Comedy club for women of color is a game changer

Kemah Bob, founder of FOC IT UP! Comedy Club. (Matt Crockett)

PinkNews Journalist and comedian Asyia Iftikhar talks to Kemah Bob about their Women of Color comedy club, FOC IT UP.

When I first played FOC IT UP, a LGBTQ+ Inclusive Comedy Clubit was the first time that I was part of a line-up made up exclusively of non-white people as a comedian.

I felt a warmth that I had rarely felt in comedy spaces before – a testament to the founder’s hard work Kema Bob has put into creating a vibrant and inclusive space for women (including women, non-binary and trans people) of color in comedy to thrive.

Kemah was inspired by their friend Sadie Sinner, who runs a cabaret company The Cocoa Butter Clubafter being given a one-hour slot at a comedy club.

“I knew I wanted a space for non-binary women and artists, as well as trans men,” Kemah said. PinkNews.

From humble beginnings in 2018, FOC IT UP has become a haven for countless comedians, hosted Edinburgh Fringe shows, launched a podcast and, most importantly, built a community.

“I was talking to someone recently, and we were talking about the barriers to entry for trans and non-binary artists and they said one barrier is having a place to rig and practice, having places to perform where you feel safe and welcome. I think and really hope that we are part of the offer of a place,” they add.

Kema Bob. (Matt Crockett)

Kemah also spoke about the challenges that marginalized comedians have faced in recent years with the rise of “cancel culture” discourse in comedy spaces.

“It’s an honor to take on the responsibility of being a place where people feel welcome,” they say after some deliberation.

“I can’t guarantee what comedians say when they go on stage – I wouldn’t want them to say or not say anything.

“But what I can do is book people who I think will respect the space. I think the phenomenon of people in comedy, saying what they mean without facing any consequences or being held accountable is nothing new.

They wholeheartedly believe that people targeted by high-profile comedians are also “empowered” and “brought together” by these same attacks.

Kemah reflected on the anti-trans route comedian Dave Chappelle took, as someone who was “hugely inspirational and hilarious” growing up.

“It’s really disappointing,” they say, “and it’s also scary because I hope to be creating for the rest of my life and I hope to stay in a mindset of learning, humility, and of growth.

“It terrifies me that some people reach a certain age or a certain level of achievement and just disengage from their ability to listen to others and learn about their experiences.”

For Kemah, they believe FOC IT UP is a space to step away from discourse and “facilitate a space that centers something else entirely.”

Comedian Sophie Duker performs at FOC IT UP
Comedian Sophie Duker performs at FOC IT UP! (Lyra Vega)

FOC IT UP adapts after confinement and the crisis in the average cost of living

During the pandemic, theater and live performances were hit hard as everything was online. Kemah knows all too well the existential gloom of playing alone in your bedroom on a screen of silent black boxes.

Although the lockdown has long since ended, Kemah is clear the impact of the pandemic has not been – something they have seen in themselves and in the public.

“I wanted to come back but I also understood that not everyone feels safe to go out and be in a crowd. I think we have all been put in a position to manage our own risks.

It is by attacking this that FOC IT UP! comedy club podcast was born in 2022.

Kema Bob
Kema Bob. (Matt Crockett)

“People don’t go out like they used to,” Kemah says.

“Some of us have found great joy at home. And it can be more difficult to get us out and about things. Even a lot of comedians, myself included, enjoy not being outside and performing all the time.

“[There’s also the] cost of living crisis, so the number of people buying tickets for live shows has really changed, so it’s just to take it into account and try to make the best decisions for the FOC IT UP community.

“What we do is valuable and necessary”

Despite the changing nature of the industry, Kemah has big plans for the future of FOC IT UP. They hope to bring back workshops to help new comedians of color develop their stand-up skills, create more community hangout spaces, and have more regular gigs.

“I know what we do is beautiful, valuable and necessary,” they say.

“When we facilitate space, we must stay true to our intent, which is to create a joyful and empowering experience for people on and off stage.”

FOC IT UP live show.
FOC IT UP live show. (Corinne Cumming)

Despite my own experiences and those of other women of color in some comedy venues, Kemah wants to encourage people to consider acting and join a movement of like-minded comedians.

“I’m very into women, non-binary and trans people of color trying out comedy,” they say.

“I feel like everyone has something unique to share and I always want to encourage people to find it and express themselves.

“If it clicks for you and if it clicks for the public, I always want people to come in and give it a try. Because I think if people get paid to talk about their opinions and experiences, then it should be people of color.

You can find details about live show dates, podcast updates and more on the FOC IT UP! website.