Saturday, August 31, 2013

jackDawe, August 31, 2013

Lucky Luis
by TJ Dawe

If anyone wears the crown for best stand-up comedian in the US, it’s probably Louis CK (real name: Louis Szekely). What if he steered the cultural ship into even more interesting territory by doing stand-up in Spanish. 

He could. He was born in Mexico (his ancestry is Mexican and Hungarian). Spanish was his first language. He didn’t move to the US till he was seven. He looks and sounds like the whitest of white guys, but is more Mexican than many Mexican-Americans, and he’s said it in interviews. 

As liberal and left-leaning as the US and English Canadian entertainment industries are, they’re pretty damn white. And English speaking.  

It’s different in Quebec. In 2008 I saw stand-up Sugar Sammy (real name: Samir Khullar) do a headlining set in Montreal club. He riffed on the ethnicities of audience members near the stage (various combinations of Italian, Colombian, Iranian, Korean and much else). In one bit he imagined a Haitian doing play-by-play for Olympic hockey, in Haitian French. The crowd roared. 

Stand-up comedy, going back to Vaudeville, has been one of the few avenues in which minorities have a prominent voice.

In 2012 he created a bilingual stand-up show titled You’re Gonna Rire, in which he alternates between English and French, reflecting the daily reality of Montreallers. It was planned as a one-off in a 1300 seat venue, and was extended to 45 performances, selling 53 000 tickets. 

He also performs in Hindi and Punjabi. Disparate cultural communities are getting into the same guy. The fact that he speaks multiple languages is a reflection of what many people are like in Canada and the US. 

Louis CK could do this. He’s said “I don’t speak Spanish, at least not on stage. Although I have thought it would be fun if I could get my Spanish back to where it was, to do comedy in Spanish.” 

Hell yes! Laughter opens people up. Quincy Jones said “I’ve always thought that a big laugh is a really loud noise from the soul saying ‘Ain’t that the truth!’” 

Laughter unites people. Bill Cosby said “A white person listens to my act and he laughs and he thinks, ‘Yeah, that’s the way I see it too.’ Okay. He’s white. I’m Negro. And we both see things the same way. That must mean we are alike. Right? So I figure this way I’m doing as much for good race relations as the next guy.” 

Stand-up comedy, going back to Vaudeville, has been one of the few avenues in which minorities have a prominent voice. Jewish, African-American and Latino comedians are ambassadors, presenting their experiences and points of view to audiences that aren’t getting those angles on comtemporary life from movies or TV shows. 

This could increase with multi-lingual comedy. It would encourage English-only speakers to open themselves up to other languages - to keep up their high school French or Spanish, at least. We’d become more dexterous with our thoughts, more flexible in our ability to listen, more able to see from different points of view, less likely to view our own language and ethnicity as the default setting.

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