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Danitra Vance appeared on Saturday Night Live in 1986 and acted in films such as Limit Up and Little Man Tate.
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Born July 13, 1954, in Chicago, this comedian and actress was the first black woman to become a regular on Saturday Night Live and was also well known for her roles in off-Broadway productions of The Colored Museum and Spunk.
Danitra Vance was born July 13, 1954 in Chicago, Illinois. An intelligent and outgoing child, she attended Chicago's Thornton Township High School, where she excelled at theater and on the debate team. Vance studied briefly at the National College of Education in suburban Evanston before transferring to Roosevelt University in Chicago in 1975 to study acting and playwriting. One of her scripts, entitled "Skylark," was produced at the university, and is best remembered for one character's proclamation: "To hell with Elizabeth Barrett Browning." Upon graduating with honors from Roosevelt University, Vance immediately moved to London to get her MFA in acting from the Webster-Douglas Academy of Dramatic Arts.
Vance returned to Chicago in the late 1970s to pursue a career as a professional actress. However, despite her classical training and immense talent, she struggled to find satisfying work, as there were very few meaningful roles written for black women at the time. After seeing the pioneering African-American actress Ruby Dee perform in an all-black production of "Come Blow Your Horn," Vance asked Dee's advice. Acknowledging that there were many talented black actresses and few scripts with significant black female roles, Dee advised her, "We need writers. You should start writing." Vance took her advice. While working as a high school teacher during the day, at night Vance developed her own material – an innovative hybrid of a standup comedy routine and a one-woman play – and began performing at Chicago-area nightclubs. An almost instant success, she performed for a brief run with Chicago's famed Second City Comedy Troupe before deciding to move to New York City in 1981.
In 1982, about a year after arriving in New York, Vance booked a gig at BACA Downtown, an alternative Brooklyn performance space that provided the launchpad for her career. "This is the first place in New York where I ever felt comfortable," she later recalled. "When I found BACA, I said, 'Ah – people who understand what I'm doing.'" It was at BACA that Vance refined her humor into the intelligent, biting and provocative routine for which she would soon be famous. Her repertoire of outlandish characters included Acquanetta Feinstein, the star of an avant-garde rap musical; Harriet Hetero, a feminist stripper who educates her customers on feminist theory while pole dancing; Flotilda Williams, the arts director of Shakespeare in the Slums; and Bryn Mawr Smith Radcliffe Vassar, a lesbian college recruiter. Mainstream club audiences would think, "What is this? What about your girlfriend and how fat she is?" Vance said. "I was always happier in the little alternative spaces." Nevertheless, Vance's act became so popular that she landed an ongoing gig at the famous experimental Manhattan theater La MaMa.
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We may all think we're comedians, but sadly, we're not. Good thing there are so many truly funny people out there to make us laugh. Some comedians use their wit and smarts to make clever jokes and poke fun, while others use their physicality and appearance to to keep us doubled over. Formats range from stand up comedy and sketch comedy to talk shows, and subjects include politics, everyday life, and the comedians themselves. Here's a look at the famous comedians who've kept us laughing over the years.
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