Addressing prejudice with standup
Apr 8, 2015
“Mom… Dad…” said stand-up comedian Wanda Sykes in a viral video from 2010. “I gotta tell y’all something. I hope you still love me. I’m just going to say it. Mom, Dad…” Sykes builds suspense in silence. “I’m black.”
Sykes’ performance, which was featured on HBO, is a contemplation on what it would be like if people had to come out as black. Sykes, who is black and lesbian, approaches coming out with extreme and hilarious hyperbole, enacting a situation in which race is treated like sexuality.
“‘Give her cancer, Lord,’” she said imitating her parents.
Comedians have long been leading the way for the LGBTQ community. From talk show host Ellen DeGeneres to entertainer Neil Patrick Harris, comedians’ sexualities do not lead or define their careers. Viewers saw as much when Harris played Barney, a ragingly heterosexual playboy, on “How I Met Your Mother,” which simply proves Harris’ skill as an actor. DeGeneres and Harris are leaders of a community that has long faced discrimination on screen.
For stand-up comedians, however, sexual orientation is more of a talking point. Standup comedy is based on personal experiences and observations, which LGBTQ comedians use to their advantage. Wanda Sykes is just one of many LGBTQ standups who directly addresses problems the community faces. Sampson McCormick, the first openly gay black man to headline the Howard Theater in Washington, D.C. and a self-described “double minority,” uses the stage to pinpoint issues such as HIV and hate crimes.
Onstage, comedians are able to be loud and abrasive about issues. In many ways, stand-up comedians are activists. By discussing and commenting on flaws of human nature, they reveal that there is always something that could be improved, whether it is airplane food or gentrification. For LGBTQ standups, some choose to criticize the stigma about coming out as Sykes did, while others choose not to, such as James Adomian who opened an act by shouting gleefully to the audience in “Meltdown” in 2011.
“Where are my gays at?” he asked.
In this bit, Adomian discussed the vilification of gay people in media, from the chortling villain of the Gummy Bear video to Javier Bardem’s Raoul Silva in “Skyfall.”
Both approaches create open discussion of the very pressing and very serious issues the LGBTQ community faces. Stand-up comedy is a humorous way to communicate to general audiences. Using personal anecdotes and observations, audiences of all genders and sexualities are able to understand the injustice minorities face.
For this reason, standup comedy is one of many paths which will exact justice for the wronged. Stand-up comedians use the stage to wryly point out the many wrongs with the country, and LGBTQ comedians are at the forefront of change for the better.
A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, April 9 print edition. Email Audrey at [email protected]nyunews.com