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We were swapping war stories of delays. The woman on the right was in the air on 9/11 returning to the USA from the UK and was turned around and stuck in Manchester for several days. We endeds up grabbing some wine at an airport bar. Her take on Texas wine: "it tends to taste like you're licking concrete."
The man in the middle was on a flight to south africa that had to land in the Central African Republic, where they were held hostage for six hours due to non-payment for fuel. Srsly
I meet the most interesting people.
I have to say, this exchange has been mad interesting. We're winding it down, and I'll try to get my final thought out before I head to Austin TX this weekend for SXSW Interactive.
We've had a few other folks chime in with their own video responses. I'll continue posting those and trying to centralize them at http://letstalkaboutrace.wordpress.com so there's an archive of this experiment.
“Ok, then the opposite question: what’s the most scared you were?” This required no time for Joe to give me a response. “Mortar fire. It’s as loud as an airplane.” I thought that was it, but then he told another story. When he finished, I realized at some point, that I had stopped breathing. “Also, when someone yells ‘gas!’ that means we suspect a chemical weapons attack, and we have to get suited up.” All the troops get suited up in their chemical gear — huge, heavy rubber suits with full face masks. This is in 120 degree desert heat. Then they wait. To me, of the F-U-Philly-Airport crowd, “mortar fire” qualified as most frightening. When he upped it with “gas!” I could see that yes, thinking you might melt from the inside, was more frightening than loud explosions. But, Joe wasn’t finished. “When it’s over, the commanding officer has the youngest, most junior marine take his mask off… to make sure the air is ok. I was the commanding officer, and I had to look into these kids’ eyes and tell them to risk their lives by taking off a mask. The medics were standing by with [instant treatment of some sort] but I’m 22 looking into an 18 year old’s eyes, and he’s scared. It’s hard thing to do.” Damn. Damn. I did not expect that. I’m not sure what I expected, maybe fears of a roadside bomb or some sort of ambush, but not some deep, emotionally scarring event. That’s war. Right there.A year after meeting Joe, I went to a panel at the progressive Yearly Kos blogger convention (summer 2006). It was a panel of those who had served in Iraq, and more than one story moved me to tears. The panel was sponsored by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). Again, here's an excerpt of what I wrote at the time under the title, YearlyKos Day 2: “Listen to me. They come home from war, and they kill themselves”:
IAVA hosted a panel with veterans from Iraq talking about their experience over there, but most horribly, their experience here in the US, once they returned. The quote in the title was from a female vet who joined the military at age 17. She was describing the heart-breaking, back-stabbing and outright cruel lack of resources available to veterans once they get back, especially psychological help. She told of how she was sexually assaulted by a major when she was 19 (a subject I’ve blogged about before), traumatized by her experience in Iraq, and forced into nearly 9-month delays once she returned. She was officially noted by the military health staff as having suicidal tendencies. If it weren’t for IAVA, she said, she’d be another statistic. “I know people who came back from the war and blew their brains out because they couldn’t take it. Listen to me. They come home from war, and they kill themselves”And one year later (June 2007), I wrote about the tragedies waiting to happen as trained killers return home in Let's Talk About The Monster's We're Creating It's 2008, and we are still over there, still murdering and maiming and displacing countless Iraqi people. We're still murdering, maiming and psychologically scarring American servicemen and women. Yet, our leaders, for the most part, tell us to be patient. Victory is attainable. They are wrong. We have already lost. Two weeks ago, I watched No End In Sight, an infuriating documentary which chronicles the extreme arrogance and carelessness with which we planned, launched and prosecuted this war. The people behind this misadventure are criminals, in both their conscious behavior and their negligence. But this is not all I've been thinking about this week. I have spent the past several days listening to the testimony of servicemen and women who have returned from Iraq. They've been speaking openly about their experiences in the Winter Soldier testimonies, modeled on events of the same name post-Vietnam. Every American citizen must take the time to listen to at least some of these stories. You owe it to the people we have sent over there to know what is being done with your money and in your name. It's practically the least you can do. I have pulled together four stories in the video player below
- Mike Prysner talks about the deep-seated racism he witnessed and was a part of
- Camilo Mejia speaks eloquently and painfully of the loss of humanity that is necessary in dehumanizing the enemy
- Kevin and Joyce Lucey had to tell their son's story because he is no longer alive to do so. He returned from Iraq but was overcome by the emotional wounds and killed himself as the VA hospital refused to admit him, despite pleas from his family
- In the most disturbing testimony, Tanya Austin talks about the widespread rape and sexual assault that occurs in the military and how victims are further victimized by the system. Check out Stop Military Rape.
