By now, you’re probably no stranger to Ask a Slave, the viral Youtube comedy series that banked more than 500,000 views in under two weeks. But you might not know that the woman behind it, Azie Dungey, hails from this area, and based her “Lizzy Mae” character off of experiences she had playing “every black woman of note that ever lived,” but more importantly, Martha Washington’s enslaved maid while working at Mount Vernon.
Though Dungey answers rehearsed questions from actors, they come from real life experiences she had while acting the part of a slave at George Washington’s estate. “They’re almost all verbatim,” she says. “Even the interactions are pretty word for word.” That may come as a surprise, considering she fields such ridiculous questions and statements as, “what kind of skin care products do you, as a slave, use?” and, “slavery isn’t that bad.” Her responses, on the other hand, aren’t always taken from her time on the job. “I got to a point where I could judge who I could educate, and who I couldn’t,” says Dungey, adding that instead of going off on people, she sometimes had to walk away from more troublesome encounters. There were also the photo-takers. “Some people wanted to take my picture, and that was just weird.”
However odd the job got, it was her deep appreciation for the characters she played that inspired the “Ask a Slave” series. In order to assume the role of a slave, Dungey had to know the heritage, inside and out. And that meant months of research. “When I read the history of slaves, I was astounded by their resilience,” she says. Even though it’s a comedy series, Dungey also aims to leave audiences with curiosity for the rich cultural history—and deep tragedy—that surrounds slavery. “I’m happy it’s educational as well. It sort of has to be because that was the nature of the job I did.”
Since the first video went up last Sunday on Sept. 1, the series has been praised by Gawker, highlighted on NPR’s Here and Now and lauded by Mother Jones among other outlets. In the process, it collected hundreds of thousands of Youtube views and launched the Lizze Mae character into the public spotlight. And there’s more on the way: three more episodes and a second season with user-submitted questions. Dungey’s been asked to speak at Yale. There might even be a book deal in the works. “I didn’t expect it at all.” says Dungey. But now that she has a viral video series under her belt, maybe she should expect more recognition, and after enduring the “odd experience” of playing a slave for tourists and sightseers, she’s definitely earned it.
Watch new episodes of “Ask a Slave” every Sunday.
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