on a Good Thing
Not Just white guys
July 26- August 1, 1996
Shaun Landry, founder
of Oui Be Negroes,
an almost all-black Chicago-based Improv group, asserts that there is
another very powerful reason for so few African-Americans being in
Improv: "For many blacks, success is very important and success
means money. And there is very little money in Improv."
Oui Be Negroes emerged
so that African-Americans could develop a new skill in a marketplace
where stand-up comedy has burnt out, explains Landry. "And we
wanted to develop our own comic voice. We've always had the feeling that
Improv was based on the urban and suburban white male experience with
lots of white male bonding. Improvisation came to be known as 'a white
The two-year-old, four-member troupe, which has toured the Midwest and
Southwest, frequently focuses on issues that are of interest to the
black community. "For example," Landry says, "during the
O.J. trial we did a game show format called 'Who do you Blame?' and the
guilty party was always a black man in a stocking cap.
African-American audiences are the most responsive. They know when to
laugh and they'll talk back to the performers. White audiences,"
Landry continues, "don't always know how to react." Indeed ,
their uncomfortable confusion begins with the name of the company.
"We're very Un-PC and it makes the poor white liberal head
spin," Landry laughs. "They lower their voices and say, 'Are
we supposed to call you Negroes?' They don't quite understand that we're
about parody and homage. The 'Oui' in our name is intended as a tribute
to the black performers who made it in France, like Josephine Baker