At the New York Comic Con this past Saturday, I auditioned for "Who wants to be a Superhero" as "Captain Repairman (sort of an amalgam of Captain Zorikh and the Death Star Repairman. I missed auditioning for Stan Lee, but my audition seemed to go very well. They had made us fill out these lengthy questionnaires before going in, and that gave me the opportunity to really focus on what my character was. It turns out that a super hero is really the person you really want to be, unadorned by the trappings of society and culture. It is how you purify the essence of the true goodness in you, the best there is in you.
My power was the ability to solve any problem through making up a song on the spot. My weakness is that I only know three chords. Also, I can see the humor in anything, but sometimes I can't see when it is appropriate to reveal that humor.
When in the audition I wowed them with my ability to come up with a solution to a problem in a song made up on the spot. Then they asked me when did I come up with this character, and what in my life influenced the development of this character (or something like that). I started talking about my childhood, and I just broke down. When thinking about how I had mistaken attention for affection, and ultimately become the object of ridicule, I broke down in tears. It was very emotional. Full-on waterworks. If Stan were there I'll bet he would have given me a hug. I'm getting choked up right now just thinking about it. They seemed to really appreciate it. It really means a lot to be a superhero. it is where you truly get to help people not suffer the way that you have. That is why the Batman concept works. I actually referenced Dr. Doom. If he had had me around, I could have helped him see the bright side of the accident that scarred him and then maybe he would not have wanted to kill Reed Richards, and would have instead used his genius and the country that he rules to do something good for mankind.
Afterwards, there had been a hero from the first series who was interviewing folks fir the Sci-Fi channel. He had already said, after our interview, that I had done very well. He had asked if there was one thing I could fix about the world today, what would it be, and I said to get people to stop being upset at little accidents. It's just not worth it. Just accept the apology, let it go, and move on. Anyway, after my audition he said that yes, it is very emotional being a superhero, and in the last episode, he had had a breakdown too. And then he gave me a hug.
Jump cut forward to the Indie Comics After Party, and we will see how my powers and weaknesses revealed themselves (God, you are an iron). I'm singing, and I am getting a little attention, but not much. I figure I will try to do "Red 5,” and ask the audience to "give me some rhythm. I know this is a crowd of comic book geeks here, but there has got to be some rhythm somewhere." There was a table of 4 black people in the corner that were listening and clapped along with spirit and enthusiasm, one fellow even stamping his feet double time. Then I sang another song and they were clapping hands etc. all through it. They were pretty much the only people really paying attention at that point. After that song I said "let's give a big hand to the rhythm section over here." Then I made The Joke. I said" You know, you see how tall I am? Well some folks ask me if I play basketball. I say, 'no, but I like fried chicken and I got good rhythm.'" The folks in the corner did not like that. My attempt to diffuse that by remarking about my liberal guilt kicking in now and doing the Larry the Cable Guy diffuse, "that ain’t right., lord I apologize," did not work. Halfway through "Bilbo" they got up and left in a huff. I totally lost the audience until some new folks came in right at the end in time for the "Antz" bit. And that was my set.
What happened? Where did I blow it? Why did I say such a thing? What was I thinking? Why did it get such a response?
The Joke is one I developed while I was doing open-mike stand-up at the Comic Strip a while back. It always got a great comedy club response, which is, a big appreciative groan along with the uncontrollable laughter. So what is funny about it?
To me, it is this: A person who judges people by their appearances is as dumb as any racist.
Where does the laugh come in?
Having the audacity to use words that describe a demeaning stereotype to make the point.
Also, the shock of such an unexpected answer.
The trouble is, the set up has to be just right and the audience has to be in the right mood to get it, or to accept it as a joke, rather than an insult. Otherwise it sounds like I just made a racist comment.
In this situation, the audience was not there to listen to that kind of stand-up comedy. I was not there to deliver that kind of stand up comedy. I was there as a musical entertainer with a Star Wars theme. I believe that the four people at the table took The Joke as a racist comment.
I was raised in a very socially conscious environment. I was educated very thoroughly about the Civil rights struggle and that prejudice, bigotry, and racism is wrong. I have also been exposed to plenty of expressions of racial stereotypes. I have met people who glory in their exemplifications of racial stereotypes. I know people who appreciate a well-crafted joke that plays on a stereotype. The Blue Collar Comedy Tour and a Steve Harvey Comedy Special are all about that sort of thing.
Racial humor is Just Wrong. A joke that ironically parodies racial humor is Wrong for the Right Reason: it pokes fun at the racist; it reveals what is idiotic about the racist. But it is a fine line between clever and stupid, and the environment has to be right, and the audience has to be ready for it. They have to accept the performer of The Joke in such a way as to see the humor and not the offence.
This is not what had happened here.