- how nasty black women's feet are (I have no idea why this is such a common joke, but it is)
- how broke black people are
- something about the black church
- downlow brothas and (falsely) how they are responsible for spreading AIDS to black women
- sex, usually re-enacted on the stage
- some anti-gay jokes
- how black people and white people are different
- and more on black women's feet
"If you hear something you don't like, just say 'Alriiiiiiiight.'"He meant that people should say this when he, the host, returned to the stage after an act, but he did did not make this clear to the audience. More importantly, if you say to the audience that you expect them to respect the comics, why would you then give them a tool of disrespect. "Don't heckle, but if you want to heckle, you can use this acceptable heckle." That just didn't make sense to me, and it gave the audience way too much freedom. As the show progressed, I watched one section of dudes in the audience increasingly cut off comics with loud, synchronized yells of "ALLRIIIIIGHT" to the point where the comic couldn't continue. When these dudes saw they had this power, they only abused it more. I remember one comic caving in: "Oh, is that my time then? Ok, goodnight." Rodney berated him, "Don't you ever let somebody tell you when to get off stage if it's not your time!" Nice words, but what was the comic really supposed to do when he can't be heard over jeers of "ALLLRIIIIIIGHT!!!!" My Set I had planned my set based on some feedback from the Bay Area Black Comedy thing. I took out any political stuff that didn't have to do with black people. No jokes about Alberto Gonzales jacking the Constitution. Nothing about Dubya being gangsta. I would do: my always-used, always working introduction of my name (Update: here is a video clip of the joke actually working) being from DC with a crackhead mayor: "When people find out I'm from DC they feel the need to remind me my mayor was a crackhead. I know that.... I SOLD it to him" a somewhat new bit about being caught in the jetblue meltdown a black history month joke about how when black people rob white people it's not a crime but instead, "involuntary reparations" a joke about scientists who found the gene that causes black folks to have high blood pressure. the name of the gene? white people a joke about the federal government pushing crack cocaine into black neighborhoods I barely got halfway through the material. Remember, I only had three minutes. Rodney brings me up and even manages to say my name right. I start off asking people to give him a hand for hosting. The audience gives up nothing. I say, "fine, don't applaud him" to some laughs, then I start off, "My full name is Baratunde Rafiq Thurston. Baratunde is an old Nigerian name--" "Stop stop!" I hear from the crowd. It's Rodney. He tells me I have to get off the stage. They need to change tapes. Right in the middle of my opening joke, I get pulled off stage. Talk about a momentum killer. And remember what I told you about the impatience of black audiences. Even though it wasn't my fault, I'm held accountable for that. Rodney talks a bit while they change tapes and brings me back up. I started off. "Don't give up nothing for Rodney Perry who messed up my intro. And do give it up for the Allright Crew over there. I don't want to hear from yall ever." I figure it's best to acknowledge these idiots from the top, and I get good laughs on this line. really. However, I made the mistake of going back to the "my name" joke, The tape change effectively destroyed the joke, but remember, all this is being taped for judges to see later. They won't know my set got hacked by a tape change, and I want them to see this opening joke that has served me so well. I get to the "one with no nickname" and get laughs. "Rafiq is an Arabic name which means, 'really. no nickname.'" A few more laughs. "Thurston. Thurston is an old British name that means--" "The Third!!" some people in the audience yell out, inspired by Gilligan's Island from approximately 200 years ago. Nice. I tell them this is my time and they can do their own jokes when they get three minutes (more laughs). The momentum of the joke, what little was left, is completely gone. "property of massa thurston." "I can see some of yall didn't expect that last one" They were confused, saying "no" and "huh?" "Well neither did we." A few folks who managed to stay