Category Archives: comedy

General Larry Platt’s “Pants on the Ground” and the Intersection of Race and Comedy

In the middle of January, American Idol scored a huge ratings win when they decided to air a tryout clip of an elderly black man named General Larry Platt, singing his original composition “Pants on the Ground.” The song took off and is now a part of American pop culture…at least for the next few months.

The first time I saw the clip I couldn’t help but feel torn. I felt joke discomfort: the uneasiness I often get when someone makes a joke that I sense is not quite right, yet I still feel like laughing. “Pants on the Ground” does seem inherently absurd and there is something really adorable about Platt. Yet how should we feel about the way American Idol used his clip? Does it encourage us to laugh with Larry Platt? After watching several different Platt appearances, I’m still not sure if Platt is funny because he’s trying to be, or just by accident. If we’re laughing at Platt instead of with him, how much of this is about race?

Reader Gavin Jones sent us an email about Platt, lamenting the way Platt was the butt of jokes on Youtube and the late-night show circuit. Gavin says

It just seems like we live in a Bizzaro world where the more virtuous artists are fake blonds, singers whose subjects are ultimately selfish, and Soulja Boy types, and someone like Larry Platt is somehow not legitimate. Simon Cowell said he had a ‘sinking feeling it would be a hit’. Mary J. Blige couldn’t stop laughing DURING his audition. I wonder how her (and all of our lives) would be different if he didn’t exist. SOMEONE, ANYONE should mention some of this after one of those clips or in some commentary.

In a greater sense I wonder how much this has to do with race. Obviously there’s no immediate way to quantify that but it’s curious that of all the thousands of applicants to American Idol over the years, the only objects of ridicule are William Hung and Larry Platt.

What rankled Gavin is particular is that Platt is actually a hero in Atlanta, thanks to the work he’s done for the civil rights movement. From Yahoo:

But Platt is not just some William Hungian TV clown angling for 15 minutes of YouTube fame. His real legacy in fact extends all the way back to the ’60s, when he was a teenage crusader for the Civil Rights Movement in Georgia…The man was even honored with his own holiday in Atlanta, Larry Platt Day, on September 4, 2001, for his “priceless and immeasurable contributions to society” and “his great energy and commitment to equality and the protection of the innocent and for his outstanding service to the Atlanta community and the citizens of Georgia.”

On that fateful day, the Georgia General Assembly declared: “For the past 40 years, Larry Platt has given of himself in service to the people of the City of Atlanta, the State of Georgia, and the nation…Larry Platt merits the highest recognition for his many valuable contributions to the Civil Rights Movement and his dedication to the struggle for equality and human rights.”

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George Lopez “Races” Late Night

By Guest Contributor Tomas, originally published at Latino Like Me

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Comedian George Lopez debuted “Lopez Tonight” on Monday, November 9.  A veteran of the stand-up stage, Lopez’s foray into late night does little to mess with the familiar format honed by Johnny Carson and tweaked by Leno and Letterman: it includes a monologue, video-taped comedy segment, celebrity interview, and musical guest.

The primary difference, as pushed by Lopez, is the “color” of the show.  “¡Oralé!” he exclaimed as he walked out on stage.  “The revolution begins right now!”

It’s an odd role for Lopez, the man who carved out his niche in prime time as a Mexican Bill Cosby.  His eponymous sitcom featured a middle (maybe even upper-middle) class family struggling with the same kinds of life issues faced by any family.  Its lack of depth and specificity relating to Latino life was deliberate.  It didn’t evade “race,” but it rarely let it mean more than we’re slightly different but still the same. Continue reading

Open Thread: Cornel West on Stephen Colbert – Respect or Mockery?

By Deputy Editor Thea Lim

The Colbert Report is pretty hit and miss.  But most of the time I enjoy it.  Potentially that’s because Stephen Colbert’s satire is so impenetrable that I have little idea as to what his real politics are…which means I can just project my own politics onto him.  Jon Stewart on the other hand is less of a blank space. We get a much clearer sense of what he truly believes, making it (well, at least to this grump) easier to dislike him.

When Cornel West guested on the Colbert Report last week, my sleuthing skills went on overdrive.  What does Colbert really think of West? Does he agree with West, or does he think West’s a joke?