A little later, one of the folks who had been enjoying my set until The Joke, a white guy with a beard and knit wool cap (a quasi-hippie look), told me that what I said was Just Wrong. I said yes, I totally misread the audience. But he insisted, "Even when it is right, it's wrong." I said nothing, just went to pack up my guitar, but I did notice that there was a CD of mine next to him and his friend on the bar (I had placed some for sale of the "stuff for sale" table).
I hung around for a while, then decided I was tired and decided to leave. When I asked the girl who had been minding the table for the money for the CD's, she said no one had bought on. I found the one that had been on the bar had been broken and the cover torn. I found the guy right away (he was pretty much there when I turned around) and asked him if he had bought the CD. He said no, it was on the table next to the free flyers. I explained to him no, there was a girl here to sell the stuff, but she wasn't here when he was there, and that it was next to stuff that was for sale, so the CD costs $5. He then said that I cost the bar more when those people I had offended left. He then proceeded to call me a racist and said I should leave. I just asked "who are you?" he wouldn't answer, just said that I should leave the bar. I was ready to ask him if he would like to "step out side,” but I didn't. I thought about my superhero. Don't sweat accidents. Don't waste your time getting angry or making other people angry, so I did the best I could at letting it go. Then another friend of his (not the one who had been with him at the bar) got in between us, I'm sure because it looked like I was going to jump him.
I went outside, ostensibly because I was leaving anyway. I talked with a couple of the CAG people about the incident, and they were all pretty much "don't worry, shit happens," and were concerned that I would be alright. I started crying there again, recognizing how this was a moment that really illustrated my powers and weaknesses. I saw the humor in a situation, and chose just the wrong way of expressing it at the wrong time. Just to drive the point home, one of the guys who had walked out happened to be coming back to the bar right then. He told me how furious they were at The Joke, and said I was lucky they did not kick me out the window right there. I apologized to him and explained that I really misread the audience and it was really a Bad Thing to say right there. He pretty much didn't want to hear it, his night had pretty much been ruined. One fellow commented that it was a “Michael Richards moment.” Another fellow pointed out that we are artists, and have to deal with this sort of thing all the time. I realized that there are times when the artist has to say "fuck it" for the sake of art, and times when the artist has to serve the audience. Another fellow was actually kind of interested in what all the fuss was about. I related the incident to him and he laughed hard. His friend, who happened to be black, kind of chuckled, but didn't really laugh, but as regards to losing potential fans (specifically black ones), he said "there are more of us" (meaning just because I lost those four, didn’t mean I lost them all.
Now I was truly sorry I offended the people who were offended (the black people). The white guy who destroyed my CD, that's a different story. He was just being a dick. It was not his place to do anything beyond telling me what he thought about The Joke. There is no quid pro quo here, if those people left because they were offended, that's sticks and stones. I shouldn’t have said The Joke, but they chose to leave of their own free will. I feel absolutely horrible about it and would do whatever I could to make up for it. On the other hand, he took something of mine without paying for it, and destroyed it. That's theft and property damage. He did not apologize for not knowing that the CD's were for sale, and actually seemed to feel justified in it. I wish I had acknowledged the fact that there was my CD next to them on the bar, then I would have been able to clear up the issue of it not being free sooner, etc. But whatever, that’s past. I now realize what he did that was an accident was picking up the CD, but he showed no acknowledgement of an accident on his part or apology. His destruction of the CD was deliberate. Therefore, it warranted a response.
The next day I spoke with the fellow’s friend who had gotten in between us. We apologized to each other, me for getting his friend upset, him for his friend taking and destroying my CD.
From here I am going to learn from this and move on. If the fellow wants the honor of trying to kick my ass, I will allow him the opportunity. I am not a racist, I occasionally have bad judgment and timing, but I am not a racist, and I will stand up for that. And he destroyed my property without appropriate compensation.
It took a while for me to come to that conclusion. I am, by nature, a pacifist, seeking to avoid violent conflict where possible. If I am going to risk bodily harm, or risk inflicting bodily harm, it had better be for a damn good reason. Is there a danger of loss of life, health, or property if I don’t fight this guy? Well, maybe if I “let him get away” with taking and destroying my CD, other people will think that they can walk all over me, but that’s not very likely. The crowd there was not the kind of society I would expect to behave like that. Would there be any honor in fighting this guy? He did not look like a trained fighter, while I have some grappling tringin, so the apparent challenge is not great. He did call me a racist, which is not true, and told me to leave the party. I am not a racist. If anything, I am wracked with Liberal Guilt at even the thought of making any assumption based on the race, religion, or ethnicity of a person. This fellow I did not know, who did not know me, was telling me to leave for a reason that was not true. That was an insult to me. It made me mad. If I were to defeat him in a fair fight, I would demand that he take back the claim that I am a racist. If he were able to defeat me, I would apologize for offending him and leave. However, I have enough else going on in my life that it would be better for me to walk away at this point, and try to improve myself.
More importantly, I would rather sit down with the people I offended, buy them drinks and talk about the incident, how they felt about it, what I meant by it, and come to an understanding about it.
Then go on to become a huge success in my chosen field of endeavor.