adventurous with Judy and creating more of a sisterhood and a connection with Judy, I think is the main focus for Honeybee this season. It’s creating more of a family and a connection with the Tobins.

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