Mike Epps 'That's Racist'

Interview: Mike Epps Uncovers The Truth Behind Your Favorite Racist Jokes

Mike Epps discusses exploring racial stereotypes in his new AOL series 'That's Racist.'

Why did the chicken cross the road? Two black guys were chasing him with biscuits.

An old adage maintains that there is truth in every joke, but does this rule apply to quips about racial stereotypes? Comedian/actor Mike Epps attempts to answer this question in his new AOL Originals series, That’s Racist. Taking on the funny and not-so-funny origins of Asians’ bad driving reputation, Mexicans being called lazy, Jews’ association with frugality and black people’s supposed love for chicken, Epps takes the comical route down awkward-race-conversation lane.

“For so many years, we’ve had jokes about black people, white people, Jewish people, all these different ethnicities, and nobody really knew where they came from,” he told VIBE. “So I went and interviewed all these different races to find out where these jokes came from and why people started them.”

Part humorous and part educational, That’s Racist finds Epps hitting the streets to probe the masses about their own stereotypical biases. The show also features a multi-cultural panel of fellow comedians Randy and Jason Sklar, Helen Hong, Rick Overton, John Viener and Sharon Houston. And while the laughs make the race pill easier to swallow, Epps’ latest gig could not have been executed by just any Joe Schmo. –– Iyana Robertson

VIBE: Stereotypes and race are necessary conversations. Do you think the comedic approach helps make it easier to have?

Epps: No doubt. As soon as people see me, they want to laugh. That’s the thing that got me through this without people being so judgemental. So I don’t think any Joe Schmoe could’ve did this.

True. Race and stereotypes are subjects that still make people uncomfortable.
It does make people uncomfortable. It’s one of those things that everybody takes differently. I had a couple of situations when I was interviewing people; one of the Muslim guys got offended. It’s still touchy, it’s not easy.

Did participating the show help you check your own personal stereotypes as well?
Of course it did. It was very educational for me. I learned that a lot of things I thought was what it was, it wasn’t that. And a lot of other things, I just didn’t know and I learned them.

How did you guys go about choosing which stereotypes to explore?
We basically went for the usual suspects. Black people, Asian people, Irish people. We went for the people that we knew had these racial stereotypes against them.

On the show, you start out with a stereotypical joke, and you explore it with a panel of other people. Tell me about this panel.
The panel was basically a group of people of all different ethnicities. We wanted to hear it from more than just me. Everybody on the panel was as equally yoked as me, as far as the business is concerned. They were comedians, we had an Asian girl, a couple of twins that were Jewish. So the panel was to show that not only did Mike Epps want to find out information from his position, we went and got other comedians and other people that have a name to give their [points of view] as well. Kind of like a sum up.

And that’s the appeal of the show, right? The comedy mixed with the educational stuff.
No doubt.

Some people think that that stereotyping isn’t all bad. Do you think there are any positives to stereotyping?
It is. When it comes to stereotypes, when you hear that word, the average person thinks negative. There are a lot of great stereotypes about all races. Particularly black people. We get upset about the stereotype of being athletic, but yet and still we run sports. That’s a true stereotype that has been beneficial to our race.

You said the show isn’t about racism, but stereotypes lead to or justify racism for a lot of people. Why are these such hot-button topics right now?
We’ve had a lot of situations that have went down in the last couple of years that have been really, really tough on black people especially. I think that we have a whole lot of great figures out here, and I think that we’re making way. And I think on the other hand, we’re also being attacked for that on a lower scale. Our influence on the world is very strong as black people. We influence the world so much that I think it’s been a tactic to keep us down. With all the police brutality and killings, it’s just raised the awareness that it’s out there. That racism is still alive in America and all over the world. But hey, what can I say when you’re not labeled the dominant race, but are the dominant race?

