“Comedy Matters Because It Brings People Together”
For the last seven years the Museum of Pop Culture or MoPOP has organized an event called, Through The Eyes of Art during Black History Month. Every year the theme changes but the event is always a vibrant, moving and meaningful way of celebrating the Black experience for Washington. This year the theme was, A Salute to Black Comedy, where the history and impact of Black comedy was honored, performed and discussed in length.
Each year the night starts out with the Black National Anthem, Lift Every Voice and Sing. This year neo soul singer-songwriter Rio Chanae blessed the audience with a breathtaking performance — just her natural talent and a keyboard, followed by the presentation of the Servanthood Award to Isiah Anderson, Jr.. Anderson’s advocacy and organizing work for youth community arts programs and his dedication to empowering the youth he works with, made this choice obvious. The fact that he is also a comedian who has opened up for everyone from Bernie Mac to Cedric the Entertainer made this all the more synchronistic.
Anderson’s acceptance speech really set the stage for the evening. Pulling audience members into the conversation and having the whole room rooted in laughter and eager for more. Local comedians, Tawanna Buchanan and Felisha Barnes had the audience hollering, up on their feet and ready for headliner, Nate Jackson and he did not disappoint.
Jackson’s comedic talent has taken him “from Delaware to Dubai, Georgia to Germany, and Jacksonville to Japan,” as his bio puts it and has appeared on everything from HBO’s “All Def Comedy,” to BET’s “Comic View.” Jackson is a true star but the person who shone the brightest Friday night was Darryl “D’Militant” Littleton.
Before the comedy lineup started Littleton and Dumi Maraire sat down to talk about his book, “Black Comedians on Black Comedy” and really dove into the role comedy has played in progressive social change through bold social commentary. Little’s book is the first of its kind — a kind of chronicle of the history of Black comedy. “The reason I wrote it is because if we don’t write our own histories it gets a little bland. These are what I call unsung heroes. I don’t wanna wake up tomorrow and nobody remembers them,” Littleton explained.
Black comedy illustrated a perception of the world through a lens that had not been shared before. It gave the world a peek into the experiences of Black people and Black culture that was brand new — and at the same time empowering Black people. “They ended up taking me off 88 stations in the south. I said, ‘Why?’ And they said, ‘Because you’re empowering people. Your comedy is too angry.’ I was a Black guy empowering Black people, so they shut me down,” Littleton revealed.
Littleton didn’t get the name “D’Militant” for nothing. His entire career he has advocated for the Black community. While working at BET he was given a list of words that nobody could say on air but the “N” word was not on that list. Littleton made sure that was changed. “My father, although he was not a Black Panther, he would always talk to me about Black empowerment,” Littleton shared.
Littleton’s stories of his time in the comedy industry ebbed and flowed and captivated everyone in attendance. It was like sitting with an uncle and listening to him tell of life’s highs and lows, hoping to learn a few lessons along the way and of course, have a few laughs. “The most interesting comedian experience was with Arsenio Hall. He told me about the first time he had sex. I didn’t ask him that,” Littleton recalled.
Littleton’s career and legacy are rich and inspiring. His most prominent message before closing the discussion for questions from the audience was that, “Comedy matters because it brings people together.”
So much love to MoPOP for putting on this excellent event every year. For a lot of people in Washington MoPOP is out of the way, way over their budget and considered a tourists’ experience, but MoPOP has several community programs that consider the many barriers to access for much of the public. Their discount programs even allow individuals and families who show an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card to the admission teller, free admission into the museum as part of their Museums for All program . No questions are asked and no ID is required. Call or check their website for more information about MoPOP’s programs. Check out Teen Tix for other local programs that work to break down the barriers that prevent families from accessing art in our community.