Ayanna Dookie got her start in comedy by talking shit in the Black Engineers Society student lounge at the University of Maryland.
She’d sit around at lunch, telling jokes and poking fun at fellow students who found her so entertaining they’d come to the lounge, sometimes bringing friends from other departments, hoping to catch her impromptu performances.
“It was the oddest thing to me, that someone would come [to the lounge] just to hear me talk,” says Dookie, who’s now performing on much bigger stages, co-hosting a weekly comedy show in Manhattan’s East Village and appearing on Fox’s “Laughs” series and NBC’s “Stand-Up for Diversity,” to name a few.
Summer Blaze Comedy Show
Jefferson School African American Heritage Center
Dookie is making a name for herself with her specific brand of wry, sarcastic jokes about her favorite kind of catcall (the “If I was your man…”) and her reasons for shaving her head (one too many declarations of “If I was your man…”), and she’s delivering hilarious stories, including a particularly, um, “ballsy” one about the joys of moving in with a boyfriend.
Dookie says that when she started performing stand-up a little more than a decade ago, she drew much of her material from her childhood, joking about growing up biracial—her mom is black, her dad is Indian; both are Trinidadian—and having what she claims is “the worst last name of all time,” which gave her no choice but to develop a good sense of humor.
A few years ago, Dookie, who was working as an engineer by day and performing stand-up at night, took a sketch writing class at the famed Upright Citizens Brigade and started writing scenes and stories. Her “You’re Not Vegan!?” sketch—where a couple’s romantic date night takes a turn after an unexpected confession—was selected for performance in NBC’s 2016 “Scene Showcase” program, and Dookie says that’s where she realized she was capable not just of performing comedy, but writing it too.
After taking a second writing class at UCB thanks to a diversity scholarship, Dookie landed a seat in the writer’s room for 50 Cent’s upcoming BET variety show, “50 Central,” where she’s responsible for pitching and writing sketches, man on the street segments, games, animation and some stand-up. Just the other day, she pitched a bit that raises the stakes on childhood birthday party amusements like musical chairs, pin the tail on the donkey and the piñata game—whether it makes it to the air, we’ll have to wait and see.
Dookie says that looking for jokes is like looking for a boyfriend—“even when you’re not looking, you’re looking”—and she’s constantly finding humor in mundane situations like riding public transportation with a bunch of nose-pickers or adopting a cat. She often finds herself in bizarre situations, too, like that time she discovered her boyfriend was a cheater and a murderer (it’s true—see the sidebar).
In Dookie’s opinion, the best jokes are the ones that do more showing than telling, the ones that let us know more about the person who’s telling the joke by welcoming us into her world, no matter how strange or familiar it may be. “I think we all want to know each other’s experience,” she says. The best jokes are also the well-executed ones—if you’re not funny, don’t get on stage, “don’t be that boring person,” she pleads. And take heed, because after all these years, Dookie’s still not averse to talking shit, especially on Twitter, the world’s student lounge. The pinned tweet on her account reads, “‘Wanna hear something funny?’—The preface to the longest, most boring story about your coworker’s weekend.”
What makes Dookie happiest, though, is laughter—her own and that of her audience, whether they’re engineering students, comedy club regulars or people just looking for a little late night comic relief on the tube.
“Everybody wants to laugh, everybody needs to laugh,” says Dookie. “We take things way too seriously and we need to get out of that mindset, even for a moment.” While a comic cracks jokes, you don’t have to think about paying bills, what’s on the news or what your shady crush is up to—for a little while, Dookie says, “I get to help people forget about the negative.” It’s her favorite part of the job, and, she says, it makes her feel like the luckiest person in the world.
You can’t make this shit up
For Ayanna Dookie, sometimes reality is stranger than fiction: When she was in her early 20s, she dated a guy named Spike, and after a year of dating him, a woman she’d never met told Dookie she’d seen Spike with another woman. Dookie turned a blind eye to the cheating (not the best idea, she says) and dated Spike for two more years—until she Googled him at the insistence of a friend. That’s when she saw a news story that reported Spike was being held on $100,000 bail for the murder of his girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend. “Except the girlfriend wasn’t me,” Dookie told the New York Post. “Of all the ways to find out that your boyfriend is cheating on you, this one took the cake.”
“It’s never just ‘I had a boyfriend and we broke up,’” she says, laughing. “It’s always some next- level shit with me.”