A white male guy's viewpoint on race and the industry

Jeesh. The comment thread over at "It's so tough for [insert group here] in standup" is a real doozy. Check it out.

My .02?

Well, let's begin again with the usual caveat: White guys pretty much have it made in our society. When they (even borderline) complain about anything, it seems silly. I get that. ("Unpacking The Knapsack" is a PDF that explains the daily effects of white privilege nicely.)

Also, I host a show that often touches on racial third rail issues so maybe I'm just an insensitive guy. We do invite minorities/gals on the show often though, so at least there's that.

Now that's out of the way, here's my take on the discussion. Maybe I'm missing something but it's tough to know what you don't know. Ya know?

The white drinking buddy game
There were mentions of the white drinking buddy game that rules the standup world in some sort of Elders of Zion type way. Well, allow me to bring you inside the white male drinking buddy comedy clique world that I (on occasion) inhabit.

I've gotten drunk with white comedians a lot. I never hear them say anything negative about black comedians (or black people in general). Sure, there might be jokes about race but it's never "black people suck" or "black people aren't funny" or anything like that.

Many of these guys revere Chris Rock and Richard Pryor and Dave Chappelle so much I don't know how they could ever rag on black comics. And I've never heard one mention anything about only putting one black guy on a show. Or any other limit like that. Maybe that happens somewhere else, but I've NEVER heard anyone I hang out with talk like that.

In fact, I have heard these guys talk the opposite way — about wanting more diversity on shows. Doesn't happen a ton, but it does happen. There is a recognition that a show filled only with white dudes can come across as exclusionary.

For the most part, I see a "funny is funny" mentality. Sure, some shows are indeed white male "friends booking friends" chummy...but others def echo Soce's view that he is "more likely to fast track in someone who's diverse or a lady."

Overall, I'd say these guys feel that being a minority actually helps you in standup. They feel TV execs go out of their way to cast minorities. And they see all of the "theme" shows they can't do (urban rooms, gay shows, Latino shows, all gal shows, etc.) and wonder what the complaining is about. It's not necessarily "affirmative action" they see...but they do feel that if there's a minority who's a decent comic, there's no way that's going to go unnoticed — and that person will get breaks faster than a straight white male of similar ability.

Of course, maybe they're not seeing the struggle and overt/embedded discrimination that goes on that makes it tougher for a minority to ever get to that point. I think it's very tough for any white person to really understand what it feels like to be on the other side, ya know?

Like I said in the original post, it feels like everybody is complaining about how tough standup is, white males included. This clique of people doesn't feel like they are running anything. They're jealous of the opportunities others get and are scrambling for a way up to the next level. Sound familiar? I think it's how all standups feel.

The club scene
What about all of Josh Homer's examples of racist tendencies/actions that he's heard about and witnessed? First off, sounds terrible. It'd definitely suck to face that.

I wonder if most (all?) of these things happened in the club scene though. Because the club scene sucked ass for me too.

I'm not saying that what I faced is equivalent to being called a slur or told I can't perform because of the color of my skin. But I have been shit on at so many clubs so many times, I can't even count 'em all. Bookers treating me like I don't even exist. Waitresses yelling at me for no reason. Comics who fuck with me even though they don't know me. A club owner kicking me out for not following some BS "rule" that didn't even matter. I wish that while males just got handed lollipops and stage time for walking in the door at a club, but, in my experience, that ain't happening.

And here's the thing: If I was black, I might assume this constant pattern of treating me like shit is because these people are racist. But I'm a white dude. So I don't think it is racism. I just think the club scene is filled with cockmouths.

Why are clubs like this? They breed a toxic environment. The whole business model at many of these places is based on ripping people off. Note the horrified reactions of a large % of patrons when they see their bill. And then you've got the shitty bachelorette parties and the drunks yelling shit out and the comics who do a whole act just doing hacky, stereotype crowdwork. Blech.

And personally speaking, the comics who hang out there are people I have a tough time talking with or being around. That's why I ran away to the alt scene. Too bad too 'cuz mainstream club crowds can be great to perform in front of. I like that they're filled with real people and not nearly as precious as alt show crowds.

I'm certainly not forgiving anyone for saying/doing racist things. Just saying that performing in the club scene and then complaining about being treated like shit is like going to the rape shack and then complaining about how misogynistic it is there. It's kinda what you sign up for when you go there.

So that's why I got out. If you feel likewise, I suggest coming over to the alt scene where gay liberal vegans serve you tofu and provide unlimited stage time. That's what happens there, right?

