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The Rise of the TV Comedy Without Laughter

Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows that I was very disappointed when I saw the almost entirely humorless Transparent won Best TV Comedy at this year’s Golden Globe Awards.  Anyone that I am friends with on Facebook know that I find the more bizzare-than-LOL homage to Woody Allen named Louie on FX to be more a testament to Louis CK’s work ethic and enjoyment of Allen’s films than actually funny.  And then there is HBO’s 800 lb Gorilla (no not Lena Dunham, but Girls, the show that generates more smirks and whimsy than laughter).  All that seems left for critics and comedy awards to gush over is if Wes Anderson decides to bring his quirky, critically acclaimed nonsense to a Showtime series before television comedy can finally usher in the apocalypse.  It is really time for some of these “comedies” to start getting a new category saved for people who are occasionally humorous, but cannot compete in the realm of full comedy: spoken word shows.

To put this in perspective, imagine that there were stand up comedy awards and the nominees were Bill Burr, Dave Chappelle, Henry Rollins and a Steve Martin art discussion.  Two of those are comedians. One is a guy who rants for an hour and occasionally throws in a joke to amuse a crowd while they are not in awe of his re-telling of adventures that show how open minded and worldly he is.  And the last is a comedian who is not doing comedic things.   Well this appears to be happening in TV, as shows that are not particularly funny (I deem funny by the ancient test of “does it generate laughter”), but clearly cannot compete in the age of incredibly great dramas, are being allowed to hog some of the spots for best comedies.

By Emmy and Golden Globe standards Henry Rollins would be a stand up comedian.

For example HBO – Veep has lots of laughs and gets critical and award recognition.  But Hello Ladies or the 1st season of Eastbound and Down got nothing.  Can anyone reasonably tell me that they laugh more at an episode of Girls than at Hello Ladies or Eastbound and Down?  To say nothing of the fact that those shows are actually just better shows, they are certainly better at generating laughs.  I understand that there are reasons why Ace Ventura: Pet Detective did not get nominated for Golden Globes for Best Comedy – it is funny, but it is obviously not a “good” movie.  Tone Loc and Dan Marino are rarely going to have large speaking roles in high quality entertainment. So I understand that there needs to be a quality threshold to be considered.  But once a show meets that threshold then humor should be the deciding factor.

HBO is not alone.  I just recently mowed through 4 seasons of a long running comedy on FX It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.  The show is absolutely hilarious.  Please correct me if I am wrong, but I do not think it has ever been nominated for a Best Comedy Emmy.  Perhaps the network is ignored?  Well, that is not true because Louie continues to compile nominations (as well as wins – hey if Louis CK can win for playing himself then why didn’t Eminem win for 8 Mile?) for best comedy even as the show continues to generate fewer and fewer laughs (and viewers).   But on a humor scale it is not even close as to which show is funnier.

Workaholics on Comedy Central also stands out for me.  Admittedly I have found the show inconsistently funny over the last 2.5 seasons, but when it hits, it hits huge, which you would think might generate a writing nomination (for an episode), but not when Girls is generating at least 4 smirks per episode!

Two episodes of Workaholics have more laughter than 4 seasons of Girls.

 

And then we arrive at Transparent, which may be the apex (or nadir) of this humorless comedy movement. The show is a critical (and I would say Hollywood liberal) darling because it stars a usually hilarious Jeffrey Tambour and is the first show to have a transgender character driving the narrative.  I laughed 3 times during the 10 episodes of Transparent‘s first season.  What makes it even more bizarre is that Transparent is the 3rd comedy on Amazon’s video service and it is overwhelmingly the least funny of the three (I strongly recommend Alpha House and also recommend Mozart in the Jungle).  Despite my critiques of stand up I am actually a relatively easy laugh, especially by the standard of stand up comics.  But that show, which I watched half of the weekend it went up on-line (so I was not biased by any awards) and found it annoying.  But even allowing for difference in tastes, it just was not very funny.  Even half of the people I have engaged with on social media over the show who like it admit that they don’t think it really qualifies as a comedy.  But once again, what is easier to challenge for awards – Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones or Girls and The Big Bang Theory?

So now we live in a world of comedies that don’t make people laugh, but rather think and smirk?  The question is why?  When did laughter, even in awards that have categories to honor comedy, become a handicap instead of a strength?  I would argue it is what happens when a culture begins to cater to hipsters and nerds. Comedy is not jazz!!!  It is not the laughter you cannot hear that makes it fun!  But I think the need to create your own sense of cool and to reject the mainstream and “know more” or have inside knowledge has given rise to these comedies that are the laughter equivalent of The Emperor’s New Clothes.  In an effort to cater to the cool kids of the day shows that are unfunny except to people who hate the sound of out loud laughter, these shows have cut a far too large slice of the comedy award pie.  So hopefully the pendulum swings back soon. It is bad enough the Oscars tend to not honor comedies (though seriously shut the fu*k up if you thought Bridesmaids deserved Oscar recognition) but in awards like the Emmys and Golden Globes it is time to give actual laughter more weight in determining what makes a worthy comedy.

