What does a Haitian kid from Gonaives and an older Irishman from New York have in common? Their ability to connect with people and understand the human condition through laughter. For Tanael Joachim, a comedian who performs regularly at some of the best clubs in New York City, like the Gotham Comedy Club, the late George Carlin was the first comedian he connected “on a deeper level.” In him he saw the true power of the art of comedy and entertainment — the power to transcend cultures and connect with all people regardless of race, ethnicity or nationality.
Joachim, who recently released his four-part web series “Unrequited” on Haitian Times, spoke with us about his journey to comedy, how his parents took the news and what the craft means to him.
It’s a well known stereotype that Haitian parents want their children to be doctors, lawyers or engineers. How did your parents react when you decided to pursue a career in comedy?
Ah yes. They did not react well to it, at all. I think what made it even harder for them was that I was a smart kid, but not just smart, I was an A student, class president — the valedictorian type. So, all the ingredients for the noble, respectable profession were there… then I yanked it from them. When my mother found out I dropped out of school and was pursuing comedy, she didn’t speak to me for three months. I think they hoped it was a phase and I would come to my senses after a few months. But that’s what I chose to do and I was determined to do it, they had no choice but to let me be. I’m not sure if they will ever fully accept it or be okay with it. But they’ve realized this is what I love and I’m not coming back.
What is about comedy/ acting that speaks to you? What sparked your interest in the field?
That’s a tough question, I’ll try to answer as best as I can. First, you have to understand I didn’t grow up with the art form of stand up comedy — the craft of one person talking to an audience in a microphone with laughter as the goal. I came in contact with that in 2008, when I was trying to improve my English during my first year in college. George Carlin was the first comedian that I connected with on a deeper level, and this is an old Irish guy from New York. I’m a young Haitian kid from Gonaives. Not much in common there. But that’s the beauty of it, and that’s what ultimately attracted me to comedy: its ability to transcend cultures and the other separations between people to find the core of what it means to be human. That’s what I love about it.
The spark came from that, from the ability to connect with anyone. I think that’s what entertainment or art ultimately is: the search for connection.
How has your Haitian background impacted your work and life?
I don’t really think about that much, because it’s such an integral part of me. I don’t wake up, look in the mirror and go “Another day to be Haitian. Let me go crush this Haitian thing.” That’s just something I am consciously and subconsciously. But if I were to try to break it down, I think it makes my work eclectic. Haitian culture is pretty eclectic. We’re African first and foremost, but there’s French influences in there, and even a little bit of Spanish. And that makes for a pretty interesting salad of a culture. It’s like konpa. I think Haitians are confident in general and that’s certainly impacted my work. We get it from our history, the pride of our ancestors. I’ve never walked into a room in America and felt small or out of place. And I credited my Haitian courage for allowing me to write, get up on stage, and perform stand up in a language that I only learned in 2008. Usually I downplay that, but in rare moments, I will admit it’s a pretty big deal. You just caught me in one of those moments.