“We have many people in the diaspora that are doing beautiful work across the world.” – Se Joe
“Even when I speak to network or creative executives, the minute I bring up Haitians, they automatically think it is a niche. They just do not realize how many Haitians there are in the world,” is what Amazon Prime’s comedic sensation, Se Joe, explained over speakerphone.
The resplendent beauty of his island’s populace endures, as does the power of the abolitionists who expelled the oppression of the former French colonial government. Se Joe postures himself as a history buff — his provided laughter attempts to remedy the ugly truths spilled over the pioneering hour-long stand-up special performed entirely in Kreyól, Nou Chaje ak Pwoblèm. With a continued emphasis on industry politics bordering Caribbean tradition, our conversation’s quip proved no different.
Se Joe, born Joseph Ducasse, 33, credits the support of his wife as his superpower. When questioned, his creative process is uncomplicated: “Haitian resilence.” And as a self-employed mogul, Se Joe understands his present-day workings are in-part a product of self-liberated peoples before him. “I always knew there was a problem with representation. Language is key! As a Haitian kid growing up, we were never on those big platforms. We were sent to the back of the line,” he says.
The Knockturnal caught the comedian after he was spotlighted worldwide on Amazon Prime. Using sarcasm, unfiltered humor, and pure facts — Se Joe’s hot takes appear peerless — and above all, he’s doing it for Haiti. Familiarize yourself this Black History Month with the brains behind your next digital picture.
The Knockturnal: Your Amazon Prime stand-up comedy special Sejoe: Nou Chaje ak Pwoblèm translates to “We got a lot of problems.” Please elaborate on what some of those problems are.
Se Joe: I was born in Brooklyn, but I grew up in Haiti. Growing up in Haiti, we were taught in French. I do not know if you already know, but Haiti and France had a foreign exchange program called slavery. And that is how we Africans learned to speak French.
The Knockturnal: The way you just worded that history…
Se Joe: [Laughs] One hundred percent of the Haitian population speaks Kreyól. Still, they are teaching us in French at school. Ever since I was little, I always knew there was a problem there. Language is key! With that said, I never understood why we were being taught in French.
When you look at the students in the class, they were translating what the teacher was saying into Kreyól. From there, students could better understand [what was being taught]. That is a problem, right there. We are not embracing the language that we created.
The Knockturnal: You are thorough about your annals.
Se Joe: Kreyól is not even 500 years old. I don’t think you can find any language on the planet created [in less time] that 30 million people speak. That is a feat in and of itself. These Africans got [the language] from different parts of Africa. There were some people from Nigeria, some people from the Ivory Coast, etc.
They came from all over Africa. Even when they got together, they all did not speak the same language. However, when they connected, they had to form a language. Kreyól pretty much helped us liberate ourselves from slavery.
The Knockturnal: That brilliance is not contextualized enough.
Se Joe: French people did not know what my ancestors were saying. They did not know how we were communicating. My stand-up is mostly based upon the Haitian Kreyól language. I get people who tell me, “Hey! Why don’t you perform in English?” A lot of American comedians use their comedy so that they can talk to their people.
For example, Dave Chappelle always has good messages during his stand-up. Can you imagine if Dave Chappelle spoke Spanish? If he did his stand-up in the Spanish language — do you know how much Americans, in general, would miss? I am not saying there are no Americans who speak Spanish. But do you get my point?
The Knockturnal: Yes, I agree. What pride do you take in creating visibility for your community on such a large platform?
Se Joe: I feel as though it is my duty as a Haitian. And mind you, I was born in Brooklyn, New York. Yes, I came back to America. I have always known that I am American because I was born here. But it is a different thing. My roots are in Haiti!
Again, I feel it was my duty. As a Haitian kid growing up, we were never on those big platforms. We were sent to the back of the line. I tell my friends, “It is one thing to be Black. It is another thing to be Black and Haitian.” I feel like we have double the load.
Even when I speak to network or creative executives, the minute I bring up Haitians into the conversation, they automatically think it is a niche. They just do not realize how many Haitians there are in the world. I do not want to say it only happens with white people.
This happens with people who are not culturally woke. Let’s say I bring them a story with an Irish man [in the plot]. They will think because he is Irish, the story is mainstream. But, no! Ireland is a little island, too. Wouldn’t Irish people fit a niche?
The Knockturnal: Whiteness, for many, is synonymous with the mainstream.
Se Joe: They never see it that way. If it is a German story, they will never think it is a niche. If it is a story set in Belgium, they will never feel it is a niche. If it is any white story, they will not consider it a niche. However, if you bring them a Jamaican, Puerto Rican, Mexican, or Haitian story, they automatically associate it with a niche.
The Knockturnal: Would you say that Black and POC narratives have to overcompensate in demonstrating why they are the mainstream?
Se Joe: Oh, definitely! You can see that even in the book publishing world. White content? Hollywood shit. Hollywood is pretty much rooted in the white person being the mainstream. Also, that is why people got a rude awakening when films like Black Panther came out.
All these new Black movies are doing good — even the television shows like Insecure or Atlanta. Again, this is the awakening. People see that white content is not just bankable. Black content is bankable. Think of the film, Get Out. That did well!
The Knockturnal: These advancements are long overdue.
Se Joe: Yes!
The Knockturnal: Your experience has its nuances. You’ve touched on a few briefly. Concerning Brooklyn and Haiti, how do you feel these environments influence your creative process?
