Tag Archives: comedy

WNYC Presents: Funny Or Racist?

by Kendra James

There was a lot of good discussion on racial comedy at last night’s panel featuring Arun Venugopal, Desus NiceCrissle 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.

Josephine Baker

Hi.Lar.I.Ous. (Images of Josephine Baker)

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.

Event + Podcast Spotlight: The Soul Glo Project

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By Emily Schorr Lesnick

Walk into a comedy club or watch a Comedy Central  special and you might drown in a sea of Whiteness; a sea of White maleness. With Larry Wilmore and Trevor Noah hosting late night shows, the tide is turning, but those two shows stick out as anomalies because of the overwhelming presence of White faces. While there is certainly diversity within White men, there can also be a lot of similarity.

Six years ago, Keisha Zollar, a New York comedian and actor, set out to create other pools of comedy. She created The Soul Glo Project, a diversity variety show whose title is a nod to the jeri curl product in Eddie Murphy’s Coming to America. “Soul Glo was a show built on diversity that started in the East Village of New York,” says Zollar. “It was often a complaint of many performers who didn’t fit the strict, improv or sketch aesthetic that they wouldn’t get stage time.  The Soul Glo Project was born out of myself, Rob King and Horse Trade Theater wanting to make a more diverse performing community.”

Soul Glo is an inclusive comedy variety show, featuring diversity in the type of acts and the background of performers. “As an immigrant whose first culture is not American, I found some comedy shows and their themes to be alienating,” said NYC-based comedy performer and Soul Glo co-host, Anna Suzuki. “But when I joined the Soul Glo team as a producer, I was immediately embraced as a vital part of the mission; my voice mattered. It’s been a very gratifying experience.”

Soul Glo started in the East Village at Under St. Marks in 2009, moved to the Upright Citizens Brigade in 2011, and is now moving to Silvana in Harlem for a renaissance. “We hope to create an positive, low cost comedy experience to build a sense of community in Harlem,” shares Zollar.

Soul Glo prides itself on its range of performers, from folks getting on stage for the first time to more well-known performers, like Roc Nation’s Cipha Sounds, SNL’s Natasha Rothwell, Mulaney’s Seaton Smith and performers you don’t know (yet) who got on our stage and said “this is my first time doing stand up.” Audience member Johnnie Jackow reflected on the show: “Each performer shared his/her comedic talents that was not only incredibly funny but also so relatable. Its truly amazing to see how a packed house can roar with laughter from each performance. Yes the show highlights diversity in comedy but how our experiences cross color lines I think shows how more alike we are than different.”

The Soul Glo Project also launched a podcast as a forum for longer conversations about diversity and identity in comedy. The podcast, available on iTunes and Soundcloud, has featured comic Hari Kondabolu, Racialicious’ Kendra James, reality TV star Sabrina Vance, creator and actor Jen Bartels from TruTV’s Friends of the People, and The Experiment Comedy’s Mo Fathelbab.

The Soul Glo Project has a free live show coming up on Monday, April 20 at 7PM at Silvana in Harlem, NY. The show, celebrating Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, will feature stand-up comic Sheng Wang, spoken word artist Kelly Tsai, J-pop group Azn Pop and have improv led by Catherine Wing and Nicole Lee.

Cheap Rent and Racism: The Lie Guys Social Experiment

Competitive rental markets mean that tenants can put up with some seriously strange requests from landlords and potential roommates in order to score a decent place. No cooking, no dogs, no shoes in the house are all standard requests – but what would happen if the stated policy was “no black people?”

The Lie Guys set up a ad for a room on Craigslist, then Skype recorded the responses.

Transcript and follow up bellow the jump. Continue reading

The Rape of Harriet Tubman

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By Guest Contributor Janell Hobson; originally published at Ms. Magazine blog

This year marked the 100th anniversary of the passing of Harriet Tubman. I had the opportunity to celebrate that fact when organizing a special symposium back in March, resulting in some thought-provoking critical papers on her legacy of resistance, which I’m currently guest-editing for Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism.

