The Soapbox: In Comedy Is “Fat & White” The New “Sassy & Black”?
I was recently contacted through my website by a pregnant black woman who inquired about hiring me to perform standup at her baby shower. She and her husband were diehard comedy fans, and thought it would be fun to have a comic perform for their guests.
“How did you find me?” I asked. “I Googled ‘Fat Black Female Comics’ and you were one of the women that popped up!” she answered. “Everyone knows that fat black women are the funniest comics alive!”
After I hung up the phone, I sat there for a moment trying to figure out if I should be offended or not. While I understand that she was trying to be complimentary, I’m not sure if I am flattered by someone thinking that I am automatically funny just because I am plus-sized and black. Then I thought about the $1,500 she offered to pay me to stand in the middle of her living room and crack jokes for 30 minutes, and I instantly felt better. Throughout my career, I’ve been paid much less to do far worse. There was plenty of time for me to be offended later, but for now it was time to get paid!
Comedy is hard work, no matter what you look like. The perception that fat black women have an edge up, purely because of the size of their bodies, diminishes the amount of hard work, discipline and creativity that it takes for us to create this art form known as comedy. Furthermore, I think it’s crazy that someone would assume that all fat black women are funny.
On the other hand, I get it.
I wrote an article for the Huffington Post a few years ago called “I’m Fat, Funny And Female, So Where Is My Sitcom?” in which I attempted to demystify the age-old question, are black women funny? In it, I sarcastically tackled the subject by writing:
It’s a little known fact that from birth, most black girls in inner cities are groomed for the possibility of being the “window character” to the white heroine in a romantic comedy …. little black girls study ancient neck rolling techniques handed down through the centuries, practice various placements of hand-on-the-hip maneuvers, and take extensive classes on lip-smacking and eye rolling. The best and brightest of the lot go on to learn proper ghetto diction and sassy voice inflection because no black girl, no matter how funny can get a role without being able to say ‘oh no you didn’t in the proper comedic tone that puts both fear and warmth in the heart of American Television audiences.
If the general consensus is that being a fat black female automatically makes you hilarious, why is it that actresses that look like me are not starring in more films and sitcoms? Sure, we may get a supporting role here or there, but if we are that damn funny, shouldn’t every network have a show with a girl like me in the lead? When all is said and done, no matter what, we can always count on the role of “Mammy,” or some funny, sassy derivative of her, being available for black plus size comedic actresses. I may not get to play the love interest of Idris Elba or Laz Alonzo, but I can always be their wise cracking, tell-it-like-it-is auntie or best friend, right?
One could argue the roles that would traditionally go to a woman like me are now being played by men, like Tyler Perry (the various “Madea” movies), Martin Lawrence (“Big Momma’s House”) and Eddie Murphy (“Nutty Professor II: The Klumps” and Rasputia in “Norbit”). But it seems to me the newest trend in Hollywood is chubby white actresses playing the funny, wise cracking, sex-deprived/asexual, yet overly desperate comedic sidekick in movies. I thought all I had to worry about was black male actors competing with me for roles! Now I have to be concerned about fat white actresses, too?
The other night I saw a preview for “Pitch Perfect,” an upcoming 2012 musical comedy starring one of my favorite actresses Rebel Wilson. Rebel plays a character who calls herself Fat Amy “so bitches like you don’t do it behind my back.” When I saw this scene I couldn’t help thinking “Hey! That’s supposed to be my role!”
I thought the same thing when I saw the brilliantly funny Melissa McCarthy in “Bridesmaids,” and again whenever the hilarious Fortune Feimster, Marissa Jaret Winokur, Nikki Blonsky or the “Drop Dead Diva”‘s Brooke Elliot makes a TV appearance. And although she isn’t white, I must admit that every time I watch the Disney Channel with my niece and see Raini Rodriguez, I can’t help but scream “that little bitch stole my role!” (To which my niece says “But Tee-Tee, you’re too old to be her.”)
I am overjoyed that women of all sizes are being allowed to live their dreams. Still, I would be lying if I did not acknowledge that there is, in fact, some benefit to “type casting” because I’ve always known my “type” and where I stand in Hollywood in terms of finding roles. Yes, black women have fought to be seen as more than a Mammy, and I will continue to join that fight. But now that plus size white actresses are playing roles traditionally written for women like me, what will I do? Who will I be?
If “fat and white” is the new “sassy and black,” then I pray that “fat and black” is the new leading lady. Watch out Idris and Laz, here I come!