The Colbert ReportMon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Cornel West
www.colbertnation.com
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Is Colbert mocking West’s manner of speaking, or borrowing it? When Colbert references Jim Morrison, is he poking fun at West’s knowledge base, or is he merely “tangoing”? When West makes a great counterargument to the logic of Post Racialism, Colbert responds by saying “I feel like a muppet.” Does that undermine West – and is that Colbert’s intention?

I have to say that no matter what Colbert is doing, I really love this interview. I couldn’t stop smiling through it – not only because Cornel West’s enthusiasm and exuberance is infectious, but also because I don’t think I have ever seen someone steamroll Colbert so effectively. And I love that it was an anti-racist black man – expounding such truthiness! – that managed the Colbert takedown.

It can be very difficult for women and people of colour to wrest control of a conversation in a white mainstream space, especially when that conversation veers into hateful territory. Feeling voiceless or ignored in a white or male conversational space seems like almost a weekly happening for me. Watching this video, I felt like West was striking one for any POC (or WOC) who’s ever felt silenced by the cacophony of racism around them.

Interestingly a Colbert fan site reports that Colbert appears to genuinely like West, stating that this is what Colbert did after taping the interview:

In person I got the impression that Colbert actually really liked Cornel West. After the interview Stephen immediately walked around the desk and gave him a hug. Then West smiled and waved at the audience and we gave him a standing ovation.

So what do you think? Is Colbert an ally or is he just using West to make white folks laugh?

Et tu, Amy Poehler? What’s so funny about desiring a big, black woman?

By Guest Contributor Tami, originally posted at What Tami Said

Fat, black woman. Big, black chick. Those descriptors are lazy comedy shorthand in a racist, sexist and sizist society. Want to bring on the cheap laughs? Then trot out an over-sized, brown-skinned lady. Even better, despite her fatness and blackness, give her a more than healthy opnion of herself. See, that makes it doubly funny, see, cause even though everyone knows neither black women or fat women are hot, this character doesn’t seem to know this and actually behaves as if she is attractive and worthy of amorous attention.

See how it works? I’ve come to expect black women, especially plus-sized ones, to be the butt of the joke in low-brow comedy films–the sort of flicks commonly associated with Eddie Murphy, Rob Scheider or Tyler Perry. But usually your benign, weekday sitcoms eschew hateful comedy. I’ve been watching NBC’s Amy Poehler vehicle “Parks & Recreation” off and on this season. I want to like it. I’m a fan of “The Office” and generally find Poehler charming. Each time I tune in to the show I hope it will be better. But last night, “Parks & Recreation” lost me for good. Because I can’t relax and laugh in the face of the dehumanization of women.

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Your Joke is Not My Joke: Racism and Sexism in Jokes and Satire

By Guest Contributor Princesse de Clèves, islamogauchiste, originally published at Muslimah Media Watch

Have you ever noticed how minorities—and oppressed people in general—lack a sense of humor? Lately, there have been plenty of jokes about Arabs and Muslims. So why aren’t we laughing?

French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux recently felt his joke fall flat after this year’s summer congress. One of his traditional supporters, Amin Benalia, asked if he could take a picture with the minister. A woman in the crowd jokingly introduced Benalia to the team as someone different because he “eats pork and drinks beer”. Ah, a meeting of old friends and politicians united under the banner of pork, beer and the finest French jokes. The Minister explained about Benalia:

“He doesn’t fit the prototype [of an Arab Muslim] at all. Not at all. We always need one. When there’s one, that’s all right. It’s when there a lot of them that there are problems.”

This moment of free expression had been launched on the website of Le Monde and raised lots of questions, reactions and criticism. But the merry minister did not apologize. He simply said it was a joke, and most journalists gave it legitimacy by saying the minister was “very laid-back”.

David Gee, the author of Shaikh Down—a  very “funny” novel about the Arabs (again)—claimed he “spent six years in the Gulf and never met an intelligent woman”, ignoring the fact that intelligent women had better things to do than meet up with a poor so-called satirist.

In Shaikh Down, Gee writes:

“Nayla was tall, olive-skinned, voluptuous, at twenty-six two years younger than her brother Ibrahim and exactly half her husband’s age, a feminist intellectual in a society that tended to ignore women and mistrusted intellectuals .”

