Mel Brooks, 1975
What’s so funny about racism
is how the racists never get the joke.
In most settings, racists stick out
like Count Basie’s Orchestra in the middle
of a prairie, but they’re as awkward as he is
elegant compared to the world around him.
And, if you still don’t get it, imagine
a chain gang with perfect pitch
singing Cole Porter’s “I Get a Kick Out of You,”
to their overseer, whose frustration swells so
for an “authentic-nigger work song,”
he and his crew demonstrate their darkest
desires and break into song themselves,
“Camptown Ladies Come Out Tonight,
Doo Dah, Doo Dah,” kicking up their heels
in the dirt, tasting an old slave
trick on their tongues, each syllable
falling from their lips like a boll
of cotton. Funny, to the naked eye,
but consider the Native American
who speaks Yiddish, appearing out of the dust
of the Old West, reminding us
of how we learn to comfort ourselves
by making ourselves a little uncomfortable
over time in the fossil of race.
Jump cut: Black Bart, our hero, enters
town where danger awaits
him, our hero who we hope
to see beat up bad guys
and win the woman, even when
the hero is black and the woman,
Lili von Shtupp, is German. “one false move
and the nigger gets it.” yes, self sacrifice
with his gun to his own head, but
the unwitting white liberals save him
from himself, which is their life’s mission.
You see, what’s so funny about racists,
is that they never get the joke, because
the joke always carries a bit of truth.
Notice how we can laugh only when we recognize
a Sambo of our own design, by communal hands—
in our own likeness, a likeness we own—
so we can laugh at the absurd pain of it all.
This joke, like an aloe released on a wound,
like a black man trying to do a job
in a town in which he’s not wanted,
like a black man unzipping his pants
in the Old West to a white woman in a hotel
room in the center of this town. Did I mention
how he was released from a chain gang?
Did I mention how she was an exotic dancer
who slept with men for money, helping them
hang their insecurities on a hook
on the back of a hotel-room door before entering?
Careful with your laughter; one false move and
Nigger here gets appropriated. That’s not funny
to you? Well, when they saw themselves
on screen in their comedy-drama romance,
in the darkness of the theater, they laughed.
And they needed to see it; it had to project
on the wide screen to get a good cathartic laugh
from the tragedy of the 20th century.
And it’s okay to laugh at these ironies
today because they’re blown from a wind
of past pain, with the velocity of memory.
You see, when the Jewish artist has suffered
enough he knows he can strike back
with just a stroke of laughter: A black man shtupping
a german floozy, who tries to ensnare him
between her legs, but gets hoisted by her own
garter petard? Well, that’s just some funny scheiße.
Now, please, excuse all this humor
wrapped in truth—or, is it a chiasmus of this?
Whether you’re ready or not, stand back, please,
and back away from all those stereotypes
restricting you from stereotypes you
aspire toward. As you deny self
through elective surgery on your nose or lips,
excuse me, please, as I rear back in laughter;
and excuse me as I recall the 1970s
and remember myself laughing, laughing
blue-black gut bursting songs of truth. Yeah,
please excuse me folks as I whip this out.
Mel Brooks, 1975