Vol. 7, Issue 1, February 3, 2009
Humor Outlets Desperately Recruiting Blacks
The ascension of the nation's first African-American president has caused a monumental crisis for satirists and humor publications, which are scrambling to recruit black writers and comedians.
"It wasn't until inauguration day that it hit me," said Tod Freemont, editor of the Harvard Lampoon. "We're a bunch of white guys used to making impertinent and untoward comments about the people in power. That worked out fine when all the elected leaders were white too. But now we're up a creek. I never saw this coming."
The concern is that, without African-Americans involved in the creative process or delivery of their material, humor publications and shows will be severely limited in how far they can go in poking fun of Obama.
"Bush was easy, there was so much to work with: the swagger, the Texas accent, the incurious frat-boy attitude," lamented Joe Randazzo, editor of the online humor zine The Onion. "It was hard not to make fun of him. But Obama's giving us nothing to work with. Are we supposed to make fun of his haircut or his ears? Are you kidding? How in the hell are we going to get away with that?"
Some satirical productions, such as Saturday Night Live, already have black cast members and insist that they will be able to maintain their stride with the new administration.
"Here at SNL we've had a policy of including a token African-American for decades," said series producer Lorne Michaels. "You know, as a precaution. It's like storing canned goods for Y2K. Everyone makes fun of you, but then when the computers all stop - hey, who's laughing now? And we got a Spanish guy too, just in case."
The Daily Show has likewise planned ahead, adding black correspondent Wyatt Cenac to its cast and briefly joking that, with Obama winning the White House, host Jon Stewart would cede his chair to Cenac.
"Ha, ha, no," said Stewart. "It took years for this show to transition from an exceedingly white anchor [founding host Craig Kilborn] to a Jewish host. The next step will probably be some sort of Asian guy, and we're at least five years away from that. Baby steps, people. Baby steps."
With mainstream Caucasian humor outlets stumbling, some have suggested that the moment is right for African-American comics to take center stage, liberated to make fun of Obama in a way that white Americans cannot.
"Hey - I'll volunteer," said Condoleeza Rice. "I'd love a chance to leave a positive legacy on American society."