by Kendra James
There was a lot of good discussion on racial comedy at last night’s panel featuring Arun Venugopal, Desus Nice, Crissle West, Jeff Yang and Guy Branum and we’ve summed a good deal of that up in our Livetweet Storify below. The panel was broken up into sections with each new topic introduced by a different video or comedic soundbite, and everything was going along swimmingly with very thought provoking (and hilarious) banter tossed back and forth between the participants.
It was during the Q&A that things got, as one might say, quite real after a discussion about Sarah Silverman’s use of blackface on her Comedy Central show. A realness which made for the highlight of the evening as West was forced to keep it all the way 100 with an audience member who really did try it. The exchange can be found around 1hr 19min in in the livestream link, but also transcribed in part below:
Audience Member: My name is Alan Rich, I’m a discrimination lawyer … Crissle, one thing that you said about Sarah Silverman– I get the impression that you take her work at face value. And I think that so many comedians who are really funny — I don’t think that she’s making fun of black people in any way shape or form about black people when she does blackface. Because those of us who know the history of blackface is that not only white people did blackface, black entertainers had to do black face to get jobs.
Crissle: Wow, so you have to be really white to make that statement. That is just the whitest thing–
Audience Member: It’s a comment about how ridiculous we as a society can be.
Crissle: Can we not? I’m really not about to do this.
Audience Member: I’ve never walked out on Paul Mooney, so you have to give me a pass.
Crissle: And you’re a discrimination lawyer? Holy God. Sooo… I’m gonna go ahead and address that by saying first of all that I can absolutely say that you’re racist for being a white woman in 2014 or whenever it was that she did this to put in blackface and go on television. Yes I can absolutely call you racist for that. you know the history behind it and you did it anyway. That is racist. I can say that. I’m a black woman, I’m gonna just go ahead and take my word over yours on that. That’s racist. And I don’t like her for it.
Audience Member: [Sic] Tell her! But you don’t know her. You don’t know what’s in her mind.
Crissle: Where is my access to Sarah Silverman? I don’t have to know her– I don’t have to know what’s inside Sarah Silverman’s head. I’m looking at her actions because her actions are what she’s presented to me. She didn’t put put a book called Sarah Silverman’s Diary here read my innermost thoughts and see how I came to these fuck ass conclusions that I have here today. She got on TV in blackface and decided that that was funny and it was not. And you as a white man trying to tell me that my feelings are invalid because I don’t know her is a crock of shit … and that’s why I get on my show every week and say what I need to say because white people like you feel like you have a goddamn point.
Panel Q&A sessions can be difficult for anyone with Acute Second Hand Embarrassment Syndrome (ASHES, in my opinion the worst kind of ashiness a Black person can get), so I really appreciated how the situation was handled. Plus, having only just started listening to West’s podcast The Read (which she records alongside Kid Fury) about a week ago, I felt particularly privileged to be able to hear her give a Read live and in public.
It is a nonnegotiable fact in my life that white people in blackface constitutes a racist act. Context, intent, the word ‘subversive’, and the names Tina Fey and Sarah Silverman do nothing to change my mind in that regard. Context and intent don’t change the fact that there comes a time in every Black parent’s life where, for instance, they have to do something like sit down and explain to their children why there are radically different pictures of Black celebrities such as this,why one image is better and more appropriate to imitate and aspire to, and why such a beautiful woman was forced to allow herself to be treated as such.
I suppose things are funnier when you have the luxury of skipping conversations like that altogether.
Colour commentary aside, WNYC and The Greene Space hosted a great night for us and all in attendance for their continuing Micropolis series. Readers of The R can look forward to another livetweet from the space next week when we head back to cover a live recording of Tracy Clayton and Heben Nigatu’s podcast “Another Round,” which will also feature The Butter editor Roxane Gay.