Friday, 28 October 2011

Am I Really About to Blog About the N Word???

The title will give you some clues as to the subject matter.... I'll just get straight in to it shall I?

I have a mate called Nik Coppin. He is a stand up comedian. He also happens to be mixed race (Mum from England, Dad from Barbados). I first saw him on stage at the pub my brother worked in a few years ago. He was actually one of the first reviews I did on this blog, before I knew him.

The following year my brother rented Nik a room in our flat and Nik and I became festival drinking buddies.

On one of our nights out, we were involved in what could be described as a bit of an incident in said pub that my brother worked in. The incident was quite interesting and since then, Nik has told the story on stage a few times. I have seen him tell the story on stage more than once. Unfortunately, people have taken offence to him telling the story, due to the subject matter.

So, firstly, here is my version of what happened on the night in question:

Nik and I were having a beer along with 1-2 other comics who had been performing in venues nearby. A girl walked in, crying, lost, with no shoes, and make up all smudged down her face. Nik recognised her as a girl he'd worked with in London, and got her to sit down with us. He gave her a hug, the barmaid brought over a pint of water and I grabbed her a few hankies. We then started trying to figure out where she was staying, where her mates were and where her phone was etc etc....

She was still very upset when a man started trying to get her attention, stroking her arm, speaking to her and touching her legs (she was wearing a miniskirt with no tights so her legs were totally bare). The chap had an African appearance and accent to match. She told him to go away several times, but he just got more and more determined.... until we all told him he was out of order and he had to leave her alone.

Nik, being the closest and the one who knew the girl involved was the most assertive, but he didn't even swear and went out of his way to be reasonable to someone who certainly didn't deserve it.

At that point the guy got up and said "I don't have to listen to you, you are just a half-cast, she doesn't want you, she wants to come home with a real man".

Nik gave him the opportunity to take what he said back, but the guy kept on at him, ranting and raving about how he was a worthless half-cast bastard.

At that point, Nik got a little upset and he said something along the lines of "We're the only two black people in the pub and you're coming out with that racist bullshit, well, F*** You N*****!"

The chap got more and more wound up, (more because the girl was still showing him no interest rather than because he'd been called names), I tried to get his cousin who was with him to calm him down, he was kicked out, the police were called, we all jumped in a cab and the last I heard the staff at the pub saw our friend being chucked into the back of a police van because he wouldn't calm down when they spoke to him.


A year goes by and Nik appears back in Edinburgh again. I go and see his show and it turns out that the story has made it in to his act.

Apparently in England, us Scots have a bit of a reputation for being racist so Nik turns it round and tries to make it funny with the punchline at the end being "There we're 100 Scots sitting in the bar, watching the drama unfold thinking "F***ing hell... and we thought we were racist".

But if you want to get anywhere in comedy, you need to be more than just funny, you also need to be interesting and thought provoking.

As a mixed race kid growing up in London in the late 70's and early eighties, Nik obviously knows what it's like to be called the N word. Having watched him re-tell the story of what happened to us that night it was fairly obvious to me that he was trying to point to that event, including his own behaviour and show everyone how absurdly stupid it is to be racist. Only an idiot could listen to the story and think that racism was anything other than stupid.

In his effort to be thought provoking, he raises some interesting questions about language. He is by no means the first comic to talk about black people taking back the word, and if you look around twitter and the blogosphere you can see similar arguments raging from Ricky Gervais trying and failing to take back the word "mong" to gay comedians calling their friends F*****s and saying "well if the blacks are claiming their word back, then we're sure as hell having that one for ourselves..."

As language evolves so will the debates surrounding words. Nik subsequently regretted his choice of words on the night. He said his Dad would be ashamed of him, but on the other hand, he didn't think it was unjustified, and the guy deserved it.

So, to contribute to the discussion on language and to try and be thought provoking himself he told the story and directly asked the audience the question. "Was I justified to use the word? Does the fact that I am mixed race and have been called that word entitle me to use it?" (He doesn't ask it rhetorically, he actually waits for an answer - and the answers are not always the same).

It's an interesting question. It's like saying if someone hits you can you hit them back?

I'm not going to offer my own opinion on the subject but instead, I am going to offer my opinions on the people who have chosen to go on to his Chortle profile and anonymously brand him a racist.

Anyone who listens to the story as I have heard it, hears Nik ask the question and concludes that Nik's show is racist is quite clearly an idiot. You are not capable of thinking beyond one word that has triggered your inner PC voice to tell you to act like a moron.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion and if you don't think he's funny then that's fine, but to go on to chortle, an important resource for stand up's trying to make a living and brand him a racist without even leaving your own name is pretty cowardly.

Some people would prefer to sit and watch banal Live at the Apollo wannabes making hack jokes about their sat nav's, moaning about their wives or trying to outdo Frankie Boyle on the offensive front. I'd prefer to hear a comic address some of the big issues and whether you personally find him funny or not, Nik at least has a bash at it and tries to make people question their preconceptions about race, racism and language.

If people like him are discouraged from trying to be a little more thought provoking because people without any forethought or intelligence are ringing his bookers to complain or bashing him on the internet, then the traditional stand up comedy club will become a much less interesting place to be.


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