Backstage Magazine
Oui Be Negroes Article 1996

Improv-ing 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 thing.'"

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