It’s hard doing standup comedy, especially when there’s a boo-bird hidden in the audience like a Trojan horse. D. L. Hughley had to expect it coming on Saturday night in Fort Worth, Texas at his Bass Hall performance.
“D. L. Hughley. No double standard,” chanted the crowd outside the Hall, led by a group of religious leaders. The crowd noise echoed through the chamber and down the hall and up the stairs, all the way up to the cheap seat section where I was perched- one man with one ticket and a bible.
We were blessed. The North Texas storm blew in with pelting rain and a lighting show overnight, but the incessant downpour subsided by evening, and we had a clear night for the protest. It was a good sign. After the protest was over the rain would return.
While local television cameras were panning the crowd of picket sign holders who distributed flyers to all passersby, Bass Hall staff was buzzing on the inside. I could see that they were on high alert. Something was amidst, with all the recent newspaper and television coverage. On the other hand, some people did not know why Hughley was being boycotted. The demonstration gave protesters a chance to explain how the black comedian had insulted the Rutgers basketball women in the same manner as radio shock jock Imus, and how firing Imus and allowing Hughley to pass constituted a double standard in treatment.
Many Bass patrons turned aside at the door. But others brushed past the protesters and found a smug seat inside. I watched them as they entered, decked out like a bunch of petty bourgeois affluent snobs, diverting their eyes away from my attention. They were ashamed to look at me and admit to themselves that they had crossed a sacred picket line. To them, it was all about having fun, pure entertainment for entertainment sake. Over 80% of the people coming through the doors were African-Americans. And even at that, the house was less than half-full.
8:10 p.m. The show was late starting. So, I inquired about the lateness of the start but soon realized that the Bass Hall people were trying to see if the number were going to swell. It didn’t.
We had achieved our first objective. This was not going to be a profitable event for the Hall. The financial loss alone would make Mr. Hughley less attractive for a return visit to Fort Worth and even harder for him to be booked elsewhere.
A no-name comedian Malik S. came out like shock troop fodder to test the water for the headline Hughley act. Immediately, he cut into the protest outside, characterizing one elder as so old “he didn’t know what he was protesting”. And then this: “And, I hear that some of them are right here in the audience.”
If the comics were paranoid, then I was all the more uneasy. I have only done three protests in my lifetime: One in 1965 to remove the Confederate flag from the campus of the Arlington State College; the second was a hunger strike in 1976 to protest the bicentennial celebration and demand the release of all US political prisoners. For this Juneteenth protest against D. L. Hughley, I would have to lay my pen aside and come out of retirement.
Malik S. asked the spy in the audience, “Please remember my name. I can use some controversy. I need my career to get a boast.”
He claimed that he had learned the game from Hughley, who taught him everything he knew about the business. “And, we’re all about money,” Malik shouted. The crowd responded: “Yea”. This emboldened the comic to declare, “We worship money.” But from there, he waffled back and forth on his religious beliefs and ideas only to conclude, by his own satisfaction, that he is already “saved up” but “not ready to die”.
Funny- even I could have laughed.
“D. L. Hughley, no double standard,” the chants echoed through the hall doors every time someone stepped out for air. Malik S. had taken an hour off the clock, but the protesters were still there, marching with signs and chanting: “No Double Standard.”
Bass Hall staff came around the balcony section and informed all patrons, “Mr. Hughley has invited you all down to the prime seating area downstairs.” It sounded as if Hughley had done us a favor and a disfavor to those who bought a higher priced ticket- but not so. The Hall was closing the balcony section because of lagging attendance. As a result, we were forced to relocate, like it or not, and I was the last to leave the balcony.
Pastor Tatum, one of the local ministers leading the demonstration outside, informed me outside that former Dallas Cowboy turned preacher Deion Sanders had ducked in and was somewhere stashed in the audience. He had been recognized by the other pastors and confronted. Whenever he would emerge, the protesters would not let him escape the television cameras. They were going to put him on the spot for attending this X-rated event.
Hughley was still not ready to face the audience, so he sent out Malik S. once again to warm up the crowd. The no-name comic had run the gambit of the foul lexicon, from the A-word to the B-word to the D-word (with herpes) to the F-word and the P-word, and every vulgar expression in English language and, even a confession of his own pedophilic fantasies.
