Interview Yamaneika Saunders
By BJ Dowlen
Meet the hilarious comedian Yamaneika Saunders. Many of you know her from her cohosting gig on the Meredith Vieira Show and her many appearances on Comedy Central, Oxygen, TrutV and Showtime. How did this Maryland-born girl go from being booed off the stage at the iconic Apollo theatre to becoming the Queen of the NYC comedy scene?
BJ: My first introduction to your comedic genius was at the taping of the very first Meredith Vieira TV show a couple years ago where I was totally blown away and told you I knew you would be a star. We’ll get to that, but let’s start from the beginning. How did you get your start in comedy?
Yamaneika: I grew up in a funny family; everyone wanted to be the funny one in the room. I was born in Maryland, and moved to L.A. when I was 15. My mom was doing stand-up there, but I had no interest in doing stand-up comedy. My senior year of high school, I was “planning” on taking student directing, but my mom really wanted me to do comedy, so I auditioned for the comedy class using a joke from my mom…. and it bombed. I stormed out of the audition. I sat there for a moment, noticed I was wearing a red jumpsuit and during the next person’s audition, I burst into the room and yelled “Hey Kool-Aid” (like the Kool-Aid TV commercial). The teacher saw something in me, and I got into the comedy class. At the school Christmas show I killed it and then starting doing professional stand-up.
BJ: How did you make the jump from school talent show to professional comedy clubs?
Yamaneika: I was still in high school when I started working at comedy clubs and since I was so young I had to go on stage first, because I was too young to be anywhere in the comedy club, except on stage. By day I was in comedy class and by night I was performing at comedy clubs.
BJ: Why did you decide to move from L.A. to NYC?
Yamaneika: Before college, I moved back to Maryland for 6 months, and then my mom got sick, so I moved back to L.A. for a year. At 21, I moved to NYC and never looked back. My first break was working with Gladys Simone at the Comedy Room, where she started letting me “run rooms” for her. From there I broke in at the Comedy Club, then Urban Nights. Pretty much no one thought I’d make it past the first year in NYC: 17 years later, I’m still going strong.
BJ: What was it like performing at the iconic Apollo theatre in NYC?
Yamaneika: Performing at the Apollo was a pivotal moment in my career. Countless famous comedians share stories of being booed off the stage. Not only was I booed off the stage during the show, but when I got on the train to go home, there were audience members who were also on my train, and they booed me on my entire train ride home. It’s a rough crowd; however, I walked away with a new perspective and approach to my comedy. At the time, I was much too polite, and I decided to be more real, more authentic.
BJ: That red jumpsuit… I saw you CRUSH it on Comedy Central wearing a spectacular red jumpsuit, and then after the show, you offered to give it away on Instagram to any follower of yours who wanted it. What was the driving force for this?
Yamaneika: There are many layers to the “Red Jumpsuit”. I had recently had my heart broken, and I was feeling a bit down when I saw posts about the person I was “replaced” with, that maybe the next person was better than me. After I allowed myself to feel and process those feelings, I decided F*&% that! I decided to take on a new attitude of seeing myself as valuable, regardless of any external factors. When you realize your value, others value you as well. At the same time as my new attitude, the preparation and filming for my next Comedy Central TV “battle” was taking place. EVERYONE at Comedy Central was supportive of me and created a fun, secure environment for me to perform. I started playing with looks for my “comedy battle” and I decided I was going to embrace my curves and be a sexy ass! Too many people equate size to their level of attraction; there are plenty of fat girls who are gorgeous. I decided to go with sexy hair, sexy jumpsuit, and a sexy attitude to make it ridiculous for people to make any obvious jokes about size. Rocking that jumpsuit with confidence really had an impact on me, and I decided I want to see another woman kill that outfit too. So I posted it on IG that I was going to give the red jumpsuit away. I’m hoping to inspire these women to embrace who they are, and encourage them to be their best sexy version of themselves.
BJ: What is your mantra?
Yamaneika: Live life and be open!
IG = @Yamaneika
FB = Yamaneika Saunders