THIS WEEKEND, Front Porch Improv wants to make you laugh.
The three-day Savannah Comedy Festival is dedicated to showing the best sketch, improv, and variety comedy around the country.
This year, performances by Mark Kendall and Lauren Hope Krass are sure to be the talk of the town.
Kendall’s show, The Magic Negro, takes a look into the representation of black males in the media and what it means to use stereotypes in satire.
With A Krass Act, Krass talks about her life through storytelling, stand-up comedy, and musical numbers.
We talked with Kendall and Krass last week.
Mark Kendall w/ The Magic Negro
Tell me about "The Magic Negro."
Kendall: It's a nod to the archetype in literature and TV and art of the old wise black man, the Morgan Freeman type, that's kind of guiding the white protagonist on their journey. It always struck me as odd because they popped up a lot in the movies, but their only function was to help the white person get what they wanted. Despite their wisdom, they were low status. To me, it felt like an Uncle Remus character, like a benevolent slave.
How do you use that in your show?
Kendall: It's a sketch show, but one of the main lines is I pop up two or three times as the Magic Negro. It's interesting because he's this nice host, even though he's talking about some unsavory things like racism and inequality, and he's making the audience comfortable. I put this grotesque archetype in front of the audience, and if that character makes you comfortable, maybe ask yourself why.
There’s a lot of crowd work. I have another one called “Sam or Larry?” and I bring up an audience member to see if they can tell black celebrities apart. That inspiration is a jumping off point. When you see a black person, do you really see them as an individual person, or do you see them as a black person and all the negative baggage we’ve associated with blackness?
I’m using these stereotypes like I’m trying to satirize them, but audiences may not necessarily know what I’m satirizing versus what’s just funny. The thing that’s tough with stereotypes is that they’re these jovial comedic characters, and if you go back to the first time black Americans were depicted in paintings and comics, they used comedy programs or comic strips to create these stereotypes. If you’re using comedy, then, to try and satirize these things, can you trust the audience to know what you’re making fun of? I like my audiences to enjoy the show instead of be sad, so I work to make them feel comfortable, but I question myself like in the work I do trying to make my white audience member comfortable. Is that honest?
What’s your audience reception been like? Are people getting it?
Kendall: It's been good. I did a run at the Alliance Theatre, which is one of the theatres [in Atlanta] and I did a run at Dad's Garage; I've done it a few times over the past few years. What people will laugh at will vary. There are some pieces that are Atlanta-centric—I have a piece about MARTA—so I'm interested to see what material will do well.
What do you hope viewers take away from the set?
Kendall: The goal is to make them laugh, but I guess it would also be nice if, by the end, you start to ask yourself, "Why does something make me laugh or not?" I think it's worth thinking about. This is one story that makes me think related to this. I was at a white friend's house and [Atlanta Braves outfielder] Andruw Jones was up to bat, and I remember his mom being like, "I always liked Andruw Jones so much because he smiles when he comes up to the plate." There's nothing wrong with liking that or that comment, but he's at work playing sports and sports are competitive. If he didn't smile, would you think him something else? Would you think him unlikable?
Lauren Krass w/ A Krass Act
How did you get started with comedy?
Krass: I've been doing standup comedy about seven years. I started in Charleston and I was doing improv at Theater 99. I was doing improv after I graduated college, wandering around, like, "What is life?"
I just tried it and stuck with it. I didn’t always want to be a stand-up comedian, but the first time I did it was at a loud, crowded open mic. I didn’t necessarily crush, but the one thing I noticed was that everybody shut up and listened to me, and that really stuck with me. People care about what I have to say and I have no idea why. Everybody shut up, and that was a sign to keep writing, keep going. It’s really been such a fun journey. It’s been really tough, but since my standup is largely autobiographical, about my life and my upbringing and dating and being a fat woman, it’s really helped me grow as a person with self-discovery.
How do you work being a fat woman into your set?
Krass: For me, it's my own form of protest. I'm not making fun of other people, but I do make fun of society. I'm making fat jokes, but not, "Laugh at me, I'm fat," but "I'm fat, why don't you think I'm hot? Don't you want to fuck me?" I try to take it back.
Nicole Byer just had a really awesome interview about fat jokes and I loved all of it, because what I deal with is people saying, “No, you’re pretty!” My experience is so much more nuanced.
You’ve done a lot of festivals. What’s the importance of a comedy festival?
Krass: When you're a new comic, you want to get seen. The first comedy festival I did was in New York while I was living in Charleston, called the She-Devil Festival. Those aren't always the best, especially if it's an all-female festival—don't pit us all against each other!
I love doing feminist comedy festivals because you get to meet and network with really powerful, funny women.
People who have seen your show say it feels like you’re on the verge of making it big. What does that feel like?
Krass: I feel it too. I know I'm supposed to be modest, but I feel like in the next few years, some big things are going to happen.
None of us know how this works, not even the comedians. I submitted to Comedy Central for a half hour, I auditioned in L.A. for a bunch of stuff because the casting director for E! really liked me—they got Joan Rivers vibes. I didn’t get anything, but I got so close—this is a sign.
What can viewers expect?
Krass: I think readers should expect to have a lot of fun at my show. I've been really discovering my voice lately, which is kind of a silly psychopath. Since I've been so much more comfortable on stage, it's fun for everybody. People say it feels like we're friends during the show. I think people are going to have a lot of fun.