by Jeremy Paul
I read Patrice Evans’ article, How to Build the Ultimate Black Comedian posted on Splitsider yesterday, hoping that the column was, in fact, tongue in cheek, biting satire. I read the paragraphs hoping that, what I was reading was, in fact, dripping with sarcasm and that I was just missing it. Seriously, I hope that I am missing out. Please, let the article be a missive, a gotcha, a joke. Just, please, let me be too dense to recognize a superior wit. Yet, I know that my instincts are correct, and I have just read an article which seriously detailed how to create even more horrible black comics who do the same idiocy that I, a comedian with brown skin and black hair, have avoided doing for the better part of my career. So, here is my response to the article I just read, and perhaps, a better way of building an Ultimate Black Comedian.
If you want to piece together black comedians of the past in order to create the perfect or “Ultimate Black Comic” of the future, how about this, don’t. Stop this exercise and give it real thought. Those comics mentioned shed their influences to be the great comics that they are and were. Patrice named 4 of the most famous “black comics” that the world has ever known and took portions of their performance style in order to concoct a comedian worthy of being called the “Ultimate Black Comic”. To begin, to catagorize Mr. Pryor as a black comic is doing a disservice to his legacy and his comedy. He was as far beyond being a black comic as, well, there is no simile nor metaphor to aptly describe how far beyond the label he was. The other 3 comics that were mentioned, yes, they can be described as black comics. But they are the elite. Patrice, by cobbling together the originality of Pryor, with the style of Murphy, social consciousness of Rock and the absurdity of Chappelle created a hypothetical comic that was, at heart, a comic who spoke about his darkest fears and mistakes, while using a character in a slick way, relating it to politics which resolves itself with the comic yelling “dooky!” to close the joke. Seriously, that comic can be found failing at any open mic that black people trying comedy for the first time go to in order to perform.
Anyone that has seen me perform can attest to the fact that I am anything but a “Black Comic”. Sure, I am a “black man”, but I am not a black comic because the label applies to a segment/group of entertainers that all do the same types of jokes. A black comic is a jew comic is a gay comic is a frat boy comic is an alt comic. It is all the same shit. It is the same material that has been done repeatedly, to the point where I can’t even watch black comics perform anymore because I get angry at the lack of differentiation.
Don’t believe me? Here is a black comedian’s material stripped down to a single sentence: “This is what it’s like for me to be black."
Too many of them don’t even try anymore to be themselves, they are trying to be "the next big thing” and they don’t care how many times a joke has been explored and exploited, if it makes the people react, they’ll do it, their own personal beliefs be damned. And before anyone says “Everything has been done before” do me a favor, if you are a comic or aspiring comedian whom seriously believe that everything has been done before, quit. Never touch the mic again. Go apply at a gas station and leave the stage for those of us that know that humanity hasn’t so much as scratched the surface on what can be done.
You want to build the Ultimate Black comic by using the talents of the greats? Okay, how about Pryor’s life experiences and fearlessness, Cosby’s storytelling ability, Rock’s social critiques and cap that off with Whoopi’s ability to change perspectives? That won’t do it for you? Try this less name based formula. Murky personal history, college graduate, relentlessly honest. Excels at telling one liners, stories or traditional short jokes. Can create memorable characters. Loves performing. That’s a recipe. The ultimate black comic, should be able to further the artform, not just appease the 3rd largest ethnic demographic in the United States.
Now, that was just what I saw wrong with the first 6 paragraphs. The tips were what infuriated me about the article and made me hope beyond hope, that Patrice was blowing smoke into my nose. The tips, for being the next great black comic were, in order: grow a mustache, curse in a high voice, be extremely expressive yet be really cool. Some of the types of jokes to do were, “Black people vs. Niggas” (aka Chris Rock’s joke). White people do this, black people do that (made popular by nearly every black comic from 1950 to the present) and “Racism”, which is a staple in nearly every non-caucasian comic in North America. To be certain, those were some of the worst tips to being a great comic you could possibly get. If that is your material and your performance style, quit.
What irked me most was the bottom paragraphs of the article, The Five White Comics That Need Black Versions. We don’t need black versions of white comics. We also don’t need white versions of black comics. The black versions of these comics already exist, and if you don’t know who they are, you haven’t been watching that much comedy lately. How about we get a new crop of black male and female comics that don’t feel the need to scream into the microphone and instead talk at a normal volume because they know that a microphone amplifies sound so that you don’t have to scream every word. I love to watch a black male comic that doesn’t have a bit that is essentially a reason to assume every gay male wants to have sex with him. I love when I meet a black comic that doesn’t have their failed rapper name as the name they use when they go on stage. I’m ecstatic when I watch a comic say something that I haven’t heard a thousand times. You want to build the Ultimate Black Comic? Why not just get comics to understand that they don’t have to try and be like the comics that succeeded before them. That’s how you become the next great one, by being the next great one. Be great at what you do and people will recognize it, black comic or not…
Jeremy Paul is a comedian, writer, and philosopher from Peoria, Il. He also claims to be the only comedian with health insurance.