For more opinions, comedy and bridge burning check out the Righteous Prick Podcast on iTunes and/or STITCHER. New Every Tuesday so subscribe for free!

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Comedy Recap: Sacred Cow # 2

It has been a while since I walked audience members, but like donating blood or having a cheat day during a diet, sometimes it is good to purge or shock the system to initiate a healthy replenishment.  That is what happened Sunday night at a show at Beauty Bar in Brooklyn.  First off the show had a huge batch of homemade butterscotch chocolate chip cookies, which were fantastic, but I only had 4, stopping short of my usual cookie limit known as stomach pain.  I then went up after the host and could tell from the fedoras, glasses, beards and beauty salon theme to the bar that this was a hip place.  So with a belly full of cookie confidence I decided to inflame the ironic passions of the room.   Let me say this about the Brooklyn room – for about 30% of the patrons – they acted like I entered a different culture, ignorant of their customs, and should have read my Fodor’s Guide to Brooklyn, which would have informed me that Louis CK, and more importantly Lena Dunham, are holy figures.  For example, a person could be stoned or beheaded  if they drew a likeness of Lena Dunham in Brooklyn.  So because my digital recorder audio cannot be transferred to my computer I will recap the short set in writing, which will be known as “Brooklyn’s 9/11”:

“I had a viral video get 250,000 hits, but don’t worry I am still humble and will not forget where I came from.”

What was the video of?

“I did a parody of Louis CK.  My favorite comment was ‘I hope Louis CK takes a shit in your mouth’ which would probably be more original than the one note of his last 4 specials.  WHAT??? I went there. Who wants some? (clearly kidding around/trolling – hence laughter from the side of the room not taking itself too seriously)”

(multiple grumblings) I like Louis CK!

a few minutes later…

“I enjoy the band Fun. with a period, not to be confused with the band Fun with no punctuation, but I am bothered that one of their band members is dating Lena Dunham.  Who makes it big in music and then decides ‘hey now that I am rich and famous I want to bang that gross looking chick from Girls!?’  Dude, you could have fu*ked her if your band didn’t make it!  Like if you were still working in a cool coffee shop and quit music you could pull that.  But now, thanks to you, there are hot whores with nothing to do on a Friday night because the bass player for Fun. wants to bang a manatee.”

(Lots of grumbling).  Girls is great! (the good news at this point is that the third of the room that was talking stopped, but only to angrily listen to their hero get made fun of)

“Girls sort of sucks.  Every 4 or 5 episodes something interesting happens, but it is very overrated show.”

Girls is great! (about 7-10 people get up and start leaving)

“Oh I am sorry that I attacked your sacred cow!  And I did not mean to call Lena Dunham a cow; it’s just a convenient coincidence in the analogy… and look at the woman with her hand over her mouth like she just witnessed the second tower falling.  Oh my God  5/5 in Brooklyn never forget that time a mean man made some jokes about Lena Dunham.  Never forget. I hate all Dunhams – Lena and Jeff!”

I then did a bit about hating cats and left the stage.

I am a left of center thinker, but I am not as conformist as many people might think.  I am more socially conservative than many of my friends, but still believe in more liberal fiscal policies (known in America as “virtually unelectable.”  I am all for free speech in comedy and I never criticize comedians for taking chances and attacking things I like as long as the take is an attempt at originality and funny.  But it bothers me sometimes that the most liberal folks (check out the comments section on my Louis CK video for confirmation) can abandon their attitude when it comes to one of their heroes.  Trash religion, religious figures or any notion of conservatism on stage and you are cool with these people, but get at one of their new high priests or priestesses of authenticity and all bets are off.  Like their celebrities get a pass that others don’t.  And in fact, I would argue what made the CK video successful and made me enjoy the Dunham quips is the very fact that many of their fans treat them like the higher beings so many of them have written off.  So I am glad I pissed those folks off.  I feel like liberals are the new conservatives when it comes to entertainment.  And no this is not a defense for a bunch of d-bag comics to start dropping nig*er, cu*t and f*g on stage for the sake of saying it, while trying to cloak themselves in the overused defense of being just “too edgy” for liberals.  Comedy can have dignity and that is a good thing, but I am not sure anything should be sacred.  Especially celebrities that rose to fame challenging and defeating previously held assumptions and sacred cows.

