It's only recently that I've taken a sincere interest in stand-up comedy, although I've always been a huge fan of Eddie Izzard, Mitch Hedberg and Mike Birbiglia. I'd heard of Wyatt Cenac, but knew as much about him as I did the other two performers. Cenac walked onstage in military green and a smart little cap. I've heard him referred to on the Daily Show as its "Senior Black Correspondent," and his ironic coverages of the Obama campaign interspersed over the past several months have spiced up the show. On Friday, my favorite bit was his brief take on gay marriage:
"When I was growing up, my uncle told me that there was nobody more powerful than a white man. So, wouldn't TWO white men be simply unstoppable?"
He did have one bit on dating a Jewish girl that left a weird taste in my mouth:
I should mention that this followed up a particularly funny bit about how sad it is that all the words that begin with the letter N can never lay claim as "the N-word," save the racial slur. I should also mention that the reason I felt weird about the Jewish-American-Princess bit is that it (at times) rings true. I am proud to say that I have never been that girl, nor was the term "JAP" ever part of my vocabulary. However, I have heard the term being used more than once, with a hint of pride, and it made me a bit sick to my stomach.
The summer I turned 16, I had the unbelievable opportunity to spend 6 weeks in Israel. I had just completed a Confirmation class through the local synagogue, and qualified for a modest scholarship to travel with a Jewish youth organization for the summer. It was, without comparison, the best summer I've ever had, partially because it triggered a series of personal epiphanies. One of these was the discovery of the word "Jap," and an intense disgust for the subculture that it brews. The first time I heard it, I was one of about five hundred teenagers backpacking through the Negev Desert. We met a few Israelis, and one or two Arab farmers, but for the most part, the land was pristine, lush in an almost Biblical way. And somehow I felt myself separating more and more from the group of girls with whom I was assigned to travel--the ones who complained about dust and applied makeup over mountain streams.
"Oh, I'm such a Jap!" I remember one of them giggling.
"What is that supposed to mean?" I asked her.
"Oh, you know what a Jap is, you silly," said her friend.
"I know what I think it is, and it's not a good thing," I said.
They both sighed. "Jewish American Princess! Hello!" And then they laughed, kept walking.
Fast forward almost ten years, and I felt a slight chill during Cenac's performance. He's right about many things, and that's why it's important to hear it as comedy. For some reason, hearing the same bit by a white comedian would feel anti-Semitic somehow, but knowing that he himself finds himself representing a minority, whether or not he likes it, makes it better somehow. More real, more meaty, and funnier all around.
One thing's for sure, though: I'm nobody's princess, thank you very much.