“É uma coisa preta!” (It’s a Black Thing): In front of near all-black audience, six Afro-Brazilian comics debut black stand up comedy making light of racism
By Marques Travae
As I’ve been learning, researching, sharing, exposing and presenting my own opinion on the experience of blackness in Brazil for nearly two decades, it’s always intriguing when I see things develop among black Brazilians that I’ve seen or experienced as a black American. For this reason, I became instantly fascinated seeing how Soul and Funk music was interpreted in the 1970s and 80s in various cities across Brazil. The same goes for the Brazilian spin on Hip Hop. A few years ago, I reported on the obvious influence of late 90s/early 2000s “bling bling” style Hip Hop videos on Brazilian funk videos.
To be truthful, it’s not just black Brazilians, because Brazil as a whole imitates almost everything that comes out of the US. And I don’t write this as a means of ridicule or anything of the sort; it’s just a fact. Ask any honest Brazilian and they’ll tell you the same thing. I mean, for real, how else do you explain things such as ‘Black Friday’ sales in Brazil when Thanksgiving isn’t even a holiday in the country? I’ve been saying it for some time; if something is popular in the US, it won’t be long before it catches on in Brazil.
One genre of which I wondered when it would pick up in Brazil was standup comedy. This style of entertainment has been popular in the US for decades and can actually be traced to sometime in the 19th century and has produced a long line of popular comedians. And that list includes a long line of well-known African-American comics who have had long-lasting careers. Some years ago, I started noticing that numerous stand up routines of African-American comics were starting to pop up on You Tube with Portuguese subtitles. Perhaps the two most popular were Eddie Murphy’s classic “Delirious” show and Chris Rock’s “Kill the Messenger”.
My question was, as so many different forms of black American entertainment (films, sitcoms, etc.) end up catching on among black Brazilians and Brazilians in general, I started wondering a few years back, where are the Afro-Brazilian stand up comedians? There were already a number of Afro-Brazilian humorists (Helio de la Peña, Sérgio Loroza, Luis Miranda and others) who had made a name for themselves in romantic comedies, theater pieces and sketch comedy skits on TV that showed there clearly wasn’t a lack of talent.
Comedian Richard Pryor became a legend by using humor to discuss the pains of racism on stage in front of large, racially mixed audiences in the United States. Pryor was able to master the art of talking about a serious social ill without beating his audience over the head with his message. And he sold out venues and hundreds of thousands of albums and video tapes along the way. Brazil having a serious problem with race itself and openly discussing the issue is another reason it would make for fertile ground for black comics to bring the issue to the fore.
A few months ago, I recalled my first experience with stand up comedy in Brazil when I went to a show in São Paulo back in around 2013. As the comedian was a white woman, I immediately began wondering if there were any black comics coming up in the genre as a number of white comics had made names for themselves and even ended up hosting late night talk shows as a result of their popularity. It would take another five years before the black female comic Tia Má would became the first Afro-Brazilian woman to start doing stand up comedy shows. I know, right? The first? In 2018?!?!
Anyway, as it seems, the coming of Afro-Brazilian stand up comedians was already in the making and last month, a group of six comedians came together and put on the “Coisa de Preto” (black thing) show; a night of race-based humor detailing the experience of being black in Brazil. The show debuted in São Paulo to a majority black audience of more than 300 people.
In routines of about 10-15 minutes each, the comedians took turns taking well-known racist comments about black Brazilians and flipping them onto whites. Gui Preto, for example, asked, “Who’s on the sounds? It had to be a white guy, right?”, flipping the well phrase in Portuguese, “tinha que ser negro”, which expresses the idea that when something goes wrong, it had to be a black person who did it. Truth be told, the name of the show itself, “coisa de preto”, is often deemed a racist phrase, as a controversy back in November involving a long-term journalist demonstrated.
Gui even made light of the environment in which whites, for once, were a minority: “Seeing you guys like this, in a minority, makes me wanna put on a ship…” as in putting them on a slave ship or “put a white man on a tronco”, the tronco being the whipping post that blacks were tied to when they were being whipped during the slavery era.
Edson Duavy kept it coming. “We suffer a lot of prejudice: at school, I heard ‘go for the quadro, negro (quadro negro meaning blackboard). Then, in the office, they would offer me ”quer cafezinho, preto?” (you want some coffee, black/black coffee)?’ And when my car breaks down, at the mechanic they talk like this: pega lá, ô macaco. That’s enough!” This line also has a double meaning as macaco, on the one hand, means monkey and it is the most popular racist insult used against blacks in Brazil. On the other hand, macaco always refers to a car jack to change a tire.
Thiago Phernandez kept the laughs coming. The creator of the show, he also reflected on the effects of racism in Brazil, focusing on the still controversial topic of quotas in Brazilian universities: “Some say that to end racism, we must end the quota system. For others, it’s necessary to stop talking so much about this subject. I don’t know… But I think they will already say that in order to end racism they will have to end with the blacks first.”
The most well-known comic of the group is the comic Helio de la Peña, who is known for his appearances on sketch comedy shows on the long-running Casseta & Planeta TV program and other shows. Helio made light of the fact that even having a condo in Leblon, one of Rio’s ritziest neighborhood, doormen still show him the way to the service elevator. In middle class Brazilian apartments, there are usually two elevators. One, the social elevator, for the residents and their guests and the second, the service elevator, is reserved for “the help”, maids, cooks and cleaning people.
In his bit, Rio’s Yuri Marcal talked about going to the beach and, being mistaken for an assailant, a man removed his flip flops: “I had my own flip flops, damn it! And he was pink because of the sun. Pink people must suffer racism.” Rio has long had a reputation for segregation policies on its beaches due to the stereotype of the poor, black thief who robs beach goers. Marcal continued:
“I’m addicted to teasing white people. It’s a path with no return. So much so that Facebook censured me for a joke against whites. But I’m not a racist, people. I have white friends, okay? And my maid is white, she raised me since I was a kid!” The obvious reference here is that the entire these are typical comments, in reverse that white Brazilians make to deny being racist.
Of course, the show is a long way from reaching the proportions of a Def Comedy Jam or the Kings of Comedy, but the majority black audience, clearly identifying with the scenarios of which millions of black Brazilians face every day, ate it up. Any of the comics have clips already available on You Tube and another show has been scheduled for September 16, in the capital city of Minas Gerais, Belo Horizonte.
I hope the show picks up steam and finds success along the way. But of course, in traditional Brazilian fashion, there will those who will call an all-black comedy show (reverse) racism. After all, where are the white people,right? Well, those people prolly just won’t understand. I mean, é coisa de preto (it’s a black thing!
Okay, one step at a time in fighting racism or bringing more awareness to this issue needs to be pressed more often in different venues through creativity such as what these people are doing through the life of comic.