I’m not a particularly gifted comedian, but comedy plays a big role in the life I’ve made with my Mate. We like to say Jon Stewart pretty much raised our children. I know he got us through the Dubya Bush years, especially after the invasion of Iraq. When the Daily Show theme music came on, we’d yell, “Hey boys, Funny People!” and the boys would come running.
Since the election of 2016, I’ve leaned hard on Stephen Colbert and Trevor Noah to remind myself that I’m not the only one who feels like my country’s turning back 100 years. But since the death of George Floyd, like the comedians themselves, I’m finding more solace in bitterness.
Isn’t that a contradiction? No–not when the bitterness is shared, and focused.
Over the past few decades, Chappelle has repeatedly made comedy from the pain of police brutality, but what stood out about his recent set was how his typically grave tone didn’t pivot to a joke, how often he let his unfiltered outrage sit there…Chappelle went long stretches without jokes, producing a kind of stand-up tragedy. When he asked what the police officer whose knee was on the neck of George Floyd could be thinking, he spoke with a righteous anger that comedy could not address. There are limits to what a joke can do.
Stand-up tragedy. YES. That is what feeds my soul these days: someone standing up, literally, and calling out what happened and what it means. Here is Trevor Noah, his first workday after the death of Rayshard Brooks:
Trevor isn’t telling me what to do. But when this professional funny person, this man whose impish dimple has brought me so much joy over the past five years, looks me in the eye and speaks his bitter truth, I feel called up. Which is how I want to feel right now.
It’s even more (bizarrely) comforting to hear comedians call other people out–people not like me, whom I wouldn’t have the right to criticize. Here’s Hasan Minhaj, from his show Patriot Act, calling out his fellow immigrants from Asia and the Middle East:
There are some speakers, like Killer Mike and Kimberly Jones, whose words are pure bitterness and zero comedy–no less brilliant and even more gripping–and I’ll probably focus on them another time.
Right now I want to give a huge shout-out to those “Funny People” whose wit and wisdom is fueling me these days–and hopefully you too. Please share others!
Like most English teachers, I shudder at the newly-developing word, “relatable.”
My family and I LOVE the Daily Show; Jon Stewart practically raised our children.
So you might not think we’d love his replacement, Trevor Noah. But you’d think wrong. We loved Trevor from the beginning (forgiving him his occasionally juvenile humor the same way we forgave Jon his old-Jewish-guy schtick).
I only wish I had finished Trevor’s book before Christmas, so I could have given it to everyone I love. I don’t want to tell you too much about it; the book is comprised of anecdotes, to divulge any of which would spoil your joy in reading.
But I will tell you this. Although Trevor claims a different nationality, gender and race (OK, half different–but in South Africa that MEANS different) from mine, I found his story more…RELATABLE than anything I’ve read in the past year. He doesn’t just write of racial injustice–though there’s plenty of that, growing up in the last days of apartheid. He writes of topics I, privileged white American female, RELATE to:
adolescent yearnings to belong
a complex relationship with religion
self-consciousness over appearance
heartbreak (over the opposite sex, pets, family members)
joy in his own gifts (languages, foot speed–and you’ll see why that’s important!)
deep, unshakable love for his AMAZING mother
The book is also really stinkin’ funny, but that’s something I simply appreciate rather than relate to, because, alas, I am not so gifted.
And it’s shockingly sad. Something else I, thanks be, cannot relate to. But Trevor makes his family’s sadness ACCESSIBLE, and that’s close enough. Also–“accessible” is a real word.
Have you read it? Please add your review here. If not, do yourself or someone you love a favor and read Born a Crime as soon as you can.
During the Vietnam War, the term was “consciousness raising.” People who weren’t directly connected to the brutality in Southeast Asia via a family member or a job found little reason to care…until somehow their consciousness was raised. Maybe it was that famous photograph of the My Lai Massacre, all those dead villagers in a ditch. Maybe it was simply the stark rise in Walter Cronkite’s nightly death count. Or those white college kids getting shot at Kent State. But once that tipping point was reached, the war became an acknowledged mistake, a heartache, a cause for redemption ever since.
Black people have a briefer term for having one’s consciousness raised: “woke.”
I’ve been pondering this term since the verdict came down from the Philando Castile case in St. Anthony, Minnesota recently. You remember Castile, right? The Black man who was shot by police?
Damn, I wish that were funny.
Anyway. Castile was shot exactly a year ago, in his car, with his partner, Diamond Reynolds,and her four year-old daughter, watching. Ms. Reynolds captured the immediate aftermath on her phone. Those of us who watched it felt sick.