One of the more interesting conversations that came out of this event questioned why, on the anniversary of her death, we have yet to experience an epic cinematic treatment of her life.  She certainly qualified for that great Hollywood biopic. Against all odds, as a disabled enslaved woman, she escaped to freedom–having learned of the Underground Railroad network that included support from black and white allies–and once she made it to the other side returned to slavery 17 more times to free countless other slaves.

Tubman used all sorts of wit and trickery to enable her dangerous journey in this secretive network, and even believed in her divine right and power to engage in liberation. She collaborated with John Brown on the raid at Harper’s Ferry, recruiting slaves for the project, but her illness at the time prevented her from taking part in the uprising. During the Civil War, she served as a Union army spy, nurse and soldier, and in 1863, she led a successful military campaign on Combahee River in South Carolina, resulting in the liberation of 750 slaves.

In short, she’s the stuff of legend–for black history, women’s history, American history. The fictional Django from Django Unchained ain’t got nothing on her!

But on the year of her centennial anniversary, what does Tubman get instead of the great Hollywood biopic? She gets a “sex tape.”

You read that correctly. Recently, in an internet launch of his new YouTube channel, All Def Digital, rap media mogul Russell Simmons featured a failed comedic video titled Harriet Tubman Sex Tape–the first in the line-up of this new series. It didn’t take long for black audiences on social media to utterly denounce this video and petition against it. Within 24 hours, Simmons removed the video from his channel and issued this apology:

My first impression of the Harriet Tubman piece was that it was about what one of the actors said in the video, that 162 years later there’s still tremendous injustice. And with Harriet Tubman outwitting the slave master? I thought it was politically correct. Silly me. I can now understand why so many people are upset.

It is amazing that Simmons could not have predicted the outrage upon seeing such a video–which infers that, in order to build an Underground Railroad network to free the slaves, Tubman basically used blackmail against her white slaveowner by conniving with a fellow male slave to create a “sex tape” of their sexual encounter that she could later use as “leverage.” Then again, this is what porn culture will do to one’s perspective–something Simmons has perpetuated in his decades-long involvement with sexist rap music and culture.

Just reading the video’s premise was enough to make my blood boil, but sometimes, especially when you do media analysis as part of your scholarship, you just have to be a witness. So I viewed the video, and I don’t believe I am exaggerating when I say that, on this centennial anniversary, Harriet Tubman got raped.

Most of Tubman’s biographers have argued that there is no documentation that Tubman experienced sexual abuse while enslaved.  She was definitely physically abused–routinely beaten, and at one point as an adolescent suffered a head injury caused by an overseer who threw a two-pound weight against her head, breaking her skull and nearly killing her. The injury impacted her throughout her 91 years of life, as she was often given to sleeping spells (which Tubman claimed brought on various dreams and prophetic visions).

Slavery was “hell,” Tubman described in her narrative, dictated to Sarah Bradford since she could neither read nor write. She experienced a great deal of trauma while enslaved, but if there were any experiences with rape–which marked the experiences of far too many enslaved women–Tubman remained silent on the issue. It’s still also possible that, as hellish as her experience might have been, she was spared from a deeper hell that sexual violence brings to the picture. Which is why Simmons’ “sex tape” adds insult to injury.

It’s a hell of a sobering reality to realize that, 100 years after Tubman’s passing, our porn culture–intertwined inextricably with rape culture–would produce such a demeaning narrative about one of our great American heroes. It happened not because there is any basis in history for such an imagined scenario (Tubman simply would not engage in sexual leverage–it’s not part of the essence of who she was) but because our culture continues to trivialize rape (which is what we must categorize any unequal encounter between a slaveowner and slave, regardless of “consent”) and debase women’s experiences.  Ironically, the horrendous truth about sex tapes is that they tend to be used as leverage not against men but against women! It is women who are often blackmailed or demeaned when sex tapes are made available on the Internet. Women are the ones who have everything to lose, considering the slut-shaming that still clings to female sexuality. Sure, some celebrities might parlay such “porn” videos into a career, but the intention of sex tapes is public humiliation.

