Bresha Webb is a classically trained performer. She attended the Baltimore School for the Arts, which taught Black legends like Tupac Shakur and Jada Pinkett-Smith, before attending the California Institute of the Arts. Webb can sing. She can dance. She can act. And she has done all of that at different points in her career. When she first broke into the industry she was cast in dramas like ER and Grey’s Anatomy. “I was always the pregnant teenager on every show it seemed like,” she told Refinery29 during a recent phone call. But like many Black kids, she grew up with a love for comedy. “Comedy has followed me everywhere. I grew up watching Tracey Ullman, one-woman shows on Showtime, Thea [Vidale], and Whoopi Goldberg, Bette Midler — the razz and dazz of women owning their talent and being on the stage by themselves and entertaining people. That's what I identified with. Now I’m doing that. It's probably what I was born to do.”
Webb was suited for comedy even if she didn’t know it. She would do impersonations of people like Toni Braxton and Mariah Carey to entertain her friends, and she describes her personality as “very big, and flawed,” two traits that can be walked all the way to the comedy bank.
It wasn’t until Webb was cast as Imunique, a colorful girl from the hood working as a paralegal in Love That Girl! on TVOne that she finally got an opportunity to hone her comedy chops. Creator Bentley Kyle was also responsible for Martin and The Jamie Foxx Show, and during her four seasons on the show, she met a host of comedy legends. She was encouraged to start doing stand-up be on top of her game, and it was in this space that she met big names like Mike Epps and Kevin Hart. The people that she looked up to informed her that her ability to do impersonations on top of her other skills was a “superpower.” Since then she’s been riding the comedy wave in movies like Ride Along 2 and, most recently, the NBC series Marlon, created by and starring Marlon Wayans. She plays Yvette, the gold-digging, bougie best friend of Ashley (Essence Atkins). It returned for a second season on June 14.
But comedy, like many industries is not known for uplifting Black women’s experiences. It is an industry that has profited off of stereotypes and monolithic representations Black women. Roles for Black female comedians are few and far between, and the slow coming and going of Black funny girls with superstar power reminds me of a completely different industry: rap. One of the unspoken rules of hip-hop is that there can only be one hot female rapper at a time, maybe two if they both work really hard. Right now, hip-hop has Nicki Minaj and Cardi B as the reigning queens. Comedy has Tiffany Haddish and Issa Rae. And in some ways, Webb agrees with me.
Despite it being what she called the year of the woman, with female audiences heading out in droves to see films like Wonder Woman and Ocean’s 8, Black women are still often stuck to just one plotline, especially in comedy. She explained that if films cast more than one Black woman in a lineup of women, then it becomes a “Black movie” (as if that’s the worst thing a film can be). “So it kind of makes it feel like it's a rap battle all the time,” Webb acquiesced. “But everything isn't for me. I can't do what Leslie Jones does. I can't do what Tiffany Haddish does. I can't do what Amanda Seales does. I can only do what Bresha Webb does. Everybody has their own lane.” Even though the comedy side of Hollywood is slow to make room for Black women in more than one lane, this way of thinking almost always results in better content.
Fun fact: Webb auditioned for Haddish’s role in Girl’s Trip, the one that put Haddish on her current trajectory as one of the most in-demand women in comedy. And she was able to predetermine who would be a better fit for it. Webb asked producer Will Packer: “Will, have you gotten to Tiffany Haddish yet?” The result was one of the best comedies of 2017 that brought in over $140 million at the box office. Here’s another interesting tidbit: Webb, and apparently several other Black actresses, also auditioned for Zoe Kravitz’s role in Rough Night. “We all went out for that movie, but nobody cared. Because we [had] already seen that movie. And they wanted a character to be like Tiffany Haddish, but that wasn't her. It wasn't authentic.” If the box office is any indicator, she’s right. Rough Night did roughly $47 million.
But in the face of the uphill battle that female comedians face, Webb insists that this marginalized group is just happy to have a seat at the table, even if it does come with a shitty view. She’s happy for the strides that the exceptions to the rules are making, like Haddish’s huge breakout success and Rae’s burgeoning HBO development deals. “Keep unlocking doors and changing the idea and the stigma behind Black female comedy and content,” Webb urges them. “We're smart. We're ratchet. We're classy. We're all of these things.We're honest. We're truthful. We're loyal. We're all of these things.”