“If I got one thing against the black chappies, it’s this: no one gives it to ya. Ya have to take it.”
How’s that for two rather different movie quotes to begin a blog post?
The title is Cousin Eddie in a scene from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.
The subsequent one is from Jack Nicholson’s opening monologue in The Departed.
So, did comedian Katt Williams spend his 9 Lives? And was he right or wrong about Mexicans and the fight to take back their land?
In case you don’t know what happened…
Comedian Katt Williams, originally from my hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio, went on a rant in response to a Mexican heckler a few weeks ago.
His press agent issued an apology. I couldn’t find the text of it online. Meaning he’s probably not very good at publicity. Step up your game, son.
Katt then simultaneously apologized and qualified his apology on CNN, basically defending his right to defend America and clarifying that his PR person – not he – issued the apology. He apologized if anyone was hurt but didn’t apologize for what he said onstage, stating that he, as a comedian, cannot do what Tracy Morgan did when he said he was sorry for making anti-gay remarks at a standup show in Nashville (when he said he’d stab his son if he came out as gay), because it’s a comedian’s right to deliver “uncensored thought.” The video is not embeddable.
So, that’s the story. What does the Funny Indian think?
I always research. A good blogger better. When I do, I diverge and diverge into videos and blog posts and news stories and Wikipedia entries. The scope of race relations and an unfolding story (though it seems to have run its course) is far too wide to tackle in one post so, as all writers, I had to stick a pin in it somewhere. Sometimes, I just don’t feel prepared to deliver my thoughts, as was the case with the Tiger Mom. I wrote notes upon notes but decided that I couldn’t in good faith publish it without reading the book. And I never got around to it. And now the news has gone away.
But let’s move from Tigers to Katts. (No, I actually didn’t plan that. And I’m not lion.)
I could give a one-sentence response…
IT’S KATT WILLIAMS!
And that would probably suffice. I mean, c’mon. Are you really gonna take his comments seriously? The man has had meltdown after meltdown off- and onstage, for months.
But I will. Because I’m a comic. And I think comics are smart. And his persona, while grounded in some kind of truth, is exactly that – a persona. Underneath that, he’s a_person. So, here goes:
- Are All Apologies BS? Part of me thinks so. I recall my high school friend, Danny Barry. I’d often do something like knock over his cup or throw his pencil across the room and follow that up with, “I’m sorry.” And you know what Danny would say? “No, you’re not. You’re gonna do it again.” We had that sort of Charlie Brown and Lucy friendship.
And he was right. I totally did it again. That’s why a true apology contains three parts:
- I’m sorry.
- It’s my fault.
- What can I do to make it right?
Most people forget the third part. And that’s the true test. How do you plan on rectifying the situation and do you plan to change your behavior? I do think we can sometimes say things that we truly don’t mean…to be mean. To win an argument. To just shut someone up. And for those things, you can apologize. But no one can truly tell if you’re genuine. Only I know what’s in my heart. It’s like the opposite of niceness as a quality. I don’t get to say that I’m nice. That’s up to others. Remember what the “wizard” said in The Wizard of Oz?
Hey, there’s the lion. Closed the loop. So, others can tell me if I’m nice. But only I can tell you if I’m sincere. Niceness is up to you; sincerity is up to me. Ultimately, however, the authenticity of an apology will be JUDGED in the perception. Did he really mean it? IMHO, I think Michael Richards really does harbor some racist ideas. I don’t think that much hate comes out of you if you don’t have any of it. As South Pacific conveyed to us about racism, “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught.” We live in a racist society so “everyone’s a little bit racist.” (As Avenue Q sang.)
So, I’ve gone from quoting movies to musicals. Glad I’m not Tracy Morgan’s son.
I truly believe that, under the right circumstances, most of us could be Gandhi or Hitler. But I’d say Kramer spewed more vitriol than most of us contain. Quoting a black man in that same montage from The Departed, “they put hate in your heart.” And it just seemed like Kramer has some hate.
In the end, I as a comic will judge you based on whether what you’re saying is true and whether it’s funny. Katt had moments of both. Part of me empathizes with him and with Kramer, as Dave Chappelle summed up brilliantly. As it’s been said, there’s a fine line between genius and madness.
- Moment Before: I learned of this incident from Comedian Loni Love, with whom I will most likely be doing a guest spot this Friday in Cincinnati.
- “Applaud or Boo – Do What You Want To.” So rapped Rob Base. This much we know – the crowd (largely Mexican) mostly cheered Katt. This is the rule – the audience will cheer if it agrees with you; it will boo if it doesn’t. Katt has perhaps the most important jury on his side – the crowd that night at that particular moment.
In fact, Loni and I had quite an interesting discussion on race & politics two months ago at the Comedy & Magic Club in Hermosa Beach, CA. As such, she’ll be appearing on my podcast in the coming weeks, especially since we just reconnected after performing together at San Diego State on 9/2/11. None of these views are explicitly endorsed by her – you’d have to ask her directly. But she did make this point: We don’t know what happened right before the cameras started rolling. What is the context of Katt’s rant? And without this, it’s hard to make a judgment call.
