Before Sommore found the time to talk to us, comedy lost one of its most groundbreaking performers when Joan Rivers died last week at age 81.
Even though they are from different generations and may have attracted different audiences, you could almost see Rivers and Sommore as kindred spirits.
“She was definitely my inspiration when it came to doing stand-up. She was the one. That was it for me.” Sommore said. “She was definitely a girly girl but she was able to hang with the boys.”
That last statement encapsulates Sommore and her comedy. You could argue that while Rivers was an inspiration to female comics, Sommore, with her successful career as a stand-up comic, entertainer and businesswoman, has had a similar impact on black comediennes that followed in her footsteps.
The New Jersey native wasn’t always a comedienne. She earned her bachelor’s degree in business administration and mathematics from Morehouse College in Atlanta. She taught and later owned and operated a few businesses. In the early ’90s she made the jump to stand-up.
“I wanted to be an adult comedienne, I wanted to say the things women were thinking about but not saying and I was going to go for it,” Sommore recalls.
With her delivery of crude, honest, in-your-face humor combined with an always-classy appearance, it didn’t take long for the comedy community to take notice. In the ’90s, she was the first woman to host BET’s Comic View, along with Russell Simmons’ Def Comedy Jam and Showtime at the Apollo.
But in 2000, Sommore saw another interesting opportunity. She had seen the success of the Kings of Comedy tour featuring Steve Harvey, D.L. Hughley, Cedric the Entertainer and the late Bernie Mac, which was later turned into the Spike Lee-directed stand-up film The Original Kings of Comedy.
Sommore went to the show’s producer, Walter Latham, and pitched the idea for a Queens of Comedy tour. Despite her pedigree, she had a fight on her hands.
“He said, ‘there are no queens,'” Sommore recalls. “I said, ‘There are queens and I’m going to go get them and I’m going to show you.”
Sure enough, Sommore, along with comediennes Laura Hayes, Adele Givens and Mo’Nique, formed The Queens of Comedy, which went on to have its own tour, Showtime stand-up special and DVD.
Since then, Sommore has kept busy performing on the road, making appearances in films, TV shows and special televised events. As one of the self-proclaimed Queens of Comedy, she continues to keep her comedy smart. Along with solo stand-up specials like 2008’s The Queen Stands Alone and 2013’s Chandelier Status, she has headlined and organized the urban comedy showcase, The Royal Comedy Tour, since 2009.
But Sommore’s most recent project is a homecoming of sorts. BET asked her to once again serve as host of Comic View, which returned this month after a five-year hiatus.
Sommore thinks the show’s display of up-and-coming comedians is just as important now as it ever was.
“As long as there’s a new day, there’s a new joke,” Sommore said. “I always say if you want to know what’s going on in any community, listen to what comedians are talking about.”
If you want to know what Sommore is talking about, you’ll have a chance when she makes her first appearance at Comedy Off Broadway.
Blake Hannon is a Mt. Sterling-based writer.