Yesteray my 14-year old daughter and I attended the Saturday matinee of Tyler Perry’s new stage show, Madea’s Big Happy Family. I have been a fan of Tyler Perry’s ever since he first appeared as Madea on the Oprah show a few years ago. Although African American audiences have been watching him in his stage plays for years, I had never heard of him until he was endorsed by the big “O”. Shortly thereafter I started to rent all of Tyler Perry’s stage plays that are on video and I have enjoyed each and every one. I have watched many of his films on DVD and I’ve also attended the theater to watch every new film he’s released since then. I read all of his blogs and think he is an amazing individual that is inspiring to us all. He has gone from being broke and suicidal to having a studio in Atlanta that bears his own name where he continues to produce films that not only make us laugh, but also elevate us on a spiritual level.
I have always wanted to see a Tyler Perry stage play (with him in it) but never thought I would because now that he’s at the top of his game with his own studio, I didn’t think him touring in a stage play would be his number one priority. But his mother passed away not too long ago and he wrote this most recent show to honor her life and her passing. If I was his Momma, I would be extremely proud of this most recent accomplishment. The show was hilarious but as with all of Tyler Perry’s work, it also gave us the opportunity to cry, to reflect, and to learn. There were a few things he added that simply brought the house down each and every time. The first was about fifteen minutes into the play when he entered for the first time. He said a couple of his scripted lines, and then turned to the audience (in character) and reamed people currently being seated for being late, and reminded them what time the play started. (The humorous part of what he did will probably only be funny for those who know what “CP time” is). Then in the middle of one of Madea’s monologues he started to chant the already popular “Pants On The Ground” rap that was just aired on American Idol last week. In the middle of another monologue he started to improvise and switched to his regular voice and said “Now this is Perry talking”. At the end of the show is a celebration of music honoring Teddy Pendergrass, Luther Vandross, and Earth Wind & Fire (which Mr. Perry sang himself). The audience sang along with each and every song. Then in the middle of this musical montage he said “OK we do have a few white people in the audience so we need to do something for them….” and then the orchestra started playing American Pie which we ALL sang along with him. It was thoroughly enjoyable and full of joy. A stage play with Tyler Perry and his multi-talented cast is not like any other stage play you will ever experience. It is an interactive art form with the audience where the traditional theater etiquette of remaining quiet out of respect for the actors is tossed out the window as people yell out their reactions, raise their hands in testimony much like they do in any good gospel church, and scream, yell, and clap when a good line with a good message comes out of a character’s mouth on stage. This was an entirely new experience for both my daughter and I, but I have to say we thoroughly enjoyed every minute of this show as did everyone who attended.
However, the reason I am writing this blog is not just to review the show, but to point out that Tyler Perry has also taken a lot of heat from people within his own culture. Many African Americans feel he is reinforcing the stereotypes within his own culture and not portraying black people in a positive light. But isn’t that was comedy is? Isn’t comedy meant to provoke laughter from the audience by making fun of people? I don’t understand why people are taking it so seriously and why they negate all of the good characters that Tyler Perry creates by focusing only on the negative characters he creates within one of his shows or films. This kind of comedy is not exclusive in the African American culture. Has anyone tuned into the highly popular George Lopez talk show yet? On every show Lopez makes fun of people within his own Latino culture. Yet no one is criticizing him (yet). Isn’t this kind of comedic approach what made Margaret Cho popular as well….by making fun of the Asian culture? But I don’t recall anyone protesting her work either.
Most recently I read there is controversy from people within my own culture (Italian) about the new reality show Jersey Shore. I tuned into Jersey Shore just to see what all the hype was about and to see if I personally found it “offensive” so I could place myself in the same position as African Americans. I have to honestly say I was not offended. Did I like the show? Of course I didn’t. But did I take it as a personal reflection or representation of who I am as an individual? Absolutely not. If I did, then shouldn’t all of the other ignorant and voyeuristic reality television shows provoke the same thing in blonde haired blue eyed white people? The people on this show are a bunch of young kids who take pride in their nationality. So what? Who cares? My opinion of these “Guidos” are that they are ignorant and shallow and certainly not the kind of young people I’d want to spend time with (nor will I ever tune into the show again). By the same token, I also would not be honest with myself if I didn’t admit that there are many ignorant and shallow people within my own culture. What about films like The Godfather and Goodfellas and television shows like The Sopranos and Everybody Loves Raymond? Shouldn’t I be “offended” that my culture is being represented through the portrayal of mafia families and buffoons? Well I’m not, and that is because there ARE people in my culture, within my own blood-line even, that are living proof that these types of individuals do exist. So when I hear people complaining about Tyler Perry’s characters always acting like buffoons or thugs my response is that there ARE buffoons and thugs in the African American culture. There are buffoons and thugs in EVERY culture including the Italian culture and Jersey Shore as well as every Italian film and television show ever made supports that.
But here is why I don’t find these films or television shows offensive or unacceptable. They do not define ME as an individual. I know that I am a person with a good heart and a good soul. I know that I am educated and intelligent and I touch the lives of others in a positive way through my friendship. Because I know this in the core of my inner being, I do not have the need to prove it to anyone else by protesting the examples that others are presenting about who THEY are. I am proud of my ethnicity in spite of the buffoons and the gangsters because I like who I am as an individual and no amount of television or film can take that away from me. Only I have the power to feel less of a person. As the great Eleanor Roosevelt once said “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”. So if you feel inferior when you watch a Tyler Perry film or television show, maybe it simply means you’ve got some inner work to do on yourself.
As for comedy……it has been around forever and if we start monitoring comics or comedy writers for being “politically correct” all of the time comedy itself will disintegrate into oblivion and for me, that is not an option. Laughter is good for soul and so is Tyler Perry. His work is not only humorous, it is also inspirational and in each and every piece of his work he communicates a number of positive spiritual messages that are extremely important. Yesterday during his stage play towards the end he started to preach (in the character of Madea) and he was going on and on and on and at one point he said “And I am so far off of script right now……” which once again brought the house down because Mr. Perry was doing what he does best…….using humor to teach and to preach, and for that I honor him, I respect him, I admire him, and I support him in his right to use his work as a beacon of light for others, no matter what color or ethnicity is watching. Be blessed Tyler Perry…..in spite of what others may have to say about you, you ARE doing God’s work.
As we say in Italy……Ciao……for now.
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