By Mark Anthony Neal | @NewBlackMan | with thanks to NewBlackMan (in Exile)
Wednesday, September 9, 2015.
being honest with ourselves, Damon Wayans was often the un-funniest of the
collective that was featured on the groundbreaking sketch comedy show In
Living Color. A quick scan of his signature characters--“Blaine Edwards”
(from the Men On...series), ”Handi-Man”, “Oswald Bates”--finds a
comedian whose basic contributions to the show trafficked in homophobia, and
comedy at the expense of the Physically Challenged (we can also put the “Head
Detective” in this category) and those who are victims of the carceral
state (and the educational system).
It should not come to any surprise that
it is Wayans--who is more in line generationally with Bill Cosby than say W.
Kamau Bell--who so emphatically came to Bill Cosby’s defense with a screed that is more
reprehensible than any of Wayans’ offensive routines. Not only did Wayans
dismiss the accusations of Cosby’s more than 40 known accusers, he
depicted Cosby’s accusers with a level of misogyny that even some of Cosby’s
defenders might find problematic.
I assume Mr. Wayans thinks he was being
funny; he was not.
In Living Color found cultural gravitas in its challenging of respectable notions of
public representations of race, gender, and ethnicity in the early 1990s; that
it did so from distinctly Black and Hip-Hop inflected sensibilities is what
powered its popularity, and eventually invited a level of scrutiny and
policing from its network, that seems quaint by current standards. At the
center of show’s vision was Damon Wayan’s character “Homey the Clown,” which
served as the vehicle in which Black grievances against White Supremacy could
be lodged and reparated with a swift bonk on the head from a flour-filled sock.
It was this performance of militant
Blackness that earned In Living Color, and Wayans in particular, a pass
on some of its more troubling representations. As E. Patrick Johnson
writes in his critique of the show’s Men On... skits, which featured
Wayans and David Allen Grier as queer Black men,
“the representation of effeminate
homosexuality as disempowering is at the heart of the politics of hegemonic
blackness...Insofar as ineffectiveness is problematically sutured to femininity
and homosexuality within a black cultural politic that privileges race over
other categories of oppression, it follows that the subjects accorded these
attributes would be marginalized and excluded from the boundaries of blackness.” (Appropriating Blackness: Performance and the Politics of
Twenty-five years later, Wayans is
still operating under the false assumptions that Johnson critiques above. In
the context of Cosby’s seeming inability to defend himself in “real-talk,”
Wayans--and his unfunny-self--decided to “defend” the race, in light of Cosby’s
But Wayans has even less credibility
than he did as an up-and-coming comic more than a generation ago. Hollywood
good looks aside, Wayans has been left behind by a generation of his peers,
including Chris Rock, Jamie Foxx (an In Living Color alum), Tracy
Morgan, and even his younger brothers Shawn and Marlon. Wayans’ comments about
Cosby’s accusers are the ramblings of the doddering old uncle, who is sitting
by himself in the corner, looking for an audience.
Damon Wayans is low hanging fruit.
There is real work to be done in this nation, regarding violence against women;
paying attention to clowns is not part of that work.
Mark Anthony Neal is Professor of African & African American Studies at Duke
University, where he directs the Center for Arts, Digital Culture, and
Entrepreneurship. He is the author of several books including Looking
for Leroy: Illegible Black Masculinities
(NYU Press, 2013).