For more opinions, comedy and bridge burning check out the Righteous Prick Podcast on Podomatic or iTunes

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For Colored Girls vs For White Girls – Who…

The fans of Tyler Perry films and Lena Dunham’s Girls probably do not have a large intersecting area in the Venn Diagram of entertainment.  One is a large black man who is a hero in the black Church community who writes horribly written films for an often neglected section of America (black middle class), starring an underemployed segment of Hollywood actors (black people not named Will or Denzel).  The other is large white woman who is a hero to the white girls who cannot find their footing in this big crazy world and find validation watching a show about unlikeable fu*k-ups.  But she is 26 and to accomplish what she has is impressive.  So Perry and Dunham are both remarkable role models, despite being creators of somewhat cringe-worthy content.

And to be fair, I do not have a gripe about Dunham writing a show that focuses on all white chicks, despite their saturation of music, television and movies.  I already wrote a defense of it here last year.  So that is not the point of this.  In fact I am not sure the point of this except after watching this week’s episode of Girls, I realized that Dunham and Tyler Perry could and should form an alliance.

Watching the episode that just passed it dawned on me that Girls and Tyler Perry’s colossal failure of a film For Colored Girls (not his original work, but definitely his bad film making and terrible adaptation of the source material) provide a duo that basically amounts to a mediocre comedian doing an extended bit called “Black women have problems like this!  But white women have problems like this!” (George Lopez trademark pending).

Taking the four memorable incidents from Perry’s For Colored Girls and the four big shifts for the characters in Girls so far this season let’s learn a little about what it is like to be in these different groups:

The Big Star Gets In Trouble With A Gay Man

Lena Dunham’s character has realized that she cannot date her socially awkward, but significantly more attractive boyfriend (a 5 to her .8), she bangs a black Republican and most shocking, her friend Marni banged her gay ex-boyfriend.  Pretty tragic all around.

Janet Jackson gets HIV from her down low husband and reveals that she knows her husband is gay when she throws her blood test result at the overly muscular man (a favorite of Perry) and says “And take your HIV with you!”

Slight edge to Janet. Ms. Jackson if you’re HIV positive.

Shy Sidekick Has Awkward Sex

David Mamet’s daughter, Eyebrows, loses her virginity at 21 and is dating a guy who turns out to be struggling with life and living out of his car, which is literally between the Holocaust and a nuclear-armed Iran in the fears of Jewish parents.

Yasmine, a dance instructor in FCG, starts dating a seemingly nice gentleman who rapes her on their first date.

Rape is bad, but is it really as sad as a Jewish chick dating an unemployed guy? Edge – Eyebrows

Family Problems For A Supporting Character

The British chick on Girls ends up embarrassing her husband (they got married after a few bad dates as a misplaced plot point) at a dinner in front of her in-laws.  They end up separating after 19 hours of marriage.

Crystal, one of the characters in FCG watches her two children get thrown out of a window to their deaths by her baby daddy.

Had it only be one child, Brit might take this one, but two kids definitely gives the edge to Crystal.

Working a Bad Job

Marni, the attractive one on Girls (though Brit’s rack turned out to be a surprise highlight of the last episode), is really having it rough, from letting a diminutive artist go raw inside of her to having to work as a hostess at a club where men treat her like an attractive hostess at a club.

Thandie Newton’s character in FCG is a sex addict with a past of sex abuse (or possibly just a super-empowered woman) to the point that dudes assume she is a prostitute.

Anytime you let a guy who wears fedoras, or at least seems like a guy who would wear a fedora, bang you – you lose.  Edge – Marni

Group hugs make everything better.

So after taking in both of these artists, it is clear that Tyer Perry and Lena Dunham need to get together and, in the spirit of Valentine’s Day, have a kid together.  They operate on the extremes of Hollywood.  On writes for black Church folk (a group that goes “Ummmm HMMM!” to signify that Perry has validated their beliefs) and the other writes for narcissistic white women (a group that goes “That is so us!” without realizing that just makes them unlikeable tools as well).  And both have ways of capturing the lives of their characters in opposite ways.  For Colored Girls shows that every character has an apocalyptic level event happen to them and can still carry on, while Girls shows that every problem, no matter how small becomes a time for self-discovery and personal enrichment.  It is like these people are from different planets (possibly Mars and Venus).  So let’s get these two crazy kids together and let them have a kid (its celebrity name could be some mix of Dunham and Perry – Dairy!).  So maybe one of you solves a series of tragedies with an empowering group hug and prayer while the other solves a marriage ending after 4 meals with a witty bathtub encounter.  But I still think you can find common ground.  The silver lining to these Hollywood clouds getting together is maybe, just maybe,  if their child is exposed to the horrific writing and tragedies in Perry’s mind with the witty drivel from Dunham’s, he or she might see the world as it actually is (and write an angry blog about it).

