It's no secret that when it comes to black and white people laughing together, there is discord. Each funnels off into their respective social groups in the hope of being tickled by things that reflect their own separate lives. One: that of an ongoing struggle for equality; a history of hundreds of years of oppression and prejudice. The other: Richard Blackwood.
So to find out more about these parallel worlds, we went undercover. Cunningly disguising ourselves as journalists involved in a piece about “what black people laugh at” and “what white people laugh at”, we moved freely among both tribes. From Tottenham to Leicester Square, we trawled the known world to present an exhaustive, Kinsey-style report into The Way We Laugh Now.
The headline findings are summarised below.
White People (99 Comedy Club, Leicester Square)
References to MacCavity The Mystery Cat: 1
References to being thought of as "un-funky", or socially ungainly by Black People: 2
References to Tate Modern: 1
References to purchasing cinnamon muffins in chain coffee shops: 1
References to horses: 1
References to being scared of White People because they might make you their slave: 0
References to how the police are always busting your ass for no reason: 0
References to the ongoing enmity between Britain's Afro-Carribean and Afro-African communities: 0
References to parents from strict emigre stock who dished out habitual beatings as a child: 0
References to how Black Women's bottoms are far more pronounced than White Women's bottoms: 0
References to how sleeping with Black Women is dispiriting because they are so often unimpressed: 0
References to chicken fast food outlets: 3
References to living in Peckham: 4
Black People (Upfront Comedy, Tottenham)
References to MacCavity The Mystery Cat: 0
References to being thought of as "un-funky", or socially ungainly by Black People: 0
References to Tate Modern: 0
References to purchasing cinnamon muffins in chain coffee shops: 0
References to horses: 0
References to being scared of White People because they might make you their slave: 3
References to how the police are always busting your ass for no reason: 5
References to the ongoing enmity between Britain's Afro-Carribean and Afro-African communities: 4
References to strict parents from emigre stock who dished out habitual beatings as a child: 4
References to how Black Women's bottoms are far more pronounced than White Women's bottoms: 4
References to how sleeping with Black Women is dispiriting because they are so often unimpressed: 1
References to chicken fast food outlets: 3
References to living in Peckham: 2
THE IN-DEPTH STUDY ITSELF
99 Club, Leicester Square
White People have thronged to London's Leicester Square since time immemorial, drawn in by its Andrew Lloyd-Webber musicals and caucasian stripping scene. Tonight, they're congregating in the Storm nightclub for an evening of jolly japes that includes Holly Walsh – occasionally from mid-brow-lol-athon Mock The Week – Andrew Lawrence, who has just had a successful series on whitey’s Radio Four, and an Irish comedy-rap troupe called Abandoman.
Abandoman make up a spontaneous rap song about two random members of the audience, in which they reference such white icons as Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen, PJ and Duncan and Gordon Gekko. This proves popular, and as the improvisational comedy hip-hop fades, the sound that echoes round the room is one of soft white hands coming together to show their support.
Holly assures us all that her show will be rubbish, as she has just come back to comedy after breaking her arm in several places while participating in Red Bull's Anything That Flies. This is a quaint White cultural tradition involving chucking yourself off a pier tied to a tinfoil biplane in the name of being wacky and individual and sponsored by an energy drink. Despite having an art history degree Holly isn’t as funny as you’d expect, but her tales of being mugged in Peckham draw some cruel land-owning laughs from the slave drivers.
Finally, it's up to Andrew Lawrence – a frenetic sort of man, pasty as a pitcher of lard with a shock of orange hair, who amplifies his natural anality into a frothing, seething everyman: a green-ink Daily Telegraph Letters Page scribbler, taking serial offence at shoe shop assistants, coffee shop counter staff, Australians and buses. It's white. It's right. It's headlining tonight. The crowd goes white.
Upfront Comedy, Bernie Grant Arts Centre, Tottenham
Black People have long set up home in Tottenham because of its convenient proximity to unemployment and violence. Which isn't to say that they don't have fantastic arts complexes like the Bernie Grant Centre, where, on an upstairs balcony, Upfront are hosting their monthly show.
First on is a young man confusingly called Ola. He is not Spanish. He is Black. The first joke he does is about his dad not being there for him. And that's the key difference here: White comedy begins with a hip-hop group called Abandoman, Black comedy with abandonment. Reality check.
Special P, the "genius MC", talks about how he was onstage in a club full of white people and wondered whether they were going to start bidding on him. Everybody absolutely loves the slavery stuff, even though it is about something that occurred 200 years ago. I mean, you don't hear White People carping on and on about The Corn Laws, do you? No. Let it go.
Nineteen-year-old Variety D is terrifying, not least because her sentences seem to lack verbs in a way that makes you feel displaced. She seems to want to satirise ADD teenage girls who talk fast and slangy about mundane shit involving boys and hair straighteners, when in fact a big arrow pointing to her is all that would be required. People smile wanly, indulgently. She mentions how the BNP wouldn't know what to do with her because she is one quarter white, but I think they'd figure it out; they've got flow-charts for that sort of thing. I keep a shut mouth though; when sitting in the front row of a Black Comedy show in Tottenham, it is very important no one twigs that you are white and from South Africa.
Kojo, the self-styled "Fresh Prince Of Hackney", is all about how he prefers to sleep with white women because of their improved audio feedback. He raises the roof. The evening ends with him simulating intercourse, to wild applause.
• White People dance "like this", while Black People dance "like thiiiiiis".
• White People can never hope to understand the Black Man's struggle for emancipation until they make fewer jokes about Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen.
• Black People enjoy a laugh and a joke as much as the next man.
• Despite what TV leads you to believe, not all Black comedians are Stephen K Amos.
• Statistically, the key areas of overlap in Black and White comedy are, a) chicken shops, and b) Peckham. Therefore, the only way to bring about universal harmony is for BBC3 to launch a sitcom set in a chicken shop in Peckham.
• Black People aren't really as perturbed by gun crime as you'd expect – in fact, they're secretly delighted by it.
• White Folk are just like you and me, except they went to more expensive schools.
• Britain is a nation divided by what unites it and united by what divides it.
• White People are actually some of the nicest people you'll ever meet. Especially if you never leave North Wales.
• No-one likes white South Africans.
Follow Gavin on Twitter: @hurtgavinhaynes
Photos by Richard Johnson and Henry Langston.
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