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This tale of intrigue begins in Washington DC. It was my first summer in that city and the heat was almost unbearable. It’s a specific kind of wet heat in DC. It reminds me of the heat in the South. It’s the kind of heat where you feel like your walking through pudding. If you took an ice cream scoop and waved it in the air you’d get a hefty scoop of DC Swamp Heat. It’s a tangible kind of heat.
It’s the kind of heat where if you stand in it long enough it melts and warps your ideology. Racism starts making sense. Trickle Down starts making sense. The War on Drugs seems logical. A real dangerous heat.
It was in that heat that I had my first Capital Fringe Show. It was the second fringe festival I was doing and I was pretty excited. There were 6 shows over the course of 3 weeks. The first show was on a Saturday afternoon and the heat was particularly tangible that day.
One of the things I enjoyed about DC was how walkable it often was. Usually if I had a show or a mic in the city I’d walk to the venue. If not I’d attempt public transportation. The metro was sketchy over the summer because it was catching fire during the winter months. I chose not to walk that day. Probably a pretty wise choice.
I checked in, got my artists badge and got my ticket update. 41 people had bought tickets to the show! I was pretty thrilled! I walked to the venue, the now closed Argonaut, in confidence of a packed house. Once I got to the venue chaos ensued!
The tangible heat had knocked the power out to the block and the venue didn’t have a back up. The kitchen was trying to keep things cold, the wait staff was running around to ensure customer satisfaction and the Fringe staff was trying to figure out what they were going to do about the show.
Since we couldn’t use the space, which was a lovely intimate, black box theater style room, we were looking for an alternative. As we were lining up our options the 41 people who had purchased tickets were lining up outside the venue. One of the managers suggested the courtyard.
So we went out to check it out. There was a little spot that had some coverage away from the sun for me to perform under and stack rows of chairs. So we rushed back in and the fringe venue manager, the Argonaut’s manager, myself and one other volunteer started setting it all up. Before we knew it the courtyard became a performance space!
So we kicked off the show! At that time I was in the tail end of performing “How Not To Fit In”. This was my first show I had written with a theme in mind and talked about some tougher socio-political topics.
One of the topics was media manipulation using police brutality as an example. It was the most controversial piece in the show. It wasn’t controversial because my criticism of the media but rather that I was addressing police brutality at all. It was a piece that garnered me as much praise as it did vitriol!
The piece talks about the notion of “good cops” represented by “Officer Frank” in the piece. The point was that the media is one of the factors in creating a divide between the people who are civilians and those that become cops. At no point in the 9 minute comedic breakdown did I condone or excuse violence from the police.
The biggest supporters of the piece were mostly former cops. These folks recognized how they were viewed by the bad cops and the citizens. They recognized the issues within the industry of policing. The piece addresses that we need more “Officer Franks” and less bad cops.
I’ll attach the whole piece here so you can listen to it for the next part of the story. I wrote this about 4 years ago and I mostly still believe in this. However this was the launching point to evolve and add to my views of why there aren’t more “Officer Franks” serving American communities.
The folks that were against this piece were usually ones that weren’t paying attention heard some buzz words and made an assumption. It would mostly be one of two assumptions.
I’m making fun of cops and therefore I should be shunned from society.
I’m belittling the victims of police brutality and excusing the violent behavior of American police.
The answer is neither but on that hot, swampy July day in DC, someone assumed the latter. Since we were in the courtyard section, there was a portion of the space that still had restaurant patrons who were within earshot. One of these patrons was a young black woman who assumed I was ignoring and belittling the victims of police brutality.
About 8 minutes into the piece she decided to chime in at the moment I make an argument to balance the media with stories about good cops in tandem with the bad..
“Mmm, no you lyin’. This is bullshit!” she said as she slurred her speech.
“What’s wrong? What’s the matter?” I responded.
“You lyin’. It’s all bullshit!”
“Do you not think there are good cops out there?”
“Yeah I know there’s good cops, but you lyin’. You’re exaggerating.”
“Yes, I am. That’s the point of comedy to get the message across through humor.”
“I ain’t laughing. I’m not laughing when my people are dyin in the streets.”
“I’m not laughing about that either.”
“This some bullshit. Nah, you go ahead though, I’m here to support you. I’m your support system!”
At this point I had to figure out how to get her to sit down and keep her commentary to a minimum. The heat from her was as tangible as the sun we were all bathing in. The venue manager and her friend came over as I told her I appreciated her support but the people in the audience were also supporting me and if she would like to continue supporting me, she can join the audience but she can’t be disruptive as she has been.
She decided to sit and a woman started clapping, which set off the young black woman. “Bitch don’t you dare clap at me! I’m not here for you. I’m here for him!” she said pointing to me. Then she came and sat right behind me. The venue manager asked me pause the show and I did. They started talking to her about either leaving or sitting with the rest of the crowd. That set her off again.
“Y’all gonna call the cops on me! Y’all seriously gonna call the cops on me! This is bullshit!”
Eventually she walked over and sat in the crowd. I went back into my bit to wrap it up. Eventually she stood up in the middle of a different peice about 5 minutes before the show was going to be over and said “Y’all crazy, it’s too fuckin hot out here! Bye bye!”
She went back into the building. And right as she did, the power came back on. If I believed in God, I’d think this was a test of some kind. A terrible terrible hot, sweaty test. I talked to some folks after the show, now covered both in heat sweat and stress sweat. I thanked everyone for coming and went home.
I took a cool shower, prepared some dinner and was enjoying my air conditioning. As I was eating, I thought about that young woman. The thought that so many people in a variety of communities live in fear of those they are supposed to revere and feel protected by. It began making me think about how the system manipulates even those that serve it. Perhaps if it wasn’t for the heat we feel from the pressure of this system we’d be able to see it for what it is.