Politics

Why Do We Tell Jokes On Ourselves? It’s Not Funny

Thu., Nov. 3, 2011 1:33 PM EDT
by Munson Steed

Comedians tells jokes and stories about people and places that we have not seen in a while. Uncles that we are ashamed of and realities that we need to tame, change or at least repair and get through. But what’s wrong with the humor about the the African American, Hispanic and other communities of color, in other words, people that look like me and you. It’s high time that we understand that every person who does stand up on stage does not deserve a hand. It’s high time we stop and refrain from laughing when you see the homeless man approach your car door, and he requests your help and says he needs just a little more. It’s high time that those who understand what needs to be said and have microphones and access to speak and get inside another’s head, do what they are called to do and help move us ahead. There is nothing even remotely humorous that throughout the course of the day, we watch the pain of those in our community who are unable to get away.

I had the wonderful experience of actually going to Hollywood the other day, and sponsoring the Hollywood Black Comedy festival in L.A. It was wonderful to be out there, the sea and the sun and tourists having fun. But I also saw the misery in the faces that lined the streets of each and every way that I had to go that day. When I started down past Watts and wanted to take a look around you see, the Mexicans had taken the place of blacks in the ghetto and they didn’t like it any more than you or me. When I cruised around and passed by Crenshaw and Englewood too, I thought about the warmth and the beauty of the sunshine that was bathing my face, but how poor these people felt and they were, in fact, losing the race. The poverty that was affecting them was affecting us to a high degree, and the misery was in the eyes of many of those that I could see, and the despair in comparison to the level of care, was nothing like an Eddie Murphy spoof and the tears that mothers cried while explaining their loss to a drive-by could not be erased. John Singleton makes hits, but that’s because the subjects he covers and the dialogue he raises is an appropriate fit. No, here we are with comedians all over the land, but I am not sure that there is anything funny about this time with things so out of hand.

So here I am making my way around the Beverly Center Mall, and everybody is running aound in sunglasses even though it’s long after nightfall. Nobody seemed to care for their noses were opened wide you see, for a glimpse or a whiff of a star or any celebrity. And this wasn’t even Rodeo Drive, it was just the mall with shoppers all dressed in tight pants, skinny legged pants and faces tight with features puffed and errant. This wasn’t just for those with skin of a lighter hue, I saw brothers with green eyes and long straight trails of hair. Did they understand that the joke was in the commercialism that was slapping our race in the face? Did they get that we were destroying the value of our homes as real estate properties continue to desecrate our neighborhoods and the homes we’d hoped to pass on as part of our estate? No longer could parents laugh and say, “just go out in the backyard and play.” Instead, kids hide and dive when friends hear noises and guns pop off. They know it’s not the Fourth of July and more than likely what they hear is a drive-by. Nobody’s laughing.

And then I got an opportunity to spend time with a friend, down on Sunset Boulevard, where there were tricks and pimps and everything you could imagine, my friend. They were selling everything — hot pants, short pants and no pants at all. You name it, there was nothing that you could  not acquire on that street and in the broad daylight with Five-O passing by and them waving, though they were clearly not out of sight. But what a sight to see, to see all of they want to see, hoping to see themselves in somebody’s movie, on the stage of some reality TV show.

I want you to understand that this is the time when I was there just to attend the festival you see, and I happen to meet Craig Robinson of “The Office” and he was there for the funny business review and show and to meet me. They laughed about how it happened when All Jokes Aside went out of business that day, that was the main crux of the movie and “what a tragedy is,” what we all had to say. The Chicago club had been the career launching points for Steve Harvey and Cedric the Entertainer and Craig Robinson, too. The club’s creator, Ray Lambert, had a list of entertainers that had come there like D.L. Hughley and Jamie Foxx, essentially the whole crew.

But the comics came out strong and proud, to say hello and pay homage to a man that had given them their start. This brother from Chicagoland, Lambert, had supported them and sent them on their way. He was one of the only comedy clubs in Chicago that continued to stand for the true art form, but then thanks to politics and politricks as well, he could no longer hold on and his empire fell.

The thing that our children don’t seem to understand is that a 50 percent drop out rate is nothing to boast about on any day. We need to understand that the joke is on us, if we don’t begin to erase our misery and that mirthless smirk creeping across our faces. I shook Robinson’s hand and saluted him for moving on to do big shows. He thanked Lambert and reminded him that even when he only had 15 minutes of a material for a show, he’d made him a headliner like there was something special about him that only he would know. It also goes to show that when African American businesses are growing, it helps to sustain so many others in the community as well, the fact that we are not growing more and can’t get business from advertisers and others that will eventually fold anyway. So here it is the joke is on us in education and science and math too. I am asking you and telling you it’s not a joke. What are you going to do?

Peace.

Munson Steed

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