Loni Love, Emmy Award-winning comedian and author, started her career as an electrical engineer, and she continues to advocate for representation in STEM fields.
Did you always know you wanted to be a comedian?
I didn’t know that I wanted to be a comedian until I was in college doing a few standup gigs just to make extra money. But even then, I didn’t think I would be a professional comic where I could make a living from it, because of my upbringing growing up in the projects. It wasn’t until I graduated with my degree in electrical engineering that I realized I wanted to do more in life.
I was a successful project manager, but something was missing. One day, I went to the Comedy Store as I was feeling down and wanted to get a laugh. I noticed that there were all of these male comics and only one female comic. Then, a lightbulb hit me — Why aren’t there more female comics? That’s when I started doing my research and looking at the great female comics to understand the adversities to being successful. That’s when I decided to start my comedy career.
Did you face any adversity being in a black woman in a STEM career? Have you faced more adversity in engineering or comedy?
You face adversity as a woman in STEM, but especially as a young Black woman in STEM. When I graduated, at 16 years old, I was put in a group who were mostly 50-year-old white men who had been working for years. It was really a culture shock for all of us. There was a difference in age, culture, and gender, but I was lucky because they treated me with kindness and as their little sister.
However, back then we were seen like a family group, so they’d have me doing all the female and young things. For example, we’d celebrate everyone’s birthday, and I would have to go around to collect all of the money and order the cake. However, I did realize when trying to get raises and promotions there was a lot of excuses, even when I had really good progress reports from my manager. I still felt different and alone. That played a big part in me wanting to go out and do my own thing.
It’s funny because both engineering and comedy are male-dominated, so you have the issue of gender. It’s hard to get on stage when you have a lot of guys. I couldn’t get shows in the beginning because I didn’t have a recognizable name, so I would do open mics and wait until the very last person.
A lot of males feel that females only talk about certain things, like their bodies, so there was always that bias. Even when I did Star Search, I was the only female that got picked out of 12 contestants. On some shows, they’ll only have one or two females because they think we all talk about the same thing, and that’s not true. It’s still a stigma today; that’s why you don’t see many male and female shows in equal number.
How important is education when uplifting marginalized communities?
When I was on “The Real,” I used to always advocate for education. Growing up in the projects of Detroit, I wanted to use my platform to speak about the importance of higher education, how it opens up your life, and how it makes you see things differently. In marginalized communities, in order to get out of that situation, you have to get an education and a degree. My college experience was some of the best years of my life, especially attending an HBCU. I was able to be around my culture, have a smaller class size, have teachers that looked like me could explain things to me in a better manner. Once I got that STEM degree, I had opportunities and job offers. So, my message has always been to obtain a college education because it’s needed, and it can change your life.
Do you have any advice for young people of color looking to find their big break?
I always tell people coming up to do your homework and get your training, because nothing is too small. If you do those things and prepare, you don’t have to get ready once the opportunity comes. Don’t give up. Stop looking at what everyone else is doing and do you.
When I was coming up, I didn’t have Google, TikTok, or YouTube. Use those tools to show your talent, but also make sure to go to local clubs if you’re doing standup. You can’t just do it on social media; you have to go out and get on stage for that experience as well. You have to be able to do a 1-hour set. TikTok is only 30 seconds. You have to be versatile and do it the old-fashioned way to get a set. But never give up. Your break is going to come.