Black Comedy, White Girl: the Original Odd Couple
I'm not racist. It's just by chance and not by desire that I've never had a best friend or boyfriend who was anything other than white, and that I've never been in a room where I was racially outnumbered. I'm also not humourphobic. It's just by chance and not by desire I've never heard David Cross or really anyone, and I've never been in a room where I was comically outnumbered. I guess I was just busy with other stuff all my life. Performance art, self-mutilation, noise musicians, spree murders, therapy, the PTA, and other white-people business.
This Friday, at a black comedy club in Methuen, Massachusetts, I made these naive (stupid) observations, racially and comedically sheltered as I've been, but here are my findings:
1. Black people humour is really fucking mean. I still think of comedy as Benny Hill, pratfalls and boobies – goofy stuff. Knock-knock jokes, etc. But everyone in this troupe was calling everyone out – the audience, the waitresses and busboys, the cops lining the back wall with their arms crossed. (Cops never show up when white people converge – except, I guess, at the airport, but that's not about the white people.) The MC kept referring to a guy in the balcony as retarded, and when he finally yelled something back, the MC got dead serious about people disrespecting him. He said, "I've been telling jokes professionally for ten years, but I've been a ni**er for 40 years. Don't disrespect me, I will lay you out." He kept on talking about it. He was not joking. Do not disrespect him.
2. In my experience, white men don't care if you get your period, they'll still fuck you. But they do expect you to do something about it when your tits sag. Conversely, black guys are apparently HORRIFIED by menstruation. Meanwhile, your tits can get to the point where you could tuck them into your jeans and those hearty fellows will simply untuck them, throw them over your shoulders, and fuck you hard all night long. (As long as there's NO BLOOD.)
3. There are frequent accusations between black people of taking it up the ass in prison. You would think that constant exposure would inure one to the insult's sting, yet each accusation riles as if it's the very first time. A comedian from Chicago called out an audience member for supposedly nodding knowingly to the comedian's joke about taking it up the ass. The nodder – a very big man – was so agitated he had to shove back his chair and walk out for the rest of the act. It was really nerve-wracking.
4. I had never called anyone bitch or ni••er before. Yet, just one time of being exposed to it all night long, and I was uncontrollably calling my boyfriend both all the next day. That name-calling is like heroin – don't let yourself be exposed to it, even one time; that's all it takes to get addicted.
In my attempt to get to the bottom of the audience-attack comedy genre, I interviewed another white person there, James, and his three friends about what is so funny about the whole thing anyway.
JAMES, 27, ADMINISTRATIVE WORKER
Vice: What's funny about this comedy?
James: This comedy? It's fun because they make fun of people in the crowd.
That's what you think is funny?
Yeah, when you pick on the ones who are uncomfortable, it's funny. And of course they're the target. That's funny.
YVONNE, 31, PAYMENT PROCESSOR
Vice: What's funny about this comedy?
Yvonne: Crack at the audience, get them involved. It's very interactive now. You will definitely have a good time.
Vice: What's your favourite joke?
I don't have a favourite joke.
How can you get invited to parties if you don't have any jokes?
OK, a Puerto Rican, another kind of guy, and a black guy go into a bar. They all have some kind of ailment... Oh, forget it! It's not stand-up anymore.
CATHY, 30, ACCOUNTANT
Vice: Hello, how about you, do you have a favourite joke?
Cathy: The cucumber, the pickle and the peanut are sitting at the bar and they're trying to decide who has the worst life. The cucumber says, "They chop me up, throw dressing on me." The pickle says, "They throw me in a jar with vinegar." The peanut says, "Please! They stick me in a trash bag and put me down a deep dark doggie hole, make me do push-ups till I puke."
Why is the peanut doing push-ups?
Well, that doesn't make any sense. Why is a penis hanging out with a cucumber and a pickle?
Why is a penis walking up to a bar? It's a JOKE.
Yeah, but one is a human appendage and the others are vegetables.
ANONYMOUS GIRL WHO WOULDN'T LET ME TAKE HER PICTURE
Anonymous girl: How do black people get so tall?
Because their knee grows.
In contrast, here's the favourite joke of my boyfriend, who is not only white, but is also old and Pennsylvanian.
KEITH, 41, DIRECTOR OF FINANCE
Keith: When I would trick or treat as a child, you wouldn't get candy unless you did something – told a joke or sang a song. You'd be invited into the dining room or the kitchen, and there would be a group of adults and the trick-or-treaters would have to be a source of entertainment. My joke was: "What did the race car driver sing before he crashed into the wall?"
[singing] "You picked a fine time to leave me, loose wheel." Hahahahaha! Heh, heh, heh! Ha!