They don’t give us the title, but it’s a reason why they have diseases and plagues that are targeted against our race. It’s a reason why cops kill us and get away with it. It’s a reason why our education system is bad. It’s a reason why our kids don’t have the opportunities that other kids have. And that was some of the issues I had when I was talking to other races because everybody wants to compare their demise and their history of torture and slavery to each other, but I think the difference as African-Americans, negroes, black people, is that we still haven’t seen justice for it. We’re still in bondage.

Do you remember your earliest personal experiences with stereotypes and racism?
I was young, man. I’m from Indiana, so when you’re from Indiana, and you grow up in a segregated city like I’ve grown up in, you experience real young. I’ve had people hit me with jokes when I was young. Really, really young. I was born and raised in the middle of America – not on the East Coast, not on the West Coast, and not down south – right smack-dab in the middle. I know southern people have their own stories of racism and stereotypes, but I’m from the middle, which to me, makes a difference.

Since you experience it so young, what do you tell your kids? How are you making sure the next generation is different?
Unfortunately, the reality of that is that my kids don’t know what racism is. They haven’t experienced that. And when they do, they’re so oblivious to it, they don’t even know what it is, they don’t even know it’s in their faces because they hear white kids say “my nigga” at school. They don’t know what that is. They think that’s normal language. Unfortunately, we have a generation gap that is separated us and our children from knowledge. They just don’t have the knowledge that we’ve had of it. It isn’t taught to the young generation. The awareness ain’t there and they fact of caring ain’t there; they don’t care. My kids, they know who Martin Luther King is, but they don’t know who Malcolm X is, which is the flipside of of what Martin Luther king preached. Our babies, they’re just blind and ignorant to it, they don’t know what [racism] is. Which is a beautiful thing and a bad thing –

I was just about to ask, is that a good thing or a bad thing?
It’s good and bad. It’s good that they don’t know what it is, and it’s bad because when they’re approached with it, they don’t know how to deal with it, it’s foreign.

Now I’d like to get your opinion on a couple of stories and play a game of “Racist Or Nah.” I’ll give you a subject, and you’ll tell me if you think race and stereotypes are involved. Let’s start with Iggy Azalea. She’s been so controversial. Is that racism at play, or nah?
Yeah, I think it is. I think with her, it just comes with it. She looks like a black hockey player. In the hip-hop game, she’s a black hockey player. So if you come in the hockey game, and you’re black, what you think you’re gonna get?

Next one. A lot of people say race and stereotypes are playing a role in how Bill Cosby is being portrayed right now. Does it?
No doubt. Bill Cosby is a black figurehead. He’s a black man that has always been in our living rooms. There are just too many other situations within other races that have done similar things, and weren’t punished for it. I just think racism does play a part in that. That doesn’t have anything to do with if he’s guilty or not – I don’t have any say-so on that – but I do think that has played a part.

Okay, here’s another. Some people felt that Selma was snubbed at the Oscars this year. Do you think race and stereotyping are at play with that?
I think when it comes to film and stuff like that, it’s based off of politics, individuality and people that are involved in the film. I think when it comes to Martin Luther King, people are very, very touchy and sensitive. A lot of people feel like when [Martin Luther King’s story] doesn’t get praise the way that they think it should, they play their card. We’ve seen the Martin Luther King story a million times. So I think that award was based off of Academy Awards politics, and individuality, meaning the director and the star. And I think they did a great job; they should have gotten at least a nod. But then again, this is a story that we’ve seen a million times. And they turned around and gave Common and John Legend an award, so we got something out of it.

Last one. A big story in the news was a group of white people being arrested for food stamp fraud. Was that widely reported on because the suspects weren’t black?
That’s a blessing. That’s a blessing that that story is out, and it’s a blessing that it has happened in front of black people to show them that they’re not the only ones on welfare, and they’re not the only ones doing bad. Because I think that turns into a crutch too for black folks. I love seeing those stories. I like to see stories of other races going through turmoil, because it balances it out. Especially for black people, because we’ll use that in a minute not to do what we’re supposed to do or what we think we can do. I think that’s good that there’s a balance there.

