Thinking about Jimmy Crow

Anything relevant

Postby David Wilde » 13 Aug 2007, 21:15

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Postby Nick Jackson » 13 Aug 2007, 22:00

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Postby David Wilde » 13 Aug 2007, 22:06

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Postby CharlesTaylor » 15 Aug 2007, 21:45

The discussion of using a black figure in Punch and Judy is very intriguing. I had to face this situations when I built my black marionette musical Red Riding Hood show. I had been performing through out the South Central Area of Los Angeles City Schools after the famous riots that erupted in 1965. It was a scary time because of so much distrust between the races. Fear and hatred abounded and plenty of blame and accusations and finger pointing was ubiquitous.

I never had a problem except my own fears and concern that I would not be welcomed in areas of minority neighborhoods. But those fears were soon dissipated as I came in contact with so many wonderful kids, teachers, playground supervisors and parents.

I became very self-conscious that I was touring all white character puppets in an African-American area. It finally occurred to me that it might be more appropriate for the characters to be more representative of the people I was performing for.

Now I was sensitive enough to the situation that I didn’t want to stereotype or degrade a minority race. I had remembered that Tony Urbano, a great puppeteer, had that very problem in his show at Universal City. He created a black female marionette of what I believe was Diana Ross singing one of her songs. He was confronted by a black lady patron accusing him of making fun of the singer and black race. Tony explained that he had no intention of making fun of the race and included this puppet because it was beautiful and he admired Diana Ross who personally approved of the act. Also he asked the lady if she would rather he had another character be black, the pianist, clown, All the other characters that are used for comedic effect. Only the Diana Ross character was dignified, beautiful and did a straight act.

Back to my situation. I didn’t want any negative reaction. One of my shows I toured was an elaborate Hansel and Gretel. In my mind, I thought, when you read a story to children they can picture it in their mind’s eye. They can project themselves into any character and identify with it. But when minority children are viewing puppets of a different color I supposed they were not as easily able to identify - perhaps , maybe but probably not.

So I conjectured, why not make the puppets with dark skin. I could play with a broad sense of color in the costumes and do interesting sets and props. I became excited about the possibilities. I had one major concern: Where would I get actors with a “black:” dialect that wouldn’t create a sense of turning them into a “Step and Fetch it” characterizations. On discussing this concern with Forman Brown, the writer of the script, he explained that there is NO such thing as one “black dialect”. There are regional dialects by all people and social dialects. He suggested I use actors with voices befitting the characters but not make it Southern, regional or stereotyping. I wanted to avoid creating a negative response to the puppets or show by any audience.

The recording was splendid and the performers were outstanding. Red Riding Hood was a great success. The children were overjoyed in a time when there were no black television shows, few movies in the mainstream, (there were minor movies for black audiences). And Caucasian audiences were astounded at having the tables turned. It was a learning experience for them. Yet they too enjoyed the show. My greatest expectations were exceeded. The puppets have been displayed in an African American Museum , The Grant Museum, in Los Angeles.

I guess the value of this story to add to the dissuasion is that if the characters are mainstreamed and appropriate with out disparaging a minority group, it is less likely to draw criticism. The main thing is to entertain the audience not create a cause celeb! I’ve been down that street with Punch and Judy. My goal is to have audiences leave with a smile and a sense of enjoyment. Whenever something DID NOT work, I cut it out immediately.

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Postby Chris » 15 Aug 2007, 23:04

That is very interesting Charles, but in the context of the black charcter in the Punch show surely you are missing the point. You simply put dark make-up on fairy tale characters who by their nature could be of any race or colour.

In the case of the Jim Crow character of the Punch Show, or the earlier Black Servant, their blackness was an essential part of their character. Slaves and dressed up servants were black, while white men wishing to appear funny or quaint "blacked-up" in the nigger minstrel shows. All Punch characters are stereotypes including Jim Crow.

That particular black stereotype is offensive today . Also it is pretty pointless in that the reference which was topical and funny and readily understood by the Victorian audience is meaningless today.

I would suggest that to use a black character in a show today would be acceptable and also in the spirit of Punch if he were, say, as has been mentioned, a Rapper. That is, if you particularly want a black character. But any topical character (Richard Coombs' Chav) can be introduced and it doesn't need to be black.

Also there is no reason why you can't have a black clown character, in the sense that Nick Jackson describes.

