Stand up comedy is a peculiar art form. It’s the one craft that needs an audience for practice, and the strange thing is different audiences can have wildly different reactions to a joke. But, on the flip-side of that, it’s also a great connector of people from all walks of life. Stand up can be the bridge that links cultures, traditions, and even countries together. And that is one of the most important aspects of it.
I came to the United States in August 2008. I was fresh out of high school in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The extent of my English at the time was that you must put an “s” at the end of a verb when it’s the third person, and that fish stay the same, singular or plural. I also knew there was an excessive waste of w’s. Plenty of unnecessary w’s; I’m not sure why, but it’s legion: answer, whole, sword, whore, just a lot of unused, low self-esteem w’s.
Beyond that, that was it. My first few weeks in college were rough. I was still thinking in French and Creole, so I had to translate things in my head. And that takes a lot of effort. I was worried that I sounded strange, so I had to prepare everything I was going to say in my head before I said it. Television became my greatest teacher. It taught me how to hear English. It taught me how to speak it. It taught me how to use idioms, and idioms are really tricky for a foreigner. Knocking someone up does not mean knocking their door in a cool way. I learned that the hard way when I yelled out at a library to a female friend who was leaving: “I will knock you up later!”
I became obsessed with Comedy Central. I was falling in love with comedy without really knowing it. The Comedy Central Presents were on during the day. Jon Stewart and Colbert were on at night. I watched religiously. The more I watched, the better my English became. But slowly, I started to realize that this was more than just a simple linguistic education, it was a cultural education. I was learning how America works through those foul-mouthed, yet really smart people. One night, I had a girl over and I played Katt Williams for her. It was college; I was trying to fuck, so I figured Katt would do some heavy lifting for me. About 15 minutes into the video, she goes: “he’s really funny, but you should watch this guy.” And she pulls up a video of George Carlin. A light went off in my head. In that moment, I realized something. Deep down in my subconscious, I loved the idea of being a comedian, but I didn’t think I could do what Katt was doing. But, when I saw George doing his style of comedy, I thought to myself “I could maybe try to do this.” I learned two things that day: first, the type of comedian I wanted to be, and second, George Carlin’s comedy absorbed me so much I forgot I was trying to get laid. That’s utterly remarkable because nobody is hornier than a male college student.
No one taught me more about America than Uncle George. No one deconstructed and criticized America more than he did. And I loved every second of it. Neither the news nor my classes were teaching me this much about this country. Comedians, of all kinds, were doing most of the work. Comedy was the bridge that helped me cross from my Haitian upbringing to my current world in New York. The people I related to the most in America were comedians. They weren’t Haitian comedians, or Caribbean comedians, just funny people who spoke their personal truth and the general truth about the world. Comedy, at its core, is an art form that can transcend cultures. Of course there is the occasional cultural reference that gets in the way of understanding a joke, or the topical information the audience needs to have in order to laugh at a punchline. But when comedy is about being a human, the cultural barriers melt away like butter in a pan and laughter becomes the glue that holds everyone together.
Dave Chappelle once said “comedy is a language that I speak well.” I’ve kept the idea of comedy as a language as one of my guiding principles. Even if comedy feels elusive at times, thinking of it in that light makes it more reachable. And it truly is a language. The more you practice it, the better you become at it. And the better you are at speaking it, the more subtle and potent the things you say become. The goal of every comedian is to use that language as a bridge to make more people understand each other, even if they live in vastly different worlds.
I live here in America, and I’m pursuing my dream of being a stand up comedian. It’s great and I’m luckier than most to be able to do it. Every time I’m on stage I get to be the captain of a ship whose purpose is to spread laughter and joy. Even though I’m in the beginning stages of my career, I still want to find ways to help my homeland through comedy. For me, that means bridging the gap between the cultures and using comedy as best as I can to support great causes.
My comedy show, Jokes For Haiti, is my inaugural effort of this kind. I want to bask in the communal joy of comedy, and at the same time use it to benefit Haiti. Through the show, we’re raising money to help with the Hurricane Matthew Relief efforts. Normally, the joy of performing is enough of a reward for comedians. But when we can get people together to laugh and donate their money to a cause that’s saving lives, we’re making a difference that’s beyond us and the audience.
Jokes For Haiti is this Sunday, November 20th at 8pm at Littlefield. Some of my favorite comedians in the city are performing to help out with this effort, including: Michelle Wolf from the Daily Show, Sasheer from Saturday Night Live, Michelle Buteau, Nathan MacIntosh, and Kareem Green. I would love to have you there! You can get Tickets here.
We’ll also be giving you a taste of Haitian cuisine, provided by Grandchamps, a Haitian restaurant located in Bedstuy! Check out their MENU
“Jokes for Haiti” is a fundraiser and stand up comedy show to support Haiti in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew. Hosted by the hilarious Tanael Joachim (FOX, AXS TV), a Haitian-born, NYC based comedian, this show is using comedy to lend a hand to those who need it most in Haiti, right now. Given the devastating effects of the hurricane, Tanael felt the need to help out his homeland in the best way he knows: telling jokes. The lineup features rising comics from major networks including Comedy Central, NBC, FOX, BET, and VH1 among others. Featured comedians include Michelle Wolf from The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, Sasheer Zamata from Saturday Night Live and Nathan Macintosh, Kar