The Champs Yo Podcast
I have been resisting this for weeks, I’ve been thinking it through and talking it out and trying hard not to write it. The online turbulence surrounding the Swedish Hottentot cake and the various waves of discourse around the all-white female casting of Lena Dunham’s TV show ‘Girls’ kept my disquiet on the boil.
It all began with a podcast a few months ago but it was reading this comment recently given by Farah Tanis to The Black Women’s Blueprint that I finally got it:
“All the women are still white all the blacks are still men”
I don’t think Farah was talking about a podcast but she crystallised something for me in my thinking. It’s not a black space if the only black guests interviewed are men. It’s not a black space if the only woman guest interviewed is white. It’s not a black space if black women are excluded.
I don’t remember how I knew about it but I got in on the first episode of The Champs Yo podcast. The three hosts are all white; Neal Brennan created The Chappelle Show with David Chappelle and some of his credits were familiar to me, Moshe Kasher I knew only from his appearances on the Chelsea Lately show, and not having seen Tim &Eric, DJ DouggPound was an unknown, his drops can be hilarious though.
Black comedians don’t, by and large, host podcasts and in the crowded podcast multiverse I hadn’t found a black comedy frequency to tune in to. The Champs seemed like a good place to start and given Brennan’s credits it didn’t surprise me that black comedians would be a feature. I’ve fleshed out a lot of comedy memories listening to experiences from the black comedy golden age of The Chappelle Show, Def Comedy Jam, and Chocolate News. By episode two or three The Black Guest Rule (BGR) rule was established. The BGR is quite simply that on the Champs Yo podcast, the guest is always black.
An interesting thing I discovered through tuning in to podcasts week after week is that I’m an invested listener and if I’m really tuned in there’s an intimacy that’s created, I’ve joined a community and we are allies, I feel safe.
Through bypassing the stage, the talk show or other permutations of light entertainment the frequency between comedian and audience is amplified.
Consumption is no longer passive, it is give and take in a way that goes beyond joke told >= laughter follows. Granted, the audience is a necessary element of comedy but I agree with those who say that Podcasts are a throwback to 1930s radio shows when entertainment captivated an audience in their homes, in their own space.
There have been two exceptions to the BGR. Bobby Lee, Korean American comedian and Sasha Grey actress. Whilst musician Flying Lotus silently toiled in the background the generally loquacious hosts interviewed the former adult entertainer with some restraint, she seemed bored by it. Sasha Grey is white.
I didn’t get it. Throughout the entire episode i was waiting for a piece of information that would make sense of it for me and I wasn’t alone in wanting to challenge it; a few of the tweets read out during the show also questioned Grey’s presence in the guest’s chair. Brennan’s retort “they mad” tells me how many fucks he gave. I hated getting to that moment with those guys. Dismissed.
A look back through the episode listings for the Champs, and up until Sasha Grey i’d listened to them all, gives an unrelentingly male role call. You wouldn’t know it to see that list but Lesley sat in on the Blake Griffin episodes. I can only tell you her name, whatever Lesley’s career experience has been or whatever Lesley’s reflections on being a black woman in comedy may be, The Champs didn’t have her in the guest spot.
In his piece about The Help ,Pulitzer Prize winning film critic Wesley Morris writes “Black women, in some way or other have always been someone’s maid”. The Sasha Grey episode of The Champs aired in the midst of Oscar-mania and immediately put me in mind of The Help, in my opinion a film about a seminal black experience that is mediated through a white gaze.
In the run up to Oscar night people were debating Viola Davis’ hair choices and the strong performances that she and Octavia Butler give in an arguably weak film. One of my favourite podcasts had me wrestling with the conceit of blackness that doesn’t involve women. Just reading that back to myself it doesn’t make sense.
I can’t understand how congregating under blackness can exclude women but Peggy McIntosh writing about white privilege got me thinking about some of the reasons why. In her essay “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” Peggy discusses her epiphany that, when she was being taught that racism puts others at a disadvantage she was not being taught one of its corollary aspects, that racism places her at an advantage. She describes her understanding of this White Privilege as “an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day”.
I tweeted the Champs, “how come you don’t know any black women?”. I wanted to understand why they hadn’t had any black women on their show as guests. I wanted to understand the thinking behind creating this unrelentingly male space and still calling it black. I wished one of them would own their privilege. A lot of my disappointment makes sense to me now.
“If the many non-black people who produce images or critical narratives about blackness and black people do not interrogate their perspective, then they may simply recreate the imperial gaze- the look that seeks to dominate, subjugate and colonize.”- bell hooks
My question got a response a few weeks later. Moshe Kasher agreed that women are absent from the show. He didn’t offer any reasons as to why and coincidentally I don’t think the omission of race in his reply was accidental.
He asked for suggestions and the first three names in my head were Andi Osho, Ava Vidal, Ms London; all UK based and Skype notwithstanding i thought i should make it easier for them. So my follow up called out Aisha Tyler, dream hampton and Gabourey Sidibe. Six women who interest me or who make me laugh and about whom I know very little. To be honest I can’t imagine those conversations happening on The Champs. We aren’t allies after all.