Exclusively focusing his attention on the body of Nayla, the author completely ignores the role that high-profile women play in the Gulf. The “feminist intellectual” is at some point described as if she was either a prostitute or a commodity: by the size and the color of her “voluptuous” Orientalized body.

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What’s So Funny About Chicago-Lake Liquors Ads?

By Guest Contributor Tami, originally published at What Tami Said

According to Macon D at Stuff White People Do and Craig Brimm at Kiss My Black Ads (Both wonderful blogs that you should be reading on the regular), a Minneapolis-based retailer, Chicago-Lake Liquors, has launched a new ad campaign that depicts middle class white folks acting “black” (or rather the minstrelized version of blackness popularized by BET).

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Funny or offensive? Continue reading

Please, take my Ethnic!

By Special Correspondent Thea Lim

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I was minding my own beeswax riding the subway when I stumbled across an ad in the free subway paper for “The Ethnic Comedy Show,” an July extravaganza of touring comics who, um, are all “ethnic”?

This Hour Has 22 Minutes star Shaun Majumder hosts an evening featuring an eclectic group of hot ethnic comics, filmed to air on the CBC. Check out special guest Frank Spadone (the Italian), Steve Byrne (the Asian), Godfrey (the Nigerian), Akmal Saleh (the Arab), Rachel Feinstein (the Jew) and more! Whatever your cultural background, The Ethnic Comedy Show will make you feel right at home.

So this is one of those minor gripes – we all have them – but the word “ethnic” really gets my goat. (I mean you can tell I’m not really that mad about it, since I have now advertised this stupid show on our website. You’re welcome Shaun Majumder!)

Or to be clear, it’s not the word ethnic, but the way it’s used, that drives me up the wall.

According to my good friend Dictionary.com, ethnic means:

1. pertaining to or characteristic of a people, esp. a group (ethnic group) sharing a common and distinctive culture, religion,
language, or the like.
2. referring to the origin, classification, characteristics, etc., of such groups.
3. being a member of an ethnic group, esp. of a group that is a minority within a larger society: ethnic Chinese in San
Francisco.
4. of, pertaining to, or characteristic of members of such a group.
5. belonging to or deriving from the cultural, racial, religious, or linguistic traditions of a people or country: ethnic dances.
6. Obsolete. pagan; heathen.
7. a member of an ethnic group.

You’ll notice though, that more often than not when the word “ethnic” is dropped in conversation, it means “not white.” You know, he’s that nice ethnic fellow!

Considering that two of the comics in this show are white, we can assume that the name The Ethnic Comedy Show! means to indicate that it’s going to be a rollicking night of ethnic comedy, not necessarily comics who are “ethnic” in the, ahem, non-white sense. Which is good. AND ALSO MAKES SENSE. BECAUSE ALL FREAKING COMICS ARE ETHNIC. ALL HUMANS ARE ETHNIC.

Still, even calling it “A Night of Ethnic Comedy” rather than “A Night of Ethnic Comics” is a little off, because all subject matter that involves social mores and generalised behaviour is commenting on some kind of ethnic group – even that of white folks!

Imagine that.

For some real ethnic comedy, check out Louis C.K.’s clip on Being White, as deconstructed by the Stuff White People Do blog.

PS Incidentally that photo is just something that turned up when I Google Image searched “ethnic comedy” – it’s not the photo for The Ethnic Comedy Show this posts refers to. I guess there are lots.

Arr the Singre Ragies

by Guest Contributor Jen, originally published at Disgrasian

When I was at Yale, Mixed Company had the reputation of being the “funny singing group.” You know, as opposed to the “hot singing group” (that would have been the Baker’s Dozen, or the “BD’s” for men, and Something Extra, aka “Sextra,” for women) or the “serious singing group” (Red Hot + Blue) or the “angry feminist group” (The New Blue, to which I belonged).

But that was a long-ass time ago, kiddies. And my-oh-my how things have changed, as evidenced by Mixed Company’s current YouTube parody
of Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies”:

Does the world really need another “Single Ladies” spoof? Or, for that matter, more pedestrian rice jokes? Don’t get me wrong, we rove a good lice joke. And of coulse we rove it rong time. We just don’t rove these ones.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve gotta go make the rice and make it nice, and then shoot myself in the face for actually having to sit through that.