There's no question that a childhood spent growing up Ethiopian in Haight-Ashbury made fertile ground in which to grow a stand-up career. That's where Yanye Abeba is coming from. Abeba is performing in Kung Pao Kosher Comedy's second Color of Funny comedy tour on Thu/21 and Fri/22. Her schtick will be part of a unique line-up -- and afterall, how many other people can pull on the interactions between their first generation African father and the homeless kids on Haight Street for their funny?
The divergent Color of Funny's line-up can perhaps best be described as a comedic gumbo. Other performers include one of India's few professional female stand-ups, venture capitalist turned storyteller Dhaya Lakshminarayanan. Joining her, award-winning broadcast journalist Maureen Langan (at the Thu/21 Berkeley show only) will bring tales of being the daughter of an Irish immigrant mother and garbage man father. Recent college graduate Nathan Habib (at the Fri/22 Santa Cruz) grew up in a Jewish-Israeli household with a Latvian mother and an Italian-raised dad. [Editor's note: we interviewed Habib about pushy moms and Chinese restaurants back when he was a fresh-faced 21 years old.]
“There are so many points of view in this world,” Abeba says of this group of funny people in an interview with the Guardian. “Talking about our experiences in a comedic way gets people interested. They realize that even though their parents are from the 'burbs and mine are from Africa, we have common experiences.”
Abeba’s acts recurrently discuss the clash between her Ethiopian and American backgrounds. “Ethiopian culture is so different from American culture and it makes for great comedy,” she says, adding that she is still shocked by how many people can’t find Ethiopia on a map but know the region was starving. "Inspired by Whoopie Goldberg," Abeba employs comedy to combat cultural ignorance. Lately, she says her stand-up is focused increasingly on politics because she is concerned about this country.
“I worry that people have become apathetic and aren't really paying attention as their lives slip deeper into poverty,” says the comedian.
So when the Occupy movement arrived in SF, Abeba was excited and began attending events. But she quickly became disenfranchised when she encountered people whose focus was on personal issues with parents and cops, not capitalism or the banking system.
That disconnect became punchline fodder. “I just looked at it as another source for material,” she says. “Don't get me wrong, I believe in the original message of the Occupy movement and I think that it is time things changed so that more people have opportunity. I think this country is for everyone, not just the Koch brothers.”
So she's not diminished the Occupy ethos – but she is looping its reality in with her own activism of simply being a woman in stand-up. Because there are not many female comedians, and even less female comedians of color, Abeba has had to roll over several gender stereotypes.
“I have a had a lot of men in this industry tell me that women have no place doing comedy, and that women aren't funny,” she says. “They think all we do is talk about our periods and dating.”
She adds that if she had a nickel for every time she heard a man talk about anal sex and some hot chick, she would own a Range Rover.
“Some of my favorite local comedians are different from the mold,” she says. “They are transgender, disabled, Indian, gay, and their point of view matters. As you get to know them through their comedy, you become more accepting of some one who is different because they touched you with their truth.”
“Kung Pao Kosher Comedy Presents the Second (Sorta-Annual) Color of Funny”
Thu/21 8pm, $20
Julia Morgan Theatre
2640 College, Berk.
Fri/22 8pm, $20
Kuumbwa Jazz Center
320 Cedar, Santa Cruz