If there’s one thing Black people have mastered, it is resilience. Throughout history, our people have found ways to make the best out of situations. We’ve managed to educate and enlighten through jokes, while simultaneously using entertainment as an escape from the sometimes painful reality of being Black. Whether it’s beautifully painted or holds a hurtful truth, Black people’s ability to express Black joy has been one of the strongest forms of overcoming.
This week, as we highlight another groundbreaking Black entity for Black History Month, we have to bring attention to the Astronomy Club. Founded in New York in 2014, the all-Black improv comedy group has made a name for itself on stage and television. Each person in the collective has talents that spread beyond the group, but they come together to create stories larger than life, and funnier than most.
Astronomy Club arrived at a time when Black sketch shows really made a come up. They offered a different approach with a wide range of topics. They gave light, laughter and used their own confidence to put themselves into new rooms. They created a world fit for them — a world that different types of Black people could find themselves and find joy within. The group was created with the “for us, by us” mentality.
Without further ado, here are seven reasons why the collective deserves its flowers.
1. Black and Proud
Astronomy Club is composed of eight Black improvisers: Shawtane Bowen, Jonathan Braylock, Ray Cordova, James III, Caroline Martin, Jerah Milligan, Monique Moses, and Keisha Zollar. The crew tells stories from the average Black person’s gaze with topics that range from the entertainment industry, race relations, and the overall Black experience — leaving audiences with a message each time.
2. From Theater to TV
After finding each other and working within their unique chemistry, Milligan and James III wanted to give sketch comedy a shot. This decision became one of their defining moments. In 2013, they wrote their first sketch during Black History Month that ran for an entire year at the theater. The same show made it to the New York Comedy Festival where Comedy Central named Astronomy Club comics to watch in 2016. Two years later, the network dropped the collective’s digital series in 2018. The following year, Netflix picked up the show for one hilarious season.
3. First of Many
Astronomy Club has already made a name for itself. It is known to be the first all-Black house team at the Upright Citizen Brigade Theater in New York. On the flip side, though the group’s series only aired one season on Netflix, the show’s reviews were nearly 100 percent in favor of its sketches.
4. Breaking the Mold
A major theme of the show is capturing moments from their podcast and turning them into real, yet funny life. They use their sketches often to tell stories that break away from the usual stereotypes Black people face. In an interview, Braylock shared that the team felt freedom being able to create alternative worlds and realities. In an industry dominated by the white counterparts, the team basked in their moment and did what needed to be done with each episode.
5. Power of Laughter
As stated before, Black joy is one of the strongest forms of resistance. With each decade, struggles arise and Black people can fight the pain through laughter. Astronomy Club’s main tool is comedy fits perfectly into the narrative. Scenarios that might otherwise disturb the community can now make thousands laugh, while at the same time educate.
6. Fighter Spirit
When Astronomy Club’s series was not renewed on Netflix for a second season, the cast took the news with grace. At the same time, they made sure to bring awareness to the lackluster job the streaming service did of providing users with access and information regarding their show. Feeling slighted, the cast was vocal about their issues. Fans even created petitions to get it back, but their efforts fell short. Netflix pulled the plug but the cast didn’t back down.
7. Inspire Resilience
In true form, Astronomy Club sends a message to all to keep going. In many ways, their own personal story tells one of faith. With their sketches, Astronomy Club vowed to never make Black people the butt of their jokes. They showed respect to our history and, at times, created a reality that is one of hope. Their ability to twist the narrative, to be creative, to inspire other comedians, and to enjoy themselves is a nod to the nature of resilience we carry as a community.