Pass the Cornbread: Comedy, Culture and Collard Greens by Jasmine West

Before I dive in and baptize us all in Oprah’s collard green juice, I feel it is important that you the reader, trust me. It is not my aim to point my finger and accuse non-people of color of being the enemy. Nor do I desire to hurt feelings or make others feel uncomfortable. Oh, and I am in no way THE spokesperson for minorities (I feel that I have to give that disclaimer or else I’ll be dragged to the depths of the sunken place). I’m just trying to start a conversation, you know, the way you do when you’re finally able to sit at the grown folks table at thanksgiving.

If you are a minority reader, I hope you find this blog series useful and encouraging. You’re not alone when someone makes a very obscure Chevy Chase reference and your entire team laughs and gawks at you for not getting it (been there). You’re not alone when someone decides to place an improv scene in an uncomfortable time period (let's say 1950) and in an even more uncomfortable place (I don’t know, let’s say maybe a bus) and you feel like you can't step out and join the scene. You totally can by the way, been there, done that and it turned out awesome. Dear minority reader, the discomfort that is a byproduct of choosing to do comedy is ok to feel and does not make you sensitive.

If you’re not a minority, I trust that if you are still reading you consider yourself an ally. If you don’t consider yourself an ally of POC (I say to thee good riddance, Felicia). If you are indeed an ally, feel free to use this blog as a tool. You have a lot more power than you may think. There are small things you can do to make sure your fellow minority feels as though you, “have their back”. Don't worry, we’ll explore your options.

Photo credit: Bonnie Criss

Photo credit: Bonnie Criss

Starting a conversation about race, especially the role it plays in comedy is essential to bringing any community closer together. This blog is for you the reader, regardless of your ethnic background.

Here’s the tea; as a minority, choosing to pursue comedy opens the door to micro aggressions, insensitivity towards race and sometimes blatant racism. For POC (people of color), this should not discourage you from pursuing comedy. I found Dallas Comedy House in 2018 and knew I had found my home. I was the only black person in my improv classes until level 3. Between levels 1 and 3 I had experienced small moments of discomfort and awkwardness centered around my race. I was fortunate enough to find many allies amongst the teachers and staff at Dallas Comedy House. My Ewing coach, David Allison encouraged me to unapologetically allow my cultural background to be present in my scenes. The conversation was brief, but life changing to my comedy. Having David actively encourage me to embrace my race and being told I had nothing to apologize for was eye opening. It sparked something inside of me that made me want to celebrate my culture onstage and lead by example.

As we continue to dive deeper into the conversation, you can expect to gain insight on common scenarios that arise in comedy centered around race. From being the only minority on the stage to navigating racism (regardless of your race) when it makes a grand entrance into your scene and attempts to steal the show the way Kanye attempted to steal the 2009 VMA awards. I’ll hold your hand as we delve into the science that is micro aggression and explore what it looks like to truly be an ally. The objective is simply to start the conversation. It’s one thing to want diversity, it's another to take action towards making it a reality. Taking action means not only taking your seat at the table but initiating conversation once you’ve placed that napkin in your lap. If you want a slice of the cornbread, you must be willing to ask for it. Once you’ve tasted the carb heavy, warm-buttered goodness that is cornbread, pass it to your neighbor. This is how change begins.

 

Jasmine West is currently enrolled in level six of Improv at Dallas Comedy House and member of the former Ewing Improv team, ‘Mahogany’. You may have also seen her Stand Up comedy here and there. She enjoys champagne, fangirling over David Bowie, and talking about race. She looks to Michelle Obama, Phoebe Robinson and Beyoncé for spiritual guidance.