EURWeb: Comedy Central’s ‘South Side’ on Comedy, Cooning and Joking Close to the Edge

EURWeb: Comedy Central’s ‘South Side’ on Comedy, Cooning and Joking Close to the Edge

*Last week Comedy Central premiered the new comedy series South Side, starring Quincy Young, Bashir Salahuddin, Kareme Young, Sultan Salahuddin, Lil’ Rel Howery and a cast of really funny creative minds.

Though the negativity that is often aimed at Chicago’s South Side, as well as many other urban areas with large African-American populations, appears to be become more vapid and politicized by the day, what is often missed is the otherside.

The side where we dream and strive for better and the comedic calamity that often ensues in these circumstances that ensue when resources and patience is low.  Getting paid is a constant objective.

Recently, I spoke with series star and producer Bashir Salahuddin and writer/actor and producer Diallo Riddle at Comedy Central headquarters about the many landmines and possible pitfalls that threaten black comedians who attempt to package black social norms for television audiences in the form of comedy.

As many are aware, the history of the entertainment industry and media in disseminating false and demeaning images of black people is long and sorted, dating all the way back to the wildly racist film Birth of a Nation in 1919, which was screened at the White House.

Bashir and Diallo were engaging, honest and forthcoming about the ongoing battle for black comedians, writers and actors. One that finds them forever conscious of the line between comedy and cooning.

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EURweb: How do write or produce something that is in this space of blackness and realness and package it for the world without it being coonish, cliché or three dimensional?  

“That’s a great question, and coonish is in the eye of the beholder,” answered Diallo. “As black comedic content creators, it’s always in the back of your head. Is what I’m doing funny or is it coonish? For better or first worse, it’s in your conscience all the time.”

“For better or worse, one of the things we wanted to do with this show is, given that Chicago is often under attack from what we see on the news, and the things that we hear from politicians, are challenging,” Bashir told EURweb. “That’s a very small slice. The universe is the pie and those bad things are a very small slice of it, and we wanted to show that.  One of the ways to do that is to show how funny we are.  When you ask someone, who is one of the funniest people you know, they don’t name a comedian. They’ll say “It’s my Auntie” or “My boys from high school.”  So, then we said, “Well let’s get those types of people and put them on it!”  

“They’re speaking for themselves. You saw people who are not changing how they’re funny when the cameras are on. They’re also showing you how funny they are when the camera is not on them.”

“You really have these moments where you feel like it’s not written at all. It feels like the cameras just happened to be on people who are just having a good time. Whenever a show achieves that is when I’m happiest. “ 

Comedy is often about perspective, timing and taste. So what’s good for the goose isn’t always good for the gander. However, Diallo tells EURweb some lines are easier to see than others.

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“I think we know that there is a line and everybody’s line to cross is different.  Some people won’t do drag and some people won’t do ‘extra black’ voice.  But in some ways, I feel like it’s unfair to the black creator because sometimes there are things that you want to do that you think are funny and, quite honestly, no matter what you think is funny, somebody out there might thing ‘oh, he’s out here cooning.  At some point you have to say, I’m just going to do what I think is funny and let the chips fall where they may.  What I think might be funny may be different from what someone else thinks is funny. “

Bashir wholeheartedly concurred with that assessment.  

“Sometimes I see something and be like ‘Mmmm…I wouldn’t do that. Like, really? You gotta sing and dance the WHOLE scene?’ Also, I feel like white creators don’t have to think about stuff like that. They truly get to do what they think is funny. If Jim Carrey where a black dude, people would be like ‘Why does he always do his face like that?’  

“It constricts and confines you sometimes, but I think you always have to be true to yourself and let the chips fall where they may. “

southside - Bashir Salahuddin & Diallo Riddle (getty)

Bashir Salahuddin & Diallo Riddle (Getty)

Though, if you ask Black Twitter, the line between cooning and comedy is easily discernible. But things are seldom as simply as blue and grey.  Sometimes the realization of a comic misstep is in the mind of the creator and only realized after the fact.  Diallo brought up a perfect example of that paradigm. 

“It’s like when Dave Chappelle did the Pixie sketch, the famous sketch that he felt self-conscious doing. Those jokes were hilarious, and if Dave was in a space where only black people saw that, it wouldn’t have gotten to him.  But he had white people on the set watching and laughing, probably had white kids coming up to him talking about it. As a black comedian, he didn’t make that sketch to make those white kids laugh. He’s probably thinking ‘I want to make my perfect audience laugh. I want to make my boys laugh in Washington D.C. But because the show was so gotdamn funny and authentic, it reverberated throughout the world. Then you get that feedback.”

However, added Diallo, there are always times where self-censorship can keep a creative out of a heap of unnecessary hot water with fans and cultural critics alike.  

 “But there have definitely been times when Bashir and I have come up with jokes and were like, ‘Well, maybe we shouldn’t put that one out in the universe.  Like, Dave Chappelle is one of the funniest human beings alive, and I can’t tell you how many times you go on Tumblr or Reddit and find big Trump-supporting white dudes are sharing GIFs of Dave as the crackhead. But that’s not Dave’s fault. The fact of the matter is he did that sketch, like Bashir said, to make his boys laugh is appropriated is not his fault. Sometimes, a joke is just okay, but the blowback of putting the joke out there, is not worth having a mediocre joke on the show.”

South Side premiered last week on Comedy Central and airs July 24 to rave reviews.  Upcoming cameos to include LisaRaye and Kel Mitchell.

Lane 44, Ltd., founding partner and Executive Director Debbie Holstein spent most of her childhood performing in theatrical productions, acting, singing and dancing.

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