Black comedians adapt to Obama era. Is 'angry' out?
With a black president, stand-ups may have to rethink some of their material.
When Richard Pryor appeared as a black president in a skit on "Saturday Night Live" in 1977, it was his angry black street patter that got the laughs. Now that the one-time fantasy has become reality, African-American keepers of the national funny bone are having to reassess much of their material.Skip to next paragraph
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Can they rail against the establishment now that a black man's in charge?
African-American comedian Joe Holt had the audience howling at the Los Angeles Improv Nov. 2, with his portrayal of a fictitious presidential debate moderated by his own father, playing the stereotypical, angry street black: "Obama, where do you get off?"
"Uh, well, I, uh, will tell you exactly where I get off. I am going to help Joe the Plumber, end the recession, and restore sight to the blind."
At the Laugh Factory across town Nov. 24, D'Sean Ross was the first of several African-American comedians in a showcase called "Chocolate Sunday" to laud Obama. ("Give it up for Barack, he's already brought the price of gas down and he isn't even president yet.") Ron G. pointed out the futility of Obama's wife, Michelle, playing the typical complaining wife after her husband has "delivered her to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in a helicopter."
If the 2008 election signals a sea change in American racial and class attitudes, the first signs are likely to come from African-American comedians. At comedy venues all over the US, they're trying out new material about Obama his nearly angelic politeness, his youth, vigor, good looks, and model family.
"So now we finally have the nation's first black president and what's he do? He's going to go green," intones D. Lemon, a New York-based comedian at his showcase at Laugh Lounge NYC. [Editor's note: The original version misspelled the comedian's name and misidentified the venue for the comedy club.]
"We can't just rely on the woe-is-me clichés anymore," he says in an interview. Dealing with being hopeful is much trickier than relying on the social barriers against blacks, he adds. "The audacity of hope was his mission and he was successful with that, and we are going to have to go as far as we can with that."