with me through that butchered joke actually got it. Most had bailed. And then it came. "ALLLLRIIIIIGHT!!!" from the peanut gallery of fools who had been allowed to destroy so much of the show already. It's my first joke, and the bullies want me off stage. I will not leave (recalling Rodney's admonition to the other comic), but nothing matters at this point. The audience is done with me. There is no chance for redemption. I go into my Jetblue joke about being stuck at JFK and clearly no one gives a damn. Frankly neither do I. I don't show it, but I've given up on this set, this audience and this audition. But I refuse to leave the stage. I still have about two minutes left. I start into my black history joke about how when black people rob white people it's not a crime. It's involuntary reparations. The punchline is overwhelmed by sounds of "ALLLLLRIIIIIIIIGHT!!" They are getting into it. People are enjoying this destructive force against my creativity. This is probably the worst public humiliation of my life. Then the DJ joins the mob. The DJ starts scratching a record even though I'm maybe halfway through my time. Now I'm angry. I even call him out on it. The audience, I can understand, but the DJ is part of the staff and the audition. He's supposed to be representing TV One and the "respect" Rodney talked about earlier. That's unprofessional man. Then the lady with the flashlight starts flashing me. With a minute left. Horrible. The Post-Game Report I've been heckled before. I've had audiences not get me before. But I've never been so structurally handicapped and rejected in the way I was that night. There was nothing fun about it. It was ugly. It was a mob. I was the witch, and why? Because I dared to not talk about women's ashy feet or how black people and white people brush their teeth differently? The quickness with which the audience turned on me was devastating. It doesn't make me want to quit comedy, but it makes me lose faith in that crowd. See, I know the loss is theirs. I left the show mad at everyone including myself. I broke my silence for this bullshit? I drove a total of seven hours for this? I missed a day at SXSW for this?? I looked back at the other acts of the evening, and so many followed the script: feet, gays, money or lack thereof, sex, feet. I strayed from that and paid a price as did others that night. I felt like people were mad at me for not talking about their feet! After I performed at the Bay Area Black Comedy Fest, the producer, Tony Spires said my material was over a lot of people's heads. Maybe that's true, but it's only because stereotypical "black comedy" has been holding their heads under water for so long with bullshit. What does it say to a comedian who sees what happened to me? You better stick to the script? Standup comedy should not be about a script. As a comic, I know I can't appeal to everyone. Even the biggest names have their detractors. Plenty of people think Jerry Seinfeld is a talentless hack or that Chris Rock lacks intelligent material. I know both views are wrong, but knowing that doesn't make it easy to deal with. No one wants to be rejected by their own people. It's like being kicked out by your family. And the family is dysfunctional. The family is often homophobic and misinformed. I heard one performer repeat the urban myth that black women have the highest AIDS rates because of black men on the downlow. This is not true, but it's a convenient bogeyman. It just hurt to see that joke work so well because people believed the bad science behind it. They weren't laughing out of a sense of irony. They were laughing out of a sense of ignorance. It's pretty good timing that on my way to the show I was listening to a hip hop artist from Oakland (Brutha Los) talk about the state of rap music. "Rap music is basically hair metal. It's built on black death and is nihilistic at best. It's a parody of itself. But rap music is not hip hop." I think those words prepared me to go through what I did. "Black comedy" is not black comedy. In other words, I too am black comedy, but the mass production of stereotypical images has led an audience to believe I don't belong.
I saw some great SXSW films at this theatre (and plan to review them all soon). It's an interesting move to the heart of 6th street (think Landsdowne in Boston). One of the employees explains more. He's so right about the pizza. Best I had in Austin.