Last week there was a pool party in Los Angeles explicitly for black comedy folk. As a means to foster a focus, we were discouraged from bringing non-black friends, significant others or plus ones. The result was a cathartic, emotional release for something I’ve never had and didn’t know I was missing.
It’s amazing how tranquil it is to not worry about race. Like, night and day difference. Black and white. Even if you can’t turn a racial awareness off completely, it’s nice to lower the dimmer.
I reached peak aesthetic: plopped on the edge of a pool, petting a Boston terrier as he skipped around the outskirts, vibing on unfamiliar rap, drinking surprisingly delicious non-alcoholic champagne out of a red SOLO. I was also four hours removed from four days in Las Vegas, jet-lagged and sleep deprived, prolonging a long awaited reunion with my fiancée and dog to hang with relative strangers. And my social anxiety would flair and conversations would peter awkwardly. I couldn’t avoid the flashes of panic that I left my phone out begging to be stolen and I’m too insecure to take my shirt off and submerge myself in the pool. Yet, at my best, on a breezy and shiny day like only Los Angeles knows, I was at peace, comfortably black, mindful in melanin.
Black people in comedy are my totem. Black, gifted with a sensitivity to humor, gifted with some level of excellence or effectiveness, some shared culture, maybe some shared experiences, echoing and amplifying my purpose by simple proximity. Comedians who span from giving me guidance at my first open mic to an anonymous greeting, a nod, miles from where I began. Who, when feeling overmatched and outnumbered in white spaces, are—mutually, hopefully—the most reassuring presence. Everything is understated and understood. I only have to introduce myself or reconnect, reach out.
We don’t interface everyday. Some relationships are complicated, superficial, strained or broken. We can be absent from each other for months and years. Black comedy people, magical individuals that I love, artists who I have the most in common with, are still people. We’re all flawed. They can’t or won’t help solve my expansive and intricate internal/external/existential crises. It wouldn’t even occur to ask them to. Black comedy people aren’t a solution. Thank God.
It’s a blessing to come together and still be autonomous. Something that without the stifling, end-all-be-all magnitude that church or social groups attempts or purports to be. Important to engage with no strings attached to my soul or clout or “the struggle”. I don’t need a Soul Train line that ends in a personalized dap, followed by a hot dog, a rap cipher and a writing job offer. It would be disingenuous to attempt to formally interact with everyone or anticipate an earth shattering experience every time there’s eye contact. I don’t need to know everyone or be known by everybody. I don’t need to be seen by anyone but those whom already do. I don’t need to measure my past or process my feelings or reconcile my blackness. I don’t need to know that hit song, say the funniest joke or know how to play dominos.
I just need, every once in awhile, moments where I don’t need to code switch and double speak. It’s a burden feeling heavy while pretending an airiness to make others feel comfortable. Sometimes I need laughs without weird power dynamics. There’s a yearning to see happy, comfortable, funny black folks, to hear allusions to projects in one ear and someone mocking networking in the other, to witness community building, to meet a couple who met on SoulSwipe, to ask for clarity about culture, to infer vernacular, to acknowledge that the event is “nice”, without wondering what that means or if my “nice” is subpar by comparison.
Those moments unconsciously confirm “you’re not crazy”, that this comedy shit is hard, harder than it needs to be, harder than you know others have it. It’s not a debate. Not even a discussion. Black comedy people don’t play devil’s advocate or remain cautiously on the surface. They don’t have a guilty conscious or a tone deaf defensiveness, at least in terms of “black” and “comedy”. Any differences in our identity, that are vast or inconsequential. only matter interpersonally or in solitude. Collectively we are enough. And I am too.