It’s cool to be an intelligent, slightly geeky person of color. But that’s not usually the impression one gets from pop culture, where Steve Urkel and Carlton Banks are still the prevailing images of African American nerds. So, where are all the cool nerds of color? UrbanFaith columnist Jelani Greenidge shares his list of some of the most positive nerdy role models from TV and film. And, don’t worry, Urkel and Carlton are not included.
But while people are obsessing over privacy, my question is: Where’s my check?
The more I hear about the recent changes to Facebook the more irritated I get, mostly because I haven’t received my check yet. What check?
Listen, Mark Zuckerberg owes me something.
Let me explain. I’m not one of those people who are waiting for their handout from “the man” and I’ve never expected that I’d see my 40 acres and a mule. But I do understand one thing about the new economy: if you can deliver the right potential customers (leads) to advertisers, they will pay you for the service. And the more information you can collect about a person’s interests and buying habits, the better you are able to match that person up with advertisers, and the more money you will make.
This is not a new concept — over the past hundred years or so the advertising industry has made demographics a science. Search providers like Google, Bing, and Yahoo take it to the next level. Ever search for a new car and then notice that some of the display ads that you run across later in the day are new car ads for that same brand you searched for? Google calls this “retargeting” and advertisers are happy to pay for it.
Facebook, on the surface, is like a huge community center where your friends and family get together and share stuff that you like. Did you know that 4 percent of all photos are on Facebook? OK, I’ll wait while you read that sentence again. I’m not talking about 4 percent of photos taken last year, I mean 4 percent of all photos EVER TAKEN. So that community center is HUGE. And while I’m sharing songs and photos on Facebook, they’re taking notes. They know my favorite TV shows and movies, my hobbies, the last book I read . . . they know me almost as well as my wife. All of this information (which I’ve freely shared; no one held a gun to my head) has value.
I recently visited Facebook (and let’s not kid ourselves, it was 60 seconds ago; what can I say? I’m an addict). Amidst the status updates and Farmville accomplishments from my middle school classmates, I see an ad for Klipsch speakers. I like Klipsch — I’m even a fan of their page. I’m not offended or annoyed by the ad, and I’m actually more inclined to click on it simply because I’m interested in it and like the product. Facebook uses the information I provide to show me ads that I would be interested in. So as a target consumer I am pure gold to the company. And I hear that Zuckerberg guy’s got, like, a million dollars. You see where I’m going with this? I want some of that!
“But,” you say, “Facebook is free! Look at the benefit you get from it! Why are you so greedy?” Well, being broke makes me greedy, but that’s a philosophical discussion for another time. My point is that Mark Zuckerberg should be paying me.
Mr. Z, I need to get paid based on the amount of personal information I provide to Facebook. Sharing my hobbies? Three . . . no, five bucks each. You want to know what cars I would maybe like to test drive? I’ll let you know for twenty-five. And I’d better see some serious coin, otherwise I’ll clam up like a . . . clam.
And the real power’s in numbers. Facebook doesn’t care about you as an individual; they simply want to be able to deliver thousands of interested eyeballs to their advertisers. So, the only way that this will succeed is that you, dear reader, have to work with me . . . tell your friends, tell your family . . . post this to your status. If enough of us post, Mark Zuckerberg won’t have any choice but to cut us a check!
Otherwise, we can all just migrate over to Google+, wherehow to make money off of us.
The top story in politics from this past weekend was the gathering of GOP candidates at the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans. But the main topic of conversation around water coolers on Monday morning wasn’t what the candidates said but what was said about them on Saturday night by an intrepid Barack Obama impersonator. After delivering jokes aimed squarely at President Obama, the Faux-bama suddenly appeared to (forgive us, Mrs. Palin) “go rogue” with sharp zingers aimed at the GOP contenders. It was at this point that the performer’s microphone fell silent, and he was abruptly escorted from the stage.
An equal opportunity comedian, Reggie Brown is undaunted by the criticism from multiple regarding his performance, and particularly the race jokes he shared during his act. UrbanFaith news and religion editor Christine Scheller spoke to Brown by phone Tuesday afternoon. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
URBAN FAITH: Have you ever had this kind of response before to one of your performances?
REGGIE BROWN: No, this the beginning. This has been amazing.
What’s your reaction?
I love it. It was an opportunity to get in front of a huge audience. When I first got the invitation, I was extremely excited to come down and speak at the leadership conference. … I’ve been building a reputation in the corporate world, with speakers bureaus and other private events, but for the most part, a lot of America didn’t really know who I was yet, and this gave me the opportunity to get out there. I did my job, did my material. From what I’ve heard, everyone thought I did it very, very well, including pretty much everyone at the conference who came up [to me afterwards]. I’ve been getting thousands of fan mails and new subscribers. Even the organizers thanked me and told me I did a great job.
