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My fellow austin escapees and cabmates #sxsw

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.

Posted via email from baratunde's posterous

Let's Talk About Race: Cenk Offers To Become Race Ref!

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 so there's an archive of this experiment.

Posted via web from baratunde's posterous

Motorcycle with a roof - my 8th most popular photo online

Motorcycle with a roof, originally uploaded by baratunde.

I have thousands of pics in Flickr. This is the 8th most popular one. I took it while driving Northbound on I-35 in Texas from Austin to San Antonio.

Iraq 5 Years Later: I Am Ashamed (I Beg You. Read, Watch and Act)

cross-posted to Jack & Jill Politics I am sad. I am angry. I am weary, and I am ashamed. I hardly know where to begin writing about this five year travesty called the Iraq War, but I do know that it must end. I was one of those people that didn't need to read a top secret National Intelligence Estimate to know that this war was a terrible idea, but knowing that I was right doesn't make me feel any better. It makes me feel worse for I've done not nearly enough to bring an end to the tragedy. None of us has. I'm sure you're busy. We all are. But we owe it to our servicemen and women and to the Iraqi people to pay attention to what's happening. Please, stop what you're doing, and read this. No one in my family, nor any of my close friends are in the military. When I do get a chance to listen to soldiers, I do so with great attention. Three years ago, I ran into a returning U.S. Marine at the Philly airport. Here's a segment of what I wrote:
“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.
You can move through the clips using the big arrows on the side of the video player.
The clear message I have gotten from listening to returning soldiers is that what hurts them is to come home and see a society that has forgotten them, a society preoccupied with the most trite of interests, a society that by its willful ignorance, devalues their experiences. Don't be that person. I guarantee that whatever you think you must do in the next few hours can wait. We owe it to the people serving in your name. We owe it to the people of Iraq. As for action, please check out the newly-released Responsible Plan to End the War in Iraq. End U.S. military action, use diplomatic tools, address humanitarian concerns, restore our constitution, restore our military, restore independence to the media, create a new, U.S.-centered energy policy,
A Responsible Plan to End the War in Iraq - Click here to add your support

*Finally* I Was On Danger Zone Show with Doctor Mo

cross-posted to Jack & Jill Politics For years, Doctor Mo of the Danger Zone Show podcast out of NYC has been trying to connect with me. We finally made it happen this past week. Doctor Mo is a funny brotha and gets some good guests on his show. In addition to the podcast, he does a week in review show via BlogTalkRadio. I called in this past Friday at 10:20pm ET (1 hour 20 min into the two hour show). Mo had a woman named Vita from Philly and a brotha from Austin -- Corey I think. They were great. Anyway, listen to the show and show Doctor Mo some love. He's been hustlin on this podcast for some time, and it's a good, smart and funny show. Oh, and there's a decent amount of profanity. It's not just vulgar for vulgarity's sake, but I wanted to give you a heads up.

Dear Boston (Weekly Dig)

Originally published in Baratunde’s bi-weekly GOODCRIMETHINK column in the August 29, 2007 edition of Boston’s Weekly Dig Dear Boston, This is the hardest (and first) letter I've ever had to write to you. I'd like to think I could tell you anything by now. I'd like to believe that you'd listen, but I know better because I know you. We all have our own coping mechanisms. You've got a wicked temper, and when you get angry, you tend to drink heavily and burn cars and finance unstable infrastructure projects. For that reason, you might want to sit down. I've got something to tell you, and you may not like it. Here goes: For the past few years, I've been seeing other cities. At the time, I told you they were just business trips, and at first they were: a festival in Austin, a comedy gig in Chicago. Still, things have gotten serious with one of them. We stay up late all the time, sometimes just talking about my dreams. She gives me more comedy and writing opportunities. She says I'm not really living unless I spend every day under threat of a dirty bomb explosion. I'm moving in with New York. Don't try to change my mind. My bags are packed, I have a place to stay and I've already changed my network on Facebook. Before you go canceling another round of elections, I should make it clear that I have no intention of supporting the Yankees. I didn't care about baseball in Boston, and I damn sure won't start in New York. My rule has always been, if it makes bitter Bostonians happy, I'm for it. So, go Sox! Boston, we've been together for a long time-12 years. We never talked about our "future" or raising a family, but I know you assumed we were headed there. You've got to understand, though, that a person gets tired of going to bed in the same town night after night, year after year. It's not you, it's me. However, this doesn't have to be a goodbye letter. I refuse to simply throw away all that we've built together. I'll visit you often, and I'll stalk you online at Universal Hub and the Dig's new 'website. I'll continue to recommend you to drunk high school students who are looking forward to becoming drunk college students. And of course, if you'll let me, I'll continue to write for the Dig. The timing of my announcement is probably rough for you, falling just before the annual Running of the Rental Trucks from August 31 to September 1, but you'll do just fine without me. My one unrealized Boston dream was to be present when some government inspector finally shut down the U-Haul in Central Square, where the employees' idea of customer service is to lift a ringing phone six inches and slam it right back down on the receiver. I know New York can be a brutal bitch, but I've still never seen something as cold as what goes down in that dream-crusher of a retail operation at 844 Main Street. Oh, and tell Somerville: Nice job on giving me a parking ticket my last day in town. I get it. Ranting about peak oil while owning an SUV cannot go unpunished. Justice was served. BARATUNDE THURSTON IS A COMEDIAN AND AUTHOR LIVING IN ... OH, WE CAN'T BEAR TO SAY. HIS COLUMN RUNS BIWEEKLY. CAN WE STILL BE FRIENDS WITH BARATUNDE.COM?

