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‘Woke’ comic trades traditional stand-up for unique, sketch comedy show

If you walk past Artisans Bar & Gallery on the first Tuesday of the month, the laughter spilling onto the streets may instantly grab your attention. What’s on the inside? It’s a cackling audience who can’t help but slap their knees and hold their stomachs as the comics on stage deliver punchline after punchline.

But the performers aren’t telling ordinary “yo momma” and “knock, knock” jokes. They’re ditching those for some highly critical wisecracks about today’s social climate for “Wake Up!,” a monthly comedy series that cleverly tackles race, class and other controversial topics with live sketches, stand-up and music.

Coined as the “comedy show for the resistance,” the program made its debut last year after journalist-turned-funny woman Amber North grew tired of ragging on her relationship and career woes.

“Right after Tamir Rice (the 12-year-old shot by a Cleveland police officer in 2014) was killed, I got sick of not saying anything and using social media as my platform. I thought, ‘I have a microphone and a stage to do the same thing. Let’s try it out,’” she says.

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Amber North began her comedy career in 2013, and she launched “Wake Up!” last year. CONTRIBUTED BY KELLEY RAYE (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Soon after she switched up her routine, she became known as the “woke comic” with the even more woke show. And now with seven installments under her belt, she has found her groove and doesn’t want you to catch a wink of sleep.

We talked to North about her comedy:

Describe the concept for “Wake Up!”

It’s something I’ve always wanted to do to keep my journalistic spirit alive and keep people woke. That’s why I formatted it like a late-night talk show. It begins with “The Fo-Five” segment, where I do four to five topics with a slideshow to give people an example of what I’m talking about. Then I have about five comics who do stand-up. After that, we rock out with a musical guest and my live band the Good Names.

There are a lot of things to be woke about, so we’re not just talking about how terrible things can be like the president not allowing trans people to serve in the military. There’s always a praising of black excellence, so we also celebrate Solange Knowles or Issa Rae. There’s a balance. I make sure that the last topic always ends on a positive note.

What makes your comedy distinct?

No one is doing this whatsoever. There are couple of shows that talk about current events, but no one is keeping the theme of awareness throughout. People are learning. Some even come up to me at the end to say “thank you.”

Plus, there are not too many dry, female comics. My style and wardrobe set me apart. It’s strategic. I wear really nice dresses but talk about ugly topics. I’m really cerebral with my jokes, because I want people to use their brain. I challenge myself by watching my influences, and I recognize their progress. That inspires me. I also tell myself, “No matter what, my perspective is unique.” Yea, there are a lot of black female comics, but we all have different experiences. I’m sharing mine.

The term “woke” became popular during the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, and it is widely used by black people. How can a white comedian be “woke”?

Listen. If you’re being called out about an issue, just listen. Be a friend. Be a comrade, and don’t make the plight of the oppressed the punchline.

Why is comedy important right now?

There is so much beauty in the world, and laughter is one of the most beautiful things. There’s nothing better than to hear someone laugh because of you. They weren’t lying about it being the best medicine.

How can people prepare for “Wake Up!”?

My definition of woke is recognizing social injustices that plague the oppressed and calling to action to make a difference, so come in with an open mind and prepare to leave enlightened.

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