Mark Kendall channels Morgan Freeman
Comedian's one-man show explores 'Blackness' in America
Remember that one time last week when Kim Kardashian broke the Internet with her nude fanny pictures in Paper magazine? Remember the backlash that followed, specifically the idea that the images were inherently racist because of their ties to the exploitation of Sarah "Saartjie" Baartman's backside in 19th-century Europe?
How about the time owner Bruce Levenson decided to sell the Atlanta Hawks after sending a racist email, or the time Piers Morgan caught it from black Twitter (and John Legend) for his thoughts on the usage of the word "nigger," or the events in Ferguson, Missouri, or, well ... just fill in the blank.
The idea that America has entered a "post-racial" era is about as legitimate as Kevin Spacey's Southern accent in "House of Cards."
Every week, there seems to be some fresh news item that sets Twitter aflutter with charges of racism, or at the least of racial insensitivity, which in turn has created a unique opportunity for people with legitimate insight and perspective to lend meaningful discussion to race and what it truly means in this "post-racial" era. Enter Mark Kendall.
Kendall's one-man show, Morgan Freeman Presents: The Magical Negro and Other Blackness, narrated by the "Magical Negro" (a cliché of the common "all-knowing" black dude who inhabits many movies), Morgan Freeman Presents is full of smart, comical sketches that take a look at the perception of black men in the media. And no, Morgan Freeman will not actually be there.
"People of color aren't really controlling their images, especially when it comes to writing and directing," says Kendall, a 28-year-old Atlanta native.
Kendall's skits include a look at what it was like for a black man to use the first integrated bathroom, a glimpse of Frederick Douglass doing stand-up, prison, white flight, Aunt Jemima, and Black Jesus.
"You think about films like Birth of a Nation or Gone With the Wind, a lot of those films are filled with images of white people making what they think black people are supposed to be like," says Kendall, who has been with Dad's Garage for four years. "My show is making fun of stereotypes and asking what does it mean when someone doesn't have control over the way that they're depicted?"
Through the hilarious insights of Richard Pryor, Chris Rock, and Louis C.K., among others, comedy has long been a significant way to touch on, well, touchy subjects like race. This year alone, exploring race and what it means to be black in current America has been material for movies like writer/director Justin Simien's acclaimed Dear White People and ABC's breakout hit, "Blackish." Kendall, who studied film at Northwestern University, says that it's "awesome" that these projects are being made, but there's always room for more discussion.
"Comedy is a useful tool because I feel like there are some things that are uncomfortable to talk about frankly, so you can make a funny sketch about it and not necessarily make people uncomfortable," insists Kendall, who honed his skills in a Northwestern writing course created by Chris Rock as well as interning on the set of Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report."
Kendall just hopes people can get real about race, racism, and what it means in today's society, without taking themselves too seriously.
"Race and racism are everywhere," he says. "Once you acknowledge that, you can have a much more interesting dialogue. I don't think anyone sees race or blackness the same way as anyone else; we have our own individual experiences with it. I want to leave the audience with interesting things to think about."