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Black guy + White culture = funny?

September 2, 2010

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The other night I went to a comedy club here in The City (for the east coasters, I’m referring to San Francisco) and it was overall a pretty hilarious time.  Many of the comedians used their identities to poke fun.  For example, one of the comedians was a little person who complained about the perils of online dating since women don’t realize he’s a little person, the protection he doesn’t ask for but gets from drunk guys at the bar, and the difficulty in finding clothes if shopping outside of the boy’s husky section at a department store.  There was also a Black lesbian, an Italian American who grew up poor, and a guy who was either pretending to be, or was actually, on crystal meth.  I guess the last one’s not an “identity” per se but he was hilarious!

But it was the last comedian who who earned a post.

He was a Black guy who had moved from South Central LA to San Francisco a few years ago.  If you’re familiar with Boyz n the Hood, or the show COPS, you know why that’s a drastic change.  His comedy was based on the contrast between his life growing up “in the streets” and coming to San Francisco, where there was “culture.” And according to him, culture is the antithesis to gangbangin‘.

He was happy he was in a place where he could sip his organic chai lattes while shopping at Trader Joe’s and maybe stopping afterward to read a book outside.  All of those things are clearly not allowed in the streets of south central.

And I get it.  But the comedy is based on two simple assumptions:

1. People who live in places like south central don’t have culture

2. White people’s culture is THE culture – it is obviously the better way to live one’s life

A colleague of mine, let’s call him B, replied to my summary of the comedy with the same sense of unease that I had.  He pointed out that as a Black man in The City he often wonders what people think of him, since he doesn’t partake in the White culture that dominates this part of the bay area.  He also pointed out that what the guy was really talking about was not a difference in culture, at least not exclusively.  It’s really a difference in MONEY.  Even poor White people will laugh at you for drinking an organic chai latte and reading a book in the middle of the day when you could be at work.  Being broke is not a Black thing, regardless of what television tells you.

I didn’t really laugh during this guy’s act because I was irritated that most of the audience he was performing in front of was White.  So given the two assumptions that he based his jokes on, he was basically pandering to them. I kept asking myself, “Would he do this act in front of a Black audience? Or does he flip the script and make fun of White culture when his audience is in say, Oakland?”

And at the end of it all it made me realize that I’m tired of feeling like if I’m not poor and of color in The City people don’t know what to do with me.  Maybe I do shop at Trader Joe’s and sit in cafes in the middle of the day writing blog posts, but at least I realize it’s a choice I’m making based on the latitudes of my current station in life, and it’s not what is saving me from being a stereotype.

But in case that comedian is looking for some more behaviors to inoculate him from gangbangin’…behold, the handbook is here:

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