Photos: Oxygen Network
When some comedians take the stage, the audience immediately breaks out into laughter… not because the comic said anything; but because of their facial expressions. Yamaneika Saunders is one of those talented comedians. She is a natural in the stand-up spotlight. Yamaneika is taking the New York and Los Angeles comedy scenes by storm, combining her high energy improv skills with a unique and vulnerable perspective on life. You may have seen her as a semi-finalist on NBC's "Last Comic Standing" and cast member of Comedy Central’s "In Security." Next up, Yamaneika co-stars in Oxygen's new docuseries, "Funny Girls," premiering Tuesday April 7th 9/8c.
As LATF continues our "Funny Girls" #hashtag interview series… Yamaneika throws it back on #ThrowbackThursday.
On #ThrowbackThursday, let's take it back to the beginning. Why did you start comedy?
My mother is actually the reason I got into comedy. I was attending the Los Angeles County HS for the Arts studying theater, when my mother started taking me to stand-up comedy classes. She felt like I had the ability to be funny and wanted me to try my hand at. I was completely resistant to the idea of doing comedy, because I wanted to be respected as a legitimate actress. Then my senior year of LACHSA they introduced stand-up as a part of curriculum and I felt like that was a sign from God to at least give it a try and I’ve been doing comedy ever since.
You're a true natural on stage, was there ever a time when you didn't feel comfortable with a mic in hand?
I come from a very entertaining and outgoing family. My grandparents used to own a nightclub, and my mother DJ’d, so one of the first things I learned to do was hold a mic. My mother also worked as an on air talent for several radio stations around the country, so I grew up watching my mother entertain and engage people. All I’ve ever wanted to be was like my mother, so it was important for me to be just as good as her at making people happy. That’s not to say I don’t have my “uneasy” moments and that I haven’t “bombed” before on stage, but being comfortable with the mic was the last thing that I was concerned about.
There are so many hilarious moments with you on "Funny Girls." What are some of your favorite and most challenging memories from the show?
I think the hardest thing for me to do is reel it in, I’m pretty much an open book – so there are times when I’m being “Classic Yamaneika” by either looking crazy at people, or sniffing drinks that are handed to me before I drink them. So, its great to see those moments.
I think my favorite memory was the scene where I’m taking a driving prep lesson, the instructor was deliciously uncomfortable.
There is also the time when I perform burlesque. I usually find that I’m extremely and vulnerable and open when I’m onstage, I like to strip down to my bare soul so that people feel as if I’m saying the things they are thinking but not willing to say, but with burlesque I was completely put out there with my body. There was nowhere to hide, its was completely vulnerable but afterwards I felt like all I wanted to do from then on was burlesque, it was liberating.
Tell us about your guest mentor on the show, as well as others who have inspired you along the way in stand-up.
I didn’t have a mentor on the show, but I was able to have a candid interview with Horatio Sanz, who I think is very accessible as a person. Seeing how humble and tangible he is as a person, despite his incredible resume, keeps me in check.
I am no different than a lot of comics where I am inspired by Richard Pryor, but I find my associate to Pryor through our spirits more so than our approach to standup. I feel a very kindred spirit in comedy with Patrice O’Neal. Many people say that I remind them of Patrice and I feel like that is the best compliment I could ever receive, because Patrice was a genius and I wish the world could have had the opportunity to know him on a grander scale.
You're based in New York. Do you think there is a difference between the LA and NY stand-up scene? Do you prefer one over the other?
I started doing comedy in LA, so for that I will always have a connection with LA and comedy; but I felt for me to become the comic that I needed to be I had to move to NY. It’s like wanting to be a model, sure you can be one in Chicago but you have to eventually go to Paris to be taken seriously.
LA comedy is very pretty and polished, which goes against everything I am. NY comedy is raw, rough, harsh, unfiltered, jagged, gritty …. I love it!
From "Last Comic Standing" to "Funny Girls" to… where would you like your career to go?
I want my career to go wherever God wants it to go, because I certainly didn’t anticipate that I would do “Last Comic Standing” or “Funny Girls”, seems like God has a better career path for me than I have myself, so let’s see where He takes me!
Instagram and Twitter want you to make your own Thursday hashtag… what's it going to be
By Pamela Price
Follow Yamaneika: @yamaneika