You won’t believe how ‘well-spoken’ these guys are
Three cerebral comedians bring their “Wellspoken Comedy Tour” to Detroit
By Phreddy Wischusen
The Michigan Citizen
The cyber-conversation has turned to a bungled white-guy-to-Black-guy handshake, which possibly involved too many moves, dap and so on.
“Handshakes are a tricky subject, man,” says Gavin Yates, shaking his head. Myke Wright jumps in. “I think hand shakes are on the front line of race relations. They are definitely the weirdest part. Whenever I go in to dap a white guy, I know they are going to mess it up. It never works.”
“In general, less is more” Yates continues. “Crisp. Whenever I get a crisp handshake from a white guy, I’m like, ‘OK. He’s going places. I respect this guy.’ Less is more. Make it crisp; keep it short and sweet. I know you (white guys) want to give a lot, but just hold the eye contact.”
Mateen Stewart joins in. “I feel like that happens a lot,” he says. “There’s this guy at work and he’s always like “Waassup, brother?!” (Stewart mimes his coworker’s overwrought handshake) and he never does that with anyone else, but I know he’s trying to fit in and let me know he’s cool, that he’s down, or whatever. If you did that to me, I would call you out on that.”
Yates, Stewart and Wright are all laughing and this white journalist has learned a valuable lesson.
The three are all comedians preparing to embark on their first national tour together, dubbed the Wellspoken Comedy Tour. Although they are currently based in Los Angeles, their June 7 show at 1515 Broadway will be a homecoming for Wright and Stewart, both native Detroiters.
Stewart, a graduate of Martin Luther King High School, says no one in L.A. ever believes he’s from Detroit, because, among other reasons, he likes the Dave Matthews Band. Yates and Wright are quick to start laughing at him.
“Come on,” Stewart stammers to defend himself, “That’s like a Black band. There’s at least two, maybe more, Black guys in the band. And he (Dave Matthews) is African!”
After high school, Stewart studied theater at Florida A&M University before moving to Los Angeles nine years ago. “I came out here to be a working actor, and I wound up just working and not acting,” he told the Michigan Citizen.
Two years ago, he decided to try comedy on a whim. Through the close-knit L.A. open mic comedy scene, Stewart met Wright, a graphic designer/illustrator who studied at Detroit’s College for Creative Studies and is a prolific maker of video skits on YouTube, and Yates, originally from the San Francisco Bay area, who had studied engineering in L.A. and was working as a consultant.
Although each comic has a tremendously different style from the others, their material — ranging from dealing with understated office racism to jokes about Star Trek Deep Space 9 — perfectly complemented one another’s. They have only been performing professionally for the last two years, but they have all been working feverishly at their craft, often performing over five nights a week. As their videos on YouTube attest, their material and delivery now have a veteran’s polish that belies their scant time in the industry.
All three comics being college-educated, their brand of comedy is decidedly cerebral, more like Paul Mooney’s insightful intricately-worded socially-complex material, and less like comics who, the WCT comics say, tell fart jokes, while “sliding around on stage.”
“I’ve never had sex with a stool,” Wright says.
With their mastery of the craft comes a nagging racist side effect. White people, all three comics say, are constantly telling them they are “well-spoken.”
“Wellspoken is not a compliment. It’s a tour,” their tour poster proclaims.
“You don’t hear someone say of an Asian person, oh they speak so well — they can say their Ls and Rs correctly,” Stewart says. “Even when President Obama was running for office that’s all people could say was that he was so well-spoken, because … society has been trained (to have a certain and derogatory) expectation of (Black people). The first thing people see is we’re Black and they already assume we’re going to be a certain way (on stage) because people have an idea of what a Black comic is.”
“The whole idea of the tour is to take that stereotype, and the idea that we’re breaking that, and own it a little bit, and have a little fun with it, and hopefully enlighten some people along the way,” says Yates.
The comedians are used to performing in front of all kinds of audiences — all Black audiences, all white audiences, all Latino audiences and racially diverse crowds as well. Although they will adjust their delivery to the room’s energy, they don’t compromise their material.
“We’re not afraid to talk about race,” Stewart says. “But the difference is it’s more cerebral,” noting that class distinctions can determine a crowd’s response to his material more than racial ones. He recalls telling the following joke in a bar in a lower income yet predominately white neighborhood in Los Angeles.
“When I look at Miley Cyrus, I can only think of one thing: White people can not still believe they are the superior race.” Stewart attributes the deafening silence of the all-white crowd, not to their race but their intellectual capacities. Wright disagrees. “Maybe they were white supremacists,” he laughingly conjectures.
“We just want to show people our brand of comedy,” says Stewart. “We want to show people these young Black men can go on stage and not use the n-word gratuitously (he doesn’t say it on stage) or overtly sexual stuff…”
Wright interrupts: “We’re doing something new, something different … and you should check it out. There’s a lot of people who are like us who aren’t spoken for in the comedy world, who have to listen to the Chitlin’ Circuit type of stuff. There are dudes (in comedy) who went to college, who like Dave Matthews and are actually funny.”
“That which is most personal is most universal,” Yates says. “You can find in our stories of confronting subtle racism, or confronting kids at school or receiving letters from your brother, you can find something universal in our stories, even if they are very specific. There’s something for everybody (in this show).”
The Wellspoken Comedy Tour will arrive in Detroit Saturday, June 7 at 1515 Broadway (1515 Broadway, Detroit) with two shows, one at 7:30 p.m. and one at 9:30 p.m. Admission is $15. Learn more and buy tickets at wellspokencomedy.com