Nobody knows the ignorance Vince Morris has seen. But show up for the S.E.L.L.O.U.T. Comedy Tour and you'll get some idea.
After Morris and fellow comics Louis Johnson, Billy D. Washington and B.T. each do 12-15 minutes of standup, the show ends with a 20- to 30-minute segment called "Ask a Black Man Anything," in which they read questions submitted by audience members.
In a sample YouTube clip (www.youtube.com/watch?v=dYp-fyTXkkw), the questions included, "Do you guys have an extra muscle that makes you run faster?" "How do you deal with black guys who have strong prejudice against white guys?" "Arabs are quickly rising to the top of the most-hated list. What are you going to do to make sure you stay on top?"
Some of the questions are facetious, to be sure. But sometimes people really want to know.
Morris said the segment is designed to generate laughs, provide some information and demonstrate that the four men on stage are serious, educated, laughing, learning, outrageous, unique and talented individuals.
A Columbus, Ohio, native, Morris started doing standup more than 20 years ago. He honed his craft at the Funny Bone there, and then took it on the road. These days, he divides his time between the Columbus area (where he lives) and Los Angeles (where he works frequently) because he doesn't want his 5-month-old daughter to grow up in Los Angeles.
"L.A. is a hell of a city," he said in a telephone interview. "I wouldn't recommend it if you have a soul."
Here's more of what he had to say.
NUVO: One thing I noticed about your comedy is that you get as much applause as you do laughs - maybe even more. If you had to choose, would you rather get laughs or have the audience saying, "Damn right!"
Morris: It depends on the material I'm doing and what I'm trying to get across at that moment. I'm able to switch gears. Whether it's a social set or a political set or a family-oriented set or a sexual set or a racial set, I know how they're going to react. Some sets they're going "damn right" and some sets they're laughing and not thinking as much. I used to ignore that, but now I try to embrace that more.
NUVO: How did the S.E.L.L.O.U.T. tour come together?
Morris: Billy D. Washington put the tour together. All four of us have been accused of being a sellout because we don't do the things perceived as black or urban. Does it make B.T. a sellout because he loves rock music and NASCAR and wrestling? Does it make Billy D. a sellout because he plays the piano and loves poetry? Does it make Louis a sellout because he's a family man who's put his two kids through college? Am I a sellout because I'm an advocate for black people to do better in life and have a biracial child - what I like to call a presidential candidate?
We call ourselves the Black Pack. Our motto is "Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken."
NUVO: Where did the "Ask a Black Man Anything" segment come from?
Morris: "Ask a Black Man" was something I was doing separately in my own act for many years. I would do that to get the crowd rolling and get a feel for who was out there in the audience. That was a fun little exercise for me to do because it was impromptu. The questions were coming from the audience and everyone was in the moment. I thought maybe that would be a great thing to add to this tour as an awareness tool.
It's anonymous now. Before the show starts, we pass out questionnaires and you, as an audience member, write down your questions. We get a lot of sexual material, but it's anything you want to ask. It's the funniest part of the show. The questions range from the most mundane to unbelievably ignorant. We hear stuff that's funny, that's sad, that's interesting, that's serious. But the best thing is that we answer the questions. And we don't always have the same answers.
NUVO: I'd like to think that since you're four different guys, you'll have four different opinions. It's like when people talk about "the black community," I always think, what community is that? That's suggesting that all black people think the same way.
Morris: That's how we've been raised. You say "this community" or "that community." It's kind of true, but it's not kind of true.
What we're trying to do is point out stereotypes in our own community. A majority of black people have a definition of what they think black is. Just because you as a black man or woman don't necessarily show them that, they think you're "selling out." You like to surf? You like rock music? That's not black. I'm like, what the hell does that mean? Your mind is so narrow that you're actually holding yourself down with these limitations of what you think black is.
I guess it's also for white people who may think one way about what black people are. Unfortunately, there are still people on this Earth who have a narrow-minded view. Whether it's because they don't take the time to look or they've never met [a black person], it's sad. But it's true.
I'm tired of people saying, "People are people." People aren't people. I know a lot of people. Some people are assholes, some people are nice, some people are drug addicts, some people are fathers. We are all different. We are not the same. So this is a fun way to let society know, hey, don't lump us all into one category.
NUVO: What are a couple of typical questions?
Morris: Anything from sexual questions to "Now that Obama's in office, do you think racism won't be as prevalent?" Or "Do all blacks really drink Kool-Aid?" "My father told me black people don't drink lemonade." Those kinds of questions.
Because it's anonymous, people get a chance to ask the questions they really want to ask without feeling like they're being offensive. They really want to know; they just don't know how to ask because they don't want somebody to say, "That's stupid," or, "What's wrong with you?"
It's funny, it's deep and it's serious. Whatever. We've got responses to it.
NUVO: Was that lemonade question a real question?
Morris: It was a real question, yeah. We get asked thousands of questions. We're in the process of writing a book about it. I have bags and bags and bags of questions we've gotten over the years. I'm going to reach my hand in a bag right now and pull out a question. (Reading from cards) "Is it true your cocks don't grow from an erection, they just get hard?" "Is it true once a woman goes black, she never goes back?" "Why do black men cheat and lie when they get caught?"
NUVO: Because white guys don't cheat and lie when they get caught?
Morris: Absolutely. That's how we go into it. No, white guys would never lie and cheat. "Why do black women call their boyfriend 'Baby Daddy' and children 'Boo'?" "Do all black men and women have rhythm?" "Is it true that black guys only date white girls because they're easier to get along with than black women?" "Why are you so afraid of dogs?" "When you were born, were you already on parole?"
We read all the questions. We don't answer them all, but we read them so people know what kind of people they're sitting next to. They need to be read because it shows you how far we have - and have not - come.
More on the other comics
BT (Brandon Terrell) hails from the town of Muskogee, Okla. His first taste of standup comedy came during his college years at University of Oklahoma, and he has pursued it since, living in Chicago and Dallas before settling down in Los Angeles.
BT's high energy comedy has landed him performances in over 43 states and three countries, as well as parts in HBO's movie Suckers
and Sci-Fi Channel's Black Scorpion
. His first standup DVD special, I'm Not Black Enough
, was released in September 2007.
Check out BT at his Web site, www.btrox.com.
Louis Johnson is no stranger to the world of comedy, having been featured at the Las Vegas Comedy Festival and the New Orleans Comedy Festival as well as U.S.O. World Comedy Break Tours. His television resume includes projects with Comedy Central, A&E, B.E.T. and Showtime, on which he had his own Comic of the Month special.
Not only is he a crowd pleaser, winning Showtime's phone-in vote for Funniest Person in America, he is a press pleaser, winning acclaim from news organizations across the country. The Rocky Mountain News
describes Johnson as a comedian that "has the ability to wander into tough subjects and still get a laugh," and the Denver Post
states, "Johnson is a polished performer with dynamic delivery."
Learn more at www.comedianlouisjohnson.com.
Billy D. Washington
Revered as one of America's most versatile comedians, Billy D. Washington has a smooth comedy style filled with class. This former Houston, Texas, policeman has taken his comedy show across the country, performing at the Montreal and Aspen Comedy Festivals and HBO's Def Comedy Jam.
Washington made the leap from the stage to your television screen with multiple appearances on HBO and VH1. Washington has also been a guest on Comedy Central's standup show, Premium Blend
, and was on Last Comic Standing
Washington is a musician as well as a comedian, and often incorporates his piano skills into his comedy shows.
Learn more at www.billydwashington.com.