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How ‘The New Negroes’ Sets Out to Redefine ‘What It Means to Be a Black Creative in America Now’

Baron Vaughn and Open Mike Eagle know the title of their new Comedy Central show, “The New Negroes,” will cause a few double takes.

The hosting duo thought about changing it, but then thought again. “I like that it’s provocative, that it’s not easily explained or that there’s no easy answer to what it means. I feel that the show is itself an answer to why we chose to call it that,” Vaughn says.

The title harkens back to 1925 and “The New Negro: An Interpretation,” an anthology of African-American essays, poetry and fiction edited by Alain Locke, the first African-American Rhodes scholar and widely-acknowledged father of the Harlem Renaissance.

“That time in American history was seen as a turning point with a lot of Black creatives being able to redefine what being a Black American meant, and that’s the spirit we’re taking forward with this show,” explains Eagle. “We’re using stand-up comics, we’re using musicians and redefining what it means to be a Black creative in America now — that’s the through line.”

Each episode of “The New Negroes” features a triptych of curated, quick-fire sets from exclusively Black comedians, interspersed with the two hosts’ bantering, and bookended by a comedy-musical bit orchestrated by Eagle and a different guest musician.

Guests on the show range from more well-known performers like Hannibal Buress, Lil Rel Howery and Dulcé Sloan, to many comedians who are making their television debuts.

Vaughn says that in curating the show, he sought to bring a wide range of experiences and comedy styles to the mic. “Part of the point of the live show curation is wanting comedians who have different styles, in their essence on stage, how they deliver their jokes…so you can see the range of people that exist,” he says.

“The New Negroes” originated as a live show which started four years ago at the Upright Citizens Brigade, before recently moving to The Virgil. According to Vaughn, the live show is both much looser and lengthier, so for the 20-minute Comedy Central show they had to find a way to “tighten things up,” while still somehow bottling the electricity of a live stand-up performance.

“I told everyone to do eight minutes, then we’ll edit it to a five-minute set, and it ended up being more like three minutes per set,” Vaughn explains.

He admits that such editing is tricky because “good comedians will tell jokes that can fold into other and have all these different layered call-backs, which makes it very difficult to cut around.” Given that Vaughn is a comedian himself and understands what it is to see material edited to fill a specific television slot, when he was in the editing room he was “trying really hard to make sure everybody got a couple very representative jokes of theirs.”

The pair hopes that by giving so many Black comedians a platform to tell those jokes and “speak their truth,” some of the stereotypes which surround the Black experience might begin to be eroded.

In the creating the show, Eagle says, they “thought about how when you look at what happens in America, when black people are murdered by police violence, when you see a lack of empathy from certain parts of the population where they’re looking to quickly define somebody by Black American stereotypes.” Therefore, “part of what this show is attempting to do is to erase that monolithic thought.”

“The New Negroes” premieres April 19 on Comedy Central.

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