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Not Shirley Q. Again

Maybe it’s a white thing

by j. brotherlove

I get a boatload of email everyday. Besides a cumbersome amount of spam, I receive marketing for movies, music and products targeting the black and gay market; praises from readers too shy to post comments and requests from bloggers to read their latest posts. I need a damn assistant.

The latest cause célèbre concerns a Shirley Q. Liquor performance. Ramone wrote about the latest Shirley Q. Liquor controversy earlier this week and I’ve been meaning to comment there and here. It seems once a year or so, Charles Knipp’s alter ego rears her ugly head and a big stink is made about it; both for and against.

My take: I have a wicked sense of humor and find some of the jokes funny. However, I’m offended by a white man in black face pretending to be a black woman on welfare with 19 kids. I mean, really? Is it that hard to write good material? Also, Knipp has an uncanny habit of choosing the worst times and situations to turn up as Shirley Q.; like last year in New York during Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend. Next year, he’s booked in West Hollywood during Black History Month. What an asshole!

Yet, he has fans and support comes from the strangest places. RuPaul took a gamble as a big supporter of Shirley Q. Liquor. Shirley is plastered all over Ru’s Red Hot CD and is considered one of the reasons it flopped big time (well, that and the fact it wasn’t very good). You’d think if Ru really wanted to make a comeback, she wouldn’t piss off a majority of the black gays.

Still, I support free speech. If Knipp wants to prance around the stage making a damn fool of himself, he has every right. However, as a black man I will not tolerate such foolishness anywhere I call home. He can perform that crap at any clueless establishment bold enough to book him. But when it’s a place or event I frequent; then I have a problem.

However, what disturbs me most is how some white people overly legitimize Knipp’s bad taste. No matter how you slice it, his “humor” is obviously offensive to a lot of people. And if your best defense is “black comedians make fun of white people all the time”, then no wonder your kids end up strung out on crystal meth and shooting each other at school. Even in comedy, there’s such a thing as humanity and appropriateness — ask Michael Richards.

Here’s the thing people seem to be afraid to admit because it reveals a double standard. If you’re making jokes about race, the race of the comedian and the race of the audience matters. It’s not fair but it’s reality. Besides, do white people really get upset when black comedians say they can’t dance? Or that they don’t know how to have fun? Or whatever else they say (because really, black/white jokes are so 1980s and I don’t find them particularly funny).

The jokes I hear about whites seem like harmless observations about behavior that’s different than ours; while jokes about blacks often have deep, negative connotations about our intelligence, physical features or propensity for crime. The playing field isn’t quite level in my eye. But then again, I’m black. Maybe it’s a white thing and I just don’t understand

Check The Jasmyne’s post for details. And her update.

pub: 12/13/2006 | previous entry | next entry | feedback x 12 | subscribe

People laugh at Shirley Q. cuz it’s shocking bit of shtick. A fat white queen scorching a fat black queen. A sociall voyage of the damned.If you’re thin, affluent, and smug enough or in sufficient denial re: the degree to which race informs most identity politics in North America, you might even find S.Q. vaguely comforting.

After all, when the well runs dry - the animals start to look at each other differently.

Her performance at a private party last week at WETbar has caused quite the stir in the Atlanta drag world. Drag Idol 1 winner Gigi Monroe has left WETbar over the whole incident.

Chris, I read your post about Gigi Monroe taking a stand against Shirley Q. Liquor and applaud her for it.

I’ve had a previous negative experience with WETbar that made it clear black folks were not their target market.

I hadn’t heard that she was in town. Its not surprising to me that she categorically chooses to perform at bars/clubs where the patronage is almost exclusively white. Its also not surprising why a lot of gay white men - who are very comfortable with the absence of black people in ‘their’ spaces - find Shirley Q. Liquor funny.

I think what’s even funnier than Shirley Q. are the black folks that thinks she’s funny just from listening to the audio BEFORE they find out it’s a white dude.

