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Meet Samba Schutte in Los Feliz

Today we’d like to introduce you to Samba Schutte.

Samba, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
My mother is from Mauritania (West Africa – I say that cause not many people know where it is) and my father is Dutch. So my mother is a strong black Muslim woman and my father is a tall white Christian man. And I look South Asian – go figure. I was born in Mauritania and my family then moved to Ethiopia. I grew up there for 16 years, and when I turned 18 in 2001 I moved to Holland to go to college. I always knew I loved to make people laugh, and I was always fascinated by the bootleg movies we’d watch in Ethiopia. So studying theater felt like the right choice to make. I studied at the Utrecht School of the Arts in Holland and graduated with a BA in Theater and Theater & Education. Basically meaning I could always teach drama if I didn’t make it as an artist.

In the meantime I had started doing standup-comedy at my college bar. People started enjoying it, and in 2004 I joined the A-list of comedians at the Comedy Explosion – a Dutch comedy collective. I had been performing in English all this time but now had to switch to Dutch, which was a huge challenge. The Dutch language isn’t made for humor, or romance for that matter. But I challenged myself, and in 2006 I took part in the largest Dutch national comedy competition: the Leids Cabaret Festival. I ended up winning both the Jury and Audience Awards. That kick-started my career as a comedian in Holland. I toured with my first comedy special ‘Hakili Jambar’ (meaning ‘Spirit of a Warrior’ in Mauritanian). I ended up doing over 120 shows all over Holland and internationally as well (Asia, Africa, The Caribbean).

Next to comedy I appeared in a few films and TV shows in Holland, such as the Dutch version of “The Daily Show” as a correspondent. But I always knew I wanted to work in English again, so I had my eyes set on Los Angeles. In 2011 I got the opportunity to move to LA to work as an actor and a comedian on a temporary visa called the O1 visa, or better known by its awesome name: the visa for Aliens of Extraordinary Abilities (no joke). I knew I didn’t have time to waste, so a few months later I won the March Comedy Madness contest by beating out 64 of LA’s top up and coming comedians at The World Famous Comedy Store. The manager saw me perform and asked me to become a regular performer. And that’s how I became a regular in the LA standup-comedy scene and what jump-started my acting career in Hollywood. 7 years later and I have my green card, movies, TV shows, videogames and another comedy special under my belt.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Anybody who moves to LA would tell you ‘No’. Anybody who moves to America would tell you ‘Hell No’. Anybody who is half-black, half-white, half-African, half-European, half-Muslim, half-Christian would tell you ‘Heeeellll No!. Jokes aside, kudos to anyone who has a strong vision and passion and pursues it fully. Because it is the hardest thing you will ever do: to stick with it, to overcome obstacles, rejection, demoralization and to keep yourself sane, kind and healthy… it’s hard.

Being a mixed kid is never easy, because you don’t have solid roots. You’re from different worlds, and so you’re always seen as an outsider and that you don’t fully belong. You’re a shape that’s recognizable, but that doesn’t fit the mold. And so you have to become your own mold. I had to accept I would never belong fully anywhere, and I decided to use that as a strength: in my art, in my messages, in my way of Life. Being an outsider allows you to always see things with a fresh perspective, and almost see things clearer because you’re always on the outskirts of ‘how things should be’.

Once I tapped into seeing my many cultural inheritances as a strength instead of as a curse, which is how you’re made to feel, I applied that to my comedy jokes, sketches and shows and that’s when I got success. As for struggles outside of myself, well, performing in Dutch, which is my 4th language (I speak French, English and Amharic, the Ethiopian language), was difficult. Audiences in Holland are not the same as audiences in America. People in the US are very much like Africans, they love to laugh and they let you know when you’re funny. In Holland I’ve done 80-minute shows in silence, and when I’d ask the audience why they didn’t laugh, they’d say they didn’t want to interrupt me. So I’ve had to adapt my comedy to both the American, African and the Dutch cultures.

Moving to America is hard. People don’t realize how much work goes into getting a work visa and leaving everything behind to start over in this country. And immigration officers don’t make you feel welcome when you first land here, even though you’ve done everything by the book. LA is a huge city and it takes time to find good friends and build a solid social circle. It takes time to navigate around the city, to find out how things work and to get help from people who don’t want something from you. So God bless you genuine people out there!

A final struggle I’ll mention is on a health note. The energy that buzzes around LA and Entertainment makes you want to work hard and never take a moment because you might miss out on something. In 2015 I was pushing too hard and not taking enough time for myself, and I got diagnosed with an auto-immune disease called Vitiligo. It’s when you start losing your pigmentation in your skin and you start to turn white. You’d think a black man turning white was a good thing, but I was freaking out because I was losing my skin color on my face, my hands, and my lips. According to the doctors I was doing too much comedy, which threw my adrenal glands out of whack. I had to stop performing standup-comedy, and the doctors said there was no cure.

So I was basically ready to kiss my career goodbye. No standup-comedy, and unfortunately nobody wants to see a spotty South Asian looking man on a TV show. But I refused to believe there was no cure, and after doing tons of research I found some books and articles on people who had managed to reverse their Vitiligo. I changed some things in my diet, found a healthier balance between work and play, and within a few months my black skin cells were starting to show some strength and slowly regenerate. A few years later and I can thankfully say that my Vitiligo is basically gone. So anyone dealing with an auto-immune disease, don’t believe it when they say there’s no cure. Our bodies are designed to heal, so have faith. And also, don’t neglect yourself when you’re pursuing your passions. Your health comes first, only then can you really do what you set yourself to do out there…

Samba Schutte – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
I am a comedian and an actor. I perform standup-comedy at The Comedy Store and around town. Sometimes I go to Holland to do another comedy special, or do my comedy internationally as well. My comedy is very universal. It is high-energy, positive, inspiring and I talk about my many different cultural sides, insights, observations and travels. As an actor I’ve appeared in the movie The Tiger Hunter, currently on Netflix starring Danny Pudi (Community) and Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite), Destined To Ride from Sony Pictures starring Denise Richards and Madeline Carroll (I Can Only Imagine). On TV I’ve appeared on FOX’s ‘The Gifted’ as well as featured on several videogames including ‘Wolfenstein II’ and ‘Battlefield V’.

I am most proud of how, no matter what I create in a joke, a sketch or film, I am always about celebrating our diversity. Embracing different cultures, religions and backgrounds and showing people that at the end of the day, we are not all that different from one another. My message is always a positive one, and I’d rather make people laugh and inspire them or teach them something new at the same time, then stand on a stage and complain about life, relationships and airplane food.

What is “success” or “successful” for you?
As a comedian success is when you manage to make someone laugh by something you thought about. As an actor it’s when someone is moved by what you do on the screen. As entertainers we all have dreams of that award, or that Oscar, or working with so-and so. But I think to me personally, when I think about it deeply, success is being able to get into bed every night with that feeling of ‘I love my Life’. It’s about doing what you love and what brings you joy, and about lifting others up through what you do. I love this quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson that basically sums it up for me: “To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate the beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch Or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”

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Image Credit:

Just Jared

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