The ABCs of Prose Wit

A. If you’re a brown man like me then you’ve been cringing for some time. No, this is not about NAFTA.

Allow me to explain.

B. I’m not the typical brown guy you’re thinking of. I’m not the brown guy who grabs you another set of silverware when your four-year-old flings everything off the table. Or grabs you another napkin because your girlfriend just casually threw up her appetizers into hers. I’m not the brown guy who oversees your brownstone renovations in Clinton Hill or your bungalow repairs in Echo Park and speaks slightly better English than the other brown guys who are tearing down the wall between the kitchen and the living room because—let’s be real for a moment—kitchens are more inviting if they’re open. I’m also not the brown guy with the leaf blower on his back. And I’m not the brown guy whose wife pushes your kid around in an SUV stroller while you and your wife (or husband) walk beside her. Nope, I’m none of those brown guys. I’m that brown guy’s son. I know I’m his son because my clothes are more expensive, I watch porn on a laptop, I have health insurance, and because when I’m unemployed, I call it freelancing.

C. As I was saying, I’m totally cringing all the time now because my white friends keep getting called out on their “privilege.” Especially my white male friends. Ack! And I’m just racked with cringe about it because, well, that shit is awkward. Privilege shaming used to be reserved for white bankers, white heirs to fortunes, white Matt Damon, and brown Michelle Malkin. But now it seems that none of my white friends are safe. (Sorry, Judd Apatow.) Left and right they’re being assailed by angry [insert any color but white here] people. On the subway, on Twitter, in the video booths at sex shops. Nowhere are they safe. And I don’t think it’s fair.

Now, hold up, angry mob of [insert every color but white here] people! “Apologist!” you must be thinking.

C2. Not at all. It’s not that I don’t stand in solidarity with you. It’s just that in the process of trying to fit into this world and get my piece of the pie, I’ve befriended a slew of white people, many of whom are just freaking awesome. And I feel bad for them, especially the guys, because they truly, swear-to-God didn’t meant it that way. Any of it. It’s all being taken out of context, blown out of proportion, and misconstrued, in a “C’mon, lemme clarify over a drink” sorta way. Of particular concern: my liberal humorist buddies.

C-3PO. Who now?

D. You know, the guys on campus that ran/run the satirical magazine and the improv group. And now run everything that passes for funny: Saturday Night Live, Big Bang Theory, cable news, Game of Thrones—sorry, but I’m calling bull on myself, mid-ascent. Those are easy targets. How can the dude in charge of the McSweeney’s pub and literary empire possibly be tarred and feathered for only publishing white people if he only knows white people? And white stories. And white decorum. And white absurdity. And white detachment. See? Not. His. Fault. Shame on you, angry bird, for suggesting otherwise. Funny white guys are just playin’ da game. They ain’t crafted da rules. Plus: There’s Rachel Bloom.

E. Anyway, I feel especially bad about all the flack my insanely funny white friends are getting because they’re doing their best. They had sex with the biracial co-worker at the holiday party: Progress. And they occasionally still watch The Daily Show. Plus—very relevant—they published one very funny person of color, once, last year—my bad, my friend Chris just whispered into my ear that it was four. Four! Sorry, Chris. My point—before Chris interrupted—was that it’s not their fault we non-white writers can’t produce the same detached surrealism that passes for wit in 1973 and today—takes a while for a gaze to orbit. Funny white guys can’t be responsible for slavery, the World Bank, and this, even if the dais at Davos is kinda hilarious. Give them room to breathe. Please.

F. This is as good a time as any to point out that I’m also not the brown guy who would allow his white friends to use him as cover for their questionable views on race, class, and queerness. (In case you were wondering.) So chill out with that suspicion. In fact, how dare you! In fact, if the rule is “Don’t mention it” and I keep mentioning it, how is that anyone else’s fault but my own?

Wait. I can see that you’re getting worked up about this, and you’re starting to wonder which side I would support in a mining strike. Why don’t we just cool down. Why don’t wait to see what happens after racial equity and income parity are achieved. If you or I still can’t achieve a humor that’s more conceptual in its execution—you know, the kind that’s bereft of any real urgency, internalized struggle, or self-awareness—then we can revisit the conversation. (Or at least talk about the difference between income and wealth.) Until then, let me stick to what I know, which is being—currently and unabashedly—not funny. Now, whether that has to do with credit default swaps or leap years or the overrepresentation of freestyle in my music library is for others to study in the future.

G. A pigeon sat on a branch contemplating deez nutz. And nothing else.

H. Didn’t Fawlty Towers display an awareness of class? Or am I straining here for a rose-colored filter?

I-J-K. I accept that this is about style. You either have it, or you don’t. People of color and even white women—apparently—just don’t have enough of it in them. Besides, Kevin Hart, Mindy Kaling, and Aziz Ansari are holding it down elsewhere, in other ways—props. That prime humor real estate should be so completely owned by white men is odd—I grant you—but it has absolutely nothing to do with the much-ballyhooed and so-called privilege that somehow leads life’s troubles—if you will—to fall disproportionately on everyone but white men. Did you hear that, axe-wielding non-white person? Cool it with your statistics and history lessons! You’re making us seem, well, over-informed. This is about preferences. Simple. Some people like some things, and some people like other things. Housing, jobs, prisons: these are the remaining bastions of segregation, where we can and definitely should still rail about privilege, racism, and oppression (sorry, I know how triggering that last word can be). But leave prose wit alone. In this terribly unjust world, where, at least, hash browns and home fries remain separate but equal, the few arenas devoid of the structural forces that might otherwise privilege one perspective over another include the humorous literary publication and sketch comedy. The only requirement there is the right style. Color-blind style. Nothing else. In fact, I’m mildly sorry I brought it up.

L. From here on out, I’m just going to list possible solutions because I don’t want to be one of those people who notices the undone zipper fly but keeps quiet about it:

M. The Dick Gregory Quarterly

N. Guest editors

O. Wits of Color-themed chemotherapy and action figures

P. An all-white In Living Color, with a black Jim Carrey

Q. Is Margaret Cho okay?

R. A Go Fund Me page

S. A remixed Jane the Virgin with more drops

T. Psychological profiles of the white guys in Spike Lee films

U. Really, I’m worried about Margaret Cho. Can we all clasp arms and try to catch her?

V. Comedians in Cars Getting Green Cards

W. Maybe just a trampoline because she’s been falling for a minute, and you know how acceleration works

X. A rim job for the patriarchy

Y. Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee: The Ramallah Edition

Z. A Walk in the Woods with Junot Diaz’s Yunior