It's no joke

November 09, 1994|By Nicole Sconiers

THE SUSAN Smith case has already become fodder for at least one black comedian. The scenario is typical: A white person commits a crime, and then places the blame on a black person. That scenario has been used by black comedians for decades.

Over the weekend, at a black Northern Virginia comedy club, a comedian mused about the Smith case, saying: "I knew that white woman was lying. Black men don't even want to take care of their own kids, let alone take care of someone else's." The all-black audience laughed uproariously.

But why would such a horrific case -- a mother killing her own children -- be grounds for comedy? As we all know, much of comedy has a dark underbelly. As a well-known saying in the African-American community goes: "You have to laugh sometimes to keep from crying."

Of course, the O.J. Simpson double-murder case is frequently discussed by black and white comedians. At Monique's, a black comedy club on Liberty Street downtown, a female comedian last week got lots of laughs with her routine about O.J. Simpson: "At first, I thought Nicole Brown Simpson was a black woman," she said. "But when I heard how many times she had been stabbed, I knew it was a white woman. A sister wouldn't let somebody stab her that many times." The audienced roared at the comment.

It was a catharsis of sorts; no one missed the underlining meaning: O.J. is somehow getting his just desserts for marrying outside his race.

Comedians on HBO's weekly "Def Comedy Jam," a black-comedy show, routinely mine crime-related stories for their material.

Rodney King-related gags still pop up there occasionally.

For years, comedians such as Dick Gregory and Richard Pryor used tales about police brutality as comedic devises.

So it's just natural that the Union, S.C., case of the mother who claimed she was the victim of a black carjacker who took her Mazda with her two boys still inside would be fuel for black comedians.

Her story brought tears to the eyes of many people, black and white. First, because of her allegations that the children were missing. Then later, because it was learned that she confessed to killing the toddlers by running the car into a lake.

But those tears turned to anger when it was discovered that that Susan Smith's black perpetrator was fictional. Many black people, felt that the police in Union, S.C., particularly Sheriff Howard Wells, were too eager to believe her story and launch a nationwide search, even though there were many discrepancies in Ms. Smith's report.

Many speculate that if she were black, the hue and cry would not have been so great. Remember the Washington mother whose son was discovered missing last month? A band of work-release prisoners found her son and held his captor until police arrived. The Washington police had considered the child a runaway, though he had no history of running away.

But despite the analyzing of how such stories underline racial tensions, the jokes continue.

Even if we "laugh to keep from crying," we have to realize the joke is still on us.

Nicole Sconiers writes from Randallstown.

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