But the officer who fired those seven shots was put on trial for manslaughter. When the jury saw what we’d seen, justice would surely be served. Right?
Wrong. Three weeks ago, the jury acquitted Officer Jeronimo Yanez. He was let go by the force, but the point of the trial wasn’t punishment. The point was redemption. Instead, the not-guilty verdict left me feeling more hopeless than I can remember feeling about the future of my country.
Trevor Noah (who isn’t an American but who IS a Black man who’s already been stopped by police multiple times in his few years in this country) speaks my heart:
Laura Bradley of Vanity Fair captures Noah’s stark emotional response better than I can:
And then, Noah got to the most heartbreaking detail of all: for years, the hypothetical solution to murky police shootings was body cams—because in theory, video footage would resolve any lingering questions people might have. “And black people have already taken that initiative, right?” Noah pointed out. “Thanks to cell phones, every black person has a body cam now. Black people have been saying for years, ‘Just give us an indictment. Just an indictment. Just get us in front of a jury. Just in front of a jury of our peers. Of our fellow citizens. We’ll show them the video, the evidence, and they will see it, and justice will be served.’ And black people finally get there, and it’s like, ‘Wait, what? Nothing?’ You hear the stories, but you watch that, and forget race. Are we all watching the same video? The video where a law-abiding man followed the officer’s instructions to the letter of the law and was killed regardless? People watched that video and then voted to acquit? And the saddest thing is, that wasn’t the only video that they watched.”
Noah then played part of the video that Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds,posted live on Facebook soon after watching Castile get shot next to her in the car. Now, just like before, the most striking and gut-wrenching detail is the composure with which Reynolds addresses the situation, and the officer who caused it.
“‘You shot four bullets into him, sir,’“ Noah said, quoting Reynolds. “It’s fucking mind-blowing that Diamond Reynolds has just seen her boyfriend shot in front of her. She still has the presence of mind to be deferential to the policeman. In that moment, the cop has panicked, but clearly black people never forget their training.”
So, what does it say that a jury was able to watch both of those videos in a courtroom and decide that the officer, Jeronimo Yanez—who, since the verdict, has been dismissed by the St. Anthony, Minnesota police department—was justified in fearing for his own life? Noah gave his own unambiguous verdict: “Let’s be honest. Why? Why would you say he was afraid? Was it because Philando Castile was being polite? Was it because he was following the officer’s instructions? Was it because he was in the car with his family? Or was it because Philando Castile was black?
“It’s one thing to have the system against you—the district attorneys, the police unions, the court. That’s one thing. But when a jury of your peers, your community, sees this evidence and decides that even this is self-defense, that is truly depressing. Because what they’re basically saying is, ‘In America, it is officially reasonable to be afraid of a person just because they are black.’“
I started this post with a term: consciousness-raising. Here’s another: white privilege.
White privilege is the equivalent of not having to know what’s going on in Vietnam. If you’re white like me, you can afford not to know about Philando Castile (or Freddie Gray, or Alton Sterling, or…). Sure, I heard about the verdict when it came out, and I was startled, but I was also very busy. Didn’t get around to thinking about it right away. ‘Cause I could afford not to.
Now I’m thinking about it. Now I’m woke. Now I feel sickened. “In America, it is officially reasonable to be afraid of a person just because they are black.”
Is that where we are? Is that where we’re going to stay? Black outrage clearly means nothing in this country. So what about white outrage? Shall we try some of that? What would that look like?
What would America look like if white people like me got woke?
Have you heard about Dan Price yet? He’s the CEO of Seattle’s Gravity Payments, a company that streamlines credit card payments for other companies. He’s a multi-millionaire. And he just slashed his own salary to $70,000 in order to make $70,000 the “minimum wage” of ALL 120 of his employees.
I love this guy! Not only does he look like the baby that Jesus and Brad Pitt would have if they could have a baby (which I’m pretty sure Jesus could make happen if He wanted to), Dan Price has has figured out a way to make capitalism palatable to people like Bernie Sanders and, well, me: pay every member of your company enough to let them live comfortably.
Let me break that down.
Enough to live COMFORTABLY.Dan Price studied enough economists’s work to determine $70,000 as the minimum annual salary required to live a working life, without being consumed by issues of rent-payments or oh-no-the-car-just-broke-down crises.
Pay EVERY member of your company.Office Manager? Yes. Janitor? Yes. Parking lot attendant? Yes. Security Gua–look, what is it about “every member” that you don’t get?
And here he is, explaining further at the Aspen Ideas Festival:
Could this CEO-with-a-heart idea catch on? Has it already? I know what Donald Trump would say, but what do you think? Does anyone know of any other companies already going this route? I want to hear more.