Head over to AOL Originals to watch Mike Epps' That Racist here.

From the Web

More on Vibe

Getty Images

Tekashi 6ix9ine Identifies Cardi B And Jim Jones As Nine Trey Members And More Takeaways (Day 3)

Daniel "Tekashi 6ix9ine" Hernandez's witness testimony continues to shock the masses. On Thursday (Sept. 19), the rapper took the stand again to elaborate on his kidnapping as well as interviews he gave about his broken relationship with members of the Nine Trey gang.

Interviews by Angie Martinez and Power 105.1's The Breakfast Club were analyzed due to the rapper's subtle jabs towards his former manager Shotti and defendant Anthony "Harv" Ellison. 6ix9ine's social media personality was also broken down as he explained the definitions of trolling and dry snitching.

But perhaps the most questionable part of his testimony arrived when he name-dropped Cardi B and Jim Jones as members of the Nine Trey Gangster Bloods.

Below are some of the biggest takeaways from today.

--

Day 3 1. Tekashi Claims Cardi B And Jim Jones Are Members Of Nine Trey Gang

Hernandez provided context to a wiretapped conversation between alleged Nine Trey godfather Jamel "Mel Murda" Jones and rapper Jim Jones. Complex notes a leaked 'individual-1' transcription revealed who appeared to be Jim Jones. During Mel Murder and Jim Jones conversation, the two discussed Hernandez's status as a Nine Trey member.

"He not a gang member no more," Jones reportedly said. "He was never a gang member. They going to have to violate shorty because shorty is on some bullshit." Hernandez went on to identify Jones as a "retired" rapper and a member of the Nine Trey.

Prosecutors play phone call between Nine Trey godfather Mel Murda and rapper Jim Jones. Tekashi says Jones is in Nine Trey.Jones: "He not a gang member no more. He was never a gang member. They going to have to violate shorty because shorty is on some bull--it."

— Stephen Brown (@PPVSRB) September 19, 2019

When it comes to Cardi B, the rapper named the Bronx native as a Nine Trey member. He was also strangely asked if he copies Cardi's alleged blueprint of aligning herself with gang members in her early music videos. "I knew who she was. I didn’t pay attention,” he said. In a statement to Billboard, Atlantic Records denied 6ix9ine's claims that she was a member of the Nine Trey Gangsta Bloods. 

In a now-deleted tweet on her official Twitter account, Cardi B responded to the allegation writing clarifying her affiliation, “You just said it yourself…Brim not 9 Trey. I never been 9 trey or associated with them.”

2. Tekashi Defines The Term "Dry Snitching"

In a quick back and forth with AUSA Micheal Longyear, the rapper gave an odd definition of dry snitching. He also made it clear that he was open to becoming a witness to reduce his prison sentence.

Q: Who is Jim Jones?#6ix9ine: He's a retired rapper.Q: Is he a member of Nine Trey?A: Yes.

— Inner City Press (@innercitypress) September 19, 2019

3. Tekashi Was Willing To Pay Hitmen $50,000 To Take Out Friend Who Kidnapped Him

Shortly after he was kidnapped by Harv, the rapper went on Angie Martinez to slam those in his camp. Without saying names, Hernandez promised he would seek revenge on those behind the kidnapping. The court was then showed footage of the incident which was recorded in the car of Jorge Rivera who was already a cooperating witness in the case. Hernandez reportedly confirmed he wanted to pay a hitman $50,000 on Harv after the kidnapping.

4. He Believed He Was "Too Famous" To Hold Gun Used In Assault Against Rap-A-Lot Artist"

The alleged robbery of Rap-A-Lot artist was brought up once again when Hernandez confirmed that he recorded the incident. A weapon allegedly used in the incident was tossed to Hernandez by his former manager Shotti. When asked why he refused to hold the gun the rapper said, "I'm too famous to get out the car with a gun." As previously reported, the rapper was kicked out of the car after the incident in Times Square and was forced to take the subway back to Brooklyn with the gun.