I held my tongue. After all, what good would it do to boo a no-name comedian off stage and being thrown out of the Bass Hall, when Hughley was the target? But I remembered the words of the young lady who warned me earlier that we, Christians, are not troublemakers. But if Hughley said anything wrong out of his mouth, I had her blessing to boo him away.
“Put your hands together for one of the Kings of Comedy, D. L. Hughley,” Malik shouted, as he introduced the besieged comic. Applauds of the audience went up and some gave him a standing ovation. Fans, like flies, that had long awaited the big stink, there he was on stage, in the flesh. But something was wrong. Not everybody was standing. No everybody was cheering and clapping. The people around me looked upon me as if the stink was on me. And, the young man in the adjacent seat gave me a weary eye. Tension was brewing.
As expected, Hughley started his routine by lashing out at the protesters outside. “People can’t say anything, anymore,” he complained. “People can protest whatever they want to. But the way I see it, freedom of speech is a zero sum proposition. Either you believe in it or you don’t.”
I restrained myself from booing. But the minute he characterized Hillary Clinton as a “bitch”, I let loose: “BOO!”
At first, not everybody heard me. But the young man next to me said, “You’re not going to do that all night in my ear, are you? I paid my money.”
I replied, “So did I.”
“Well, you’re not going to be doing that all night in my ear- straight up,” he threatened, as if the phrase “straight up” added seriousness to his threat. How could he be a threat to me, I thought? With earrings in his ear, expensive jewelry, and fine rags, he was a little too cute and too soft to be a real manly threat.
“What are you going to do?” I asked. “Hit me?”
I considered changing seats, but time was running out and Hughley was preparing to go into full stride. It was now or never.
I jumped to my feet. “Boo” to the top of the domed roof. “Boo” again, I cry, even louder than before. Then for on brief moment, the comedy routine stopped, and a police officer had me by the arm. My stack of flyers went sailing across the room.
Someone else grabbed my arm and I let out another loud “Boo”. All the way to the exit door, I booed.
Faintly, in the background, I could hear Hughley ask, “Are you finished yet?”
I turned to go back and shouted, “No!”
When the exit door opened camera lights blinded me. With an officer at my arm and television cameras in front of me, it looked as though I had played myself into a media trap. The footage might portray me as one of the outside protesters who might have broken into Bass Hall to create a scene.
I retrieved my ticket stub and demand, “I want a refund. I want my money back.”
Once outside the building, the officer told me that I was being charged with criminal trespassing. Pastor Tatum and the other ministers gathered around and challenged the officer. Tatum then took to the phone. “I’m calling your supervisor,” he told the officer.
Tatum was serious. He had made contact with the PD sergeant over the downtown district earlier. We both had informed the police department of the protest and the possibility of problems long beforehand.
No, they said, Eddie Griffin was not being arrested. They were only going to give me a citation for criminal trespassing. Again, the ministers expressed outrage, and within minutes the police sergeant arrived with flashing lights. At last, they reduced the charge to a warning citation. With it, I would be forever barred from Bass Performance Hall.
“What about my refund?” I asked the officers and Bass officials. That would be a matter for civil court, they said. Under no circumstances was I allowed to return into the building. However, I could continue my protest outside.
“Boo Bass Hall. Boo Bass Hall,” I shouted, until others took up the new chant. “Boo Bass Hall.”
The police squad cars drew an even larger downtown crowd of spectators. Traffic was gridlocked. People gathered around the sidewalk outside the Hall. Television camera lights went back on. This was live 10 o’clock news. Deion Sanders was flushed out into the camera spotlight and grilled about his attendance to the boycotted event.
As the Hughley protest story went on the blogs, I remember something in Malik’s routine where he mentioned blogs and emails generating protests. At least, they recognized the power of the Afro-blogsphere, which he dismissed as nothing. And besides that, Hughley had even referred to the local religious leaders as “clowns”. Now that the protest was over, it was time to weigh the damage.
The Hughley show was a loser- a financial loss to Bass Hall and an embarrassment to all, including myself. The Fort Worth Police Department had been put on unnecessary high alert. Our Saturday night Juneteenth celebration throughout the city was marred, and the black community was split in the debate.
But there comes a time when opinions do not matter. A child may have their own opinion about parental discipline and chastisement. And our youth may believe that they can use derogatory language and profane slurs in the name of Freedom of Speech. But without elders and religious leaders, our young people would just as well orgy in the streets. They may have their opinions. But they do not have the last say.