At the same time, Katt went too far. I’ve been heckled. Most comics have and all good comics have. Speaking of juries, it’s part of the trial by fire – you learn to handle yourself. And there are definite DOs and DON’Ts. Katt was right to defend his point and poke fun at the man. But he was wrong to:
- Go on as long as he did.
- Send over his bodyguards to hold the man down while he took his shots.
- Not make amends with him at the end.
- Will to Live: “It isn’t what we don’t know that gives us trouble; it’s what we know that ain’t so.” – Will Rogers. Or, said another way, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” – Sen. Patrick Moynihan. Katt Williams didn’t get his facts straight. The Mexicans did fight for the lands that are now Arizona and California. And Mexico abolished slavery before the U.S. did. So, it’s complicated. But purporting to know more than you do, whether you’re a comic or a heckler or a blogger, is dangerous territory that nobody owns. I heard a comic make one of the most insightful jokes I’ve ever heard and I can’t remember who it was. Was it Chris Rock? Dave Chappelle? Someone else? I don’t know. But it was along the lines of, “To black people, America is like that uncle that put you through college but abused you as a child.” Wow. In other words, America has done a lot for blacks but a lot to blacks, as well. So, when Katt said, “F*ck! We were slaves, bitch. Y’all just work like that at the landscapers, motherf*cker!” he’s talking about how African Americans (before they were even considered full-blooded Americans) literally slaved away for this country. It’s a source of both shame and, in a much more complex way, pride. But again, Mexico outlawed slavery ahead of us. It’s a struggle I’ll never know. And per the discussion that Loni Love and I had at Hermosa, it’s a struggle President Obama doesn’t know either. He’s black but he has no roots in slavery. His father was Kenyan. Different world. The point is… the context is complex.
- Then Go Back: I do agree that people who have loyalty to another nation should go back to that place. I feel the same way about anyone who argues against wherever he lives. We used to have that debate at Case Western Reserve University. A strong contingent of us from Cincinnati constantly raved about how much better it is than Cleveland. But the northerners always shut us down with, “Well, you’re here in Cleveland, right?” They won. End of discussion. We were having the fight on their turf. If Cincinnati is so great, then go back to school there. (Which I did.) Recently, I wrote about how weird it is that we pledge allegiance to a flag. Really? Them’s pretty big words for a 5-year-old. But that’s how seriously we take indoctrinating our youth. Patriotism run amok is xenophobia. And pride is one of the seven deadly sins. So, everything in moderation – even moderation. One thing that has always driven me crazy is that some nations get the special designation of dual citizenship. To me, that’s grossly unfair. How can you pledge allegiance to two different countries? But the powers-that-be decided that. Just as THEY decide to keep the little man fighting. Coke vs. Pepsi. Democrats vs. Republicans. Mac vs. PC. So, go on, dorks. Debate each other all day on how you have a better operating system with Leopard or Tiger (hey, more cats!) than your “enemy” does with Windows Office. Because Bill Gates has a lot more in common with Steve Jobs than you do. They’re laughing all the way to the country club while you and your minions do their work for them. There’s really not that much of a difference. They want us to fight for 3rd place. Blacks vs. Mexicans vs. Latinos vs. Asians. Go ahead and argue. Cleveland vs. Cincinnati. (And we Californians will just sit back and laugh it up. Yes, “we” Californians. Hey, it’s not where you’re from – it’s where you choose to live.) The point of that tangent is just to make us realize that as long as we focus on our differences and not our similarities, THEY win and WE lose, no matter who THEY are – black or white. (And, by the way, they are black. Now that President Obama is in office, it’s truly the Powers-That-Be, not the Powers-That-Are. So, there’s that.)
- Uncensored Thought: I support Katt’s comment on CNN that he, as a comedian, stands for “uncensored thought.” I agree. Standup is the last bastion of honesty in a society. But as a standup, I’m a bus driver. The audience is all on my bus. And it will enjoy the ride as long as it looks like I’m in control. I stay in control by not yelling or swearing. Even a dirty comic has got to clean up his act during a heckler response – or be so focused that the words are a machine gun and not a spreader – or the audience will just decide that you’ve lost it. So, as Dre or Madonna would encourage you to do, Express Yourself. But be respectful and in-charge. Katt let the situation overpower him. Again, to quote Nicholson from the same speech, “I don’t want to be a product of my environment. I want my environment to be a product of me.” Then again, for the most part, Katt had the crowd on his side. I wasn’t there. You weren’t there. They were. And for most intents and purposes, the Katt came out of the bag O.K.
Hey, at the Las Vegas Improv in July, I had a former Ohio State offensive lineman (and he was offensive) heckle the heck out of me. But I let him get me. Then I zinged him back amidst applause. And when he asked me if I wanted to “come down here and say that,” I replied, ~”Yeah. That’s a fair fight. Dude, I’m a comedian. I fight with words. You’re what? An O-LINEMAN? I won’t take those odds.” And at the end of my response, I made up with him. I forgot if I bonded with him over being fellow Ohioans or what, but I did iron it out and get him on my side. The video is too grainy to tell whether the Mexican man is smiling or fighting, but what Katt did was eviscerate and intimidate the man to the point of humiliation. And sending over your dogs to hold him down while you punch him in the face is something that a-hole in Boiler Room does. It’s a bitch move.