5. Tekashi May Be Released As Early As 2020

Cross-exam Q: If you get time served you'd get out at the beginning of next year, correct?#6ix9ine: Correct.

— Inner City Press (@innercitypress) September 19, 2019

There's that.

6. Footage Exists Of Tekashi Pretending He Was Dead

Harv's lawyer Deveraux: Do you recall publishing a video pretending you were dead?#6ix9ine: Can you show me? For now, a private viewing.

— Inner City Press (@innercitypress) September 19, 2019

Before wrapping up, the court briefly touched on his trolling ways. From setting up beefs to strange notions like faking his death, the videos were viewed privately.

Continue Reading
Tekashi is seen in Los Angeles, CA on November 8, 2018.
SMXRF/Star Max/GC Images

Nine Trey Trial: 4 Takeaways From Tekashi 6ix9ine's Testimony (Day 2)

The second day of Daniel "Tekashi 6ix9ine" Hernandez's witness testimony provided insight into the handlings of several incidents surrounding the rapper including the attempted shootings of rappers Casanova, Chief Keef and former labelmate, Trippie Redd.

As Complex reported Wednesday (Sept. 18), Judge Paul Engelmayer noted the leak of the rapper's testimony that hit YouTube by way of VladTV. Shortly after, Hernandez explained how the Trey Nine gang began to fall apart–or split into four groups–leaving him to take sides. In the end, Hernandez was robbed and kidnapped by his own manager as video footage revealed. The rapper explained how his initial deal turned into extortion as he provided over $80,000 to the gang.

See more details from the trial below. Hernandez will take the stand again Thursday (Sept. 21).

Day 2 1. Tekashi Arranged A Hit On Chief Keef For $20,000

The hit against Keef was widely reported last year but Hernandez provided clarity to the incident. The rapper admitted to arranging a hit on the Chicago rapper after a dispute over "my friend Cuban," a reference to rapper Cuban Doll. Although Hernandez planned to provide the gunman with $20,000 he paid him $10,000 since the hitman fired one shot and subsequently missed.

2. 6ix9ine Credits Anthony “Harv” Ellison For Barclays Center Shooting 

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Tr3y (@tr3yway_ent) on Sep 6, 2019 at 3:11pm PDT

Hernandez's brief beef with fellow Brooklyn rapper Casanova sprouted from Cas' diss song, "Set Trippin.'" After hearing it, Hernandez said he was ready to "run down" on the rapper. Seqo Billy tipped him off about Cas' alliance to the Bloods set, the Apes and how they would more than likely retaliate if Cas is harmed.

“There’s a kite out saying if any apes happen to cross ya path to fire on you or anybody around you… smarten up,” Seqo wrote in a group chat presented in court. Ellison allegedly replied, “Apes can fire on this dick… They don’t want to war with Billy’s [Nine Trey]." From there, several shootings took place in Brooklyn with one inside the Barclays Center.

3. Tekashi's Beef With Rap-A-Lot Crew Caused Bigger Fallout With Trey Nine 

Hernandez went on to detail the very complicated story behind his beef with Rap-A-Lot records. The debacle started when Tekashi and the Treyway crew didn't "check-in" with Jas Prince before taking the stage at Texas' South by Southwest in March 2018. The incident was further muffled since Trey Nine members like Ellison and Billy Ato were beefing with Hernandez and Shotti at the time. In the end, Hernadez never performed. His crew would later go on to rob and attack an artist from Rap-A-Lot in New York a month later.

4. Footage of the Robbery/Fight Was Filmed By Hernandez aka 6ix9ine

As he and Shotti fled the scene, Shotti kicked the rapper out the car forcing him to take the train to Brooklyn with a gun in his possession. All of the incidents led up to the kidnapping scenario which Herdanaez claimed was in no way staged.