In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, it sounded like the Republican Leadership Conference president sold you out. He said he would have pulled you sooner and had no tolerance for racially insensitive jokes. What did you think about that?
I don’t even want to touch that. People are intelligent enough to know when I delivered the jokes and when I was pulled. That was in the beginning of my material and it wasn’t until later when I brought up the candidates that I was pulled off the stage. From what they told me, I was over my time.
Do you get more gigs with Republican organizations than with Democratic ones?
So far, yeah. I think I have worked more for Republican parties than Democrat, but I work with Tim Waters, who was the number one Clinton impersonator and he said during [Clinton’s] reign, he found that to be true also. He said, “You’ll always find the opposing party hires you more.”
There was some debate about your race jokes in African American media outlets. What do you think about that?
My mother’s white and my father’s black, so I would have that in common with the president and I wouldn’t do anything towards any race to set them back … For my jokes to be called racist initially by a lot of reviews that came out, it’s absolutely ridiculous.
I thought they were done in a tasteful manner. It’s nothing I would have felt ashamed with if I was in that audience and someone said it. I don’t think the president took offense to it. He actually cracked jokes at the Correspondent’s Dinner referring to his background. When he opens a door on a topic, that opens it for me as well.
I don’t ever want to offend anyone in my material. Basically what I do is bring humor to situations. That’s comedy. I think it was one individual who made that statement. The media took it and started running with it. I urge people to watch the full appearance. I felt that I did well and everyone else pretty much has too.
Do you feel like you can’t win doing race jokes as a biracial person or can you address the topic from both angles?
I can address things from both sides, especially nowadays, it’s more common for people to be biracial and mixed. … I know it was tough for my mom to raise me in the neighborhood we grew up in, especially taking us to certain pools and doing things like that. Now it’s just becoming more widely accepted and that’s a beautiful thing.
Do you have any tips for a comedian trying to work a tough room?
You just need to know your audience. I performed at a comedy club in Times Square really late one night, doing my political jokes and a lot of the material that normally kills fell flat, but it was because at 1:00 in the morning at a comedy club, most of them wanted to hear the F-bombs being dropped and I came with really witty political humor. I didn’t do too well. I got off stage and saw the next couple comedians, and immediately they’re like eff this, eff that, and everyone was rolling on the floor. So, you just have to know your audience and anticipate what they want.
Did the Republican Leadership Conference audience laugh less at the Republican jokes than at the race jokes as reported?
That audience was awesome. They were amazing. That’s why the performance was so good. As a performer, for the most part, doing what I do, you gain off the energy. After I got pulled, they were coming up to me, [saying], “Why’d they pull you off the stage? You were the best part of the conference for me.” … They were great. Even when I was getting the oohs and ahhs, I was still getting a strong reaction.”
On your website, it says you offer clean comedy for corporate events. Is that qualifier based on anything in particular?
Basically, it’s the character protection. There are other guys out there trying to do the Obama character and they’re doing it in ways that I feel are disrespectful, not only to the president, but to … I’m not even going to go there, but I just don’t agree with what they’re doing. There’s a YouTube video of this guy drinking 40s and smoking joints as the president. That’s ridiculous. That does nothing for the progression of comedy in my mind. For comedy to be funny, it’s gotta’ be witty, intelligent, and have something behind it. That’s what we do.
Are you primarily a clean comedian even when you’re not doing the Obama character?
Yeah, for the most part. I’m an actor first and foremost, so I would accept roles that aren’t necessarily clean. Sometimes in my material as myself, I tend to keep it PG-13, but I’m not one of those guys that goes out there and just swears, swears, swears. It’s gotta have some intelligence behind it and some motivation behind it.
What are you up to next?
A surprise appearance at a major sporting event on Thursday, but we have tons of bookings coming in. … Most of the time, I’m a surprise guest so I can’t really reveal where I’ll be, but you’ll be seeing a lot more of me very soon.
The Daily Show‘s Jon Stewart is known for political satire that skewers both the right and left, but his recent skit featuring a vulgarity-spewing gospel choir raises lots of troubling questions. The first one: why isn’t the church more outraged?
Among other things, the NBA star’s troubles offer this sobering reminder: An occasional joke is okay, but don’t quit your day job.
Washington Wizards basketball star Gilbert Arenas was recently suspended by the NBA because of a practical joke involving several unloaded handguns, a joke that he played on a teammate who was angry over an unpaid gambling debt. Consequently, Arenas was hit with a gun charge, to which he pleaded guilty, and now his contract with the Wizards appears on the verge of termination.