The Harriet Tubman Sex Tape publicly humiliates one of our great icons, and if she–whom many believe is inviolable, sacred, untouchable–can be debased, then not one of us is safe.

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Two People I Dislike Immensely Unshockingly Do Something I Dislike Immensely

by Joseph Lamour

*Warning: Strong Language*

We’re living in an age where almost everything a person shares with their friends can now be permanently filed away on a server somewhere (in a room, not unlike where Olivia and Fitz like to make out, but that’s for another post). For some people, this permanence proves especially problematic. Laura Beck over at Jezebel rightly filed this story under “WTF”, and seriously, WTF, Lisa Lampanelli?

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Is It A Good Time To Be ‘Black & Sexy’?

by Guest Contributor Aymar Jean Christian, originally published at Televisual

In one episode of Black & Sexy TV’s The Couple, Dude and Chick bicker over space in their small bathroom. In another they have a tit-for-tat over what side dishes to order with lunch. Two people, one location and a common scenario comprise most episodes of The Couple.

“It’s about two people living together. Doesn’t matter what their names are. Doesn’t matter how old they are. Doesn’t matter where they live. They could be anybody,” creator Jeanine Daniels said when I met up with her and the Black & Sexy team in Los Angeles last month. “Anybody could relate to them.”

Welcome to black television during the rise of YouTube, or at least that’s the hope of Dennis Dortch, director of 2008′s A Good Day to Be Black & Sexy and creator of the YouTube channel Black & Sexy TV.

Television today is brimming with black sitcoms. TV Land just premiered The Soul Man with Cedric the Entertainer and Niecy Nash, new networks like Bounce TV are already showing original scripted programs and older networks like BET are ordering more (and more channels are premiering every year). None of these shows have been as buzzy or relevant as classic series from the Eighties and Nineties, from The Cosby Show to Martin. They’re passable and pleasurable, but few could be called new or innovative.

Maybe it’s because our 300-channel universe demands fresher, fleshier shows, and here the web is picking up steam. Web showrunners are innovating largely out of view of cable network executives, from the diverse oeuvre of Al Thompson to the roaring success of Issa Rae’s Awkward Black Girl, now releasing its second season on Pharrell’s premium iamOTHER channel.

Black & Sexy TV has spent the past year carving out a clear niche amidst rising competition among black web series: focusing on artsy realism that shares more in common with Louie than Let’s Stay Together.

“I really wanted to showcase black people in a certain way. Black is beautiful,” Dennis Dortch said. Continue reading

Web Series Spotlight: ’12 Steps’ Creator on Financing, Producing Independent Black Stories

By Guest Contributor Aymar Jean Christian, cross-posted from Televisual

If you pay attention to web shows by and about people of color, you probably have come across 12 Steps to Recovery, a romantic comedy series about Parrish Diaz, a jingle composer and actor dealing with a hard break-up. In the show, Parrish’s friends decide the only way he’ll get over his ex is to do a romantic “12 step” program: go on dates with 12 different women.

From Hitch and Knocked Up to The Best Man and (500) Days of Summer, romantic comedies about men have always been popular, if less so than female-driven ones. Producers see them as a good way to get a more balanced male-to-female ratio in your audience.

What makes 12 Steps to Recovery a little different is its use of Parrish’s story to showcase different kinds of women. Viewers end up learning more about the girls than the leading man. Each episode features a new date with a different kind of stock female trope, from transwomen to Southern belles. “Not all of us women are carrying baggage,” Parrish’s friend Dani says in one episode.

The series, which has a bunch of episodes released but is still in post-production for the remaining few, re-launched on KoldCast last month.

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