“Be creative, confront the stereotypes and make ‘cm laugh’: Dave Chappelle, far left, and above, Stand Up
Renee Hicks is totally bald, totally female, totally black and totally an ex-accountant; bit of a quadruple-whammy in the gimmick department. Hicks knows that midget comics could be the next big thing, that in America a female comedy night might be dubbed 0estrogen Night. In America, pock-marked by pigeonholes, Hicks would have shied clear of a generic black comic package. But in Britain, no problem. Stand Up Black America, as she sees it, ‘is a noble endeavour’. A platform for America’s fertile black comedy scene. An inspiration for would-be black comedians here. An education for whites.
All of which is true and worthy, but kind of incidental. See Renee Hicks and fellow Stand Up Black Americans
Suli McCullough and Ian Edwards, plus solo performer Dave Chappelle, and the
realisation quickly dawns that this is not black funny but just funny funny. The colour of their skin might be the point of entry but it’s certainly not the point of exit.
Rick Rogers is a comedy promoter and the man responsible for bringing these four young Americans over to Edinburgh and out of the States for the first time. ‘lt started with us looking for the best new American comedy we could find,’ he recalls. ‘And it happened to be black.’
‘They seemed to fall into two camps. There’s one show called the Def Jam Comedy Hour which is full of nasty, pussy-type jokes all the time. I wasn’t really interested in that at all. . .’ The Def Jam Comedy Hour shows on cable
‘This was a great opportunity to come over here and share the stage with two other black comics
whose material required thought and not just some sort of body function reference.’ ‘
television, which means anything goes. It is run by Russell Simmons of the rap record label Def Jam, and strangely enough the type of acts it showcases are the comedic equivalent of ‘gangsta’ rap. Performers go for the quick laughs. So they go for the jugular. So they go for the genital. ‘If you talk about your dick they’ll laugh,’ reckons Dave Chappelle. ‘I could go on stage and set my dick on fire. And I guarantee you I’ll get a reaction!’
‘You get very frustrated as a black American comic,’ admits Hicks, a 32-year-old from San Francisco who has been a professional comic for four years. ‘lf you do “thinking humour” and you’re a black person and you don’t do Def Jam, they go “you’re doing white humour”. Which is a sad statement because it says that black people don’t think, that you have to go at them with a certain vulgarity, a certain rawness, a certain toughness, and that they can relate to. Well that’s not how I grew up, so '1 know that’s not true. But once it gets on television it becomes the norm. So this was a great opportunity to come over here and share the stage with two other black comics whose material required thought and not just some sort of body function reference.’
Despite spending his formative years in the bear-pit that is the comedy circuit, nineteen- year-old Dave Chappelle is no abrasive mix of guns, hormones and badass humour. At fourteen he knew he wanted to be a stand-up, and duly auditioned for and was accepted by the Duke
Black America performers Sull McCullough, Ian Edwards 8. Renee Hicks.
NEW BLACK COMEDY FEATURE
'1‘ 9“ '-
Ellington School For The Arts in his hometown ofWashington DC. In the morning, academia. In the afternoons, drama. In the evening, gigs, chaperoned by his mother. In his first two years in the comedy clubs he reckons he made about $50. The toil though, was worth it.
‘My parents must have instilled a good work ethic in me. I hated working but I did it because I had to. l was never interested in the quick money of selling drugs. It’s funny, I knew so many drug dealers. I was thinking, “How many people are using this stuﬂ. Everyone ’5 selling it.””
On graduating Chappelle moved to New York. By the time he was eighteen he had appeared on eight national TV shows, including Def Jam. ‘1 can be hardcore at times,’ he admits. But like Hicks, McCullough and Edwards, Chappelle’s humour is what Renee Hicks calls ‘people humour’. Their experiences as young black Americans obviously underpin their routines, but nothing and no-one is excluded.
‘I learned that when l was fourteen,’ says the teenage veteran of the circuit. ‘Always be as creative as possible.’ Be creative, confront the stereotypes, and hey, make ’em laugh! ‘If I’m described to people,’ says the thirtysomething ex-accountant and full-time baldie, ‘people think l’m the angry black person! Militant! Shaved my head in defiance of white society! I’m out to kill whitey! Why can’t [just be happy . . ?’ Cl
Dave Chappelle (Fringe), Assembly Roomsi
(Venue 3) 226 2428, 22 Aug—4 Sept, 11.30pm, £8 (£7).
Stand Up Black America (Fringe) Pleasance (Venue 33) 556 6550, until 4 Sept (not 31, 2), f
10.20pm, £7.50 (£6.50).
The List 20—26 August 1993 15