Perry is Dunham. Dunham is Perry. Dunham is a man!!!!

For more opinions, comedy and bridge burning check out the Righteous Prick Podcast on Podomatic or iTunes.

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Deadspin and How Men Became Dumb Chicks

Adam Carolla’s first, and incredibly hilarious book was called “In Fifty Years We’ll All Be Chicks.”  Now some of you may have already stopped reading, since you may think you know how I am framing the story given the tip of the cap to Carolla.  But I am here to say that Carolla was wrong.  He should have titled the book, “In Five Years We’ll All Be Dumb Chicks.”  I am not as concerned as Carolla with the increasingly politically correct tone of our culture (though I am not completely numb to it either), as I am with how eager men have been to jump to (after a healthy dose of nudging towards) culture and news that previously had been the province of only the most empty-headed women.

First They Came for Our Barber Shops

I cannot remember the first time I saw Maxim Magazine, but I know it was sometime during college (the first issue was released in 1998).  I am sure some of my friends were reading it.  After all it featured hot women on the covers and when targeting late teen and early twenties males that is pretty much all you needed to sell magazines in the late 90s/early 00s.  But beneath that Trojan horse cover that made you want to buy Trojans was a more pernicious purpose.  It was not until the stacks of Maxim magazines began piling up in my barber shop that I shoved aside the NY Daily News and Rolling Stone magazines and decide to take a peak.  Of course there were airbrushed pictures of D-list starlets, but there were also lots of helpful tips on grooming, fitness, sex and other things if you wanted to become the ultimate date rapist (I think FX or Spike have optioned this as their next reality show).

So instead of reading the newspaper and discussing politics and family at the barber shop it became about learning new ways to wax your chest, smell like a sex trafficked slave working at Abercrombie and what drugs to buy to convince your girlfriend to have a threesome.  This may all seem normal to you now, but there used to be a day where only insecure and/or dumb women would read magazines that turned them into insecure narcissists.  But either some evil woman or brilliant marketer (or both)decided, “If our dummies cannot better themselves through harsh magazines whose only goal is to make women feel insecure and create a co-dependency with our magazine, then we will bring men down to that level.”  And so it began.

Then They Came for Our Colognes

In the last several years, manscaping, spanks for men, body washes, and an assortment of other things have made men the new insecure chicks.  Apparently we are no longer the confident, stable ones in the world (it’s been a solid 50,000 year run). We lack just as much confidence as any other subscriber to Cosmo.  And the only thing mroe dangerous to a culture than insecure women is insecure men (we are even better at that).  For God’s sake Lena Dunham is now our culture’s benchmark for confidence! I cannot even find a cologne that smells manly anymore.  I used to use a cologne called Polo Crest.  It had a scent that evoked wealth and oak-paneled steak houses and women loved it. Because it smelled like a man’s cologne.  I went to a department store recently to find a new scent, since Polo Crest has been discontinued, and every thing I smelled felt like I was 19 years old trying to get bottle service at a club that I was not allowed into.  I am not sure how exactly to describe the different scents I smelled, but they mostly just smelled fruity and sporty and immature (I feel like a sommelier right now – “This cologne is full bodied, but I’m picking up a hint of sexual assault”).  Admittedly I did not try every cologne in the store, but after spritzing several samples on my wrist I started to smell like a bouquet of douche bag.

And Then They Came for Our Sports

So once we allowed the Cosmo mentality to be combined with 19 year old douchebag taste there was no stopping the runaway train.  Eyebrows, chest hair, pubes – none were safe from it.  Every rapper who previously rapped about shoot outs and gang bangs were now doing hooks for female teen pop stars.  But then the Cosmo-Douche movement got sports in its cross hairs and nothing less than the battle for the soul of the American man began. And the American Man is losing.  Badly.

Now some women studies major or other person looking to flex their tolerance credentials may tell me that I have a somewhat primitive view of masculinity.  But whether its opening a jar of peanut butter, a door, a wallet at a restaurant or a can of whoop ass to a disrespectful dude (or mouthy woman) most women and bottoms would agree that having a man take the lead on some or all of those things is still one of the attractive components to men.  And that is why I think we need to save sports from the Cosmo-Douche movement.

The great thing about sports (I refer to men’s sports as “sports” and women’s sports as “what the?”) is that it is still an area where the primal nature of men is allowed.  Brains, braun, camaraderie and competition. All four of these things are involved in most sports and that is why people, and especially men, love them.  And that is why I always get annoyed when I see new Deadspin articles floating around on my Facebook or Twitter feed.

