Amanda Seales is the queen of reintroduction. Since her first big break as a child actor on the 1994 Nickelodeon sitcom “My Brother and Me,” she’s been in and out of the spotlight. As VJ Amanda Diva on MTV2, she enjoyed another big moment of fame, and it’s happening again now with her portrayal of the ultra-bougie Tiffany on “Insecure,” Issa Rae’s hit HBO series.
Even more gratifying for Seales is being known for just being herself. That comes courtesy of her stand-up comedy career, her no-holds-barred Instagram posts, and her overall outspokenness. Last year, Seales went viral for the latter when she confronted Caitlyn Jenner about her White privilege at a dinner party live-streamed on Katy Perry’s YouTube channel. For Seales, it was a personal and professional breakthrough.
“It was a unique experience to see what happened with Caitlyn Jenner going viral because it allowed a lot of folks to have a connectivity to Amanda the person, and I think [for] a lot of actors that’s not really a factor for them,” she says. “But for comedians, that’s actually really important to us because your point of view is really like the crux of your comedy. But also for me, as an educator, as somebody who is about excellence, who is about women’s rights, etcetera, it very quickly got people hip to not only my point of view but [also] that I ain’t afraid.
“I think we need more folks that are fearless in that way, and I was happy to be able to give folks inspiration. And the reason it changed my life is because when you give folks inspiration, they will come and tell you, and so it becomes different than ‘ain’t you on that’ and it turns into ‘Amanda Seales, I appreciate you’ and that’s just a different love and exchange.”
If anyone is up to that challenge, especially when it comes to standing up for Black people, it’s Seales, who has a master’s degree in African American studies from the Ivy League Columbia University. Her passion for and knowledge of African American history and culture is the driving force behind her “Smart Funny and Black” show.
“Smart Funny and Black is basically a live Black pop culture game show that I created,” Seales explains. “We have a live band. We have two contestants that we call Blacksperts. They come on stage and compete in games that I’ve created that test their knowledge of Black culture, Black history and the Black experience.”
Seales, who rarely misses an opportunity to tout her Grenadian heritage, says she created the show “because I wanted somewhere where we can celebrate Black culture, where we can have a safe space, where we can talk about things going on in the Black community without having to wonder are we offending anybody [or] are we having to dry White tears. And we’ve had those spaces in the past with ‘In Living Color’ and ‘Def Comedy Jam,’ etcetera. We ain’t got nothing like that right now so I was like let me make it. Don’t complain about it, be about it.”
After a few years of developing and producing the show in various venues or for special occasions, including NBA All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles, Seales launched the 10-city tour, “Smart Funny & Black: Lituation 101″ on July 30. The tour, which wraps Aug. 14, two days after the third season premiere of “Insecure,” immediately sold out seven shows.
“I reached the point [in my career] where it was like make something dope and make something for the people,” she shares. “With ‘Smart, Funny and Black,’ I was able to do that and then have a third part where it serves [its purpose] economically.”
Taking ownership of her creative talents is important to Seales. Conversations about creativity and innovation drive much of her podcast, “Small Doses.”
“I [have] just been at this business of creating for a very long time,” she says. “I say ‘the ‘business of creating’ because you know you can be a creative but you’re not doing it in commerce. We have folks that have hobbies. For instance, when I paint, I don’t paint for the purpose of selling paintings. I paint because I love to paint. If someone buys the prints or whatever, so be it, but it’s not my main form of business. As a performer, that is my main form of business.”
From the outside looking in, it may be difficult to see how Seales — whose many memorable stints also include being a spoken word poet on “Def Jam Poetry” and filling in for Natalie Stewart on a Floetry tour, singing and rapping alongside Marsha Ambrosius — has juggled it all. For her, it’s quite simple. “I think if you look at my trajectory, it’s like anything I was doing I was very involved in it,” she explains. “When I was a host on MTV, that was what I was doing. When I was a spoken word poet, that’s what I was doing. When I was doing music, that was what I was doing.”
The overachiever — who keeps busy to defy boredom — isn’t at all afraid to be vulnerable either. She consistently shows that on Instagram, where she regularly peels back her many layers. Ignoring antiquated rules dictating that women, in general, and Black women, in particular, have to always look perfect and say what’s expected, Seales often posts without makeup or her hair perfectly done and fearlessly takes on controversial issues. “I think, especially my generation, we’ve grown up with a certain pristine vision [of] what women should [be] like and how we should be presented, and I’ve always gone against that,” she explains.
When it comes to advice about breaking through in entertainment, Seales is clear: “You need to pay attention to people who are doing s—.” That’s why it was very easy for her to sign onto “Insecure.” It’s also why she’s not surprised by its success and impact culturally.
“Issa had already done ‘Awkward Black Girl.’ That had also impacted the culture. So I think that it was really just a matter of time that she was going to make something new that would do that even more. And Issa is somebody who is very much about just keep working, keep working, keep working,” she says.
Seales, who turned 37 on July 1, admits to being willing to also get her personal life on track. “I would love to have a healthy relationship that lasts a really long time,” she says.
In the meantime, she’s very cool with where she is now. “I just love being able to create and make things that inspire and that make people laugh, and my motivation to keep going is to make more opportunities to do that,” she says.
“My goal is to just have options.”
Story by Ronda Racha Penrice
Interview by Loni Swain
Photos by Antonio Dixon