Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Wanda Sykes: Comedian-in-Chief

Hey Vida, this Slate piece by Christopher Hitchens on Wanda Sykes was being discussed on Twitter last night and I had to chime in: http://www.slate.com/id/2218465/

First things first: I think Christopher Hitchens needs to lay off the dairy because methinks he might be a little constipated...

Did we experience the same White House Correspondents Dinner? Because the Wanda Sykes I saw "brought it" with the same trademark biting, wryly hysterical wit that made her a hit on HBO's Chris Rock Show. Hitchens' clear unfamiliarity with Sykes and her humor and the suggestion that she "didn't get" what her role was supposed to be underscores that the script is being rewritten in the Beltway in a way that old hacks like him still aren't ready for.

He references Correspondents' Dinners past and notes that those comics tweaked the noses of the presidents. He asserts, in fact, the role of the comic at these events is to tweak the nose of the president -- to roast him. Does anybody even remember previous WHCD's? Name one comic who performed in the last five years besides Stephen Colbert...exactly. Crickets.

It was another one of those small but meaningful moments that normalized our presence and influence by having an African-American Commander-in-Chief. This year's dinner brought with it an entirely new audience. Now, I'm a news geek and have watched the dinner previously on C-Span but I can't tell you how many folks emailed, Tweeted, texted and sent Facebook messages about it -- African-Americans, youth, etc. I know firsthand the rigors of the vetting process for anybody who appears with this POTUS, so, trust me, Wanda Sykes was carefully screened before she got up there clowning Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity.

Sykes was excoriated for "joking" about the 9/11 tragedy and had to defend it. I loved her response to a reporter asking her if she thought 9/11 was funny. She quipped, "No, of course 9/11 isn't funny...but the joke wasn't about 9/11."

Well, exactly.

What Hitchens' and writers like him don't get (he even called her "loud" -- the default criticism by whites scared of Black women...) is that her appearance was part of the larger history and continuum of the role of Black comedians who, in our community, have always been among the most salient griots and soothsayers. Why would Sykes "roast" Pres. Obama when the right already does that everyday? No, this night was about bringing the keen, deeply brilliant and unique insights of an African-American comedian to the fore. Because in somebody's house, on somebody's front porch, at somebody's cookout, Big Mama and Uncle Ray Ray and 'nem have thought something similar about Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and other reactionaries who wake up in the morning thinking about how they can take this uppity negro president of ours down a notch.

So, to Hitchens, I say: Get over it. Or, at least, get used to it. Like the Will.I.Am song says, "It's a new day."

Hit me back, chica.


1 comment: