“Straight Black Atcha”: Lessons from Black Comedy
The cast and producer of Black Comedy, the first all-Indigenous comedy to appear on Australian TV since 1973's Basically Black came together at this year’s Storyology session on November 12.
Black Comedy adopts humour over polemics in engaging audiences on the complexities of racial tensions and “white privilege” in Australia. SBS TV host, reporter and filmmaker Patrick Aboud moderated the panel which brought together actors Aaron Fa’Aoso, Nakkiah Lui, and Producer Kath Shelper. Black Comedy characters such as Tatiana the Cultural Excuse Girl and Tiffany the Black White Woman, explore complex issues such as the appropriation of black culture and white guilt.
“I try and make comedy of everything,” Lui told The Point Magazine.
“What can you do if you can’t laugh? The power of the story is that it engages us in different ways and if you can use humour people won’t shut off. When dealing with uncomfortable issues, you immediately have an in and you can get people to care.”
“The role of comedy and satire overrides everything. It allows you to talk about the uncomfortable.”
– Nakkiah Lui
Patrick Aboud asked the panellists how the indigenous community responded to the show’s use of humour to address topics which are usually considered culturally and politically taboo.
“You have to consider the authorship; we are the first sketch show totally and completely written by Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander people, which gives it layers.” said Lui.
Shelper said one of the first online comments the show received after it first aired was from a white person saying, “I feel uncomfortable but is it okay to laugh at this?”
Aaron said, “Comedy gives you a vehicle to push the boundaries and push current popular discussions... although we created the first season initially for the mob, we wanted to do blackfella humour for everyone—the idea is to laugh with us”
One question from the audience was around the role of community consultation and the processes involved when dealing with ‘contentious’ or race based issues.
“We get asked a lot about the consultation process with the ‘community.’ said Lui.
“But white people don’t have to do that. This idea that we (at the program) are inherently representative of a community is racially biased. We don’t apply that to the dominant group... the indigenous ‘community’ is just the same as any other community, it comes down to individual humour rather than politics.”
Aboud suggested that doing’ black comedy’ is innately political even if you don’t want it to be.
Lui has previously spoken and written about the need to re-frame questions of race in Australia.
“The rhetoric and discussion of racial diversity is currently within an accepted language of whoever is holding the power. Race isn’t even articulated as a debate about white supremacy or white privilege,” she told The Point Magazine.
Speaking at the “I’m Not Racist But” symposium at the University of Sydney earlier this year, Lui highlighted the seemingly innocuous ways in which racism can manifest in our society.
“You might not think you’re superior to any other races or disdain them for their race; you might have friends from all races; you might insist you don’t see colour (which if you actually don’t, you should probably see a doctor). I bet you love night noodle markets, and you sit through welcome-to-countries because you ‘get it’. You’re not a racist but you’re white and you’re privileged, and you’re not giving that privilege up. You’re hanging onto it, as Aboriginal people die on their knees in station cells, as we imprison refugees on an island out of sight just for seeking help, as we continually try and ban the burqa, as white people spout hateful vitriol on trains and buses at anyone who isn’t white.”
Lui told The Point Magazine she draws from the work of American writer and humourist Fran Lebowitz. She especially loves her line, “The more you are like white, the less trouble you have.”
Issues of underlying racism towards Indigenous Australians came to surface this year with the controversial booing of Adam Goodes after he performed an Indigenous dance during an AFL match.
Actress Miranda Tapsell spoke out at the 2015 Logies against the lack of representation of diverse actors on Australian screens.
“Put more beautiful people of colour on TV and connect viewers in ways which transcend race and unite us. This is the real ‘Team Australia’.... My speech was meant to be inclusive...I really want to see more of Australia reflected on TV,” Tapsell said on ABC TV’s The Weekly.
Lui said that for things to change we first need to change our language and create an open space for dialogue. She believes comedy and satire can help create this space.
“As a comedian and writer and actor I get to create space within this narrative. I have received lots of messages from women of colour which overwhelmed me who feel we have something in common and that our perspective is being heard. To know that you can have room to speak, to know that you have value; a place for your humanity to fit and complexity can belong to the narrative discourse, this is what I value.”
The cast from 'Black Comedy' use humour to explore the complexities of racial tensions in Australia