GloZelle Green: When Is It ‘Cooning’ And When Is It Purely Just Slapstick Comedy?
One of the more peculiar ways in which racism, and in particular, living under white supremacy, impedes our ability to live as fully actualized human beings, is through our inability to be comfortable with black people doing slapstick comedy.
Are we really talking about the pratfall? Why yes, yes we are! Why? Because laughing at someone falling down, no matter how violent, is probably the most simplistic, yet effective form of comedy ever invented. Think of Charlie Chaplin, The Three Stooges, Lucille Ball, Jerry Lewis or the more contemporarily known Jim Carrey.
According to this piece, slapstick, or more generally referred to as physical comedy, has been bringing the schadenfreude laughs since likely around 2500 B.C. in Egypt. Likewise, many cultures throughout history revel in the pie in the face madcap and self-deprecating style of humor – well, almost every culture.
I mean, we do it, but not without getting tons of side-eyes: Like Soul Plane did; Or Flavor Flav did; Or like Tyler Perry, Kevin Hart, Martin Lawrence and any other Black man who donned a dress for laughs did. Or in the case of black comediennes, like GloZell Green did and still does.
She calls herself “The Queen of YouTube” and compares herself to the likes of Carol Burnett, Lucille Ball and Phyllis Diller. And with more than 2,000 videos with a combined total of over 565 million views, and more than three million subscribers (all according to her website and YouTube page), she may very well be deserving of the title.
GloZell is known mostly around YouTube for committing prank challenges (be it downing cinnamon, hot peppers or doing the ice bucket challenge), which usually result in her screaming frantically, making up words that don’t exist, making funny faces and removing her wig. In addition to the wig-snatching and other exaggerated gestures, her performances are also very loud, very linguistically Southern (also known around the Black blogosphere as “country”) and very stereotypical.
They are jokes in the most simplistic form. And although I know for a fact that whatever joke she is setting us up for will end with her pulling off her wig, splitting vowels and shouting, I still like her. She is particularly good in her physical comedy, and her timing is impeccable. And in one respect, she’s very true to form when it comes to how comediennes have always performed slapstick. As noted by film and television meme archive website TV Trope:
It is rare to see women in these roles because of the Double Standard seen in things like Beauty Is Never Tarnished, Wouldn’t Hit a Girl and Double Standard: Abuse, Female on Male. Also, due to all of these things, the women who do fit this trope are more likely to be amusingly injured by other women or their own clumsiness than by men.
Yet her style of comedy has been viewed by some as problematic. In fact, the word I hear most around the virtual water cooler is “coonery”: a term used to denounce a Black person for basically shucking and jiving for the amusement of white people.
And according to this Tumblr post from last year on What Whites Will Never Know, the author says specifically of GloZell’s form of slapstick comedy:
They reinforced negative stereotypes and reinforcing what the media taught the mainstream about Black people.
I mean, look at the facebook status with her complaining about not getting EBT benefits so that she can buy a weave. What’s the one target that the media loves to use when it comes to Welfare benefits? Black women. And since GloZell is a very popular person with the White audience, when she says stuff like this, she reinforced all the negative stuff.
Now, there are people like King Bach that [sic] does coonery sometimes, but it’s with a tongue in check [sic] and from time to time, not so damn often that I don’t want to follow him anymore.
Coonery is just lazy and while it maybe funny in a small circle, it just wreaks [sic] of stereotypical/extreme behaviors that White people are comfortable hearing about and won’t second guess.
Now imagine if GloZell wants to be taken serious and then realized that her core audience love her more when she was making an ass out of herself?
I wouldn’t call three million subscribers “a small circle.” However, I do see the author’s point about how using the plight of poor black women on public assistance as comic relief travels into all sorts of problematic and dangerous terrain.
Not to mention that Blackface is a real industry and minstrel shows historically used slapstick comedy and images to mock black people and paint us in many derogatory ways. It was done for both entertainment value as well as to push a form of propaganda meant to reinforce a belief system that says Black people deserve less than subhuman status in society.
And hence the always black conscious-minded rub: The white gaze. It is always there, waiting to either excavate cultural artifacts for entertainment, and to a larger extent, financial gain, or use whatever alleged “negative” attributes they can find as justification for the continued oppression of Black people. I can understand the trepidation over its shadowy existence, but it is always an unfair and stifling position to have to worry about this gaze at every waking moment.
In a more equal society, her style of comedy would, at the least, be viewed as boorishly childish, much like “Jackass,” but we are not that society. And as such, we can’t even access the most simplistic forms of comedy, which other folks have been doing for ages, without it meaning multiple other things. Not only is this not a fair way for Black artists to create, but this dual-consciousness is not a fair way for Black people to have to live.
And outside of the viewpoint of white people, what is so adherently negative about her slapstick comedy anyway? While certain themes and even caricatures can be troubling, they are no more out of the realm when compared to what more respectable – and less animated and cartoonish – Black comedians have said in their routines. Historically, there were even “coloured” minstrel troupes who performed “authentic portrayals of plantation life,” which acted against the more harsh and exaggerated forms of Blackface at the time. I bring this up because there are also points to be considered about ownership and reclamation. That on top of there possibly being people who may actually sound and act like GloZell actually getting to see themselves honestly represented on screen too.
And while I’m not saying that certain problematic themes are never deserving of a critique, I don’t feel like everyone who performs a stereotypical Black aesthetic is cooning. We have to give ourselves room and space to be goofy, silly and irrelevant, irregardless (it’s in the dictionary) of white people. We may not ever be free of the white gaze, but the more barriers we free ourselves from, the less what they feel will matter.