By Sauda Burch

Karinda Dobbins is 40ish, lesbian and single. A mother and Detroit native, Karinda began standup four years ago during a mid-week open mic at Woody’s Cafe in Oakland. Her first outing was a ten-minute set, unusual for a first timer. Before Woody’s, Karinda had no intention to pursue comedy. I thought she was funny and said I would find her an open mic. Karinda has been on pace ever since.

Karinda’s comedy is personal, focusing on themes audiences easily relate to (raising her daughter, her career at a biotech company in the East Bay, and her dating life). Her comedy is also unapologetically political. During most sets, Karinda reveals that she was raised in a militant [sic] black family, “…we were willing to die for Black people, but we wanted to do so fashionably and with lip gloss.” Karinda confesses to be the least funny person in her family. “If you weren’t funny my family would tell you to go make a plate and come back when you had something interesting to say.”

Karinda leaves her audiences a bit uncomfortable, but never hopeless. Early on, she began producing shows with like-minded comedians, bringing her style of comedy to audiences that wanted to laugh and think—a challenging mission, given the stream of weighty issues of our day. Karinda believes the best humor can bring levity to difficult issues and encourage people to act.

In 2011 Dobbins performed a weekly standup show with Jabari Davis and Associates at the historic Purple Onion, a former San Francisco venue that hosted such comic legends as Phyllis Diller, Lenny Bruce, and Richard Pryor. “Wednesday nights at the Purple Onion was my comedy university,” says Karinda. “You never knew what kind of audience would show up. There were nights when people were drunk and uncontrollable, nights when the audience was so laid back that they wouldn’t laugh at anything, and sets where the audience was right with you.”

Dobbins was a featured comic on NickMom Night Out where she focused on the quirks of parenting her now twenty-year-old daughter, Kiara. In 2012, Karinda performed at the Michigan Women’s Festival. When asked to speak briefly about the festival, Karinda says, “It’s outside, and there are a lot of women—mostly without clothes.”

Karinda opened for W. Kamau Bell during his Bay Area tour before he left for New York to host Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell (cancelled in 2013). She again opened for him at the New Parish in March. “Kamau’s audiences are political and race- and class-conscious; I can push them to the edge without losing them, which is exactly the audience that I am cultivating. Working with Kamau has been a good fit.”

Karinda now performs three nights a week, about average for a comic juggling comedy and a full-time job. “Between writing material, booking my shows, performing, and traveling, comedy is my second job.”

Dobbins and comic Dhaya Lakshminarayanan are co-producers of Stand Up, Sit Down, a variety show that blends comedy, community, commentary and current events. Their inaugural show was at the LaPena Cultural Center in April and a second show is slated for mid-June. In May, Karinda will perform at the prestigious Bridgetown Comedy Festival in Portland, Oregon.

Karinda’s comedy heroes include Moms Mabley and Richard Pryor. Of Mabley Karinda says, “Mabley was a pioneer. She doesn’t get a lot of credit, but she was one of the first comics to include race and politics in her routine, well before Richard Pryor or Dick Gregory. She had a grandmotherly persona that allowed her to slip subversive material into her act and the audience would take it.

Karinda’s local comic faves include: Aundre the Wonderwoman, Dhaya Lakshminarayanan, Johan Miranda, Lydia Popovich, Lyall Behrens, Nato Green and Trevor Hill. Her national favorites are Hari Kondabolu, Aamer Rahman and W. Kamau Bell.

Karinda’s vision includes producing a monthly Stand Up, Sit Down show, and increasing her regional and national exposure in cities like Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and Detroit. “Although I will perform almost anywhere, audiences for my comedy are primarily located in cities.”

Karinda reports that there is a bourgeoning comedy scene in Oakland. For comedy Oakland style check out the Layover, The Nightlight, Legionnaires Saloon, Last City at the Spice Monkey, Comedy Oakland (at the Washington Inn and Bella Ultra Lounge), and the Stork Club.

Dobbins let me in an insider secret. When comics randomly engage the audience in the middle of a set, it’s often because they’ve forgotten their next joke. She admits that she’s done it. “Sometimes you recover and find your next joke—other times you can’t find your way out of the rabbit’s hole.” All things Dobbins can be found at: karindadobbins.com.

Editor’s Note: This piece reflects an individual opinion and is not a reported story from Oakland Local. Oakland Local invites community residents to share their views about events and issues in Oakland.
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