Not since Richard Pryor have black comedians really challenged America’s views on race, especially as it pertains to black America. While Chris Rock and Paul Mooney will always hold their own in the genre of social critique comedy, most current black comedians today seem to steer clear of injecting their routines with edgy talk of racial taboos.
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Since the mainstream pre-occupation with racial humor will never subside, some can argue that successful white comedians have borrowed these attitudes for their own material. For comedians like Bill Maher and Louis C.K. talking about race and mocking their own white privilege creates a balance of saying, “they can’t talk about that,” with “damn, he’s right.”
Most black comedians being pushed by the mainstream aren’t producing as challenging social commentary. For instance, Kevin Hart, though wildly funny is probably most recently known for making fun of rappers with his Chocolate Drop persona (Check out the hilarious “battle” with T-Pain.)
Maybe you can call it the post-Chappelle’s Show era. Dave Chappelle’s show built a multimillion-dollar success off of biting racial commentary, and skits that hurled barbs at the black middle class, as well as white and black American of all backgrounds.
His show, from its initial episode that featured a character who was a black, blind, white supremacist, took racial humor and turned it on its head, all the while making the viewer feel as uncomfortable as possible, while laughing.
The power of a cable-television show is one that fits into this equation. Both Maher (Real Time with Bill Maher) and Louis C.K. (Louie) have had ample time to build their audiences and have a type of autonomy on their shows that allows them to tackle subjects they care about, race and America being one of them. Their analysis of America’s racial paradigms is one that doesn’t stray too far from what some black comedians might agree with, white privilege is something to make jokes about, as well as black inequalities.
Louis may very well possess the type of talk America needs to get over its obsession with the n-word.
“The thing that offends me the most is every time I hear the n-word,” Louis said during one of his standup rants. “Not ni**er, by the way. I mean ‘the n-word.’ Literally, whenever a white lady on CNN with her nice hair says ‘the n-word’… That’s just white people getting away with saying ni**er. That’s all that is.”
Louis, a close friend and former writer for Chris Rock sprinkles these types of bits throughout his comedy. On an appearance last year on Jay Leno, he said, “If you’re black you get to complain more.” His humorous reasoning, “its not like slavery ended and then everything has been amazing.” Jay Leno even chuckled at that one.
Monica Potts of The American Prospect writes: “For the most part, people of color are the ones who initiate serious discussions about race and privilege in the public sphere. Louis’ comedy is about being a white man — and about how other’s view white men. He doesn’t accept ignorance as a point of view.”
Maher on the other hand has brought black intellectuals and rappers to this HBO show for years. His humor doesn’t hold back when it comes to race, either. He said in a show last year.
“I thought when we elected a black president we were going to get a black president,” he said referring to Barack Obama, “I want him in a meeting with the BP CEO’s, you know where he lifts up his shirt and you see the gun in his pants.”
“Bill Maher sort of has the belief that blacks are always inherently targeted against by the radical right,” said New York journalist Jared Feldschrieber. “He likes to say that there is no left/Democrat anymore, just that the left has veered to the right, and the right has gone to the loony bin,” he said. He points out Maher’s take on Republicans as having issues with race.
The fact that their aren’t any high-profile shows anymore that offer black comedians a space to perform racially insensitive material, could be why these particular white comedians are filling the void. Or, as some would argue, it could be the fact that the same white privilege that they joke about offers them a “pass” to perform such biting criticism.