2016
11.12

Quote from The Sellout

Daddy told his jokes the same way he’d ordered pizza, written poetry, and written his doctoral thesis—in APA format. Following the standards of the American Psychological Association, he’d toddle onstage and open up with the oral equivalent of a Title Page. Stating his name and the title of the joke. Yes, his jokes had titles. “This joke is called ‘Racial and Religious Differences in Drinking Establishment Patronage.’” Then he’d deliver the Abstract of the joke. So instead of simply saying, “A rabbi, a priest, and a black guy walk into a bar,” he’d say, “The subjects of this joke are three males, two of whom are clergymen, one of the Jewish faith, the other an ordained Catholic minister. The religion of the African-American respondent is undetermined, as is his educational level. The setting for the joke is a licensed establishment where alcohol is served. No, wait. It’s a plane. I’m sorry, my mistake. They are going parachuting.” Finally, he’d clear his throat, stand too close to the mike, and deliver what he liked to call “The Main Body” of the joke. Comedy is war. When a comedian’s routine works, they’ve killed; if the bits fall flat, they refer to it as dying. My father didn’t die onstage. He martyred himself for that other unrecognized completely unfunny black man who, just as there must be extraterrestrial life, is out there somewhere. I’ve seen self-immolations that were funnier than my father’s routine, but there were no gongs to ring or oversized canes with which to pull him offstage. He’d just ignore the booing and segue from the punch line to the Conclusion. The Results of the joke were a smattering of coughing. A chorus of vocalized disapproval and a plethora of yawning found to be significant. He’d end with the joke’s Reference Section:

“Jolson, Al (1918). ‘Sambo and Mammy Cleared for Takeoff on Runaway 5,’ Ziegfeld Follies.

“Williams, Bert (1917). ‘If Niggers Could Fly,’ The Circuitous Chitterling Tour.

“The Unknown Minstrel (circa 1899). ‘Dem Vaudeville Peckerwoods Sho’ Am Stealing My Shit,’ The Semi-Freemason Hall, Cleveland, Ohio.

“And don’t forget to tip your waitress.”

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