Clearly, the joke didn’t go over that well.
Nevertheless, Gilbert Arenas is a genuinely funny guy, and I hope that somehow, despite the fallout over his recent transgressions, he doesn’t lose his sense of humor.
See, humor is a funny thing.
In one sense, it’s a basic human need, a notch or two below the need for food, clothing, and shelter. This is why sitcoms and comedians are so popular. As people, we don’t just love to laugh, we need to laugh. Humor is a critical way that we humans express shared meaning and make sense of the world, and it exists at the convergence of our intellect and emotions.
Unfortunately, this makes the concept of funny mysterious and hard to pin down. It often depends on context, which is why sometimes it’s so hard to relay a funny joke from one situation into another. So many factors can change the equation so many times, that a joke that sparks a bout of side-splitting laughter here might only elicit a chorus of yawns there — or worse, an avalanche of boos.
This problem has plagued many comedians over the years, especially White entertainers who complain of an unfair double standard regarding ethnic slurs. Many White folks in general have cited, from the annals of Black pop culture, example after example of things said by Blacks that if said by a White person would be denounced as racist.
So it’s with more than a little schadenfreude that pundits and commentators of almost every persuasion have emerged from the woodwork to pontificate on the subject of fallen-NBA-star Arenas and his recent incident involving handguns in the locker room. Like Caesar, they come not to praise Arenas, but to bury him under a cloud of suspicion.
This wholesale denunciation is problematic.
Much has been saidof Arenas’s quirky, practical-joking “Agent Zero” persona. And I agree with those who have detected a racialized difference in the and coverage of this and incidents like it, proof of the NBA’s in mainstream America. Both the NFL and MLB have been dogged by far more police blotter activity, particularly as it relates to violent crime and drug abuse, yet neither is tagged as routinely as the NBA is as a “ .”
Furthermore, too little has been said about the reason why Arenas had the guns in the locker room in the first place, which, according to reports, was because he didn’t feel comfortable with them coexisting with his children at home. This seems, on the face of things, to be a responsible decision.
But all of that is beside the point.
The real travesty is that Gilbert Arenas earned all the penalties levied against him because he failed to grasp a rather obvious truth: In life, not everything is a joke.
Inveterate pranksters often use humor as a defense mechanism to mask their insecurity. Arenas’s story — abandoned by his mother and raised by his father, whom he didn’t meet until he was 3 years old — is filled with the kind of personal pathos that can inspire insecurity and fear of rejection. Not only has Arenas fit this pattern throughout his career, but after the gun incident went public he actually admitted in his Twitter feed — boasted, really — that he never takes anything seriously.
This quality often makes him an engaging interview subject, but in this case, it clearly impaired his judgment.
How do we know this?
Because with even a modicum of awareness, he would have noticed the following:
• Guns are often involved in violent crimes, which are often perpetrated by, and thus associated with, young Black men
• The NBA is a league dominated by young Black men
• The NBA has, for the last few years, been trying to recover from a series of scandals that have generated a lot of negative publicity
• The D.C. team used to be known as the Washington Bullets, but the general public decided the name was in bad taste, considering the District’s notoriously high murder rate
• Not coincidentally, The District of Columbia has some of the strictest gun laws in the country
All of this, and still …
Not only did Arenas not have the sense to ask a team official about how to properly deal with his guns, not only did he not have the sense to realize that guns and practical jokes don’t belong in the same sentence, but even after he did these things and they became public knowledge, he didn’t have the sense to apologize or show any genuine form of contrition outside of a statement drafted by his attorney.
I think Gilbert Arenas defaulted to his normal response to everything, which is to turn it into a joke and hope it goes away.
This time, it just didn’t work.
Now, I’m not saying that he should lose his job over this. Some punishments, though understandable and legally permissible, are still excessive — like the guy who was.
Plus, this will remain as a stain on Arenas’s reputation. As such, Gil will probably continue to feel misunderstood as he tries to put his career back together. Like many talented Black men with chips on their shoulders, he might be tempted to adopt a me-against-the-world mentality.
“Only God can judge me,” goes the typical ‘hood refrain. This could become his mantra.
But I hope not.
Likewise, I hope he doesn’t lose his sense of humor altogether. Maybe one day he’ll crack open a Bible, find Proverbs 26:18-19, and learn to use discernment when cracking jokes. And maybe he’ll discover Romans 13:1, and learn to receive correction from authority more gracefully.
Maybe, as part of his NBA penance, he’ll end up in a public service announcement about the dangers of practical jokes.
Now that would be funny.
Photo of Gilbert Arenas by Keith Allison from Wikipedia.