I think it was a few years ago when I first saw a Deadspin article on my Facebook feed.  I cannot remember which athlete’s penis it was discussing – perhaps Greg Oden’s or Brett Favre’s, but the bottom line was that Deadspin obviously observed a culture of sex tapes, Snoop Dogg rapping with Katy Perry and athletes wearing rimless glasses at post game conferences and thought “This is the time to finally make the Cosmo-Douche movement into the Cosmo-Douche-Sports alliance!” 

Currently on Deadspin are articles about Lance Armstrong being “an asshole,” Manti Te’o’s fake girlfriend (I understand the journalistic merit here) and comments Lena Dunham made about her weight.  This is the site that called itself  “the go-to source for athlete dong.”  Maybe I am an old fashioned heterosexual man, but if I want sports news I go to ESPN and if I want to be aroused I can watch porn (preferably with women involved) or hire an au pair, but I have never had the desire to look at athlete penis or find out what Lena Dunham has to say about her body (sidenote – why in a culture obsessed with getting kid’s healthy and stopping an obesity crisis are we praising Lena Dunham for making us all look at her manatee-like frame?). But obviously Deadspin is very successful, which means that the Cosmo-Douche movement has basically won.  Either we have crafted a culture of repressed gay guys who just want a snarky site full of athlete cock shots and updates on Girls or the culture now operates from the mindset of a sad reader of Cosmo as its baseline mentality.  But the reality is that men were simultaneously nudged and willingly jumped to this.  It is easier to indulge in the dumb and the salacious then in the real value of things.  But we are all dumb chicks now – smart women, smart men, dumb men – we all lost to the underdog with the under 90 IQ.  So let us repeat our new Cosmo-Douche mantra America: We all suck, we all need constant improvement and we are all looking ways to please our man or look at dick pics, so buy this magazine we are selling you nation of clueless losers.  But just don’t bully anyone because that is bad.

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Top 13 Righteous Prick Blogs of 2012

As has been customary for the last few years I have made my (unpaid) bread and butter writing about the comedy business, my own career and the occasioanl rant about something else in our culture.  So for those of you that have not kept up or would like a convenient link to send to people to turn them on to the blog I present my Top 13 (I refuse to do a Top 10 because they are too popular) Blogs of 2012.  Also, if so inclined to show me support either become a fan of the Facebook Page and/or “like” my Huffington Post page where some of these appear. Thanks and enjoy:

1. The Death of Stand Up Comedy – My typical cheery, well-reasoned about the demise of stand up comedy.  I believe this was the most “liked” post on my website this year.

2. 10 Things in Stand Up Comedy that Should Be Retired – Let’s put it this way, Chris Rock shared it on his facebook page and Ralphie May argued against it. Not sure I need any more endorsements.

3. Adam Carolla’s Eddie Brill Moment – My defense (well-reasoned to those not highly emotional while reading) about why what Carolla said was a) not as bad as people thought and b) not what people claimed he said.

4. The Elephant in the Room at the Comedy Awards – During another coronation of Louis CK I make the case for the late, great Patrice O’Neal.

5. Dane Cook and Comedy’s New Politically Correct Police – My first beef with a celebrity began here with TJ Miller replying (quite respectfully to his credit) to my commentary about Dane Cook’s new vulgar voice on stage.

6. How to Get Along with a Struggling Comedian – Very popular on the Huffington Post with comedians and called “bitter and mean” by commenters who know nothing about comedy or comedians.

7. I Did Not Know That Memes Were The Future of Comedy – Suck it George Takei! (metaphorically)

8. Comedian Speaks at South Bronx High School Career Fair Despite Lacking a Career – I often write about road work, but this was a nice change of pace as I recapped speaking at a career day about my legal and comedy “careers.”

9. The Social Media Guide to Watching Breaking Bad – What year would be complete without some Walter White work?  Only read this one if you made it through Season 4 of BB.

10. Jeff Dunham Announces New Puppets for 2012 – My press release for one of comedy’s genius level talents.

11. To the Defense of “Girls” – It’s Not Its Fault – Premature hysteria over 4 white girls starring in a show demanded a response and even though many disagreed with me, they were mostly not right.  Like the Carolla blog – this was a thoroughly anaylitical breakdown of the show and only those with an emtoional stake in the show would see me as wrong.

12. Why I Am Rooting For Lebron James – Praise for the King and shame on the NY Knick fan base.

13. The Future of Comedy – A sarcastic look forward at the comedy and stand up comedy worlds.

So please share this whole post or individual posts you like and thanks for reading in 2012 and hopefully in 2013.

