The "Comedian" and the Activist
I know of comedian Nick Di Paolo primarily as one of a cadre of right-leaning contrarian comedians who traded wisecracks and half-baked political opinions on Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn. This group included Quinn himself as well as guys like Jim Norton.
They presented themselves as blue-collar truth-tellers, blunt, working-class everyday guys willing to swim upstream against a comedy establishment that is overwhelmingly left wing and progressive and identity politics-obsessed. They played at being first amendment warriors, but their conception of free speech seems limited to “white straight men should be able to say things others find racist, sexist or homophobic without suffering negative consequences.”
So I can’t say that I was terribly surprised when Di Paolo recently rose to online infamy with the release of the “art” for his latest special, A Breath of Fresh Air. The cursed image finds a clumsy visual equivalent to the “Get off my lawn, you damn negroes!” vibe of Di Paolo’s comedy by featuring an almost impressively unflattering image of the middle-aged comic in dad jeans and a buttoned-up shirt that barely conceals his girth, his face beet red with anger and frustration as he extends an angry, upraised middle finger at crudely photoshopped representations of right-wing bogeyman: an overweight woman of color holding a megaphone, another woman of color with arms folded defensively, an angry woman in a hat holding a #MeToo sign and a black man with braids in a “Black Lives Matter” tee-shirt.
The symbolism is as obvious as it is obnoxious and appallingly self-aggrandizing. Di Paolo is expressing, in a sly and deeply appealing manner that makes you really want to check out more of his hilarious comedy, that unlike you snowflakes and SJWs and beta cucks, who bend over backwards to be “politically correct” and not offend the Thought Police, he thinks nothing of telling women they’re fat and ugly. Furthermore, Di Paolo is bold enough to say things that might be construed as racist or sexist or homophobic in our current hyper-sensitive cultural environment because they are racist, sexist and homophobic and wants nothing more than to be considered a hero for his incredible bravery in punching down and making fun of vulnerable communities agitating to be seen, heard, understood, and treated as human beings rather than as punchlines, jokes and abstractions.
Di Paolo’s grotesque exercise in “edgy” attitude would, and should, be mocked no matter who Di Paolo chose as his “antagonists”, the uptight identity politics Nazis whose demand to be treated as human beings with dignity deeply offends Di Paolo’s sense of right and wrong.
What makes Di Paolo’s historically shitty photoshop hack job even more reprehensible is that the dreadlocked black man in the image, chosen to embody racist white America’s worst fears about those scary black people with their signs and organizations and desire to be treated equitably is Muhiyidin El Amin Moye, a Black Lives Matter activist who was gunned down and murdered while riding his bike late on the night of February 6th, 2018 in New Orleans.
It turns out that the abstraction Di Paolo was patting himself on the back for having the courage to flip off as abstractly as humanly possible, via photograph editing software rather than through some manner of manly street brawl wasn’t just some random-ass black dude. No, he was a man with a name. He was a man with a story. He was a man with dignity. He was the kind of man who is described in the pages of the New Yorker long before Di Paolo’s hateful stupidity gave him a curious posthumous fame, as "a complex, vexing, and, to his opponents and to some portion of his admirers, an exasperating figure. He was not, however, insincere, lacking insight, or, as had been apparent to me since that afternoon in the Circular Congregation Church, easily forgettable.”
He wasn’t just a black guy to be lazily employed as a bogeyman. He was a black man whose life mattered and continues to matter.
The other folks Di Paolo was pretending to flip off to appeal to the sizable percentage of his audience that would love to tell any group agitating for rights and dignity to go fuck themselves and go back to the margins where they belong have names and stories and dignity as well. They’re just not as famous as Moye.
Di Paolo, the unapologetic voice of unvarnished truth, apologized but instead of replacing that cursed image with something less racist and gross, he simply swapped in another “scary-looking” black dude for the man who is too tragically dead to make for an appropriate make-pretend nemesis anymore.
Di Paolo accidentally ended up illustrating why movements like Black Lives Matter are so essential. As long as there are people incapable of recognizing the humanity of African-Americans, in seeing them as human beings instead of a terrifying homogenous mass of race hucksters and con men, we’ll need Black Lives Matter. Through his sloppiness and cowardice, Di Paolo acted as if Moye’s black life did not matter. Thank God so many were quick to remind him and racists like him, that it did, and does, and will forever matter a whole lot more than the sour, reactionary anger of an irrelevant white bigot with a microphone.
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