In the olden days of comedy, racial humor was as common and as controversial as knock-knock jokes. Entertainers didn't have to worry about offending anyone, because no one who might be offended was allowed into the theater. Following the Civil Rights movement and subsequent raising of our national self-awareness, racial humor died an ignoble death on the battleground of Political Correctness. Then, in the 90's, it was revived by an unlikely ally - minority comedians, who wanted to poke fun at their own life experiences. While "insider humor" is fundamentally different than "outsider humor," it's inception effectively put race and ethnicity back on the table for comedians everywhere. Nowadays comedians feel free to make racial jokes - and the only litmus test for offensiveness seems to be whether we find the joke funny or not.
"Yes, Sri. But what the hell does that have to do with TV?"
Last week saw the premiere of Chocolate News, David Allen Grier's new sketch comedy show. As the title implies, it consists of fake news items involving African Americans. Black people. Er, persons of - well, you know what I mean. Think Chappelle Show meets The Colbert Report ... and assume for a moment that Chappelle wouldn't immediately kick Colbert's ass.
So far, this show passes my personal litmus test - funny moments outnumber offense ones. Maya Angelou's poem for McCain's inauguration ("President Elect John McCain... ain't this a bitch?") - hilarious. Negotiation of the N-word Peace Treaty - more uncomfortable than offensive. Education department PSA as performed by "Phat Man," ("Yeah, ho! Yeah, bitch! Let me see how yo' coochie twitch! Doncha leave no child behind!") - I just don't know what to say about that. But with any subjective measure, I'm sure my perception of this show's acceptability will wax and wane. And maybe that's the point - in forcing us to traverse the funny/offensive border, Grier helps put a spotlight on racial humor in America today.