What I think is to be avoided is the use of the Sambo character because you imagine this to be traditional. It isn't traditional, it is out of date, as well as being offensive.

But the general rule about such things, be it black puppets, routines or questionable gags - "If in doubt - leave it out!" If you aren't comfortable with your material then your audience won't be either.



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Postby CharlesTaylor » 16 Aug 2007, 03:19

Chris, I so agree with you. And of course you hit the nail on the head when you said my puppets were just painted a dark color. For the period I did the show and the audiences, it met their needs. But the thinking process to come to that conclusion was not so easy. And no one else was doing that with the exception of occaisional black characters in a very few variety shows.

It seems the polictical correctness was touchy during the sixties and seventies as well as now. No one wanted to offend during those decades unlike the period just before. In America up into the fifties we were very segregated. As a teenager I was totally unaware of how segregated we were and I didn't realize that even here in California minnority races were kept in their own neighborhoods and not allowed to cross certain streets. That was one of the conditions that prompted the Los Angeles Riots.

And you are certainly pointing out well that what was considered funny during Victorian times regarding the slave isn't amusing now. But the inclusion of a black character when appropriate and done well can add to the richness of the fabric of the show and appreciation of audiences of all ethnicities.

I appreciate your response very much. Because of our distance and oddly different cultures, it is difficult to grasp all the subtleties in a truly British Punch and Judy show. But I keep trying and learning thanks to this web site and your many efforts.

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Postby Tony James » 16 Aug 2007, 07:13

But one of the great expectancies of British audiences at many of the events I attend is that Punch & Judy should be politically incorrect! The very presence of a Punch & Judy Show is supposedly incorrect in the eyes of a tiny minority who have made it their job to find unacceptable offensiveness in anything and everything..

A great many people are heartily sick of those who appear to spend much time seeking out instances of everyday happenings which they can twist to make them unacceptable in their own view and then they have the temerity to try and have such normal things banned because they have decided they want it banned.

We are heading for a society backlash and Punch & Judy could quite easily be in the vanguard of this long overdue reaction.

As things stand, we are expected to cause some form of offence without being offensive and Punch using his stick is seen as a modest but important victory of everyday commonsense over an increasingly prescriptive society.

As for the Black Man, whatever you call him, his is traditional if length of service to the show means anything. He doesn't have to be any more stupid than any of the rest of Punch's victims. In the traditional sense they all behave in a way that they deserve Punch's stick.

Surely that has always been the objective of the show.
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Postby Miraiker » 16 Aug 2007, 08:22

Tony
When we are booked we are not
"expected to cause some sort of offence"
We are expected to provide entertainment.
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offensive vs politically incorrect

Postby Trev » 16 Aug 2007, 09:34

Tony,

with all due respect, I think it is possible to run the risk of assuming politically incorrect equals offensive. I don't see that it needs to.

Chris points out that the black character in Punch has historically derived a lot of his comedy and effect from the fact he is black. Historically this was a sign of the exotic. However, having such a large, mainstream black community in Britain and Europe now being black is not so exotic and is more mundane than in the past. Therefore I don't think having the character JUST BECAUSE he is black is as relevant anymore. The character needs to be funny but he could also be one of the other traditional character, like a policeman or doctor and still be relevant and funny... and, by the way, black.

I remember Bryan Clark talking about having discussed the matter with a group of people from either a racial equalities group or a local society and explaining the historical role of the black character in Punch and how he got treated exactly the same as as anyone else, ie hit with the stick. Bryan said he had no complaints from the audience. Bryan still uses the Jim Crow routine but I PERSONALLY don't think I could as the historical significance would be lost on an audience (particularly here in Poland) and if I had to explain everything to my audience I think it would affect the show a little.

I don't use my black puppet at the moment because I am unsure how to use him. I don't feel comfortable using him 'just' cos he's black. Likewise, I'm wary about using the old "hello dere, mon!" kind of vocals. However, Chris's mention of a rapper is something I've already been considering for a while as it is both widely recognised and because rappers are often so OTT it would be easier to use an OTT representation without it seeming racist (obviously someone, somewhere would find it offensive if they have nothing else to do).
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Postby Tony James » 16 Aug 2007, 13:23

You are of course all quite correct.

Miriaker

As you said we are booked to provide entertainment. But so was Bernard Manning (and Jim Davidson, Roy Chubby Brown and many others). Those audiences expect disrespect and routines offending those politically correct pains-in-the-neck I've already mentioned. That too, is what my audiences expect at a majority o of the numerous agricultural and countryside related events I attend annually.

