There’s No Such Thing As “Black” Or “White” Comedy

amy-schumer

Louis CK has been my favorite working comedian since maybe 2008. But, the way he came to my favorite wasn’t organic or accidental. It wasn’t even completely voluntary. I basically discovered him by force.

I was aware he existed. But between the underwhelming bits of Lucky Louie I’d seen and, to be honest, the way he looks, I didn’t think to pay any attention to him.

But, whenever I’d hear an interview or read a story or see a segment featuring a comedian I respected and they were asked to name their favorite working comic, Louis CK’s name always seemed to come up. He was your favorite comedian’s favorite comedian.

So, I gave him another chance. I caught one of his specials on Comedy Central or HBO, and I enjoyed it so much that I actually got mad at myself for almost overlooking him. It was like trying some weird dish at a buffet for the first time and thinking “F*ck! This is great! Why didn’t I try this before?”

Again, Louis CK’s Whiteness alone (And yes, random internet person, I know he’s Mexican) isn’t what caused that initial attention neglect. There were other White comedians (Richard Jeni, Bill Burr, etc) that were among my favorites, and my favorite comedy (Seinfeld) was Whiter than Taylor Swift. And nothing about what I saw up to that point warranted a second look. But, despite the fact that I knew he was at least popular/talented enough to get his own show, it wasn’t until I learned that my favorite Black comedian (Chris Rock) loved his work that I gave him another chance. I needed a trusted Black cosigner. Race didn’t matter. At least I thought it didn’t. But it kind of did.

Anyway, I’m writing this a couple hours after seeing Amy Schumer perform at Carnegie Music Hall. For those not familiar with her, she has a show on Comedy Central, she’s in her early 30s, she’s very blond, and she’s very, almost stereotypically, White. Like, you can totally see her saying “Girls Gone Wild! WOOOOOO!” completely unironically White. Prius and hummus White. Whiter than the White girl in your office you call “White Jen” even though there are two other White women named Jennifer who work there.

And she is the funniest woman I’ve ever seen. Actually, f*ck a qualifier. She’s one of the funniest people I’ve ever seen.

While watching her perform and scanning the mostly White audience, I thought about all the people who’d be too turned off by her uber-Whitegirlness to give her comedy a chance. And then I thought about how, whenever a profile of Kevin Hart appears on Slate or Salon or some other mainstream publication, a sizable number of the comments are from people so turned off by both his “Blackness” and the idea of Black comedy that they haven’t even bothered to give him a legitimate chance.

Which is their prerogative, of course. But, it’s also wrong. Because there is no such thing as “White” or “Black” comedy. There’s just comedy. You either like it or you don’t. The elements you like and/or dislike aren’t racial. They’re stylistic. But because of our tendency to assign racial labels to certain types of comedy, “I’m not a fan of the type of frantic and physically demonstrative humor Kevin Hart incorporates into his acts” turns into “I’m not a fan of Black humor.”

That said, it is natural to be more drawn to comedians you share commonalities with. And often those commonalities are racial. Chris Rock and Patton Oswalt can tell the exact same joke, but if Rock references Prince in the punchline and Oswalt references Sting, those more familiar with Prince will laugh harder at Rock’s joke. Not because the Prince reference makes the joke better or even any different. But because they’re more familiar with Prince.

And, as I said earlier, it’s your prerogative to like whomever you want for whichever reason you want. Just know that the next time you immediately dismiss something/someone because their humor seems too “White” or too “Black,” you might miss your Louis CK the same way I almost did.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

Reminder: For the next two weeks, you can purchase your own I Love Bougie Black Girls t-shirt via Teespring for the insanely low prices of $11.50 for a men’s shirt, $13 for a women’s shirt (don’t ask why the women’s shirts are more expensive, because I have no answers)

front

and $24.50 for a hoodie.

front (2)

The campaign ends Sunday, March 23. So, if you don’t buy one before then, you, um, won’t have one.

Anywho, they’re available now, so go and BUY!!! and be fly.

On Black Men, And Why We’re Not “Allowed” To Be Human

alg-chris-rock-louie-ck-jpg

I first became a fan of Louie CK four or five years ago. I’d heard of him before—and had even watched an episode or two of Lucky Louie—but I didn’t really pay him much attention until I started to notice that more and more writers and comedians I respected considered Louie to be a comedic genius. This sparked my interest, and after watching a couple of his stand-up routines, I realized they were right.

Perhaps the thing I enjoy most about Louie’s humor is his tendency to speak about taboo subjects and use taboo words. This in itself isn’t noteworthy. There are dozens of popular comics whose acts revolve around them touching on untouchables. But, while most of those comics incorporate this tactic for shock value, when Louie does it it seems to be to prove how absurd it is that anything would be deemed untouchable in the first place.

For instance, in one of his shows, he has a bit where he spends a few minutes talking about fellatio. I forgot exactly how it starts, but by the end of it he jokes that he’d suck an audience member’s d*ck. It was classic Louie—absurd, inappropriate, self-deprecating, and subversive—and the audience loved every minute of it. I did too, but I couldn’t help but to make a somewhat sobering observation: a Black comedian could never tell this joke. 

Actually, let me rephrase that. A Black comedian, a popular straight Black male comedian could in fact tell that joke. But, if he did—if a Chris Rock or a Kevin Hart told a man in the audience that he (paraphrasing) “probably has a beautiful d*ck and would like it in my mouth”—the hundreds of trillions of tweets, articles, posts, studies, and stories it would prompt would likely shut down the entire internet. There’d also be never-ending rumors about his sexuality, his HIV status, and his sanity.

The dynamic allowing Louie CK to go places that a Black comedian wouldn’t be able to go extends past comedy. In fact, that dynamic is a direct result of the (mostly true) idea that straight Black men aren’t expected or even “allowed” to be multi-faceted, to be fully free, to be, well, human without having their sexuality and even their Blackness questioned. If we don’t fit a certain hyper-hetero ideal, we’re not really men and not even really Black.

This is not a new observation. For years people have written, spoke, and even created art about the fact that African-American men are burdened with a suffocatingly rigid definition of who and what a man is supposed be. It’s also common to blame this on a combination of history, socialization, and sexual expectation. Basically, Black men are the way we are because society in general—and Black women specifically—expect us to be that way.

But, to be perfectly honest, I’m not sure how valid this is today. Yes, it’s true that there have been some very major historical influences on the way we’re supposed to be, and yes it’s still somewhat true that Black men who fall outside of the hyper-hetero ideal might be sexually shunned in a way that other races/cultures of American men may not have to deal with, but I wonder how much of this is self-induced. I think we (Black men) do it to ourselves more than anyone else does it to us. I think we’ve grown comfortable inside the shell. I think many of our problems in regards to being hyper-hetero are completely psychosomatic. I think we have a bit more leeway to be human than we want to believe, and I think there’s a bit of a mental and emotional safety net with not fighting against this expectation, as any crude, sexist, homophobic, racist, and just generally unprogressive act could be blamed on socialization. It may not quite be learned helplessness, but it isn’t far from it.

Also, I think some of us need to truly ask ourselves if we’re ready for that type of freedom. While an increased leeway to be who and what you want to be—as exhibited in Louie CK’s ability to tell a joke that a Black comedian couldn’t say—is one positive aspect of it, with more freedom comes more responsibility, with more responsibility comes more expectation, and with more expectation comes less leeway to make excuses. Basically, “You wanna be free? Fine. Now grow the f*ck up.”

I’d say be careful what you wish for, cause you just might get it, but I think we already got it. I just don’t know if we really want it.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)