Why you should care
Because Dulcé Sloan didn’t plan a career in comedy, but she’s hilarious.
Dulcé Sloan stuck to her guns when it came to comedy. The Atlanta stand-up kept the focus on herself, using wit and bravado to tackle topics ranging from awkward interactions with gay men and white women to grocery-store flirting to $100 bras. Intensely personal fodder that generally steered clear of the chaotic political climate.
That all changed in September when the 34-year-old was tapped to be the newest correspondent on The Daily Show With Trevor Noah — and moving to New York City wasn’t the only adjustment she had to make.
“A lot of my stand-up is things that happened to me, more socially focused. The show is very political. So I had to figure out how to combine those two,” Sloan tells OZY. “Some comics really talk about politics. That’s the meat and potatoes of their set. With me, it’s how things in politics affect me.”
Joining the self-proclaimed “Best F#@king News Team Ever” has been an eye-opening transition for Sloan, starting with a deep dive into the fragmented and turbulent world of cable news and social media’s outrage chamber. Analyzing that vitriolic landscape has been The Daily Show’s M.O. for more than two decades, which means Sloan wasn’t a stranger to the forum, but engaging with it from a national platform with close to 3 million viewers was akin to a crash course after coming up in Atlanta’s local comedy scene.
Growing up in a suburb of the city, Sloan hadn’t even considered a career in comedy. But she had a flair for performance, which led to studying theater at nearby Brenau University. It wasn’t until after graduation that she discovered Atlanta’s Laughing Skull Lounge and was quickly taken under the wing of local comedian Big Kenney Johnson, who became her mentor.
“What I first remember about Dulcé is she definitely has a great look and a good attitude,” says Marshall Chiles, the founder of Laughing Skull, where Sloan was taking comedy classes just seven years ago. “As the years went on, I knew she had a chance of making it when she bought a van in order to drive people around to comedy shows to get more stage time,” Chiles continues. “That’s the level of commitment that it takes.”
America is exactly the same for me. America is scary to white people now. It’s always been scary to me.
In 2015, Sloan was fixing a tire on the side of the highway after a gig in Nashville when she got the call announcing she’d won NBC’s stand-up diversity showcase. The following year, she won the Big Sky Comedy Festival. But her big break with The Daily Show changed everything.
“I was never fully immersed in the 24-hour news cycle until I got here,” Sloan says. “It made me pay a lot more attention to local politics. Especially with Alabama.”
“Alabama” is shorthand for the wildly contentious Senate runoff in which Democrat Doug Jones upset Republican Roy Moore, whose campaign was beset by allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior toward underage women. That Dec. 12 runoff took place three months after Sloan’s Daily Show debut. And with African-American women projected to be a crucial voting bloc in the Alabama special election, Sloan took center stage.
“This happened because of us, Black women,” Sloan said as part of a “victory lap” on the show that aired the night after Moore’s defeat. “You’re welcome, white people, you’re welcome. But let’s be honest. We didn’t do it for you, we did it for ourselves. … So if you really want to thank us, how about y’all change the laws to make it easier for us to vote. Or sing our praises by giving us raises. Or at the very least cancel winter. You know only white people like snow.”
And just like that, The Daily Show had an assertive new voice pointing out the patently obvious and accelerating past simplistic analysis. In other words, Sloan fit in seamlessly with the first name in political satire.
“Our project these days to some extent is to be kind of an antidote or at least alternative to the sheer outrage that so dominates a lot of social media and more and more of conventional media,” says Steve Bodow, the show’s executive producer. “We’re still looking to do comedy and jokes. That’s what we’re really here for and what the audience is here for. That’s why we look to somebody like Dulcé.”
Sloan’s new gig has catapulted her into the comedy stratosphere, but it’s one for which she feels uniquely suited. Long before Donald Trump’s campaign and presidency started churning out more material than comedians could digest, Sloan was delivering the kind of biting social commentary that brought her to the attention of The Daily Show producers.
“Nothing new happened. That’s the interesting thing,” says Sloan. “America is exactly the same for me. America is scary to white people now. It’s always been scary to me. … Trump is the white man I always heard about growing up. He’s not a new person to me.”
Back home, Sloan hadn’t needed bombastic politicians or cable news to feel infuriated about what was happening in the U.S. She just had to look around.
“I’ve seen people get deported before. Put in a van, pulled out of a house and sent on their way,” she says, turning somber. ”So I know it’s a scarier climate for them than it used to be.”
Nor is it lost on her that the color of her skin matters, whether or not it should: “I know that everything I do and everything I say represents Black women when I should be allowed to be an individual. So I know a lot of times when I speak, I’m speaking for every Black woman that crosses the planet.”
Fair or not, that responsibility is magnified now that she’s a member of The Daily Show. But all indicators suggest she’s up to the task.
”Even if she is worked up about something, she still has a joy about her that is unmissable. That’s what makes her a good fit for The Daily Show in 2018,” Bodow tells OZY. Fellow executive producer Jen Flanz adds, “We knew from her audition that the audience would connect with her. She is authentic and she has a real voice.”
A voice that doesn’t pander or bully but comes at you straight. With a chaser of joy.
Correction: The original version of this feature mistakenly said Sloan debuted on The Daily Show three weeks before the Alabama special election. It was three months, not three weeks.