Shakira Ja'nai Paye Gets Serious
Shakira Ja'nai Paye is an up and coming comedian that you don’t want to miss! To learn more about her, her comedic group Obama’s Others Daughters, her thoughts on prison reform, and who she feels should have been on the Iron Throne, please read Jejune’s exclusive interview here.
Where are you based?
I’m based in Los Angeles, but I also grew up in MD.
Did you find living in Baltimore challenging? Is it very different from LA?
I’m sure you’d agree, but yes Baltimore is very different from LA. The east coast has an entirely different type of swag to it. Also, we have way better crab cakes in Maryland. ;)
What got you interested in acting and comedy?
My father actually took me on my first audition when I was one year old, but I didn’t really start until I started performing at the local theatre in middle school, and majored in theatre in high school. I loved acting right away! My comedy career started in LA after I fell in love with improv!
Tell us about Obama’s Other Daughters.
Obama’s Other Daughters is an all Black female comedy formation. We just closed a digital deal with Comedy Central in partnership with the creative team behind Broad City — Lucia Aniello and Paul W Downs, and our first sketch recently went live!
How did the four of you meet?
Originally, we got together through a Facebook group on the UCB diversity page. We were all searching for a sense of community and a space to practice and hone our improv skills. Through lots of hard work and tons of practice, we’ve become like sisters!
Can you tell us about where the name comes from?
Well, we pitched a few different group names over mimosas and landed on Obama’s Other Daughters. We felt like the name was funny and clear on who we are: black girls who, if they could be, would be daughters of the best president this country has ever seen!
Where do you normally perform?
We host our monthly Black Girl Magic show in Los Angeles. It's the only all-black, all-female show, at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade, one of the top comedy theaters in the country. We’ve performed for audiences as large as 3,000 and often tour at colleges and comedy festivals around the country. It's been a lot of fun!
Can you please tell us a little bit about the project you are working on with Comedy Central?
Right now, we're working with Comedy Central on three digital sketches. The first one went live, but we have at least two more sketches coming out this summer on their website. So keep an eye out!
We loved your Game Of Thrones spoof “Deez Thrones”. It does make an excellent point that most of the black people in the show were slaves who have been castrated. Can you talk about this sketch a little bit?
To start, I’ve been watching Game of Thrones for the past eight years along with two of my other teammates. I own the book series, and I own a few cheesy Game of Thrones themed shirts. Shout out to Amazon Prime for keeping me in the freshest GOT gear, lol. But yeah, when Obama’s Other Daughters first sat down with our producers, Lucia Aniello and Paul W Downs, and Comedy Central, we pitched a few original ideas. I pitched the Game of Thrones idea; it had been in my head for quite some time. I had already written a first draft of it, but I still needed to fill it in with all of our individual voices, and as a team we did that. But I got the idea from watching the show…I’m pretty sure any person of color/ any honest white person who watches the show notices the lack of representation in the show.
If your episode was real, who would have ended up on the throne?
LOL, well I always felt like I was Khalessi, and as it turns out she didn’t end up on the throne. But she should have! So if I had to put anyone on the throne, it would be me, haha.
Why is it so important that we see more African American female comedians?
I grew up seeing a tiny handful of representation, and even still, in the comedy world not excluded. Black women are few and far between. But in the real world we exist, we’re all so different, and have such different POVs. I think Obama’s Other Daughters is the best example of how funny and different every black woman is. We all shine in our own lane and it’s beautiful! “If you can see it, you can be it,” is very true! I honestly didn’t fully think I’d have a chance in the UCB improv community until I saw a black woman on stage… I was surrounded by so many white teachers and performers on stage that I honestly didn’t even consider improv as a possibility for me. But then, BAM, I see a black girl unicorn on stage, and it shifted my whole point of view.
Can you tell us a little bit about your new Netflix drama “All Day and a Night” and your character Shantaye?
Shantaye is the complicated love interest to “Jah”. “She loves hard, but she’s also strong and she won’t be stepped on by anyone. She’s been through a lot for a young person, but she’s still able to see the cup as half full. “All Day and a Night” is such an important film. It does such a great job of showing the importance of respecting the humanity of all people, because we all have a story.
Can you please speak some on your thoughts about the need for prison reform and why it is so important?
On a personal note, it has effected my family gravely. My uncle was 15 when he was charged as an adult in Baltimore. He did commit a crime, but I don't believe his crime equated to the punishment he received. He’s one of many people of color underserved by an unjust system. Unfortunately, this isn’t an anomaly. We don’t all get second chances. I don't believe prisons should be for profit. It’s corrupt and we desperately need prison reform in this country.
How would you like to see things change?
Fair sentencing for people of color, especially the black community. I’ve seen first hand how we’ve suffered way to much. And I stand with Cut50 — an organization that is trying to reduce America’s prison population by 50%.
Finally, I work with a second chance organization in NYC that helps kids (mostly minority males) get back on their feet after being arrested. Do you have any words of wisdom for them and kids like them?
Take it one day at a time. The system may have been rigged against you up top, but now it’s time to stand in your power. They can’t own your thoughts, so strengthen them. Take the time to work on your mental health. Invest in your happiness. I wish you all the best of days to come!