(Note: I'm painting with broad strokes here. There are cool clubs. There are cool club comics. There are neat pockets in the club scene. It just wasn't for me.)

Getting on TV
As for the question I posed: "Is it harder or easier to get industry to pay attention to you when you're a minority?" Josh wrote:

Based on the law of averages, if the number of comedians break down to 75% white males and 25% other, then the bookings in the club should reflect this. The TV spots should reflect this. They clearly don't.


First off, are black male comics really underrepresented in the club scene? I go to clubs and often see multiple BMC's on the same show. So not sure I get that from what I've witnessed. And like I said before, I've never known any alt room booker to make a comment about only having one black guy per show or not wanting black comics on a show. If these conversations are going on, I'm missing them.

And the idea that the ECNY awards (also mentioned) or Comedy Central's selections for featured comedians are racist just doesn't add up to me. Myq put it well:

Looking at the first season of Comedy Central Presents, there are eight episodes: five white men and three non (specifically one black woman, one black man, one white woman). This seems like a more than fair percentage.

Premium Blend, as I understand it, always seemed to have two slots for people who were not white men (usually one non-white man and one woman). Also more than fair, given the proportions.

Granted, the most recent season of CCP has 7 out of 24 who are not white men, still more than a quarter, which I imagine fairly represents the numerical proportions of comedians out there. (If you have any numbers or thoughts to the contrary, please share.)

Our season of Live at Gotham, Josh, seems to have 17 out of 48 non white men, which is again a seemingly reasonable proportion.

Even your ECNY example rings false to me--two out of five Best Male Comedian nominees were black. In a world chock full of white men.

I think what happens in the clubs (or shows like we're talking about here) and what happens in TV type showcase is completely different, and I feel like the TV industry often goes out of their way to include MORE of the non white guy category...

Is it perfectly fair? No. Should CC be soliciting more minorities? Don't know.
But I honestly think that, YES, at this level, being a minority CAN benefit someone, if they're just as funny as a white person of the same level...

PPS Here's a link I found while googling "Premium Blend episode list"... It's a sampling of episodes from season 9 of the show:
http://www.tv.com/premium-blend/show/2117/episode.html

Four people in each episode, with six episodes listed.
In those 24 people, there's 5 women (one in almost every episode), at least 5 black people (of the names that I recognize), at least one Asian, and several Hispanic folks as well, totaling what appears to be more than half of the comedians listed.


Is anyone disputing these numbers? If not, doesn't this show the percentage of comedians on TV who are minorities or women is greater than the percentage of comedians overall who are minorities or women? And if that's true, doesn't it hold up that the industry is in fact going out of its way to include minorities and women?

Maybe I'm missing something here. I'd love to hear from more racial minorities who feel discriminated against in comedy. I know Josh and like him and respect him as a comic and have booked him before. But when it's just one person complaining, it's easy to dismiss that as the gripes of one individual. Is there a chorus of folks out there who agree with Josh about the industry being racist? Let's hear from ya.

Also, I think the (perhaps) even more interesting conversation that was touched on in that thread is about women in standup. Stay tuned.

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1 Comment(s)

Blogger Abbi Crutchfield said...

Thanks for posting on a Friday! So few bloggers do. My feet aren't wet enough with road gig stand-up experience to speak on club discrimination. I've honed my craft for the past five years in the NYC bubble and only traveled outside of it a handful of times.

When it comes to acceptance in the NYC comedy scene as a black woman, I feel like the first two years I was booked on shows nobody had any idea who I was, so I was granted access based on adding diversity. Nobody talked to me after I bombed, so I was snubbed based on lack of talent. I was never invited to shows so the only reason I got spots was because I knocked on doors (and because I am made of irresistible goodness).

Sadly, I was trying really hard to be like my white male peers. I purposely wore hooded sweatshirts and no makeup, spoke with my hands at my side, a monotone, never smiled, and talked about what I thought the people in the audience wanted to hear. I didn't want to come across as an emotional woman with emotions, for fear of being judged "too brazen, too loud, too showy," (as if those are bad things) and I rebelled against all advice to "black it up" after people heard and called for more frequent use of the line, "GIRRRL I WILL CUT YOU!"

Trying to please other people and fit a mold stunted my growth with regard to stage presence.

As for equity in payment, every paid stand-up gig I've ever gotten has offered me less than what my white husband of equal education and stand-up experience has been offered, in the negotiation stage. Same was true for our wages at our temp jobs...with the same agency!

5/21/10, 11:58 AM