The Black Comic's Survival Guide to Touring Canada
It's February, and to commemorate Black History Month we've launched the 3rd annual Underground Railroad Comedy Tour, Canada’s first—and only—all black comedy tour. As there are still just under a million Afro-Canadians living in this country, it can sometimes be hard relating to a predominantly white audience. Therefore, I've put together a list for veterans and newcomers alike, which if followed will help you transcend any demographic. So when you have to perform for that group of seniors who only came to the show because they thought it was bingo night, you’ll have them laughing so hard, there won’t be a dry pair of Depends in the whole venue.
1. Be black but not too black
It often feels like Caucasian audiences have typically preferred their black comedians to be friendly, cartoonish and vocalized by a white dude like Cleveland from The Family Guy. In other words, it is ideal to, while on stage, project energy like that of Wayne Brady. He’s the kind of guy that would help an old lady across the street while humming a Broadway show tune. Avoid acting like the Seattle Seahawks defensive back Richard Sherman. Sherman is so powerful, outspoken, and arrogant. He could get shot nine times and still manage to record a whole gangster rap album prior to receiving medical attention. Unfortunately this kind of attitude will just frighten your audience. There’s nothing more frustrating than attempting to make a room full people laugh, when all they want to do is give you their wallets.
2. Make sure your jokes are delivered with the appropriate amount of slang. Na’mean? (Know what I mean?)
Stand-up comedy like all arts is completely subjective. I personally prefer my routines to be a little drunk, extremely inappropriate, and surprisingly intelligent. Unfortunately, unless your audience consists of a room of university educated or, at the least, well-read individuals, prepare to dumb down your material. I once got off stage and had an audience member state to me the following, “I enjoyed your set. But you don't talk black”. What does that even mean? Is there some kind of universally spoken, African Voodoo language my parents neglected to teach me as child? Is that why I don't understand Tyler Perry movies and Lil Wayne lyrics? My fellow “African Canadian” comedians, in order to avoid months of unnecessary self-reflection, and the search of ancient African vernacular that doesn’t exist, you should retune your lexicon to the following: instead of saying “Hello” say “What's pop’n?”; rather than “Good Bye” say “Peace”; and if you drop an N-bomb after every punch line you should live to joke another day.
Note: be black, but not too black. Avoid slang words like twerk, bumbaclot and dookie nugget.
3. The Token Effect: There is to be a maximum of one “African- Canadian” comic per show
Approximately 9 years ago I had the exciting privilege of being personally requested by the headliner, to open for him that weekend. This was extremely exciting as it was my first paid, weekend gig. My overwhelming joy was quickly annihilated by an unfortunate fact, there happened to be another black comedian booked that weekend. This should matter why? Well, according to the club owner this was a major breach of protocol. When I asked the reasoning to this pre civil rights movement logic, he responded “Come on, two black guys on one show, what would people think!” When I reminisce about this experience, I now realize he certainly had a point. I mean after the first black comic just did ten minutes about fried chicken, selling drugs, and his gigantic anaconda-like member, what the hell was I supposed to talk about, politics, technology or the weather? Y’all know’s black people ain’t be caring about dat! (insert N-bomb here)
Note: The Underground Comedy Railroad is one of the few shows that books more than one black comic at a time. This is accomplished by painstakingly dividing all jokes about fried chicken, drugs, the ghetto, large penises, baby mamas, and purple drink amongst the featured acts.
4. Be funny
The most important rule is to be funny. Regardless of your race or nationality, making the audience laugh is the truest testament of a comedian’s survival skills. And if that doesn’t work (insert N-Bomb here).
Rodney Ramsey is a Canadian comedian on tour with the Underground Comedy Railroad visiting Canadian cities in February 2014.