That One Time I got Called Racist At A Heavy Metal Show
“What are you doing man?!” I yell at myself as I finish typing out the title for this blog post. “A straight white guy writing about racism in America? Don’t do it, abort, ABORT!”
Well, I’m here and I’m doing it. So lets all take a deep breathe as I dive into what could possibly be the end of my writing career.
As a non-famous comedian who tours occasionally, I have the pleasure of performing on some of the most glorious venues in country such as damp basements in old churches or small stages shoved into the corners of bars where no one is safe from my anxiety farts. On one such occasion, I had the pleasure of performing at a heavy metal venue in Pasadena California where me and other comics would tell jokes between bands setting up. Yes, it was painful.
Crowd work is something I struggle with constantly. So imagine me, a man from Jewish decent, trying to relate to a room full of skin heads with suggestive “Eagle” Tattoos. Being the coward that I am, I decided to stick mostly to my jokes about working in the service industry and my failed attempts at trying to be an actor.
I have one joke where I talk about getting called into an audition and they say I probably won’t get the part because the type of person they’re trying to cast for the role is a tall, confident, black man. Three characteristics that I do not posses. While I’m telling this joke, the band who is setting up behind is busy painting their entire bodies black. When I reached the punchline of my joke, the white guy who was preoccupied applying black makeup to his face stands up and says “Hey man, that’s kind of racist.”
Now I’ve been heckled before, but this is the first time a man in black face has stood up during my set and called me a racist. At the time I laughed it off, and requested for him to play Dave Mathews “Crash Into Me” to ease the obvious tension in the room. After the show though, even after numerous shots with guys who had names like “Dante,” I couldn’t shake that interaction for a few reasons. First off I was ashamed for assuming that everyone in the room was a Neo Nazi because of the type of music they listened to. Most of them turned out to be very lovely individuals. But the emotion that stuck with me like gum to the bottom of my shoe was dread. Dread that I appeared racist to someone.
I ran the interaction by a few friends and they unanimously agreed that the joke isn’t racist. But it did get me thinking about controversy in the comedy world and what content is considered acceptable. There are so many factors that go into telling a joke that might come off offensive. Who’s telling it? Why they’re telling it? Given their gender, skin color, or economic status is ok for this certain person TO be telling it? The question plagued my mind to such a degree that I decided to just stick to my material about being depressed and eating too much. You know, true comedy.
That joke and interaction had basically slipped my mind until recently, When I was tagged on twitter. A friend sent a tweet that read “comedy that doesn’t offend someone somewhere probably isn’t very funny”.
I hate how right that statement is. At first I disagreed because I don’t like to think that my sole purpose in this life is to offend people. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that no matter what, regardless of how PC or “woke” I am, when I’m onstage sharing my ideas and opinions with the world (and by world I mean 8-15 drunks who have nothing better to do on a Tuesday night), the chances of me not offending ANYONE are impossible.
What’s the answer here? I have no idea. I do believe that at this point, when our country is in such a fragile state when it comes to race and religion, we need to keep an open conversation about what is acceptable and what isn’t.
In short, don’t be an asshole. And if you start any conversation with “I’m not racist but…” I’m going to send my new skinhead friends after you to teach you a lesson about acceptance and tolerance.