Gordon Robinson: Ya gotta be fast
After decades of struggle, the world is celebrating political correctness' crushing defeat of humour.
Everybody takes themselves so seriously; develops skin thinner than Dwayne Vaz's excuses (don't worry, cocked dice, I've not forgotten you); takes offence at the slightest off-kilter remark; and leaves any semblance of sense of humour in the closet when choosing which stuffed shirt to wear today.
Comedy legend and pioneer Nipsey Russell heralded a new generation of black comedian who refused to present stereotypical minstrel performances. Nipsey, who died in 2005 at 87, was a politically incorrect genius who broke barriers for rising comedians of all backgrounds and opened doors for black comedians like Redd Foxx to kick down so that the likes of Flip Wilson, Richard Pryor and others could walk in.
Nipsey was famous for his witty rhymes, which were so clever that industry icons like Dick Clark and Betty White often called him "the poet laureate of television". His jokes were often off-colour, but using the double entendre style as he never swore.
He said his inspiration, from the age of nine, was black comedian Jack Wiggins: "He came out immaculately attired in a well-dressed street suit and he tap-danced. As he danced, he told little jokes in-between. He was so clean in his language and was lacking in any drawl, he just inspired me. I wanted to do that."
It's a little-known fact that Nipsey was a trained dancer and earned a degree in classical literature from the University of Cincinnati in 1946. He'd interrupted his studies for World War II, where he served a four-year enlistment and was commissioned a captain in the field.
One of my most prized possessions is Nipsey's 1957 comedy album Ya Gotta Be Fast. My close friend, Upsetter, and I wore out the grooves until we knew every joke by heart. The album spared no 'vulnerable' group. Some examples (from memory):
"I know a lawyer who's always trying to break a girl's Will. He'll end up with a case ... ."
"A Mexican's hotel room beds are unmade. He says to the desk clerk, 'I wanna sheet.' The clerk, offended, throws him out."
"Old golfers never die but, with club in hand, whack on their balls until they end up in the hole."
Today, Nipsey would be dismissed as offensive. The great Don Rickles, still performing at 89, mastered the art of the humorous insult. No individual, group or ethnicity is safe from 'Mr Warmth'.
"Hey, you!" to an audience member, "what's your name?"
"Oh, so you're German?"
"Yes," says the innocent about-to-become-victim of Rickles' razor-sharp wit.
"I've something wonderfully nostalgic for you. You'll love it," says Rickles as he segues into a perfect goose step.
You can't do this anymore. It's not politically correct. You can't compliment an interviewer's eyes or ask her for a date. You DEFINITELY can't say "Don't blush, baby" unless you have US$7,000 to throw away. You also can't laugh at stereotypes, even if the obvious 'hook' is you're really laughing at those who still believe these stereotypes.
Bad news. I don't care. So I have two contributions to political incorrectness' valiant struggle for survival. As a CARICOM national, I'll pick on the Barbadian stereotype. No, not THAT stereotype.
Everywhere I go,
People want to know
How I happy so.
I tell dem,
"Barbados ah come from."
Don't ask a Bajan for directions. The result?
"You trying to find de Sandy Lane Hotel? You on de right track. You soon reach a gap on de lef' where Miss Cumberbatch have she cold supper shop - de one she get from she fadder but only until he grandson reach 18 den she mus' give it to he. You know dat place?"
"I can find it."
"Don't go up dere. Keep straight. Soon, you'll see a road on de right dat go to de Princess Margaret horspittle. You know dat horspittle?"
"Good. Don't go down dere. Keep straight."
A Bajan must always show off his knowledge. For a stereotypical Bajan, education is life's goal. All else is gravy.
During a boring Barbadian Budget Debate, two backbench MPs, miffed at not being featured, meet in the lunchroom. MP#1 says, 'I can solve Barbados' economic problems."
"Simple. Declare war against USA."
"Germany did do it. It's de strongest European economy. Japan did do it. It's de strongest world economy. All we gotta do is declare war against USA."
MP#2 thought deeply: "OK, but wha' happen ef we win?"
Peace and love.
- Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.