Thursday, June 17, 2010

What's Wrong with Whoopi?

Making The Hater’s Hit List
© 2010 Leighann Lord

When I was a kid, my Dad told me that there are people in the world who aspire to mediocrity. I didn’t understand what he meant until I grew up and realized that he’d sugarcoated it. Not only are there people who do not aspire, but they don’t want you to strive for anything either. For whatever reason, they don’t seek to accomplish anything and belittle those who do. I met a couple of folks like this recently after a show; two old men who put me in mind of a Black Statler & Waldorf (from "The Muppet Show").

"Statler" asked me what I felt about Whoopi Goldberg. I sometimes get asked this question because people assume we are both comedians. We are not. Whoopi, is a comedic actress. This distinction isn’t very important to the general public, but it is to me. While the goal is the same – to entertain – they are different jobs with different skill sets. (Not all singers are musicians. Not all musicians are singers.) That said, I am a fan of Whoopi’s work, and have been since her one woman show. Hell, I sat through "Jumping Jack Flash."

I could tell, however, by the way that "Statler" asked the question that he didn’t want to hear my opinion as much as he wanted to share his own, so I said, "What do ‘you’ think of Whoopi?"

"I don’t like her," he said.

"How come?"

"Why does she have to look like that?"

Like what: comfortable, confident, content? The lack of quotation marks on the previous sentence means that’s what I thought, not what I said. What did happen was a noticeable arch in my left eye brow, which said, ‘What’s wrong with Whoopi?'

"All the money she has, why she can’t fix herself up?"

Right back atcha, Sunshine. Look in the mirror much? Why is it that people who judge others only by their appearance are often so very lacking in theirs? If fixing oneself up is so simple why don’t they do it? Cosmetic surgery is very affordable but I’ll settle for good hygiene. To this lot, a woman’s professional accomplishments are not nearly as important as how stylish her clothes, how perfect her hair or how high her heels. I mean really, why pick on Whoopi when Larry King is disintegrating right before our eyes?

Then "Waldorf" said, "What do you think of Oprah?" Wary I said, "What do YOU think of her?"

"I don’t like her."

I kinda saw that coming but I wasn’t sure why. If we’re judging on appearance, then Oprah is very well put together. I was afraid to ask, but I had to know, "What’s wrong with Oprah?"

"She tells all her business," he said. "Why she got to tell it all? She don’t know how to keep anything private."

No. No, she doesn’t, which would be really problematic if she worked for Homeland Security, but she’s a talk show host. Salacious stories and tales of woe are valuable currency in our culture. In a weird way it’s almost admirable that Oprah’s not asking her guests to reveal any more or less then she does about herself. Show me yours and I’ll show you mine seems fair.

Of all the reasons not to like Oprah, I’m not sure that loose lips would have made my top 10. At the end of the day, she’s not dishing my dirt, and I don’t recall ever seeing "Statler" and/or "Waldorf" on the show.

I should have brushed off their curmudgeonly comments, but I didn’t like the direction of the conversation. Were there any single, successful black women whom they did like? Who was next on their haters hit list, Condoleezza?

But the human brain is amazing. Sometimes it shuts off or reinterprets experiences that it deems too painful to deal with. My brain did me this solid by offering up the possibility that these Black men – either of whom could have been my Father or Grandfather – weren’t really disparaging successful Black women while talking to a Black woman. No. They ... just ... didn’t like famous one-named people. Who knows, maybe they also disliked Prince or Buddha or Hitler ... Oh, wait. Hitler was single.

I know it’s impossible to please everybody but you’d at least like to have "family" in your corner. But not everybody gets that. Maybe that’s why some people aspire to mediocrity so as to keep peace with the ne' er do wells around them. But to quote another successful sister, Mary J. Blige: "It doesn’t matter if you go along with their plan. They’ll never be happy because they’re not happy with themselves."

I’m not one to go looking for ill will, but I’m actually hoping I make it onto "the list." Maybe it’ll mean I’m doing something right.

Leighann Lord is a stand-up comedian, who's style is best described as "Thinking Cap Comedy." If comedy were music, she'd be Jazz. She's George Carlin if he'd been born a Black Woman. Check out her upcoming shows @ Join her on FaceBook. Follow her on Twitter.


RoseH_Huls21365 said...

It is easier to get than to keep it...................................................................

Amybeth/AB said...

I love your writing Leighann - always funny and always thought provoking.

Leighann Lord said...

Thanks so much AB. I appreciate that!

Beckie said...

I'm taking a class called Women in Comedy. We've made the distinction as you mention in the posting between comedic actresses and comedians. I am now researching black comediennes from 1950 through 1970....yeah. So far, the only perI've come up with LaWanda Page. Do you have any thoughts on this or knowledge of others that fit this description?

Leighann Lord said...

Hi Beckie,

Thanks for reading and commenting on the post. The class you're taking sounds really interesting.

If you haven't already, you might want to check out Shirley Hemphill, Moms Mabley, and Marsha Warfield.

For comedic actresses take a look at Marla Gibbs (The Jeffersons, 227)and Roxie Roker (The Jeffersons & Lenny Kravitz's mom).

I hope this helps. Good luck with your class.