Arts  /  June 11, 2020

Core Story: It took Wuhan, and Seattle, to find the comedy in Baltimore -- the surprising journey of Nekia Hampton

nekia for web.jpg

In the strange world we find ourselves in today, a story that is sparked in Wuhan China, and then ignites in Seattle, before reaching critical mass in Baltimore, might sound like it was heading toward an unfortunate conclusion, but thankfully, Nekia Hampton (the subject of this story) can report just the opposite. We met her at the YNOT Lot, near The Crown, because The Core’s OTS Productions is featuring her in Digital Scene 2.0 – a live, multi-artist, bi-continental, extravaganza that will stream on Saturday. The show is co-produced with Montgomery Drive, and Nekia (who will be part of Chris Hudson’s Comedy Block between 10:30-11:00 PM) will be representing Baltimore amongst a slew of performers from all over the information superhighway.


Comedy is in the genes

Nekia is a second generation Baltimore comedian, so you would think the story of how she started in standup would begin here. But it doesn’t, though it certainly is in her DNA. As a little kid, Nekia (along with her sister Nia) saw a lot of standup gigs, featuring their Mom (Sheila Gaskins). However, with a couple of growing daughters, Mom put the hotel lounges and comedy clubs aside to focus on different aspects of performing arts (as well as the organization she founded Artpartheid - Fighting Segregation ). Thus, standup comedy was sort of off Nekia’s radar when she left Baltimore in January 2016. A lot of us, started that year with memories of a pretty gloomy second half of 2015 following Freddie Gray's death, when it seemed like the city’s unstoppable resilience might have met its match, and the horizon seemed to narrow. So it’s easy to see why, fresh out of college, Nekia was inspired to see what else what life would be like somewhere far away. She had the opportunity to join her boyfriend in Seattle, so she took it. But as far away as Seattle is, she soon went even further – Wuhan China.

The outsider experience

That was in the summer of 2017. After graduating with a business degree from the University of Baltimore, Nekia was selected for the University of Pittsburgh’s iSchool Inclusion Institute (i3) summer program. In connection with that, she gave a presentation at the iConference in Wuhan. Oddly enough, the experience prefigured aspects of her life in Seattle. As Nekia moved about Wuhan, her appearance was so unique there that perfect strangers ran up to her to ask for selfies, often including an elderly family member.

Of course, this was kind of disorienting. But she also found humor in her outsider experience. And it occurred to her that, though a lot more subtle, (no selfie requests) it was oddly similar to something that was happening in Seattle.

Unlike Baltimore, Seattle has a small (7.0%) African American population, and as result of gentrification, the city’s one traditionally African American neighborhood (the Central District) where she lived (across from Jimi Hendrix’s childhood home) didn’t reflect the area’s rich past, or current African American culture. A couple of former residents chatting in the local Starbucks was about all she saw of the area’s heritage on a daily basis. And Seattle as a whole seemed utterly devoid of the rich African American culture and streetlife she was accustomed to in Baltimore. Once again,

An unofficial ambassador
Nekia found herself amused by her role as a stranger in a strange land. Both the things unique to Seattle that locals took for granted, and their assumptions about her and Baltimore (yes, they had seen The Wire) became grist for her humor mill. However, as much as this dichotomy became a part of her life, she didn’t try performing until a after breakup with her boyfriend. It was one of those growth moments, we would all like to have in such situations. Nekia decided to try things that she didn’t feel like she had time for in her relationship, and, in 2018, did her first stand up. Things clicked immediately. She never looked back – except at Baltimore.

The return of the prodigal comic
Though Nekia was gigging regularly, had opened for national headliners Jackie Fabulous and Jared Freid, traveled out of state for the NW Women's Comedy Festival in Portland and New Orleans Black Girl Giggles Festival, it still seemed like something was missing. In 2019, Nekia decided that instead of being in Seattle, commenting from the perspective of a young African American woman from Baltimore, she wanted to be back in Baltimore taking about the same issues, while being a part of the future culture of the city that had shaped her. After selling out the house for her own show, This Comedy Show! – “a funny celebration of blackness in Seattle,” in August 2019, she returned to Baltimore, and has been a constant presence here ever since. Producing and performing at multiple venues in The Core including The Crown, Greedy Reads (the soldout "My Funny Valentine"), and Motor House, as well as elsewhere around town, and online with her Mom, a humorous take on life in lockdown called "So What Do We Do Now?" just last week.

Appearing in a really big show on Saturday from The Core's OTS

We had a lot of fun listening to what Nekia had to say at the YNOT Lot, and we think you will too at Digital Scene 2.0. on Saturday, May 23rd. She’s joining a formidable line-up for the show which starts at 8PM EST, in the U.S. (schedule varies in Japan).
USA Viewing Schedule (EST)
May 23rd, 2020
8:00pm Doors
8:30pm Announcements
9:00pm-9:30pm Laboratory
9:45pm -10:15pm Dot Org
10:30pm-11:00pm Chris Hudson’s Comedy Block featuring Sandi Benton, Nekia Hampton, Camirin Farmer, and Collin Baker
11:15pm-11:45pm Calico Vision
12:00-12:45 Karas and Hideo Performance followed by lecture + Q&A
Thanks to OTS Productions and Montgomery Drive for bringing Digital Scene 2.0 online to The Core. We look forward to seeing your live shows here when the time comes.

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