Here’s a joke I posted on twitter yesterday, and while a lot of people liked it (got it), it also made a lot of people angry:
Crap! My friend and I just got arrested and thrown out of Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles because we were waiting for another friend and hadn’t yet bought anything. Thanks Starbucks!
I don’t explain the jokes. If they miss, they miss and I move on. It’s never been that big a deal. This is. For the angry tweeters who think I’m no different than Trump eating a taco bowl and proclaiming he loves the Mexican people, they don’t know me. These are the times we live in; we hold on to anger and outrage in this unjust, frightening, and dangerous climate, though it will beat you if you don’t choose your enemies better. For the guy who tweeted, “I can’t wait to hear her insincere apology”, this isn’t that, sincere or insincere. Making people upset or angry is the opposite of my mission statement of making people think and laugh. A great comic taught me, “Never complain, never explain”. He’s right. Twitter will find something new to be angry about today and go after that. I could just shut up and wait. But, my work has been comedy, both written and performed, all my life. If I missed the mark, for me it’s important to look at. And I want to honor the kinder hearted but wary souls who tweeted things like, “Can you explain this joke to me?” “Bleh.” “Nope.” “Wow. I find you incredibly funny. Have for many years and still do. Even taking my personal history and ethnicity out of the equation, I don’t see how this is funny.”
So, if I had done this joke from the stage, no one there would have suddenly decided I was the devil, because anyone coming to see me would have already known me, my work, my politics. If they didn’t, a ninety minute show would have made it clear. I looked carefully at the “Likes” it got on twitter. They came from people who already followed me, who “knew” me, who got where I was going and where I was coming from. I couldn’t find one publicly declared “MAGA” supporter, confederate flag avatar, or proudly declared racist among them. Then I looked at the people who tweeted “What the fuck is wrong with you?”, “#banforlife”, “mad racist shit”, and the usual go-to, the always popular and brilliant “political” argument: “has been”, “has been trying to be relevant”. Most of these people had never followed me, didn’t know me or my work, just saw retweets attached to angry attacks. Which means that for them the joke had no original context, and context is everything. If I heard Harvey Weinstein’s lawyer say “Some women say Harvey Weinstein called them up and sexually abused them. What’s the matter? Bitch can’t hang up a phone?” I’d be enraged. But when Chappelle said it in his special, I laughed hard. Context, it’s Dave Chappelle. I know he’s not hateful. A different woman could have thought: “Who the hell are you to comment on what a woman goes through? You will NEVER be raped or sexually assaulted by a boss. You don’t have the right to make ANY jokes about ANY women, ever. Especially when your jokes blame the victims. #mansplaining #MalePrivilege.” But I didn’t. Because despite the national hyper-sensitivity over cultural appropriation and who gets to comment on which group’s reality, I believe everyone should be allowed to think and speak about everyone in the search for truth and enlightenment. Especially comics.
What was the joke trying to say? My reaction to two young black men (I haven’t seen their names printed anywhere) getting arrested at Starbucks was as it should be; revulsion, anger. What went through my head as I watched the news report of the incident was, “Where does this idiot think two black men DO ‘belong’, Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles”? Because yes, fried chicken IS the haggard cliché that makes the point that this was a racist action. If a Starbucks employee had called the police because two Hasidic jews were waiting for their friend to arrive before ordering, and wanted to use the bathroom, I would have written, “Where does this idiot think these guys should be hanging out? At a bank?” The old stereotype is exactly what makes the point; that this action was unwoke and ridiculous.
From twitter: Replying to @ElayneBoosler
“Racial profiling and false arrest is ‘hilarious’ when you flip it and center it on folks who will never have this experience.”
But that was the point, using the obvious to magnify the culture; that white people don’t go through this, that this does not happen to us, that it should not happen to anybody, that enough is enough.