As protests happen in Minnesota and there has yet to be an arrest in the murder of George Floyd, I sit here comfortably in my home drinking coffee in front of my laptop. I know the last thing anyone needs right now is the opinion of this tired, chubby white dude about race in this country. And, for the record, everyone is right.
That being said, all I can think about is this story. And I want to share it with you.
When I got started in comedy, there was one person who gave me more chances than everyone else combined. I don’t know what that person saw in me, but I was grateful for the fact that, at least once a week, I could find stage time at shows all over the state. I was a paid comedian… how cool was that?
What made it even better was that one of the bars that started doing comedy was less than 20 minutes from my house. Where I would normally drive an hour (or more) to get to shows, this was a regular show that I could quickly and easily get to. And because it was so convenient for me, I was often on the show. I think there was a point where this show was weekly and I was on seven consecutive shows.
This town was, for lack of a better term, super-white. According to the 2010 census, over 90% of the town was white. There were six times more Asian-American than African-American. This bar that held comedy had an African-American manager, a really nice guy whose name I wish I remembered. When I was hosting those shows, sometimes the room had a hard time getting (or staying) focused. And I knew always knew the joke that would get the room on my side every time. I’d ask people to applaud for the venue and then to applaud for the manager, who would usually be in the back, sitting and laughing at the show. Then, I’d hit them with this joke:
“What I like about your town is how much you guys love this bar and (manager’s name). You’re so supportive and wonderful and I love that. In fact, every night, the police give him an escort home.”
And everyone would laugh. No one laughed harder than the manager.
One night, we finished the show and I stayed and hung out with the other comedians on the show until closing time. Both the manager and I had parked our cars in the same lot, so we were walking together and talking about the shows; which comedians he wanted back, how to make the show better, that kind of stuff. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a police car.
The car didn’t pass us. Instead, it slowly followed us as we walked into the lot and then parked there. I looked back and the car, then at the manager, then back at the police. The manager just shrugged his shoulders, wished me good night, then got in his car and drove away, the police car following him.
I did shows there for a few more months. We never talked about that incident again.
I grew up pretty isolated. My high school class had 72 people in it, and we didn’t have an African-American student in it until my senior year (if I’m remembering correctly).
I didn’t really start meeting a diverse group of people until I started doing comedy. Which means I didn’t get the chance to hear a lot of stories- horrible, tragic, infuriating, heartbreaking stories- until about fifteen years ago. I’ve tried to listen and be understanding; to see the world through the eyes of others.
Whenever an event like the death of George Floyd makes us evaluate our nation’s history (and present) with race, I think about this story every time. I always used to post in on Facebook trying to prove a point to the people who think that there’s not a systemic problem in our country. Of course, this is just me being an idiot.
I wish I knew a good way to wrap this up. I guess all I can say is: Listen. Learn. Empathize.
It’s the only way things will change.