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Posted May 31, 2007
Before the modern Civil Rights era, black comedians primarily performed for black audiences, and white comedians performed for whites. But over the last 45 years - the ¿Post-Soul¿ era -black comedians have moved into the mainstream culture, and this book explores this integration process by examining the comic televisual and cinematic personae of Dick Gregory, Bill Cosby, Flip Wilson, Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, Whoopi Goldberg and Dave Chappelle. The chapter on Goldberg, which explores her persona through the lens of gender and crossover, also touches briefly upon the careers of Moms Mabley, Pearl Bailey and Wanda Sykes. Black comedians are in an untenable position. Unlike white performers, who can play a buffoon without fear of being criticized for perpetuating minstrelsy, black performers ¿represent¿ so every joke, every career choice, even personal relationships are scrutinized by both supporters and detractors and usually found wanting: too black or not black enough, Keepin¿ It Real or not. As Chris Rock stated in a New York Times interview, ¿... journalists start analyzing it and talking to me like I¿m Kwesi Mfume. I don¿t need that gig. All I care about is being funny.¿ And a problem arises when attempting to mainstream material developed for black audiences, material which is often self deprecating and which, when removed from the privacy and security of the black enclave and put on display for the entertainment of whites, can be received and enjoyed in a racist way, or criticized as ¿airing dirty laundry.¿ When discussing why he terminated his show, Dave Chappelle summed it up to Oprah as discomfort over ¿the white guy laughing¿ a little too loudly at, rather than with, humorous aspects of black culture. Such struggles are at the heart of this study - in fact, the author says the question which inspired it arose at the late show of ¿Dave Chappelle¿s Block Party¿ when she saw some frat boys in the audience and wondered ¿ I know what I¿m laughing at, but what are you laughing at?¿ As the author states, ¿Comedy is a powerful discoursive tool¿ and this study provides many thought provoking insights and raises even more questions. The book is written primarily for academics, and lay readers might find the jargon challenging at times but I still recommend it to them. It prompted me to make several trips to the video store in order to view some unfamiliar material but more importantly, to view some familiar material again in a new light. Recommended for anyone interested in media, African American or American Studies.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.