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RaShaad Leggett discovered improv by accident. He was always interested in stand-up comedy, so when his Uber driver invited him to see a show in Los Angeles, he jumped at the opportunity. But when he arrived at the theater, he walked into the wrong room. It wasn’t stand-up. It was an improv show.
“I was like, this looks easy. I could do this,” he said. Improv classes in LA were expensive, but when he moved to the Bay Area shortly after, he found one that could work for him. The only problem was, their classes for beginners were full.
“So I signed up for their level two, and I was just going to pretend like I knew what I was doing,” Leggett laughed, “They believed me.” Only three months later, he was teaching the level one classes himself.
“I had only been doing improv for two months before I was being asked to teach classes, and I was getting paid. By my third month in improv, without any real experience and without anyone actually checking my background. Like it seemed like opportunities were being thrown my way,” Leggett said, “It felt like this might be what it’s like to be white.”
Around four years ago, he moved to Dallas and got a diversity scholarship at the now defunct Dallas Comedy House in Deep Ellum. There, his assigned mentor Jade Smith introduced Leggett to her all-Black sketch comedy group.
“They had recruited, in a sense, some of the other new Black people at Dallas Comedy House just to hang out. And one thing led to another,” Leggett said.
Leggett is now one of eight members in FCC Presents, an all-Black comedy troupe in Dallas. The group is a unique space built for and by Black comedians. Their performances in Dallas-Fort Worth feature improv, sketch comedy, stand-up and musical elements.
“We’re writing for the Black community, absolutely,” said Jade Smith, one of the founding members of the group. “I don’t know that we really had that when we were first going through classes and everything, so I think that’s kind of why we do it.”
Smith’s first love is improv, an unscripted form of comedy that’s usually performed with other people. She joked about it being her “longest relationship.” While it might not have been rare to see Black comedians on TV, or in stand-up, when she was getting into comedy, there were not a lot of Black improvisers. Especially not in Dallas.
“I know what I’ve seen on television. I love Key and Peele, you know, Mad TV, Whose Line Is It Anyway? but who was performing on stage that looked like me?” Smith said.
While it was rare to see faces that looked like his on stage, Leggett realized improv was something his family always did. “They’re constantly like, telling stories and making the stories as animated and as fun as possible,” he said. “Cracking jokes, you know, finding bits and building on inside jokes that we’ve had for years.”
But he said it wasn’t until he started taking classes that he understood how the comedy he grew up around his entire life could be considered improv. That disconnect is reflective of how some forms of comedy aren’t accessible to the Black community.
“I’ve seen a lot of Black people take improv classes at like level one, maybe even go into level two, but a lot of them don’t stick to it because they don’t see a community in it, or they don’t see themselves in the media,” he said. “When you do take an improv class, it takes a certain type of personality to be in a white-dominated space where you have to understand the cultural references and kind of tolerate their microaggressions.”
Over the last few years, FCC Presents has built a small community that’s not only supportive of each other, but of Black comedians outside the group as well. Their ongoing Blackout series is a variety comedy show that often features other performers, and builds a space that’s welcoming and safe to try out new material.
Their socially relevant comedy has developed a diverse and loyal following. Smith said even though they write with a Black audience in mind, anyone can find their humor relatable.
“I think we start from a very Black place,” she said, “Like maybe something will happen in Black culture, or we’ll reference something happening in our daily lives, and we’ll make that into something that is accessible to anyone.”
Leggett said he knows not everyone is going to get the same experience from their shows, and that’s OK. “I want my audience to be able to kind of understand what’s happening, or understand the general premise, but I do place a lot of small jokes, or for lack of a better term, ‘dog whistles,’ in my comedy so that Black people know that I’m talking to them.”
The group doesn’t currently have a home theater. Since the pandemic, a lot of their usual venues have closed. But for right now, Smith said having each other is enough.
“We’ve built quite a following, and we still have a lot of friends who are really interested in helping us along the way,” she said. “We’re our own home. Like home is wherever we go. I guess that’s kind of the vibe.”
Follow FCC Presents on Instagram and on Facebook to keep up with their upcoming shows and events.
CORRECTION, 3:30 p.m., March 9, 2023: A earlier version of this story misspelled RaShaad Leggett’s name.
Arts Access is a partnership between The Dallas Morning News and KERA that expands local arts, music and culture coverage through the lens of access and equity.
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