This past Saturday night I performed at the New York Improv comedy club and to make sure I had enough people I invited a few passersby to fill the seats. One couple was none too happy with my jokes about race. I think they just didn't get it.

For those who missed the show on Saturday (roughly 6 billion minus 200), I have a video clip of my July 15 performance at that same club. It's not quite the same show, but I use many of the same jokes and concepts. Check it out, and decide for yourself. Then read the exchange below. (Note the video clip should download in the background and may take a while)

Here's an edited version of the followup email I received two days after the show. I have changed the person's name to protect their identity:

You invited my husband and me to see your show at the Improv. on Saturday night. (the couple in the deli) We went because you seemed like a nice guy and we wanted to support you. I had just gotten off a long day at work and was planning on getting home to relax, but I am a performer too, and thought we should support each other.

I have to tell you I am confused as to why you even approached us. When I was walking away from the show, I thought \"Why in the world would you invite us to your show and then insult us?\" From your material I gather that either you do not like white people or you think of us as clods.

I know we helped you get your quota of seats filled so you probably could care less about this message, but wanted you to know how I felt anyway.

And my response:

Hi Jane,

First of all, thanks for coming to the show and for writing. I
DEFINITELY care about your email and your feedback on my performance
and really do appreciate you filling the seats even though you didn't
like what I had to say. One performer to another, I thank you for
going along with me in that corner store even though you wanted to go
home, and I feel bad that my act offended you so much. It was
certainly not my intention but is a definite risk with the type of
comedy and subjects I deal with.

To address some of your points,

- I invited you simply because you were people, and I was desperate. I
pulled in eight people off the street that night: a 30-something black
couple, a single South Asian man, a young Latina woman and her mother,
a single white female, plus you and your husband. I'd like to be able
to tell you that there was some sort of conspiracy to insult you and
your husband, but it really came down to timing. You were there.

- I do not dislike white people, nor do I think of all of you as clods
or idiots or any other demeaning characteristic. Some of my best
friends, in fact, ARE white, and Jewish, but that's really not the
point :) The real point is that what I'm talking about on stage are my
experiences, many of which have been colored (no pun intended) by
race. I don't do comedy that talks about the differences between men
and women (i.e. "women go to bathroom in groups. men like sex."). I
don't simply talk about the stereotypical differences between whites
and blacks. (i.e. "White people can't dance. Black people can dunk.")

Where I do use stereotypes, it's in an attempt to discredit them and
is based on my own experiences or those of people I know. (i.e. my
white friends inviting me over for a black history month dinner of
KFC). That didn't quite happen, but the idea that "I can't be racist
because I have black people over my house" is something I'm trying to

I discuss the role of slavery in destroying and recreating an identity
for all black people in America. "Thurston is a British name which
means property of Massa Thurston"

I discuss my own displeasure with the economy under Bush vs. Clinton
and how I miss Clinton as an ex-girlfriend who often looks better when
you're with someone else.

I bring up the issue of reparations, and in a very facetious way, tie
it to crime (black people robbing white people).

Even my points about the Passion of the Christ are only an extension,
through undermining Jewish stereotypes (absurdity of media control as
highlighted by control of the "lightning machine"), of the point I'm
trying to make on race relations. "some of my best friends are jewish,
therefore I'm not anti-Semitic" as a parellel to "i have black people
over for dinner therefore I'm not racist"

In general, the post-Clinton part of my set is my way of addressing
the superficial level that conversations about race exist, especially
in cities like New York and Boston, which are considered liberal. We
have reached a transition in America toward dealing with race.
Integration has made significant headway. People of all colors have
access to jobs and housing and more like never before, yet racism is
alive and well in all areas. Equally-qualified candidates are much
more likely to get called back for a job if they have a white-sounding
name than if they have a black-sounding name. Banks routinely engage
in discriminatory loan practices, and despite high profile, successful
figures, a large segment of the black population remains in the
underclass, relegated to underfunded school districts and decrepit
public housing. Not all of these conditions are the fault of slavery
or white people, but there is a connection.

Unfortunately, if I describe things in the terms from the above
paragraph, it might be interesting, but it's definitely not funny. In
addition, I only had seven minutes to perform -- not exactly enough
time to communicate all the nuances of my message.

I try to use sarcasm, stereotypes, and the occasional wordplay to
communicate some of these ideas in a way that is more accessible to my
audience. Sadly, it didn't work for you and your husband, and I'm sure
others who have seen me feel as you do.

I don't expect that I've convinced you that my comments DIDN'T offend
you. You know your own feelings much better than I. However, I do want
you to understand that it is not my INTENTION to offend, but rather to
deal with some pretty delicate and often unpleasant issues through

Thanks again for coming to the show, staying and taking the time to
write, and good luck in your own careers.

I'll be returning to the New York Improv on Saturday October 9