UCB Alum Hopes to Build Up Harlem’s Indie Comedy Scene With Comedy Show Relaunch

April 20, 2015 | Prachi Gupta

For years, the Soul Glo Project was a regular production at Upright Citizens Brigade, championed by longtime improvisor Keisha Zollar. However, the next few shows will be in Harlem, where Zollar hopes to foster an indie improv scene similar to those in parts of Brooklyn, Queens and Lower Manhattan.

“I’m trying to develop the comedy scene in Harlem,” said Zollar, who teaches comedy at Sarah Lawrence College, is producing a documentary called An Uncomfortable Conversation about Race, and served as UCB’s Diversity Coordinator for several years. “There’s stand-up, but not as many indie venues. I want more venues like that,” she said.

The Soul Glo Project started in 2009 after Horse Trade Theater reached out to Zollar to attract more diverse audience and talent at its shows, which it noticed was predominantly white 20-something people. The show then moved to UCB, Zollar said, and “ran continuously with some 6-month hiatuses.” The last performance with UCB was in the fall, and in Harlem, the show will “get back to the roots of diversity and inclusion.”

“The whole idea that we’re trying to do is shows that feel like New York,” she said. “Things that celebrate different cultures. Right now we’re focusing on having a bunch of Asian comics for Asian History Month. We like the idea of being as inclusive as we can.”

The show will feature improv, stand-up, spoken word and musical comedy group AzN Pop. While the next show, on Monday night, will have a theme, not all of the shows will. The biggest theme seems to be the focus on including a wide range of performers.

“Sometimes the comedy scene can be isolating or fall into certain norms,” Zollar said, noting that, like most of the entertainment industry, comedy favors straight white men. That point of view, in turn, is what we equate with “the mainstream.” The concept of “mainstream” is something that bugs Zollar, as it points to a construct that society has created and accepted as the “norm” regardless of whether it actually represents us. “[The Soul Glo Project is] trying to do the mainstream,” she pointed out. “We’re trying to reflect demographics as they actually are. That’s one of the falsities in that construction of the argument. There are straight white men that perform in our show. However, there are other voices in our show as well. It’s about changing the narrative. Mainstream isn’t an actual reflection of society, so is it actually mainstream?”

Rather than saying “mainstream,” she prefers thinking in terms of “inclusivity.” The media is “forgetting to be more inclusive in regards to different styles and points of views,” she said, and then the “hope is to normalize it.”

The coolest or weirdest thing to happen at a Soul Glo Project show, according to Zollar, was when a diverse group of students from Westchester performed “legitimately good” improv. “It was the cutest thing in the world. They were great, they were legitimately great improvisers.”

If you’re interested in participating with Soul Glo Project, there are only two requirements: You must have something interesting thing to say, and you must not be “a hater.” “We always ask people to submit ideas and are always open to it,” said Zollar. “We’re really looking for people who are aiming for unique expression and level of authenticity. And talented or funny or intersting and dynamic. We want powerful and interesting and nuanced.”

Soul Glo Project: The Relaunch starts at 7:30 PM at Silvana, free admission.

(Image: Bucky Turco/ANIMALNewYork)