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Tales of an Undercover Half Black Guy

Race seems to be the issue that can never go away.  I have a few jokes in my act about how we will know when racism has been eradicated (when the interracial porn genre no longer exists).  President Obama’s election was hailed as some sort of landmark event and yet the two most successful tactics against him are 1) painting him as some sort of exotic outsider without American values 2) or yelling that he is a socialist, with fervor usually only reserved for outright slurs, not proxies for them.  With the election of Barack Obama and the aftermath of that election it has cause me to more deeply examine my own racial experience.  I still can remember Glenn Beck saying President Obama had a “deep seated hatred for white people,”and was “racist.”  That of course struck me as strange (and offensive) because Obama’s mother was white.  The grandparents that helped raise him were white.  But we live in an interesting time racially – we are busy congratulating our society for electing a mixed race president as some sort of baptism to wash away the sins of racism, while simultaneously trying to use that event as a shield from legitimate criticism of a society where discrimination is still rampant. It is still present,  just in more subtle ways.  As the late, great comedian Patrice O’Neal said, the reason there is still anger is because white people have that racism that can’t be proven.

I need to say that this is not meant as some anti-white screed by any means, but my experience between black people and white people who do not know I am half black has been very different. Although there are exceptions in each group, black people tend to be immediately welcoming, whereas white people become immediately skeptical.

Like President Obama I am the son of a black immigrant father and a Caucasian American mother.  I also have a law degree from a prestigious law school.  Needless to say the similarities abruptly end there.  Not only is his major accomplishment of POTUS slightly more impressive than my one performance on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, but he is “black” and I appear “white.”  I have jokes about my race changing from season to season depending on tan and hair length, but my range goes from Italian to Algerian at best.  For most people I am judged as white by their first impression.  Fortunately and unfortunately that has exposed me to a lot of things I sometimes wish I had not been.  Because for every indignity that people of obvious color may still suffer, I get to experience the indignity of being present for all the things people of color do not hear because of the self censorship that occurs nowadays.

He exposed as many hearts as he may have changed.

The closest parallels that I have come up with are Jewish people and gay people.  These are the groups that, if not bearing obvious hallmarks of their identity, can be privy to the uncensored opinions that they otherwise would not have been if they had sent out signals.  I spent my life in private schools and despite real efforts at diversity at all levels they were still overwhelmingly white places.  So most of my circles of friends have been heavily white.  And they all know my Dad and know that I am half black.  But it is when I meet people I do not know or when I meet friends of friends who nothing more about me than my height that things can often get uncomfortable.  Here are some greatest hits:

  • In a bar a few weeks ago (which sort of got me thinking of writing this), a white friend of a friend was chatting with me and told me that some guy’s car was really tricked out, or as he put it “niggerfied.”
  • Same night a stranger approached me in a bar and asked if I played basketball. I said just in small level college a while back. His reply was “Well, what do you expect, you’re white.”‘
  • In Ohio, the emcee was called up by the headliner to participate in a dance routine for his closer.  I commented to a woman, “Man, he’s really getting into it with his dance moves.” Her response was “Well, he’s black.”
  • At a Pittsburgh Steelers game, – just read my write up – https://jlcauvin.com/?p=1212
  • A little while back at a bar with a good friend of mine and several female friends of his that did not know me, the song I Will Survive came on. I rolled my eyes because I don’t like the song.  One woman said, “I hate this song. Maybe I would like it if I was a black chick.”
  • In college after I had had a slam dunk on guy after my last game, a teammate’s uncle congratulated me with a “Great throw down! You dunked it like a black guy!”
  • On Spring Break many years ago I was hanging out with a young woman from Texas most of the night.  I was very drunk, but then a very sobering moment came up and I don’t know what brought it about, but I cannot forget what she said:  “I’m not racist; I just don’t like black people.”
  • As a kid, the first memory I have of feeling awkward and conflicted racially was a good friend of mine when we were 10 or 11 years old would always cross the street when young black men were approaching us (even at 4 in the afternoon on a crowded Manhattan cross street).  And this is someone who knew my father, which always made me wonder – is he that oblivious to how that would make me feel, or does he not count me among their numbers?

