Commentary: Do Black Women Need to Learn to Take a Joke?

SNL writer Leslie Jones thinks so.

Posted: 05/06/2014 12:37 PM EDT
Leslie Jones

Anyone who stayed up past midnight this past Saturday got to experience the yin and the yang of live television on SNL. First, there was the awesome, the hilarious, the timely and oh-so-funny sketch about the “Beygency” — the Matrix-like group who comes after anyone who dares say anything negative about Beyoncé — like Voldemort’s Death Watchers if they could bust a dance move.

Minutes later, though, there was the lowest of the low, the unfunniest of the unfunny, when SNL writer Leslie Jones made her on-screen debut during a sketch on the "Weekend Update" segment. In a routine she has been doing for years in her stand-up act, Jones pointed out that Lupita Nyong’o may be People magazine’s Most Beautiful Woman, but if the criteria shifted to “usefulness” and the setting wasn’t Hollywood but a slave-era plantation, well then, bye-bye Lupita…Jones would be winning all the awards. “I’m six feet tall and I'm strong,” she said. “Back in the slave days, massa would’ve hooked me up with the best brother on the plantation. Every nine months, I’d just be in the corner poppin' them out— Shaq, Kobe, Lebron…”

Though the audience guffawed and chuckled, not everyone thought it was so funny. Many turned to the person next to them to say, “What the hell?!,” while some headed to Facebook and Twitter. Ebony.com senior editor Jamilah Lemieux wrote a piece — a spot-on commentary — about the problems with the sketch where she said, “While I am typically disinterested by the concept of putting on a ‘good’ face for White folks, it was appalling to see this sister gleefully acting like she was auditioning for Birth of a Nation 2: We’s Really Like Dis!”

Leslie Jones had an answer for all of that. She went online and put out a series of tweets about people not getting it. “Why are y’all so mad?” she wanted to know, reminding everyone that it is a comedian’s job to take painful things and make them funny. And that if we weren’t so self-righteous we wouldn’t be upset. Or that if Dave Chappelle or Chris Rock or Kanye or Jay Z did this, we’d be falling all over ourselves declaring them geniuses. She added that Black people’s collective problem is that “…we kill each other instead of support each other” and that instead of “[making] lemonade out of lemons we just suck the sour juice out of the lemons. Wake up.”

Jones is correct. She has every right to make comedy out of any and all painful truths in American history or wherever she draws inspiration. But saying she was being distasteful is also everyone’s right, not just the sour lemon suckers who want to keep a Black woman down while calling Kanye “brilliant.” Also, no one was demanding that NBC fire her — they were lamenting that she and SNL would do this in the first place.

Do we need to lighten up about plantation rape jokes? Should we stop thinking that laughs about forced breeding don’t have a place on SNL? Is it time to forget that just as Jones was putting the final touches on her sketch that Black women all over the country were attending protests demanding government intervention to find the 200-plus Nigerian girls kidnapped from school and sold into forced marriages? That maybe until Black women’s bodies aren’t stolen, sold, raped and their plights ignored things aren’t quite so funny?

No, no and no. And if Jones disagrees, maybe she’ll let us know this week in a sketch.


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(Photo: NBC)

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