Comedian Yamaneika Saunders opens up at Just For Laughs 2017

It’s festival season in Montreal, and some of the greatest comedians from across the globe are pouring into the city for the annual Just for Laughs (JFL) festival. Among them is Yamaneika Saunders, a New York-based stand-up comic who has been pleasing crowds with her bold, dynamic nature for over a decade. This year–her second at JFL–Saunders is featured in the lineup for The Nasty Show, which runs from July 19 to 29, and will hold a live taping of her podcast, Rantin’ and Ravin’ with Yamaneika and Friends, on July 28.

The concept for Saunders’ podcast is simple: She rants about her personal life, current events, and culture in an honest, unfiltered manner. Several years ago, after posting a slew of late-night rants to Facebook, Saunders’ friends encouraged her to channel her words into a weekly show and Rantin’ and Ravin’–now with 4,775 listeners on Soundcloud–was born.

“This is not me trying to be creative, this is not me trying to work on something that needs to be [perfect],” Saunders said. “This is just my time to sit down and reflect and talk about all the things that I’ve gone through, the things I’ve seen in the news that I haven’t been able to address, and that’s what it started off as, just a way to rant.”

In each episode, Saunders speaks boldly about the daily dramas of her personal life, including the trials and tribulations of dating in New York City and the ups and downs of her standup career. She never fears being candid about herself on the podcast, and is similarly open to discussing politics and current events.

“It gets very political at times, you know,” Saunders said. “We’ve seen a lot of social injustices, especially in America, not with just relationships with police in America, and black people in America, but also you know, our president, and you know we have a disproportionate distribution of wealth […], but we also deal with [lighter gossip] like, ‘Oh you know Beyonce ain’t bringing those damn twins out yet.’”

Saunders can speak just as frankly when she’s on stage–a vital part of developing her standup career. A shy child, she began stand-up while studying theater at a performing arts high school as a mechanism her mother encouraged in order to push Saunders out of her shell. As her comedy career developed, Saunders experienced her fair share of nasty audiences, like most comics do. Her ‘aha’ moment came only after experiencing a harsh crowd at The Apollo, a venue known for tearing even the best comics to shreds. The following evening, at a smaller scale show, Saunders received similar feedback from the audience—but this time, having learned her lesson the night before, Saunders gave it back to them.

“Something turned around at that show, because the audience also tried to attack me, and I was like, ‘fuck that,’” Saunders said. “And I just started ripping people, and people started loving it, ‘cause I had never been like that, you know, I grew up in a pretty conservative family, a Christian family […] but I was going through that experience, because I realized if I’m going down, I’m going down fighting […] and that’s how I approached it. Like, ‘Here it is! This is what it is. If you don’t like it, get the fuck out.’”

Even after a decade of comedy, including runs on NBC’s “Last Comic Standing” and “The Meredith Vieira Show,” Saunders still admits to feeling vulnerable on stage.

“When a comic goes onstage, [we are…] exposing our thoughts and our opinions and our belief systems to a room full of strangers, who, if they do not believe in the belief systems that we have, or the opinions that we have, can sour a show very quickly,” Saunders said. “There’s nothing like being rejected by not just one person, but a bunch of people at the same time.”

Despite this lingering anxiety, it is Saunders’ no-fucks-given attitude toward standup that makes her a particularly apt guest for this year’s Nasty Show—a show that is meant to highlight raw, boundary-pushing comics.

“I’m incredibly fortunate to be on this show with the people that are on this show, because they’re all brilliant in their own ways,” Saunders said. “I’m working on a set now that’s just dealing with a lot of nono’s and it’s very cringe worthy [….] At this point in time in my life, there are a lot of things that bother me, a lot of things that I have questions about, and instead of holding this in myself, I have a career where I can go on stage and see how many other people feel the same way I feel.”

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