Good point, nOva. That speaks to context and black folks’ comfortability highlighting and languishing in the negative aspects of our culture. We think it’s funny when we act ignorant. It’s only when others make the same joke that we actually look at ourselves objectively and go “Wait a minute…”

Flavor Of Love is a another example of us laughing at the wrong thing. No one would dispute the show is tasteless. And while I don’t rest the progression of black culture on the shoulders of a reality show, I know somewhere white people are watching it and laughing at all of us. Not with us, at us.

“Knipp has an uncanny habit of choosing the worst times and situations to turn up as Shirley Q.; like last year in New York during Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend. Next year, he’s booked in West Hollywood during Black History Month.”

I don’t know what to say. A gay white man in blackface with a supportive following within the apparent larger (i.e white) gay communiy and among a number of blacks like Rupaul.

I don’t even know where to begin in commenting.

I am totally with you; a white man in black face is always offensive… especially when it is used in the way Shirley Q does. Ugh.

As an update, Chris reported that WetBar has amended its rental policy in hopes of preventing another brouhaha.

Also, Jasmyne has posted an update to Shirley Q. Liquor’s upcoming appearance in West Hollywood.

One of the more interesting tidbits:

The city council of West Hollywood is expected to pass a resolution in the coming weeks strongly discouraging local business owners from booking Knipp’s ridiculous and offensive act. If all else fails, a protest will be organized at the venue the night of Knipp’s performance.

I have a few problems with Knipp, most of which have been documented. I’m exhausted and don’t feel like going over them all again. j.brotherlove, you bring up a good point, and that this that Knipp just isn’t funny. If he was funny, he could do the material as a white woman and still get the laughs. But no, apparently only black women have troubles with paternity and are on welfare, right? (Anna Nicole Smith is dead, so she apparently doesn’t count.) Like you, I’m one of those who doesn’t find a lot of humor in race jokes, which is why Knipp and company’s tired go-to excuses (what about Madea/White Chicks/Martin Lawrence) always fall flat. I HATE Madea, never saw “White Chicks” or “Big Momma’s House”, and while I think Dave Chappelle is clever, I thought “The Nigar Family” was just stupid. Perhaps I haven’t seen enough of Knipp’s act to judge him as a comedian, but how much more would I need to sit through to have a “valid” opinion? UGH.

11. pete

Not everyone thought Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor, or Chris Rock was so funny cussing up a storm on stage when they got started and making fun of White People. Not everyone thinks Robin Williams, Billy Crystal doing “Ali”, or Whoopie doing a valley girl about to have an abortion is funny. It’s all about the audience’s context which determines if what is said is funny. SHIRLEY Q. LIQUOR TO MANY MANY PEOPLE WHITE OR BLACK IS FUNNY !!!! There is no Malice involved but affection. Those of us who enjoy Shirley find her funny because we know or have known someone with great affection just like her. She’s not preaching hate, homophobia, or judgement the way the Baptists and Evangelicals do on TV. It’s all said and done with affection and humor. If you don’t like it, then don’t listen. I don’t watch shows or listen or radio talk shows that say and do things I don’t agree with nor should you. The difference in perspective is the context of POV.

12. Dave

WOW! We are losing our rights sooo fast. I am a white male and think some of Shirley’s stuff is funny as well as many other comedians, be they white, black, or green, some of the funniest comedians I heard were blacks making fun of white people, cause most of it is true. I am also a Baptist and I should have the right to voice what I believe as well as anyone else. If you don’t like what a person has to say, than don’t listen to them. In America we should have to right to express ourselves, regardless….oh yeah, we should be able to anyways, the First Amendment. No matter if you are Christian, Pro-Choice, Gay, Muslin, or against all of those you should at least be able to voice your opinion. If a person says something of the wall and no one cares, than what harm have they done. “Sticks and Stones,” people, we learned this in school. Once you make a big deal about it, than you have given that person a even bigger voice. Lets put this into perspective, if this keeps on, it could be against the law to publicly speak about slavery because it might offend the white man, how ridiculous is that. If you don’t believe that could happen, than why are they pulling the Holocaust out of the textbooks because they feel that it might offend a certain group. If laws are made restrict certain people they well restrict us all.

In love for everyone.