Stand Up Black Britain
nytheatre.com review by Melanie N. Lee
August 22, 2007
"Ladies and gentlemen, are you ready for show time?" a deep voice alerts the audience. Then the first of three Afro-British stand-up comedians enters, starting a hilarious evening of insights into racism and ethnicity, American and British culture, and other topical humor.
"Hello, alternative New York!" says John Simmit, a Jamaican-Cuban-British man in ponytail dreads and a black dashiki, known as Dispy on BBC's Teletubbies. In his low-key, low-toned style, Simmit comments on American culture's impact on Britain: "There was someone in my class who looked like Jay-Z. No, really. I used to date her." On American prudery: "You say 'bathroom' because you're not keen on saying 'toilet'. But at the same time, you have guns." At "Negro Night" at a downtown New York comedy club, Simmit was surprised when MC "J.B. Smooth" gave the comic a dancing hip-hop intro, and the music kept playing—"They were expecting me to dance!"—and he demonstrates his unpolished, improvised hip-hop dance. Referring to the club's two-drink minimum: "In Britain, we would need a nine-drink maximum". He decries the ultra-thin American body image—"Size Zero is bullshit!—adding that in "Booty-licious Britain...the spanking capital of the world...you slap that butt properly, it slaps you back!"
Next is Curtis Walker (from the Britflick Bullet Boy), a light-skinned man wearing a white shirt over his black T-shirt. He interacts heavily with the audience, including me, joking that I might give him the time of day if he spoke to me like an American Black man on a video—"What up, bitch?!" (I wouldn't respond until he gave me a respectful "Hi.") Walker learned a white male audience member lived near, not in, some nearby projects. Walker talked about Brixton in East London—"Where muggers line up to mug you"—and pointing to that audience member, "It's the kind of place you would live beside."
Walker employs many accents, including Jamaican ("Jamaica CSI—'Him dead—and nobody killed him?'"), American ("In America you got accents that scare me. The more south, they scare me."), and Cockney, imagining an East Londoner in 2012 stealing an Olympic javelin in midair. He tells us that England's Notting Hill is the most diverse place in the world, "Yet they still managed to film it without any people of color. It's CGI gone mad!" On terrorism: "See what you started? ...We were dealing with terrorism for years, but it was friendly terrorism. The IRA." Recreating an IRA phone call: "You got ten minutes to get the fuck out."
Last is Gina Yashere (finalist on NBC's Last Comic Standing), the funniest of the three, with the longest set. She has a rough voice, and wears a short golden jacket, brown blouse, and a big metal necklace. She says about her mom emigrating from Nigeria to Britain, "What was she thinking? 'I'm fed up with the sun. I want to go to a place with lots of drizzle and subtle racism.'" She, too, riffs on American culture: "The rappers on MTV, they're all from the ghetto. Is the ghetto that big?" About rappers' obsession with the Mafia, Scarface and The Godfather: "Ever see a Black Soprano? The Mafia don't like us. ...Some [rappers] say you can't be a real gangsta unless you got a copy of Mein Kampf." About "nigger" versus "niggah": "If it's a good word, everyone should be allowed to say it. 'Nigger' should be left in the past—like Vanilla Ice."
Yashere also interacts with audience members. To an Orlando Fringe administrator: "Are you taking us to Orlando? You'd better take us to Orlando! Get out!" Then riffing on Florida: "You got things in the water that kill you. In England all we have to worry about are pebbles and used condoms. ...There's no way a shark will get me unless they like the taste of chlorine and athlete's foot!" She imagines a shark mom: "C'mon kiddies. Eat all your human. There are other sharks starving in Africa."
Yes, take them to Orlando. I'm sure the alternative Floridians will enjoy Stand Up Black Britain as much as the alternative New Yorkers did.