Video: Comedy is not … pretty

posted at 9:15 am on March 20, 2012 by Ed Morrissey

The question on everyone’s lips today will be this: Can Hollywood’s most celebrated and likeable Everyman make blackface acceptable again? After narrating the Barack Obama 17-minute campaign ad, Tom Hanks ‘ next premiere comes from a 2004 charity auction, where he and singer Glenn Frey of The Eagles entertained the audience while raising money for a private school in tony Pacific Palisades, California. The video shows the CEO of an investment-banking firm in an Afro wig and dark makeup while Frey and Hanks make, er, politically incorrect jokes:

Video footage obtained by The Daily Caller shows Hollywood screen legend Tom Hanks and Eagles musician Glenn Frey at a 2004 fundraising auction, playfully interacting with a white man dressed as an African native, complete with blackface makeup and a giant Afro wig. …

The 2004 auction’s routine included a white man in blackface, identified in the footage as investment banker James Montgomery, CEO of the Santa Monica, Calif., firm Montgomery & Co. In addition to blackface makeup and the wig, Montgomery wore a leopard-print toga and an arm band made to look like it consisted of animal teeth.

During a lull in the auction, Frey refers to Montgomery and comments, “See how boring money management and stock investment is, people? It’s not nearly as much fun as, like, professional basketball.” …

Frey identifies Montgomery by name and says he is “just back from a Jerry Falwell sensitivity training seminar.” Referring to his appearance as a black caricature, Frey later says, “All I know is, this school is so conservative that Jamie Montgomery was almost not allowed in. They stuck him in the parking lot — they let him in. These are the jokes, people.”

Frey said that because people in the audience weren’t laughing — not even with one of Hollywood’s liberal icons on hand to give them permission. In fact, the video suggests that the only people who found the sight gag funny at all were Montgomery and Frey, who provided almost all of the related jokes. Hanks plays along with the gag, but besides the one remark about O’Reilly, he seems intent in this clip to keep making jokes about IPOs and to ignore Montgomery’s antics.

Niger Innis wasn’t laughing, either. The national spokesman of Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) called the skit “an orchestrated, heinous, and racist ‘Stepin Fetchit’ routine,” and demanded that Team Obama remove Hanks from their documentary’s narration. The Daily Caller also digs up a 2010 interview Hanks did with CNS News, in which he decried the slow pace of “enlightenment” on race relations in the context of the war against Japan in WWII, as a bit of context for Innis’ complaint. Interestingly, the video only came to light because the person who filmed the fundraiser in 2004 has grown irritated with Hanks for his “sharp-elbowed partisanship.” “Tom would be the first to scream ‘racist’ if a conservative put their arm around a ‘Wall Street Banker’ in blackface while their co-emcee made racists remarks,” she said. “He’s a hypocrite.”

I’m a bit torn on this. On one hand, I think people get way too sensitive about comedy routines, and taking the outrageous outrage to the level of a school fundraiser doesn’t seem healthy for anyone. On the other, if a Republican had participated in this skit — or even been videotaped in attendance while laughing at it — that would be proof positive of inherent GOP raaaaaaacism for years to come. The hypocrisy of the same crowd who likes to toss claims of racism at Obama’s opponents makes this fair game, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that in the end, this is just comedy … and lousy comedy at that.

Update: Innis is national spokesman for CORE, not its chair; I’ve fixed it above.


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