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The improv community is a great community, but it’s dominated by skinny white guys, chubby white guys and white girls in Tina Fey glasses. With the success of Wayne Brady on Whose Line is it Anyway? and Key and Peele on… Key and Peele, people of color have noticed that there is a place for them in this art form and that they can actually have a successful career.
If you’re preparing yourself to enter the Land of Make ‘Em Ups, here is what to expect if you’re a black improviser.
Do you know [insert name]? He’s black, too!
People will automatically assume you know every black person in the improv community. Nine times out of ten, you actually will, because we stand out. If you don’t, make sure to keep tabs on that new black student in Level C.
The name’s “Arsenio.”
Naming your scene partner is an important part of scene work to show familiarity between two people. Even if your character has a British accent or is an alien from another planet, your partner may name you “Tyrone” or “Shaquita,” because those are the only names of black people they know. Try beating them to the punch and naming them Tyrone or Shaquita. It’ll force them to use another moniker.
Can’t touch this!
That’s what you’ll say when someone tries to touch your hair, and it will be touched constantly, especially if it’s natural. A lot of improvisers come from predominantly white neighborhoods and have not seen hair like yours except in a “Madea” movie, so they will try to touch it without thinking to ask. Practice your Matrix moves to avoid this.
Learn how to rap.
Your improv team just got street cred now that you’re there. Whether you are a fan of hip hop or not, you will be pimped into being 2 Chainz or Nicki Minaj because they finally have a black person on their improv team, and now they don’t have to feel guilty about doing a rap scene. You might as well go with it and encourage them to beatbox.
Praise Black Jesus.
In your mind, you’re just playing a character, but sometimes your scene partner may see that same character with just a little twist. If you enter a scene as Jesus, you may be labeled “Black Jesus.” If you enter as George Washington, you may be labeled “Black George Washington.” If you do Barack Obama, you will be labeled a satirist and get applause… or boos, depending.
Patrick Rowland is a writer and comedian in Chicago. He performs with Next, an Official Second City Training Center House Ensemble, every Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. in the de Maat Studio Theatre.