My Worst Night as a Standup Comic

photo courtesy of Christop via Flickr I have waited two weeks to tell this story, and now I'm ready. For the first time in my five years as a standup comic, I was booed off the stage. The Setup I've had some rough shows before. Every comedian has. I've gotten an audience that didn't get me and just sat there, giving me the silent treatment. I've had the frat boys more interested in the NCAA finals on the bar's flat screen than my jokes. One time I even had the tiniest audience (three people) just interrupt my set and tell me to talk about something else. That last show was one of my greatest ever, because in the end, I improvised some pretty funny stuff. What happened to me two weeks ago was far worse. I was participating in an audition for Bill Bellamy's show, Who's Got Jokes, which airs on TV One. I've never seen the show because I don't get TV One from my cable company, but it sounded interesting. My boy, Corey Manning, told me about the auditions that were happening in New Jersey, but I was in Austin that week for the SXSW festival. It turns out there were some audition slots at a club in Dallas at the same time. Coming off of my decent showing at the Bay Area Black Comedy Festival, I decided to do it. I rented a car in Austin and drove three and a half hours to Dallas to audition with three minutes of clean material. They made a point of stressing "clean material." That's all I have. (Update: by this, I mean all I have is clean material, NOT that I only have three minutes of clean material. Those who know me from my blog, shows, books and other writings are aware of this fact, but new people might not be.) I should add that for the full week preceding the audition, I had barely spoken a word due to some intense problems with my voice. I thought it was worth breaking the vocal rest for three minutes for a chance to get my comedy on television. I was wrong. Arrival The club was called Hyena's Comedy Club (turned out to be a perfect name), and it sits in Arlington, Texas between Dallas and Fort Worth, but since no one cares about Fort Worth, everybody just says the club is in Dallas. We were told to arrive between 5:30 and 7:30pm to sign in. The show was set to start at 8:30. I think I got in around 6:30, signed in as comic number 24 and was handed a 16-page contract to read and sign. The contract used big words like "indemnify" and gave new meaning to others ("parties" had nothing to do with a gathering of people for the purposes of fun and socializing). Basically, it said, "we own you and your soul, biatch," but it spread out that message in paragraphs and subsections and lots of bulleted lists. I don't even know what the point of all that was. Why have people read it? We couldn't change a damn thing. I signed away my rights and grabbed a bite at a vietnamese joint called "Pho 3.99." When I got back, they had all the comics line up for a quick videotaped interview and photo, and the show got started. "Black Comedy" For those outside the world of standup comedy, there is something called "black comedy." That's not when you happen to see a black person telling jokes on stage. "Black comedy" has come to be defined by a style and a look and a certain type of material. Just think BET's Comic View. It's generally very physical, often profane, and guarantees you exposure to material about certain inescapable topics:
  • 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
I basically don't talk about any of those things, not because they aren't funny. They can be hella funny, but they are used a lot, and I don't connect with the topics on a personal level. I just don't care. I talk about what I know. I talk about politics, social issues, the news, Africans vs. African-Americans, surviving DC in the 1980s and 90, the Euro's currency exchange versus the dollar. You know? Real hood shit. Yet I wasn't initially nervous about this. If anything, I could almost guarantee no other comic would come close to covering my jokes, and I'd done a set of my material in a Def Comedy Jam audition with an incredibly positive response. It was that audition which made me comfortable doing this one. That sense of security was as false as a hair weave. The Law of Diminishing Audience Patience What really separates "black comedy" from mainstream comedy is the impatience of the audience. They will rip you if you are not entertaining them within 10 seconds. (see: Amateur Night at the Apollo) The audition had 36 comedians. Thirty six. I had signed in at 24, but somehow got bumped to 31. There is even less patience for the 31st comedian, and I had seen a few before me fall without finishing their sets. I admired the hell out of this one brotha, Ethan Hardaway. I overheard him during his interview before the show. He's only been doing comedy for about six months and has plans to go into a PhD program if this doesn't work out. He's also gay as hell, but managed to use that to his advantage even in the super anti-gay room. After an earlier comic hated on gay people and talked about how everyone in the room has "that one gay cousin," Ethan's used his opening line to tag with something like, "I'm your gay cousin." This shocked people awake and got good laughs despite the homophobia. and made them laugh. He had some killer material about T-cell counts I can't quite remember, but check his MySpace page if you get a moment. The boy is funny! But back to my crappy show. I think the problem started with the way the show was run overall. I'm not trying to make a lot of excuses, but I've done a bunch of auditions, and this one was missing a few things. Usually they meet with all the comics to explain where, when and how to approach the stage. They'll also let you know where the lights are to remind you that your time is almost up and then that your time is up. We didn't get any of that, so there was a lot of confusion about when people should get off the stage. This was extra stressful because they claimed your judging points would be cut if you went over your time, and three minutes is a strange amount of time to keep track of. What you'd have happen is a mix of signals. In general, there was a woman standing in the back with a flashlight, and she'd wave it or flicker it, but it was never clear if she meant, "you have 30 seconds" or "you're over your time." At other points the DJ would just scratch a record. Although it was meant as a time warning, it was interpreted by the audience as an ejection. A DJ scratch sounds like a mistake. It says, "you're not funny. Get off the stage." The audience picked up on all this. More importantly, I think the host, Rodney Perry (who I first met at the Bay Area Black Comedy Fest and who is mad funny himself) made a pretty big error at the beginning of the show. He announced to the audience that this was a professional audition with clean material and was being taped to send to judges in LA. He demanded respect for all the acts and said they wouldn't tolerate heckling. But then he said this:
"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.