Slavery and comedy almost never make for good humor, but actress and comedian Azie Mira Dungey nails it in her new web series, “Ask A Slave.”
As “Lizzie Mae,” Dungey sits in front of a TV and answers viewers’ shamefully ridiculous questions about slavery and George Washington. It is pure hilarity excellently executed. Her last job gave her plenty of material. The questions the Lizzie Mae character answers are the same as those asked mostly by White tourists when Dungey portrayed the role of a house maid who worked inside of George Washington‘s mansion in Mount Vernon, Va., from 2010 until the end of last year.
During an exclusive interview with NewsOne, Dungey recalled telling a story to an older Black male visitor at Mount Vernon about a runaway slave who attempted to flee Washington’s plantation. She said the man seemed shocked at the slave’s attempt at freedom. “He was like, ‘Wait a minute, why did he want to run away?’” Dungey recalls the man asking. “‘I thought that George Washington was a good slave owner.’”
Watch Episode 1 of “Ask A Slave” here:
“I just looked at him, like, ‘Are you serious?’… You can be the nicest in the world but people don’t want to be your slave. And the man was like, ‘Yeah, that’s true.’”
Then there was the guy who asked, “What’s your favorite part of the plantation?” (Her answer: “My bed”)
Another asked, “How did you get to be the house maid for such a distinguished Founding Father? Did you see the advertisement in the newspaper?”
Watch Episode 2 of “Ask A Slave” here:
(Her answer: “Did I read the advertisement in the newspaper? Why yes. It said, ‘Wanted: One housemaid. No pay, preferably mulatto, saucy with breeding hips. Must work 18 hours a day. No holidays. But, you get to wear a pretty dress. And, if you’re lucky, you might to get carry some famous White man’s bastard child.’ So, you better believe I read that, ran over and said, ‘sign me up.’” ).
Though, as comical as some of the questions were, Dungey never broke character. The New York University graduate was committed to ensuring that she conveyed the reality in which her character lived. In her role, Dungey realized that she may be one of the few people from whom they can get some sense of how Blacks lived during a very repressive period in American history.
Watch Episode 3 of “Ask A Slave” here:
She does the same thing in the YouTube web series, but with a well-crafted comedic, observant take. Since going live with two videos Sept. 1, the first episode has garnered more than 273,500 views, while the second episode has more than 98,000 views. It’s not a bad start at all, especially considering that Dungey raised the funds for production herself.
Back in April, she raised $3,000 through the crowdsourcing site GoFundMe to shoot six episodes, which will be published on YouTube each Sunday. The series was directed by Jordan Black, creator of the improvised comedy web series “The Black Version.”
So far, Dungey, who is now living in L.A. pursuing an acting career, seems to have fine tuned the art of taking on the very delicate subject of slavery without making a mockery of it. Russell Simmons felt the fury of Black Twitter (and this reporter in an op-ed piece) over his “Harriet Tubman Sex Tape,” in which the named abolitionist blackmails her slave master with threats of making their sexual relationship public if he did not give her slaves to lead through the Underground Railroad.
Watch Episode 4 of “Ask A Slave” here:
It was an epic fail and Simmons was forced to apologize after taking down the video. When asked how she avoids such disrespectful portrayals of Black history, Dungey says she makes it clear what the audience should (and should not) be laughing at.
“Slavery can’t be the joke…. So, it can’t be the person that’s the joke and it can’t be the situation that they’re in that’s the joke,” she said.
Watch Episode 5 of “Ask A Slave” here:
So with each production, Dungey looks to give an intelligent, dignified voice to Black people who could say very little during their lifetime. As Dungey sees it, the Lizzie Maes of the world have as much to say about American history as any of the Founding Fathers.
“One thing I noticed at Mount Vernon was how visitors felt such strong and immediate affinity to George Washington and his story. And rightly so, he deserves it. However, in this series, I hope people begin to feel that same passion for the Lizzie Maes of history as well. Her history belongs to all of us as well.”