I’m working on writing new material this year, in hopes of releasing my third album sometime in the next 18 months. My last album “Social Hand Grenades,” which is available on EVERYTHING has done well to this point, but like most artists, I’m always looking to show growth and range with each release.
To gain perspective on what my fans want, I usually try to find any reviews or feedback out there on my other releases. Most of you may not know this, but for most of the last 10 years, I’ve held corporate day jobs, even some at very high levels, in addition to doing comedy. I’ve been conditioned to truly give a shit about my audience and fan base, or rather my customer feedback, because I just can’t turn off my capitalist brain when it comes to my art.
In reading reviews and feedback, there generally seems to be two camps, split about 80/20. 80% seem to think it’s all very great, and 20% can’t seem to get over the way I tackle racial subject matter. Even some of my closest comedian friends sometimes have a hard time putting aside their discomfort to see the funny, so I wanted to speak on it today while it’s front of mind.
Firstly, it’s not changing. Let’s get that clear, right from the start. My brain has always worked this way. I’ve always seen the comedy in what separates us racially, as well as sexually, and intellectually. That probably comes from growing up in an old school, east coast Irish family, who was MOST DEFINITELY racist, homophobic, and closed minded.
I remember as a kid, shortly after my parents divorced, one of my mom’s first new suitors was a black dude named James Briscoe. The concept of an interracial relationship was something new to me, as it was everyone at the time, around 1991/1992.
My father had voiced his distaste for the situation, but would make his case about it directly, and often times inaccurately, utilizing common stereotypes to support his beliefs. They weren’t all accurate to say the least. James himself was a total early 90’s guy, but you’d probably find him listening to Pearl Jam rather than Public Enemy. He defied all stereotypes. He worked his ass off, supported his son from his previous relationship, and welcomed me into his family with open arms, as if I was a son of his own. My fathers assumptions DID however carry weight in James family though, including such classics as “glazed ham instead of turkey on thanksgiving,” plastic covered couches, and Sunday baptist church that more resembled An amateur singing competition/Zulu nation fashion show.
When these things happened, I found myself laughing hysterically, and thinking “they know white people think this is all that it is, so why do they do it?”
I was 8 at the time, to keep it in perspective.
I also remember going to school with James’ family in small town Delaware for a bit, before moving back to Philadelphia after my parents divorced. I remember socializing with my step cousin Shawnetta, and talking about how we spent our weekends.
How the other white kids responded, I’ll never forget. Despite their words being neutral, safe, or even supportive, their faces showed an obvious disgust for the situation. They avoided us, and would ask ignorant questions. Despite my father’s direct approach, I actually found the passive aggressive “fake” support to be more uncomfortable for me. I truly felt better hearing my dad use the N word, than seeing my teachers and peers openly support it to my face, only to share their distaste for it behind closed doors where they didn’t think I could hear it or see it.
It was truly my 1 on 1 time with James that prevented me from simply absorbing my dad’s family’s perspective on black culture. James was the only guy to still visit me after he split with my mom. Even my dad would refer to him as “one of the good ones.” Which is still kind of a shitty way to refer to a guy that at the end of the day, was a great person. Or rather, at least trying to be.
I’ve fought my dad over his racist comments and statements over the years, until I was blue in the face. He will be 73 this year, and he isn’t changing anytime soon. He’s also not wrong, in anything he says.
We all have perspective growing up, that shapes our lives. James shaped my perspective on black people, just as the bullies who kicked my dad’s ass on his way home from school during the civil rights era shaped his. He’s not a dumb, or ignorant man. Rather someone’s who’s hatred for a group of people was cultivated and earned by experiencing a lifetime of violent black culture, lived throughout his childhood, and continuously perpetuated by the Philadelphia news in the last 50 years.
All of this made me feel two things growing up: that racism will NEVER go away, and that we are ALL equally responsible for making change.
I think we all have to play our part. We all have to be open minded and more tolerant, but we also have a responsibility to our own respective races to police that stereotypical behavior that prevents us from making progress. My jokes about black people don’t come from my dad’s perspective, but rather from my experience with people like James, and many of my other black friends and their frustration with those that behave in a way that perpetuate stereotypes. Until we can appreciate the efforts from both sides, it will always be unbalanced, and that will always lead to hate.
Knowing that racism would never go away has always given me an appreciation for the lesser of two evils: the more direct approach.
I do a bit in my act that I recently dissected on a podcast where I compare homosexuality to pedophilia. On the surface, it’s absurd to compare the two, but beneath that, I explained that I’m only attempting to show the faux acceptance around homosexuality. You can watch movies from the last 10 years where the word faggot is thrown around as a term of disgust. To believe that we’ve become more accepting overnight is ignorant. I don’t have ostrich syndrome, and even though the media likes to cover how much we’ve grown to accept it, I know that most people feel the same way they did 20 years ago. They just express it like those white kids in my class back when I was young. For all we know, the laws around pedophilia may change in the next 20 years, but there will still be people that will never be right with it. They’ll support it in public, just like gay marriage, and they’ll be full of shit.
I think the real evil in the world comes from our willingness to accept the answer we want to hear, and not be willing to dig deeper. To hear things like “I hate racism, and I love gay people” and take people at their words rather than their action is a terrifying concept to me.
In my comedy, when taking on characters of ignorance, my hope is to shed light on how full of shit many of us are, and hopefully send people from my shows with a newfound sense of action: to live that change, rather than pretend it’s already happened.
I hope I can make it funny along the way. If not, I’ll assume you’re probably some black fag that never graduated high school, is on welfare, and can’t stop sucking dicks long enough to really hear what I’m saying.