AIP029 | How to Navigate Diversity Issues in Improv Communities to Increase Your Acting Opportunities – with Keisha Zollar

Keisha Zollar
Keisha Zollar

Actor-comedienne Keisha Zollar talks with host Ben Hauck about diversity issues at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre and in the improv world in general, and what actors can do to increase the population of diverse voices in performance.

In this interview inspired by a Washington Post article on diversity issues at UCBT, Keisha explains her current relationship with UCBT as an improv teacher and formerly as its diversity coordinator. She details her activities and achievements as diversity coordinator along with some of the diversity concerns students have brought up to her.

Keisha also details why she values diversity and how being more inclusive in improv communities means richer performances and richer representations of a nuanced American culture, both in the performer ranks and in the content of performance. She goes into the historical roots of oppression and how it leads to the marginalization of voices, but also how marginalization creates new art forms and voices.

Having the goal to represent diverse voices is not enough, says Keisha, and exhausting followthrough is also necessary in order to ensure a richer diversity. Keisha does not mandate how to start an improv group or improv school, nor does she express not to work with people of similar backgrounds. Instead, she urges performers to become aware of their unconscious biases so they do not work against interests in diversity. She also reminds her students that, in improv, they can be anything, not just stereotyped roles that match their ethnicity or gender.

Keisha concludes with a plea of empathy for performers who feel their voices have been marginalized.

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Keisha Zollar’s Bio
Keisha Zollar
Keisha Zollar

Keisha Zollar is an actor, writer, and comedienne. She has been seen on Orange Is the New Black, The Today Show, College Humor, Comedy Central, MTV, UCB Comedy, and numerous web series. She can be seen performing around New York City at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre and the Peoples Improv Theater. Keisha also performs regularly with her UCB Harold team and is a member of Doppelgänger (with Sasheer Zamata and Nicole Byer). She also co-hosts The Soul Glo Project (on iTunes), a podcast celebrating comedy and inclusion.

Washington Post Article

In a Washington Post article titled “Diversity problems persist for Upright Citizens Brigade comedy troupe, student says,” published on September 22, 2015, writer Soraya Nadia McDonald scrutinizes claims that the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre gives lip service to diversity without creating real change in its performer ranks.

McDonald’s article cites a post on Medium from September 20, 2015, by improv student-performer Rita Chinyere (aka Brita James) in which Chinyere explains she is quitting the improv school out of frustration over perceived discrimination and lack of care in minorities, providing statistics on its underrepresentation of people of color in its performer rolls. UCB improv teacher and former diversity coordinator Keisha Zollar is also cited in the Washington Post article to provide added perspective on diversity issues for performers in improv communities.

Denae’s Tumblr Post

Keisha references a Tumblr post on diversity by Danae Hannah.

Keisha also later contributed this Tumblr post by another improviser:

Astronomy Club

Keisha Zollar is a member of the sketch comedy and improv group Astronomy Club. In the episode, she references the diverse profile of its performers.

Zach Galifianakis

Keisha references actor Zach Galifianakis in this episode.

Huffington Post Article

In the interview, Keisha references an article from the Huffington Post. It is titled “White Fragility Is Racial Violence,” and it was published on September 18, 2015.

Martin H. Levinson’s Poem “People Do”

Martin H. Levinson, president of the Institute of General Semantics, author, and poet, permitted the use of his poem “People Do” for this podcast episode.


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