These are just some of the more salient examples of my life of the last few decades.  Whenever I do tell people that I am half black there is a shock as if I either harbored a secret or pulled of a magic trick. Of course when I say that I am half Irish there is a “Huh, I did not see that,”response, but when I say “half-Haitian” the response is usually more like “Get the fu*k out of here!!!”  And then there is a verification check of “Are you serious?” I have grown accustomed to that.  The one that bothers me is the subsequent question a minute later, “Seriously, your Dad is black?” because then I have no real choice but to be insulted and annoyed.  To me, the nervous incredulity rings off a bell to me that says “modern day racist,” (even if only a product of my own insecurity from past dealings that were more blatant) the same way I cringe a little at excessive usage of the word “ghetto” to mean anything besides an actual slum.  This was what Patrice meant by “hard to prove.”  Granted I have some very blatant examples I have been privy to, and believe me these are not the only ones.  But if I were to get in the face of someone asking me four times if my Dad was black, he could say, “Why are you so mad?  You have to admit you don’t look black.” Then why not the same shock at half Irish?  You don’t think I look Irish, either!  My theory, based solely on personal experience is that black has a certain cache to it, at least in terms of of our pop culture.  It also comes with pitfalls as well; pitfalls I am not enduring (as if I am not paying the tax for the advantages of being part black?).  But most importantly, most black men come with a warning sign – their skin and features.  That skin and those features may lead to forms of discrimination today as obvious as stop and frisk programs or the never-going-away, DWB (Driving While Black), but it also allows so-called good and enlightened non-racists to censor themselves.  How many of those things above do you think would have occurred had I looked obviously black?  None.  And then to put the onus on me as if I am hiding in plain sight with some sort of deceitful purpose is all I need to understand the insecurities that are present in the questioner.

Haitian + Irish = Italian?

Now, having grown up with one half of my family a blue collar Irish family, I have heard slurs and derogatory comments in and around my house.  And just like the comment of my teammate’s uncle, the comments annoy me.  I do not generally subscribe to the “set in your ways” philosophy about old racists. If there were people around that knew better then you should have known better.  But in older generations and even today I have become pretty good at detecting malicious racism and benign comments worded awkwardly. Unlike most of my white teammates who found the comment embarrassing, I shrugged it off because it felt more like a poorly worded compliment from someone who thought those words weren’t hurtful.  I did not interpret anything he said as ill will behind them towards black people.  I am not saying I enjoyed it, but it did not really bother me.  What bothers me is that most of the experiences I listed above have taken place in liberal places with young white people.  A generation supposedly so much more enlightened, believing that race is completely irrelevant.  Perhaps that is true of teens and young twenties, but it does not feel nearly as rosy in my age demographic (33 years old).

A little while back I defended the show Girls, for its monochromatic presentation of NYC because it felt authentic – white women do a lot of self segregating in this city.  I felt like that was enough to validate it for me.  The only thing missing for me was not the presence of minorities in their inner circle.  Rather, what was missing is them discussing race at all.  I have been in too many bars in conversations and overhearing conversations when today’s modern liberal, enlightened white people are sharing their real thoughts and quips about race (even Carrie Bradshaw dropped a “ghetto gold” reference on Sex and the City).  Of course this is not to say things like this do not go on in other groups, but this is my experience.  Undoubtedly someone will comment or share their own experience of being called a “white bitch” or being jumped by a group of black guys, but that would miss my point.  My point is that the “new racism” as Patrice O’Neal put it is real, or it i snot that new.  Unlike Patrice, I am in more of a position to verify its existence.  This is not some “white people are bad” diatribe (calm down Glenn Beck).  This is merely a response to people (including people I am a fan of like Adam Carolla) who proclaim highly paid black entertainers and a president of color means that our society is so different than it was before 2008 or 1998 or earlier (yes there is a point in our history where we are obviously radically different and better than, but a coach once said to me that the difference between bad and good is easier to bridge than good to great.  I believe we are in the good-to-great struggle now and there is a lot of push back).

I have never identified myself as black or white, except once – law school applications.  My college allowed me to check “all that apply” so I proudly applied as white and black.  However, most law schools wanted only one box checked.  And I checked black. And I felt like a fraud. Not because I did not qualify to check it, but because I do not identify myself as black. I identify myself as mixed race, white and black.  Perhaps this is the convenience of not looking black that I can craft my own racial identity in a country so obsessed with it.  The same way Barack Obama probably never had a choice to not identify as black.  Instead of hailing him as a multi-racial president, which in many ways is even more impressive to the country’s legacy as a melting pot, he has become our first black president.  I completely understand why.  There are times I wish I looked blacker, simply to avoid the annoyance and shame that comes with being privy to racist or racist-leaning comments every couple of months.  It reminds me of The Matrix where one character prefers to stay in the matrix, rather than face the harshness of reality.  If I looked blacker I would face other, more well-documented problems, but would benefit from the self-censorship that many people employ when dealing with “ethnics.”

I suppose the reason for me writing this is not to say I wish I was someone different or looked different.  But it is to say that for all the progress that society has made, do not fool yourself into believing all is well.  I am constantly presented with opportunities where an angry response may  be warranted (or at least I would look crazy if I did), but rather incidents that are  just enough to make me feel shame for not saying something.  In other words if a friend of a friend starts saying provocative things I can ruin everyone’s night by announcing that I am half black and I find the person backwards and wrong or I can do what I normally do which is make a mental note, let it slide and let everyone go on feeling good about themselves.  Which is sort of what we have all been doing.