Se Joe: Wow. How did it change my overall creative process? Well, growing up in Haiti, we did not have much. Resources were very scarce. I have learned to work with what I have. Of course, I am resilient.
Being here, Americans live life! [Laughs] It is so funny to me. When the power goes off — Americans freak out. It is little stuff like that. My wife sometimes will come to me like, “Oh, my God. I am starving.” Meanwhile, she has not eaten in about two hours. [Laughs] Now, look! She is already talking about how she’s starving.
The Knockturnal: People get hangry, Se Joe.
Se Joe: Girl, you don’t know what starving is. [Laughs] I feel like she can just say she is hungry. Even me, when I came back to America — I remember coming to New York. I was about 5 or 6. I said, “Mom, why is there food walking around? Nobody is doing anything.”
My mother stopped me in the middle of the street and said, “Look at me. Here, they don’t eat pigeons. Okay, so relax.” People see pigeons and think you can’t eat them. Man, in Haiti, pigeons are like a delicacy. They do not walk around! That just does not happen. And hold on! Bianca, where are you from?
The Knockturnal: I’m originally from the Bronx, but I grew up between BX and Virginia. I am Puerto Rican.
Se Joe: Do you go to Puerto Rico?
The Knockturnal: Oh, now I’m getting interviewed. Yes, I have plenty of family still living on the island.
Se Joe: Okay! So you ate pigeon before?
The Knockturnal: I have not eaten pigeon — at all! I’m not even going to play myself…
Se Joe: Wow! [Laughs] You grew up in Virginia, too. You never had a squirrel or a raccoon?
The Knockturnal: You truly are a comedian. I see why you got that Amazon Prime comedy special. I would appreciate it if you could speak to the fact that Haiti and the Dominican Republic share an island. You are trilingual, so what love do you have for their diaspora?
Se Joe: My brothers and sisters, on the other side, it has always been good times. When I was little, I would go there to play against kids in soccer tournaments.
The Knockturnal: Your stand-up comedy special, Sejoe: Nou Chaje ak Pwoblèm, was created with reverence for your heritage. It features some political commentary. What do you hope people take away from the hour-long special?
Se Joe: What I hope they would do is start a conversation. I do not know if you know. Island people are not ones to address issues, especially with kids. In this sense, I can say that growing up in Haiti, as a child — I felt like I was a slave.
My opinions did not matter. We grew up in a time where if your parents tell you to do something, you did not ask why. You just did it. Even if you were to question why — the one thing [parents] would say is, “Because I said so.” Growing up in America is a breath of fresh air.
As a kid, you are allowed to have a conversation. Children are allowed to express their feelings. In Haiti, we could not do that. The other day, friends of mine and I were talking. Mind you, [we are all in our] early thirties. I told them, “Do you know what? I have never heard my parents say, ‘I love you.'” The two of them said, “Oh, my God. My parents never say, ‘I love you,’ to me, too.”
The Knockturnal: Although those affirmations are imperative, some people might argue that there are other ways to say, “I love you.” I can only speak about how I grew up. I, too, have island-traditional family members. For example, a home-cooked meal or someone telling you, “Put on your seatbelt,” expresses that sentiment.
Se Joe: Right! That’s their version of, “I love you.”
The Knockturnal: I understand your point. A recent separation taught me everyone doesn’t know how to express love healthily.
Se Joe: Yes, but we are grown now.
The Knockturnal: Exactly!
Se Joe: Now we can literally sit down and decipher [how to communicate]. We can think about things. Looking back, as a kid, you are not thinking about all of that. They have food on the table, but you are expecting that food on the table. You do not always know what happens or the process. I believe a kid is more worried about the verbal, “I love you.” You live, and you learn.
The Knockturnal: Additionally, you host therapy sessions with Haitian celebrities on your Facebook channel. What practice do you set in place to maintain your mental health?
Se Joe: That is the thing, I do not give people free-range in my head. [Laughs] My mental health is always free. Sometimes I play video games — that is a form of self-care. And there is my wife! We talk a lot. She is kind of like my therapist. We have a good relationship. We’ve been together for eleven years.
The Knockturnal: You have a strong support system.
Se Joe: Yeah! I think I do. The less people you let in your circle, the less drama you have. The people who know, know. If you look at my IG — it is mostly my work. My private life is not on social media. Literally, I feel like that is the reason I do not have more followers.
The Knockturnal: You are protecting what is sacred to you. That is to be respected.
Se Joe: I have a daughter, and I do not want to post her online. There are too many evil people out there.
The Knockturnal: Beyond your Amazon Prime comedy special, you have a “Word Of The Day” YouTube series with English-language translations for your budding fanbase. Can you describe its significance for those who are becoming acquainted with your work?
Se Joe: I have started the series and others because most of Haitian history is taught orally. For some reason, my people did not feel the need to archive certain moments. We have a lot of legends in our community. Most of them have perished without a photo or formal interview.
The Knockturnal: Documenting conversations is essential. You get to know people in their words.
Se Joe: There is room to hold something meaningful. Sometimes, only music is left behind. That is a big disservice to our people. If you wanted to watch an interview [on heroes who have passed], you might not be able to find it. We do not write our history, so I decided to get to know people. We have many people in the diaspora that are doing beautiful work across the world.
The Knockturnal: What do you want your new supporters to look out for?
Se Joe: What I want them to look out for is all the great work from me! I am working on an animation series right now. It will change the game. I can’t get into too much, but it is going to be a historical anthology. That is all I can disclose. What I would like them to know about me [will come to light when they] show up to my performances. [Laughs]