I suspect they are initially expecting something even more unacceptable to the killjoys.

So in that sense the giving of offence to a minority provides fun and entertainment for the majority. And I don't think that's changed in a couple of hundred years.

Trev

I agree with you that political incorrectness does not have to give offence - though it usually does. Indeed I said "...we are expected to cause some form of offence without being offensive..."

But the twerps who are politically correct will find offence anywhere and everywhere. Normal levelheaded audiences don't take offence.They are only too relieved to see that disrespect for authority is still alive and kicking in this nanny state.

Whilst I take your point about the historical perception of the black man as unusual and exotic, we must remember that he was not unusual or necessarily exotic to Londoners, where Punch certainly was strongest for a very long time.

There was a strong black community in London and they were a normal sight. Only this last year there were a series of television programmes about slavery and featuring the substantial black communities in London during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Today the Black and Asian communities are more widespread but contrary to popular belief actually comprise a very small percentage of the population.

Right now there is a great deal of public concern (and probably similar mis-conceptions) about the numbers of immigrants, regardless of colour.

I have no idea how many in my audiences view the Black Man as a representation of foreignness. It would trouble me to see any segment of population held up as undesirable but rest assured, I hear many disturbing views coming from all sectors of society about foreigners bleeding the country dry of resources without any reference to their colour.

The Black Man character himself doesn't have to be funny nor a winner. He and all the others involved, are losers. Isn't that the point? Punch triumphs on behalf of everyone.

Apart from the pompousness of the Policeman, Beadle and Doctor, mine are not funny and they are not there to get laughs for themselves. It's Punch's replies and reactions which are funny and in the end, they all go down with the stick. I wonder why the adults invariably cheer?

Anyway, from my perspective, why should the Black Man be any different? Up he comes like a rather responsible neighbour to complain about all the noise - can't get much closer to the original - and having complained Punch bashes him onto the playboard along with the others.

And then into the counting routine.

As you said Trev, you have to find a way in and as Chris said, you have to be comfortable with it. I'd bat on and use him in any routine just like any other figure.

Just be careful with the voice. What does Polish sound like with a Caribbean accent?!!?
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Postby johnstoate » 16 Aug 2007, 14:13

I have to agree with Tony here, As I've previously stated, I sometimes use 'The safety ossifer" in my show, as well as 'Jimmy the rusty foreigner' (With his funny cigarette) and, of course, 'Mr. Singh' I usually find that the audience reaction is either a deafening 'HIT HIM!' or uncontrolled laughter. Punch has always been anti-establishment, or at least anti-authority, and as such, He should beexpected to be politically incorrect in this day and age!
I also feel that there is an undercurrent in public opinion which needs some form of release, otherwise, as Mr. Powell once (famously) said, "There will be blood on the streets in ten years!" - Perhaps Punch could be the 'peacemaker' in this respect! :lol: - We are entertainers of the people, we should therefore know and understand the people. It seems to me that Tony reads his audiences very well indeed. But, then again, he tends, (As do I) to work with predominantly older and 'mixed' rather than children .
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accents

Postby Trev » 16 Aug 2007, 15:29

Funnily enough, Tony, my boss at the school where I work is Caribbean, albeit white, and has a VERY English accent. Funny thing is I can't understand his Polish.

There are very few black people in this region and even I look twice when I see one, wondering if they are a visiting student, teacher or actually Polish (although in Warsaw there are many more and they do speak with an accent if they are not originally Polish). It's actually another thing i'm wary of when it comes to using the black puppet here in Poland; I don't wish to be accused of making jokes about those who can't answer.

I think the rapper will appear soon. I just need to get around to making some clothes and a boogie box.

I think this discussion shows the positive use of the board for debating and reviewing current affairs and sharing ideas. it shows we aren't always cantakerous :lol: :wink:
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Postby Miraiker » 16 Aug 2007, 16:34

Tony
If I thought my Punch & Judy show was attracting the same sort of audience as Bernard Manning, Chubby Brown etc then I'd pack it up immediately.
You may work at places where the booker does the "it isn't politically correct is it?" thing to show how un PC he is or how pro Punch he is, but he still expects you to perform for a family audience (not Chubby Brown's audience) and he still doesn't want complaints about the show or the race relations people getting on to him or indeed the police.
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Postby CharlesTaylor » 16 Aug 2007, 17:50

Here I am lurking, taking all this in with a whirl of thoughts that I don’t know how to express. It’s difficult to open my mouth with out miscommunication or opening up for a good lashing but I’ll go ahead and test the waters.