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To The Defense of “Girls” – It’s Not Its…

This past Sunday I watched HBO’s new show Girls.  It featured a perfect storm for me to potentially unleash new levels of hate and criticism. It was produced by Judd Apatow, who I think is the most overrated person in the comedy business not named Louis.  His movies always manage to take a 90 minute comedy premise and produce a 2 hour and 10 minute epic of inconsistency.  Then there is the critical acclaim for the show.  Nothing primes me more to hate something than universal acclaim.  My philosophy is simple – that many people can absolutely be wrong.  And lastly, the premise of the show: 4 white girls of varying levels of privilege trying to “make it” through life and love all with wit and and a few tears.  My assumption is that it would simply further influence the youthful dregs of Manhattan the way Sex and the City did (a classic that led to life imitating art) for young women.  In other words I just assumed that at the end of the pilot of Girls I would be saying, “They should have named this crap Cu*ts!”

Girls

Well I think I was wrong. I watched the first episode and I enjoyed it.  I thought it was fairly witty, thankfully lacking the Carrie Bradshaw puns, and because of the 30 minute length, Judd Apatow’s “More is More, which turns out to be less” style was impossible.  So after the pilot I thought, “Hey this show is worth a real look.”

But then I saw an immediate backlash among friends and comedians.  I felt like the main complaints I heard and read were misguided.

Four white girls of privilege in Manhattan do not speak for a generation or a city’s 20-somethings!

Why were there no meaningful people of color in the show?

Those two questions are good questions and they have a simple answer – rich, white people segregate. I went to, what is now, the most expensive private school in the country. I then went to an elite college and a top 20 law school. And I have been to a fair share of weddings where I have been the only person of (any) color or close to the only person of color. That includes guests, wedding party and plus 1s.  Walk into any bar in Manhattan and I guarantee you will see multiple groups of white girls only.  I have always maintained that racist white women have always gotten a pass for passive racism that racist white men, because of the threat of physical retribution that men have to deal with if they run their mouth with racist garbage, cannot (one of the reasons I liked the movie The Help – racist white WOMEN were the villains).  Now let me be clear, I am not accusing white people in white circles as automatically racist, but there is a segregation present all over America that people seem to ignore.  As Patrice O’Neal said, “White people now have that racism that black people can’t prove.”

The point of mentioning that is that there is nothing wrong or inaccurate about Girls. So they don’t appear to have friends of color? So what (acquaintances do not count)? The show has been written by a woman based on her experiences.  Those experiences, at least from my perspective growing up in NYC, seem entirely plausible.  Inserting a meaningful person of color, if not true to the creator of the show, would be the racist (or at least patronizing) thing, if only done to satisfy a quota (the way boy bands try add a beige member- I am talking to you Menudo!).  And Sex and the City was four white women of affluence.  Wealth just as easily insulates from societal changes as it drives change.  I think that is why Friends got more heat than SATC for its lack of minorities because Friends featured working class white people, who would be less likely to live in an all-white world.  I believe SATC represented life imitating art, given how women responded to it, but Girls feels more like art imitating life – an accurate reflection of a visible segment of the NYC population.

I won’t lie – I see a lot of diversity in various groups of my friends, especially in comedy, but to pretend like there is not de facto segregation all over this country, even in great melting pots like NYC is absurd.  The show is written from that background (would be my guess).  So be mad at society, but being angry at a show that comes from that truth seems misguided to me.

More offensive to me is be the casting of a show like The Walking Dead (my podcast interview with comedian Dan Soder about TWD is linked here – http://righteouspk.podomatic.com/entry/2012-02-06T21_59_09-08_00). The wildly popular show on AMC takes place outside of Atlanta and for two seasons has had… 1 regular black character.  1 black guy in Atlanta??!!!  Of course, imagine if The Walking Dead had 6 black and 6 white characters in its ensemble instead of the 11:1 ratio they have?  America would not tune in, because a large part of the population would no longer look at it as a “zombie show” and would look at it as a “black show.”

Apparently more white kids survived in Atlanta than black adults in The Walking Dead

 

HBO is not at fault.  They have provided minority-driven shows like The Wire for full series runs, despite bad ratings.  But as long as the market favors certain perspectives and certain narratives they will continue to provide those shows as well.

My point with Girls is that it is reflective of our culture, a culture we all seem to think we are better than or don’t exist in.  America is still segregated, maybe not in the work place or in the athletic field or in our Facebook friends, but in the places we keep closest it sure is. And that segregation is almost always exacerbated by wealth.  So don’t blame Girls, blame the market for which Girls is produced. It is the Girls’ world and we are just living in it.