“I’m pleading with Harv,” Hernandez said. “I’m telling him, ‘Don’t shoot. I gave you everything. I put money in your pocket.’ I told him that I was tired of being extorted.” The robbery/kidnapping was filmed by Ellison but also recorded by Hernadez's driver Jorge Rivera who was already a cooperating witness in the case.

Continue Reading
Gary Gershof

Jeremy O. Harris Is Prepared To Make You Uncomfortable With 'Slave Play'

September is a tricky time in New York City. Some days the ninth month can be charming with its cool breeze and clear skies, you forget Old Man Winter is three months away. Other days, September is deceitfully chilly dropping 10 or 15 degrees after sunset. You hug yourself to create warmth and to also block shame for not knowing summer has packed its bags. On the fifth day of September in New York’s East Village, the weather, however, is kind. Clouds like stretched cotton balls float through the sky, while the sun peeks through adding just enough heat without being arresting. It was, like Bill Withers described, a lovely day.

The beauty of the weather was only matched by Jeremy O.Harris’ bold yet inviting presence. Wearing head-to-toe Telfar Clemens, the Yale School of Drama playwright mingled with friends, castmates and the press inside the penthouse suite of The Standard. Holding the last puffs of a loosie and a black purse, O’Harris and I make eye contact. He smiles. I wave and a second later he's pulled into another round of congratulations, cheek kisses, and praise.

Such is the life of an award-winning playwright.

Harris’ production Slave Play earned chatter while at the New York Theater Workshop and has since made its way to Broadway, making the 30-year-old the youngest playwright of color to accomplish the feat. Yet before the mecca to the world's theatrical stage, Slave Play merited quite the hubbub and scathing critiques for its plot. Set on the MacGregor plantation in the antebellum south, three interracial couples work through their relationship woes made present by their sexual disconnect.

And that’s all that will be said about Slave Play. The rest must be witnessed to be understood or at least examined. Harris knows the play will make many uncomfortable and he's okay with that. The Virginia native stands at a towering 6-foot-5 and has always known his mere presence was off-putting to some. Add his Afro to the mix and Harris, a black queer man with hair that defies gravity, is too much to digest. Thankfully, he doesn't care.

He walks over to the terrace and we both lean in for a hug but stop prematurely and settle on a professional yet distant handshake.

“Are you a hugger?” I ask.

“Yes,” he smiles.

Relief. Huggers finally able to hug.

O’Harris is pressed for time so we only chat for 15 minutes but we gag over both being Geminis, talk about white discomfort, why, of all names to give a play, was Slave Play the best choice and whether or not white America can fully love black people.

--

VIBE: When creating Slave Play was white discomfort ever a thought?

Jeremy O. Harris: I had this moment with someone the other day and we were talking about the importance of mirrors and seeing each other inside the mirrors of the set. Well, the reason the idea came about was because at Yale the theater was in a three-quarter thrust and the second year project is one of the smallest projects to do. The audience, I think, is 70 people every night. It wasn’t a huge audience, maybe 90, I don’t know.

Anyway, it’s a three-quarter thrust. I went to Yale at a historic time. There were more people of color there than at any other time. The craziest thing about the show for me was while watching, I saw all the people of color checking in with one another throughout the play and them having these moments of revelation together and looking at white people like, "Why are you laughing then?"

I make people uncomfortable. I make people who are straight uncomfortable. I feel like everything I do, I do loudly by accident.

What’s your sign? I’m a Gemini.

Oh my God! I’m a Gemini. When’s your birthday? June 2nd.

I'm June 17. (Laughs) I think being a Gemini is also part of why I live loudly. I don’t shy away from who I am. My hair has always been big. People might eroticize my hair or fetishize my hair but they’re still uncomfortable by it because their hair can’t do this. Also, because I went to predominately white institutions as a child, I learned quickly that my intellect made people uncomfortable.

Were you usually the smartest one in the room? Yeah, or at least the teacher would say that. I think part of the problem with growing up in the south is everything is so racialized, even compliments. It would be "he’s smarter than the white kids and the black kids."