Thank you again, Chris. You did give the historical use and clarified very well how to incorporate a balck character into Punch if one insisted. But please let me take this in another direction from across the pond point of view.

On Pupcrit there is much discussion on materials to use in construction of puppets that may cause health problems. There are arguments of originality or copying someone elses puppet eye technique. I believe Punch Booth is showing an elevated level of discussion in this topic of Jimmy Crow or how to use the black character in Punch and Judy.

Just today in my paper was an article regarding race relations at a high school in which only whites could sit under a particular large, old tree. An African-American football player invited his friends to sit in the shade. He considered the “Jim Crow” rules old fashioned and no longer applicable. The next day when he returned to the tree he found three nooses suspended from the tree as a warning. When the parents of the black students complained, the city attorney told them to “get over it”. Later a fight broke out between blacks and whites over the tree territory. One black young man was sent to jail for 100 years for using a weapon, his shoe. No one was seriously hurt.

In the United States of America, Blacks are being arrested and jailed proportionately in far greater numbers than whites for the very same offences. Our society seems to becoming more polorized than assimilated.

In this climate that still exists and permeates the U.S. I tread cautiously because any offense now may reaffirm long held prejudices that can and probably would erupt causing greater harm than just an entertaining puppet show. I don’t have it in me to make such grand scale changes in our society through Punch and Judy. I believe I can make small daily changes through my attitude and behavior. Perhaps this racial concern of mine is very close to home and I am over sensitive.

In agreement with Tony and JohnStoate that “Punch has always been antiestablishment, or at least antiauthority, and as such, He should be expected to be politically incorrect in this day and age!” For me is how to use that in a constructive and entertaining way. I’m not in England and even though our cultures are somewhat similar in problems, The African-American has been in this country just as long as any other except for the aboriginal natives. So they can’t be considered new immigrants.

What should be and what is are not necessarily the same thing. We should be equal. Our U.S. constitution declares that “All men are equal”. But look how long it took the word “men” to include women, people of color, and the poor or disenfranchised, uneducated, or people without property. We are still struggling with what equality means. Perhaps Punch could be the black character that is fighting for the rights that others have that he hasn’t, or that the one thing he defends is the underdog! Maybe that would be too political correct or with too much social conciousness.

It may be that I’m just not clever enough to figure out how to include a black character into Punch and Judy and live with my concious knowing that I haven’t created a greater injustice or perpetuated more hate which would be very far from my intentions. Therefore, if I can’t add something positive I would avoid it all together. I see this quite differently than political correctness. To me, Human Rights are a very serious consideration.

And it isn’t just a matter of causing offence to one or two people. It’s a matter of causing offence to an entire group that has had to constantly struggle with predjudice, injustice, unimaginable hatred that makes every minute of their lives a question of what next can escalate and put them in even greater danger or threat. I’ve seen this over and over in my adult life. I’ve experienced descrimination personally and with my relatives and friends.

When one hasn’t experienced that hatred and threat then it can’t really be understood why certain actions are so seriously detrimental. Ignorance is bliss. Those of us that work with the public carry a heavier responsibility whether we accept it or not. Our actions have repercussions beyond our own spheres or lives.

There, I’ve given you a lot of amunition. Go ahead, beat me with Punch’s stick. I’ll try to be open minded and consider all view points. May be I still don’t get it. Go ahead, Give it to me. I said, “GIVE IT TO ME!”

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Postby johnstoate » 16 Aug 2007, 18:51

Shan't! - I think you made a few very valid points there Charles. The 'nooses' reference just goes to highlight the differences between our cultures, however, I think that to a large extent it's only that things have been simmering longer over there, and therefore have reached a much more violently disposed level. We are fortunate in that we can still debate this kind of subject with little or no fear of reprisal. I must admit that I wonder what would happen if you were to engage a 'coloured' assistant, who performed a traditional african storyline show. - Would that be considered 'High art' or some kind of racist slur? Alternatively, what would happen if he/she did the Punch show with all but one black characters? In our over-tolerant society, it is a little difficult to appreciate your perspective. We are expected to respect, (if not revere) minorities, unless, of course, that minority is indigenous, white, Punchmen! (and women)
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