Comedians Deon Cole and Affion Crockett have a superpower—they make people laugh. Raucously.
While professional comedians most certainly have a great talent—a blessing even—providing their audience with moments of joy and light, particularly in dark moments, they also feel deeply. And some of these feelings and experiences hurt. Sometimes, these ‘funny people’ don’t feel like laughing.
“Everybody thinks that I’m supposed to be funny. They always think you want to be hit in the face with a pie or something,” says Deon Cole. The comedian and actor took to the ESSENCE Fest stage, joined by his ‘Brother in comedy,’ Affion Crockett. The duo spoke at the “In His Zone” stage—a specially curated space during the festival, just for the brothers. This intimate conversation explores how legendary comedians use laughter to keep themselves from crying.
First, the humorists establish how they approach their craft.
Deon Cole says that the most critical part of being a comedian is being true to self. “The person you see in the mirror every morning is the person that’s going to make you rich, and it’s going to make you stand out from everybody else.” He continues, “You might as well be yourself because everybody else is taken.”
Comedian Affion Crockett considers himself to be a spiritual artist. “I feel like I operate out of the spirit. I don’t operate out of time—out of what I did last year or ten years ago. What I’m finna do, I operate in the now; the power of right now.”
As a ‘spiritual artist,’ Crockett understands that we all have the spirit within us and are connected. This connection leads to a strong shared experience—which is especially important in comedy. “We’re Black people, the same spiritual connection that makes two-year-old babies know how to dance when they first hear a beat; I have that connection with other people. So if I think it’s funny, somebody else is going to think it’s funny.”
At ESSENCE Fest, both comedians share their moments of joy and how they tap into their craft. But they also explore moments when they’ve felt a great loss.
Affion Crockett lost his father in 2021. He reflects on the grief that he felt for the ESSENCE Fest audience. “That was my first time losing a parent. So I never dealt with that before. I went through many, many days of tears that I’ve never cried before.” The North Carolina native continues, “But what helped me get through that was Spice Adams and me doing our thing on the Verzuz after shows, and it was just like being able to laugh with somebody, just take my mind off of that. And the fact that my dad was a fan of my comedy, I was doing something that he loved already.”
Deon Cole also lost his mother in 2021. Unbeknownst to audiences, he shot his Netflix special called Charleen’s Boy a year before the exact day that she passed away—there was no other day to shoot the special. With that, Cole dedicated his special to her.
“When people pass in our lives, they live through us. I don’t care if it’s a password on your computer, whatever it is, it’s something that you do every day that reminds you of that person.” The comedian continues, “I felt like if I named this special Charleen’s Boy not only would that be who I am, that would be what the world would be saying repeatedly by bringing her name up [Charleen]. I wanted to shoot it on that day to show people that you never know what the comic is going through.”
Comedians are human—while it is their job to make us laugh, they most certainly have moments when they cry and grieve. Cole urges audiences to extend comedians (and performers more broadly) grace.
“When you come to these shows and when you see people in movies, have some compassion because we are paid to put our problems aside in order to entertain. And that can backfire on you if you don’t have the right people around you and if you don’t have a relationship with God,” says Cole, finally.