Did you have any other names for the play besides Slave Play? For me, titles are what make a play and the minute I thought of this play was the minute I was thinking about all of the different slave films. The first thing I thought about was on Twitter there was this whole discussion about 12 Years of Slave with people saying, "Why do we always have to be in a slave movie?" and then I thought, "Oh, a slave movie. There are so many slave plays...Oh, Slave Play!

There’s a litany of narratives that can come from that and a litany of histories that come from that. I was like, "Let me try and make something that was the end all be all of these histories" for at least me. It doesn’t have to be the end all be all for the next writer who wants to interrogate these similar ideas and similar histories, but it gets to be my one foray into this question.

I saw Slave Play off-Broadway and it was a lot to take in. However, I think the play isn’t so much about interracial relationships as it is white people’s relationship with black people. Am I correct?

I think you are. I’ve never written a play that’s going to be about one thing.

Because you aren’t one thing.

Exactly. One of my professors said the problem with a lot of American writers is that they write plays that function like similies. This is like this, whereas in the U.K. and Europe and a lot of places I love, those places function like metaphors. I wanted to have a play that functioned as a metaphor. So it’s not like, "Being in an interracial couple is like..." It’s "An interracial couple is" and it becomes a container for a lot of different histories and a lot of different confluences of conflict which I think are important.

Relationships can become an amazing space of interrogation for a lot of our interpersonal relationships, our historical relationships and our thematic, deeply guarded emotional truths that we haven’t worked out on a macro, but we can work them out on this microcosm of a relationship in a way like white-American politics and black-American politics are also in this weird symbiotic relationship.

Do you think white America can ever fully love black people?

I think love is something that’s beyond words. I think its something we have to only know in action in the same way that I don’t know if black America will or should ever love white America, do you know what I mean? How do you love something that’s harmed you so deeply?

Super facts.

But then again, if we’re using relationships as metaphors, [then] we’ve seen people try and make sense of that love in a lot of different ways. You see black America’s relationship to capitalism, which is something that benefits whiteness more than it could ever benefit us, yet there is this sort of weird romance that happens in so much of our music. So much of our literature and so much of our art, with the idea of capitalism even with its own interrogation and criticisms. But there is this weird push and pull. It’s similar to someone who’s in this battered relationship with an ex-lover.

I read you didn’t expect to receive so much criticism from the black community. How did that make you feel? 

It made me feel sad and reflective in a lot of ways. I wanted to make theater for a certain audience and, for me, the best vehicle for making theater for that audience was the Internet. I was like, "How can I flood the Internet with these ideas about what my plays are so I can maybe get a new audience into the theater with more excitement?" And that worked in a certain way. What I didn’t take into account was that I basically asked everyone to learn how to ride a horse bareback without ever learning the fundamentals of riding a horse.

People were interrogating the ideas on the Internet of what this play might be without an understanding of how the theater functions, and so I think that made them feel very displaced from what this play was, and when you feel displaced from something you have to react to it. I don’t blame anyone for their reactions to the title or the images they saw. Some of those images aren’t images I would’ve ever wanted people to interrogate without the context of the theater. In hindsight, I now know, like, "Okay, cool." I do this experiment and I saw some of the false positives of it and I saw the actual positives of it and now I can move on and keep building and repair the relationship. I get to now watch it with more careful eyes.

What questions do you hope white people ask themselves?

I think the whole play is about: how can people listen in a way that’s not shallow but deeply? I think at this moment a lot of white theater audiences believe they’re listening deeply to the black artists that are having this moment right now. But I think when you read the words they write about it, and the quickness with which they have an opinion about it, you recognize they’re not listening deeply. So quickly they’re telling us what they think we said and it’s like, "No, take a second, and let us speak on it." Take a step back.

Slave Play is playing at the John Golden Theater. Get your tickets here.

Continue Reading

Top Stories