Every once in a while I emerge out of the YouTube vortex with a few gems to ponder on and reconsider. The above clip is one of them. In it, the Washington D.C. television host Ralph Waldo ‘Petey’ Greene brilliantly deconstructs a very prominent American racial taboo – watch this and then, as supplements, read Stanley Crouch’s The Artificial White Man: Essays on Authenticity and (if you really want to go off on the deep end) the second chapter of Jacques Derrida’s Of Grammatology.

The late funnyman Petey Greene’s genius is that he was a funny man. To say he was merely talented wouldn’t do him justice. To call him a comic or even a comedian would be reductionist. Greene was honest and the highest compliment you can pay an honest man is to tell him how you really feel. Either be yourself or Greene, stone-cold Falstaffian fool that he was, would tease that self-in-hiding to the surface. Politics, protocol and etiquette be damned.

Today, perhaps since the 2007 release of the movie based on his life, Talk To Me, Greene may be remembered largely as the man whose live ‘breakdown’ on Johnny Carson preceded Dave Chapelle’s infamous $50 million change of heart and subsequent move to Africa and stands firmly in the tradition of brilliant, humorous black funnymen who were, alas, all too sensitive to humanity, their own and ours, to allow an audience ignorant of the joke’s complex core to co-opt their humor – to dull its subversiveness and diamond-sharp, universal truth by lavishing it with cheap laughter and even cheaper, albeit Wal-Mart-sized, rewards.

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