The White-Boy Comic Who Crushed the ‘Chitlin Circuit’
In the early ’90s I hustled my way through New York’s cutthroat black stand-up scene — and learned the hard way that corny jokes were no laughing matter.
Illustrations by Paul Loubet
The standing-room-only joint was nicknamed “The ’Mint,” short for The Peppermint Lounge. But there’s nothing minty about it. From the stage, comedians speak to a cumulous cloud of blunt smoke hovering over the back of the room while gold fronts glint and interrupting pagers beep digits of customers coveting cocaine. The décor is a cross between abandoned dining hall and the place you’d bet a fake Rolex on a three-legged pit bull to beat up a one-eyed rooster with a shank duct-taped to its foot. Scuffed Timberlands run heel-to-toe, with more gator skins per square foot than any swamp in Florida. But in the place of everglades is the hard-angled architecture and brick-and-mortar buildings of East Orange, New Jersey. At this point in the evening there isn’t so much a comedy set going on as a sensory assault on the audience; it’s a performance wilding. Onstage, a skinny black man wearing a vest with no shirt underneath asks why women insist that men “take the e…