JACKSON, Mississippi – Rita Brent is back and sold out. The multi-hyphenated comedian and Jackson State University alum has returned to the Capital City to host “Raised in the Sipp” Saturday, Sept.17, at Duling Hall.
It is her first Jackson, Mississippi, comedy show after a three-year hiatus due to a pandemic that surprised most of the world. The show promises to provide the “ultimate comedy and musical experience for people of all backgrounds.”
“I’m trying to make it as unique as possible because I’m trying to shift into the comedy music vein, where I’m not just doing stand-up comedy. I love doing stand-up comedy, but it’s a bit limiting because I am a musician and a singer as well. And so that’s been my big dream to mesh those two,” shares Brent, whose most popular single to date is “Can you Rock Me Like a Pothole” a musical satire playing on Jackson’s streets.
Saturday’s event will feature special guest performances by Merc B. Williams, Nardo Blackmon, John Uzodinma, Onika McLean of New York, and DJ Mr. Adams.
In 2019, Brent performed her last Jackson show, “Sipp on This Tea,” where she announced her departure for New York, a hub for entertainment opportunities.
Pivoting during a pandemic
“I got there. Things were going well. I had headlined at Carolines on Broadway,” Brent says of the popular Manhattan venue for stand-up comedians. “Like things were on the up and up, and then the pandemic was like, hold my vaccine.”
Brent admits that she had not anticipated a global pandemic that would lead to her and her wife Freda quarantining in Mississippi for an extensive period. It was an abrupt change for the jokester, musician and military vet who tours as an opening act for mentors Rickey Smiley and Cedric the Entertainer.
Relying on her wit and creativity, the Jackson native pivoted to virtual comedy shows and continued releasing her funny brand of content. When the couple returned to New York, still battling the pandemic, Brent reveals that finances became challenging.
“New York is an interesting place. There are a lot of opportunities. Doors open, but they don’t necessarily pay you the most in stand-up. The value comes via networking and refining your material. There were times I was gigging 3 to 4 times a night. I became a better comedian in New York. More dependable income comes in the form of major writing jobs,” Brent says before referencing her writing gigs with Comedy Central and Charlamagne the God. “But the rent was $2,100 for a 700-square-foot apartment. That was a huge shock for me coming from the affordable South.”
After the pandemic, Brent and Freda decided to relocate to Atlanta, where they currently reside.
“It is important for me to do this show just to update people on what’s been going on, how I spent the pandemic, and to really give folks some comedic relief because the struggle is still real. A lingering pandemic [and] death coming in many forms. It’s a lot to manage. People need an escape, as do I,” says Brent.
“So, it is important for me to do this show. Just to update people on what’s been going on, how I spent the pandemic, and to really give folks some comedic relief because the pandemic is not over, right? Folks are still struggling. Folks are still passing away. Now the monkeypox has come,” says Brent in a humorous yet earnest tone.
She emphasizes the need to finally tell her story, explaining that her time in New York included much defending of her native state and how people live in the South.
“There’s only one narrative; We’re dumb, uneducated and racist. And while one of those things, uh, definitely has some merit, it is not the sum of who we are as a state,” Brent says. “So, I want to talk about my upbringing and why I even have passion and pride about Mississippi because there’s no shame for me about being from Mississippi.”
Brent asserts that the Magnolia state helped to cultivate her artistry and is a defining part of who she is as an individual. It is a perspective she intends to share during her show on Saturday. Brent contends that her platform is one of the more uninhibited and admissible ways to change the perception of Mississippi.
“I fully realize comedy and music are the most practical avenues to share my perspectives and connect to people. Most can digest any concept or belief through the arts,” she says.
While Mississippi helped shape Brent as a person, she describes her experience at JSU as transformative.
JSU is a village
“It was the first time I was in an all-Black environment where there were a bunch of doctors, which I hadn’t been exposed to before. There was Black excellence all around me. I knew then I could operate in this excellence too,” says Brent about the abundance of professors at the HBCU. “Seeing that was encouraging being at Jackson State.”
Brent was further compelled by Dr. Mark Henderson, professor and coordinator of speech communication at JSU. His class eased her into public speaking.
“He taught me how to correctly say simple words I had been mispronouncing my entire life. He educated and enunciated in a way that made me feel slightly ignorant, but he taught me a lot as well,” she says, laughing.
Henderson shares that one of his goals as a speech teacher is to teach his students how to use proper speech skills to be a player in the game of life and how to be a winner, and Brent clearly understood the assignment.
“I was always impressed how she was able to take to the podium in class and master any diction exercise that I taught. Then she would come up to me after class and code-switch to that relaxed tone that was familiar and conversational. I shared with her once, as I do with all my students, proper speech will open more doors for you than a college degree; bad speech will close doors you never knew existed,” says Henderson.
Brent’s willingness to embrace her talent as a speaker and fuse it with her creative gifts are the ingredients for what Henderson describes as the seasoned performer audiences see on stage today.
“I am so honored to have had the opportunity to plant a seed into the soil of her success — a seed that has now blossomed into the phenomenal entertainer we know as Rita B.”
Working at the University’s WJSU 88.5 FM radio station, under the tutelage of Program Director Bobbie Walker Trussell, helped develop Brent’s presence and confidence. The alum says she learned how to use a microphone, conduct herself, and coordinate and facilitate an entire radio show while at Jackson State.
“All of that was just preparing me for all the talking I would do as a comedian. You know, it’s kind of in the same vein, right?” she asks.
What is divine cannot be denied
As Brent approaches year 10 of her entertainment career, it is clear life has prepared her for the main stage. It is evident by her accomplishments and the opportunities she receives.
Brent’s writing credits include the Academy of Country Music Awards, MusiCares Person of the Year honoring Joni Mitchell, and Stand Out: An LGBTQ+ Celebration on Netflix.
She divulges that her most significant “wow” moment to date was writing for the 73rd Primetime Emmy Awards. The job came by way of Cedric the Entertainer allowing the Jackson native to share the room with A-list celebrities like Angela Bassett, Catherine Zeta-Jones, LL Cool J and Gabrielle Union.
When asked how she processes massive moments like the Emmys, Brent has a little saying.
“What’s divine cannot be denied. What that means to me is as long as I stay out of the way and don’t interfere with God’s plan and just let things happen wherever I’m supposed to get to, I will get to,” she explains.
So far, it appears Brent has been staying out of the way.
When it comes to her dear ol’ college home, the 2009 mass communications graduate is grateful for the connections she created at JSU. Brent says when she travels, she has a community everywhere she goes.
“I did a show in D.C. at the D.C. comedy loft with Kym Whitley right before the pandemic. It was actually the weekend before the world shut down,” she says. “There were so many Jackson State alums. They came to the shows. They fed me, put me up in a hotel, and it was just beautiful. I’m like, oh, this is a village.”