I am opening for comedy legend, icon, GIANT Robert Klein this week at the Improv in DC. A huge fan of the process of writing, I love to see the greats at work. He’s working on material for his 9th HBO special. Man… can you imagine… A couple years ago, when he was working out for his last special, I went to the club and saw the show 2, maybe 3 times–I can’t remember… So when Allyson, the manager at the Improv asked me if I was available to do the show this time, I was super excited and of course jumped at it!!! I’ve pretty much been counting the days until the show. The first one was last nite.

As a few of us comics were chatting in the back of the room after the show, this woman comes up to me and starts gushing about how much she enjoyed the show–which would make any comic blush. And then she follows it up with “And you… You are so articulate.”

(Insert Screeching tires)

As my boy Dawan would say, I gave her the ‘big eyes’… but then I reeled myself in because really she was trying to be complimentary and I knew that and I could tell she’d just really enjoyed the show, plus she was an older woman. But it got me to thinking what is it about that word that pisses me off so much? Would I have even been bothered by it if I’d never heard Chris Rock’s bit about Colin Powell being so “well-spoken?” Would I have just smiled and taken it as a compliment?

What is it about someone calling me articulate that makes me want to respond with “NO, I AIN’T!” Or something worse…

Back in September, I opened for Mark (Mr. Cooper) Curry at the very same club. And after the show, this young-ish, really drunk white woman came up to me and said, “I really enjoyed you, but you were so white. It’s like you’re a white girl trapped inside a black girl’s body. Then she said the “A” word.

And it took everything I had for me and my diction not to go upside her head.

But the sentiment wasn’t lost on me in either situation. In fact, I acknowledge it’s a major factor in whatever successes I’ve been able to achieve so far. I can’t tell you how many times or how many adjectives I’ve heard used to describe me and my act. “atypical, mainstream, crossover, smart, clever, a pleasant surprise… accessible (thats one of my favorites).

I realize there are very few mainstream black female comedians working the circuit. But what do I do? Should I buck at the label or embrace it? It’s hard out here for a pimp, and if being the “mainstream” black girl helps me get to the next level in this industry, should I just bat my eyelashes and say “Thanks” or is it my responsibility to do something to help change the perception of black comics–help expose more audiences to the entire spectrum of black comedy? That’s why I think what Elon James White is doing with The Black Comedy Project and the Black Comedy Experiment Festival is so important. I’m excited to be a part of the festival and I hope that the dialogue the blog and the festival have created continues for a long time to come.

I’d love to hear some comments… –E

2 thoughts on “The ‘A’ word

  1. Aparna

    Well, I can’t speak to exactly what you’re experiencing, but I have gotten, from audience members, on multiple occasions: “you should tell more Indian jokes” which is, let me tell you, very very empowering. It makes me feel like:

    A) I’m somehow shaming my heritage because I don’t yap about it onstage.


    B) I know exactly the kind of jokes people want me to tell, and they’re just not at all in line with my comedic instinct.

    I should just reply “Oh, I never thought of that. Thank you. Wow. I’ve really been going about this the wrong way.”

    I think it’s important to be true to yourself which I think you without doubt are, but unfortunately, there are always going to be well-intentioned but bubble-headed entirely-slappable audience members. It would be fun if you replied, “I KNOWWWWW. Isn’t it just bizarre?! I can’t believe it either!”

  2. hillary

    What a roundhouse kick in the face of a compliment.


    I’m not often over-sterotyped (once I was complimented for “not being so jappy.” Does that count?), so I don’t feel qualified to weigh in, other than to cheer on your ABSOLUTE AWESOMENESS and remind comedy fans to ACK RIGHT. How ’bout them A’s?

    Just keep being EJ, because whatever you’re doing, you’re doing it hilariously right.

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