I recently came across this quote by Chinua Achebe:
One of the truest tests of integrity is its blunt refusal to be compromised.
And it really spoke to me. I’ve been struggling a lot lately with the direction I want to take my act in — not because I’m uncomfortable with my material or persona, but because my father has a huge problem with it.
I said the word “bitch” on Comedy Central. I think it’s the second bit in the clip below:
|Erin Jackson – Marrying Into Comedy|
After the show aired my father reamed me for cussing on TV. I told him that you can say “bitch” on the networks. But he wasn’t trying to hear me.
I see comedy nite in and nite out — all kinds of comics with varying styles. And I know that by comedy club/booker standards, I am not a dirty act. I say “bitch” in my act. I occasionally say “shit”. And when I’m referring to this particular incident (which is only of late) I use the “mother” of all cuss words. But only because I’m repeating something I overheard someone else say. And I believe there’s a bigger point to it.
I grew up in a pretty religious household. Nothing fanatical. But my dad was superintendent of the Sunday School and a deacon at our church. So yeah I was at church every Sunday, but my folks weren’t strict and I was always a good girl. But I haven’t gone to church on even a semi-regular basis since I left home to come to DC for college. I honestly felt awful about it in the beginning — I remember the first Sunday I didn’t go to church I felt like there was this big gaping whole in my world. But that feeling began to fade the more and more I slept in. Of course I still believe in God. And with all the blessings I’ve received just these last 6 months in both my professional and personal life, I KNOW I need to be back in church. I joined one about a year ago and I even have a new bit about my trip to church this summer. But I’m out of the habit. And now after a late show on Saturday, its way hard for me to get up and go.
All that to say that while I believe in and thank my parents and extended family for the Christian principles upon which I was raised, I am my own person. And I don’t think it makes me a bad person if I say “bitch” on stage. But my dad is worried that all his friends and former colleagues who see me will be offended by what I say and it’ll reflect poorly upon him.
A little more than a year ago I was working a club in Ocala, FL with one of my best buds Vince Morris. And a couple from the church I grew up in (a fmr. deacon and his wife) who had recently moved to Tampa came out to a show. When I found out which show they were coming to, I started stressing myself out about not saying one bad word because of what they might think, what they might say to my folks, etc. And Vince let me have it. He said (and I’m paraphrasing of course) that I can’t allow myself to compromise my voice or my act based on who’s in the audience on a particular nite. He said that I just have to be me all the time, and that to do this comedy thing correctly I had to be honest about who I was and get comfortable with it. And I remember asking him what’s wrong with compromising — cleaning it up a little. You have to do it for corporate and private shows, so what’s the difference in doing it in this situation.
His answer was: “Night and Day”
So fast forward to this summer… I was working a club in Virginia Beach, near where my parents live. I stopped by their house one afternoon and my dad handed me a folder with some Xeroxed copies of Bible verses that were supposed to I guess ‘convict’ me and prevent any further profanity on stage, but all it did was make me wanna cuss. I happened to be working with my friend Roy that weekend as well and we had the same conversation I had with Vince last year. My parents came to the Sunday nite show and the whole day I was struggling with whether I should do my act the same way I did it Weds. – Saturday or if I should keep it squeaky clean for my folks. And while there’s something to be said for to sticking to your principles, I also didn’t want to disrespect my dad just to prove a point. I can do my act clean, but I also have potty mouth in real life… So which *me* was I that nite?… Well, I was the punk, squeaky clean *me*, which made me feel like crap.
I wonder if Chris Rock’s mom had a problem with his language — not that I’m comparing myself to Chris Rock…. But maybe when he first started out she hated it. Told him to clean it up. But when he started to make big money she changed her tune. You can’t really be mad about your kid cussing on his HBO special while you’re watching it on a flat screen TV mounted to the wall in your mansion… can you?
After my episode of Ellen aired my dad got a bunch of calls from old friends, church members and he basically gave me the “don’t embarrass me” lecture again. But this time, I’m a little stronger and more resolved to just be who I am regardless of how he feels about it. I am 30 years old. I own a home. And I am building a career on being who I am. Thousands of people in clubs and on TV have accepted me and decided they like who I am.
He’s just gonna have to fall in line.
Love you Daddy,