In life, there are times to be quiet, to shut the f*** up. This is one of those times.
Why can’t comedy be just comedy?
Why does it have to be dialed into a specific race? Case in point – Tyler Perry.
I have nothing against him personally. As a fellow brother of color I respect him for squeezing Hollywood by the balls and doing what he wants to do. He’s an excellent role model for not just young African Americans but young people in general. My dislike has nothing to do with his uncanny popularity or fabulous wealth. It’s not his ability to self promote and self produce nor do I question his unwavering support of ethnic communities. In fact I commend him for all those admirable qualities. I don’t like him because I don’t like what he represents with regards to comedy.
I’ve grown up listening to and watching black comedians all my life. Bill Cosby, Nipsey Russell, Paul Mooney, Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, etc. I was on the Def Comedy Jam bandwagon when it first rolled out and was a die hard fan of The Chappelle Show. Racial difference has always been an inexhaustible fuel for all these brilliant minds but for some reason I just don’t get Perry or his humor. I sit there and watch him parade around in his “angry black momma” outfit as he plays up pretty much every African American stereotype to near preposterous levels.
So what’s wrong with that?
Nothing. I know his work is a lot deeper than just his rather annoying Madea character. Comedians have done over the top interpretations of other races forever. Exaggerated stereotypes are the foundation of comedy. What got my fire started was reading one review of Diary of a Mad Black Woman. In it a young African American woman remarked about “how refreshing it was to have some real black comedy out there”. I toiled with this remark for a while. To my recollection “black comedy” referred to dark humor that was meant to make you laugh and feel discomfort all at once by dealing with socially taboo subject matter. I thought back to the commercials I’d seen with Madea and couldn’t fathom that this was the comedy style she was referring to so I continued read. Review after review from different sources, the reoccurring theme was that Tyler Perry’s comedy appeals to the black community.
I felt like an outcast. Was I the only black person who didn’t like Tyler Perry’s comedy? I felt conflicted. It was almost as though I felt morally obligated to like his comedy lest I be ostracized from the African American community for being a heretic. So I watched House of Payne. 5 minutes later I was back to watching an episode of Seinfeld I’d seen a thousand times now where George wanted Jerry to tell a potential employer that he worked for him as a latex salesman at Vanderlay Industries. Uh oh. I really must be the devil in disguise now. That’s certainly not black comedy.
I know black people that watch Seinfeld too. What’s going on?
I started to think back to the days of In Living Color. That was an amazing show. Keenan Ivory Wayans was like Mr. Perry in that he produced many (if not all) of his own work. With the aide of the Wayans Armada they dominated the television scene for a number of years. Their comedy was regarded as highly controversial in the early goings but I can’t recall it ever being referred to as black comedy. Sure there were black comedians and the subject matter often involved racial differences but it wasn’t strictly focused towards the African American community. People who liked the show were from all different backgrounds and walks of life. I was confused now. Did this mean that their comedy wasn’t legit because it wasn’t specifically geared towards the black community?
I continued to ponder.
Then it dawned on me. Comedy is comedy. Comedy doesn’t have one color. It has all colors. Comedy can be as vulgar as Bob Saget or as family friendly as Bill Cosby. It can be as ambiguously demented as Nikki Payne or as racially motivated as Russell Peters. To segregate comedy into black, white, Hispanic, Asian, etc only takes away from what it is meant to do. Comedy is meant to bring everyone together for a laugh – not just specific people. So Tyler Perry, I apologize to you. I do not hate what you’ve done for comedy after all. You’re obviously an ingenious maverick that knows what he’s doing having grossed over $350,000,000 in the past 4 years alone in ticket and DVD sales. Keep on making movies and television shows. You have an audience out there is watching them and laughing so you’re doing your job. I now know that what I hate is what your fans represent. By labeling what you do as black comedy takes away from what you’re accomplishing and sends the world back another few steps into ignorance. Grow up people and appreciate comedy for being comedy and not a color.