DCH Remix is blog series will explores the diversity of DCH. It will consist of interviews of students and performers who identifies as a person of color to learn about their creative journey here at DCH. At this week’s improv jam at Dallas Comedy House, I got a chance to speak with the super- talented RaShaad Jamari Leggett. We snuck into the Tharp theater green room during the jam’s intermission to talk about his improv journey.
RaShaad is 27 years old, a proud Gemini, a vegan, a preacher’s kid, originally from San Francisco, and has only been living in Dallas for a year.
Tyla Gibson: Let's start off with that! What is your impression of Dallas so far?
RaShaad Jamari Leggett: I like Dallas because it’s so easy to live here compared to the other cities that I’ve lived in. I lived in San Francisco, Boston, Los Angeles, middle of nowhere like East Texas; Marshall Texas. Out of all the cities I’ve visited or lived in, Dallas is just the easiest city for young black people to live compared to the coastal cities that are gentrified and expensive.
TG: Ok cool. So what made you want to do improv?
RJL: I was always familiar with improv. I did a little bit of improv in middle school and acting programs. My teacher taught us some improv games and I always thought that was the funniest thing in the world. That was my only exposure aside from Whose Line Is It Anyway? There was a small comedy theatre call Berkeley Improv that had classes. Its funny that when I wanted to sign up the level 1 class was full, so I signed up for their level 2 class with no improv experience. But I told myself that I’m going to pretend that I know what I’m doing. So, I enrolled into level 2 and I told my teachers I had experience and they believed me and thought I was really good! I did my showcase with that class and the head of the improv school called my cell phone and she was like “Hey I saw you at the showcase and I wanted to know if you want to come play with my team.” I was like, sure, and we end up doing a show that next week.
TG: That's very interesting! When I see you around DCH, I see this very eager and strong player. How do you like the culture of DCH?
RJL: I really love how extremely open it is. You know how is it to be black and live in white world; How problematic white people can be unconsciously and how much they could not care about us. Since being here receiving the diversity scholarship and watching Jade Smith in FCC presents, I saw that there is a culture that is aware that there is a lack of representation for black people and DCH is looking for ways to grow and develop that. People like Maggie Austin and Amanda Austin are not oblivious to it and they understand that diversity and inclusion is very important here. That’s one thing that I do love but I do know there is a long way to go to for us to be represented well as we could and should be here.
TG:. Working with different players, sometimes I feel like I have to buff my blackness because the people I’m playing with sometimes don’t understand ebonics and AAVE and I have to adjust. Do you feel the same way?
RJL: Absolutely! My first year of improv, I didn’t do anything that was black cause I did not trust white people to respond accurately. There were a couple of times where I did just test the waters and the people that I was playing with did not respond appropriately. But what I learned now after being here, black people are starting to be more woke and white culture is starting to be more culturally aware and sensitive, I’ve been playing with different ideas lately about race. I always try to do things metaphorically like educating by putting statistics and numbers to a scene. I’m more woke because I listen to podcasts.
TG: I love podcasts and I want recommendations! Did you get to see Sasheer Zamata when she was here for the festival?
RJL: I didn’t see her.
TG: GASP!! Ok. 3 peat?
RJL: Yes, I did see them
TG: Ok! So what was it like watching them? I just love how they were just being their black ass selves! What was that experience like for you? And did you learn anything by seeing those beautiful black people just doing them?
RJL: It was so liberating to watch! So inspiring to know that the thing I love that is known as a white people game being done by black people and them doing it well and together was so freeing. It was just inspiring to know that I’m not out here by myself. There’s a whole culture of us out here in the world doing this. It’s a whole Wakanda here of black people being great and doing it. It was just so exciting to watch and it put some pep in my step to start being more active and vocal here at DCH. Definitely changed how I feel at DCH. Not only by watching them but I also did a workshop with Nnamdi Ngwe the next day. What I took away from the workshop was being able to receive actual notes.
TG: How so?
RJL: Nnamdi was giving me notes that were hard, harsh, and quick. The note he gave me to commit to a big character I was playing for a scene and not be timid. He told me why I was doing it. I’m a big strong black man and I’m afraid if I come off too strong, people won't receive me. He told me to walk in confidence and be who you are. You don't have to hold back since you're good at what you do and stop being humble about it. 'Be you and stop being scared' is pretty much what Nnamdi told me and that's what made me change how I do stuff here.
RaShaad is a Level 3 student and you can see him perform in Daffodil, Kitten Divorce, and Ca$h Machine.
Tyla Gibson is a student and performer at DCH. She performs with the all-women improv group Sapphire to keep herself sane from being yell at by soccer moms all day.