Thursday, December 11, 2008

Persistance of the Goodness Vision

"You go on vacation with your family, you know... you hang out you relax. But here...these brothers are on the prowl!"

Recorded in 1991 in front of an audience of predominantly black tourists in Aruba, "Sinbad: Bringing the Funk" is a masterful comic performance. A singularity of place, time, and intended audience (black people vacationing in the Caribbean) but its effects are transitory and a larger testament to specificity-in-performance.

I highly value the Goodness Vision and comedians with reductively clea
n parameters like Brian Regan and Bill Cosby (Sinbad's overriding influence) but what's often overlooked about Cosby is the undercurrent of anger that should mar the reverence that is held by comics for his tales of childhood and parenting. I understand why today's best comics like Louis C.K. and Chris Rock compare Cosby to a Jazz musician, but the mastery of formalism can't salvage his abusive Black Catholicism in my mind, though Cosby ultimately does achieve the Goodness Vision (though more often than not more successfully in his brilliant 1980s sitcom than in his stand-up recordings).

Pain is intractable from humor, we all know this, but the requisite negative line that runs through Sinbad's story telling manages to hit home with his audience of single black male and female tourists, the force of recognition can be felt in the reaction to his bit about couples who try and ditch each other immediately upon exiting the airplane.

I particularly liked the segme
nt where he mocked a collective procrastinating tendency (implicating his own in a gesture of humility) toward packing a suitcase much too late in the evening before the next morning's flight in its developed exploration of a banal subject. Here and in a later bit in which Sinbad portrays an ugly guy he knows in Atlanta, who is lucky to be outnumbered by many single successful black women, the comic uses a hard-to-place ambiguous "nerd" voice. A brilliants shorthand to invoke obliviousness though without cruelty.

The comic's performa
nce closes with a serious biblical reference which precedes in a celebratory loving ritual chant-a-long led by special guest Doug E. Fresh, and a reminder to the audience that while it's okay to have fun as singles on vacation, these experiences pale next to the value they will someday possess to "the life of a child." Friedrich Nietzsche would appreciate this compartmentalizing of sin and morality as he valued this capacity in the Greeks. Also worth noting is the fact that very few comics could or would pull this off a moment of closing transcendence at the completion of sustained gaiety in this current period defined by a constant desperation search for transgressive openings . Even a supposedly non-blue Christian comic like Brad Stein seems like a con working a fraudulent gimmick with his pleas to his promise-keeper fans to oppose "activist judges," seeming to come from out of nowhere and not at the peak of a crescendo or to mitigate excessive levity.

All i
n all, compared to most everyone else, Sinbad possesses a nuanced understanding of sin's necessity curbed by morality as much as he does comedic business and its proximity to serious business.