S.E.L.L.O.U.T. comedy breaks down stereotypes
March 1, 2011
Comedian Billy D. Washington said the "S.E.L.L.O.U.T., a Standup Comedy Tour" featuring Washington, BT and Vince Morris, all of whom are African-American, is perfect for Park City and Utah in general.
"One thing the show’s concept has in common with the people in Utah is that others stereotype you when they don’t know you," said Washington during a phone interview from Houston, Texas. "Before I ever came to Utah, I had a lot of preconceived notions as to what it would be like.
"I never knew it would be as fun as it was," he said. "I never knew it would be as liberal as it is. I never knew Park City would be as artsy and creative as it is and that I would be able to meet a wide variety of people."
Washington said the message the three want to convey is not to lump them in the same category as other African-American comedians.
"We are all different," he said. "Our show is about three different dudes showing three different sides of black Americana.
"The three of us grew up differently and we’ve all had different experiences," he said. "We embrace mainstream America and I think people who come out to see us will have a good time."
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Washington grew up in Houston.
"We were poor, but I didn’t know that until I got older," he said. "I had two parents in the house and I went school at the University of Houston, which is pretty much an all-white college. I started to work at this police department, which employed predominantly white officers and now I live in a predominantly white neighborhood.
"I went from all-black for most of my life, to all-white within a two-year span," Washington said with a laugh. "I had to acclimate very quickly."
Unlike some other comedians, Washington wasn’t a class clown.
"Comedy was basically a defense mechanism I cultivated into a career," he said. "I was always smaller than the other kids. I wore thick glasses and had a speech impediment, so I was teased a lot."
While being teased, the future comedian would try to figure out a way to combat the bullies with his wit.
"I’d find something about them that nobody else was talking about and poke fun at that," he said. "That ended up being my calling card. No one wanted to screw with me because I would embarrass them and I developed a circle of friends who wouldn’t allow me to be beaten up or picked on, although they wouldn’t ever help me in a fight."
As Washington started paying attention to comedians, he found an eclectic group of influences.
"I looked at everyone from the preachers I saw in my father’s church to Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor to Stephen Wright to, most recently, Mitch Hedberg," he said.
When "S.E.L.L.O.U.T." began, Washington, BT and Morris didn’t want to alienate other African-American comedians.
"We didn’t want to set out and say we’re better or cooler than them in any way," Washington said. "We didn’t want to cast any disparaging shadow over anything anyone else was doing. We did, however, want to be different than other African-American comedy shows."
At the beginning of the show, the three take the stage for short monologues, during which they introduce themselves to the audience and give some background about who they are from individual standpoints, Washington said.
"Then we come back and do 20-minute comedy bits," he said. "We give the audience an idea of what made us performers and what makes us funny, which helps set up the final part of the show, which we call the ‘Ask a Black Man’ segment.
Throughout the show, the audience members are given out questionnaires, which are gathered and returned to the comedians to read.
"No matter how funny we are at the beginning, that last portion is always the killer because we have no idea what kinds of questions they are going to ask," Washington said. "We encourage all types of questions, even if they’re stupid, dumb or ignorant questions. We encourage them to be asked.
"We don’t always answer them, but we read them, just to let people know who they are sitting next to, and none of our answers are canned.
"Also, all of us have different opinions on a variety of different subjects," he said. "Some things we will agree on, but most of the stuff we won’t, especially the political stuff. None of us have the same sort of line-by-line political beliefs, which makes it more interesting."
S.E.L.L.O.U.T. is an acronym for Serious, Educated, Laughing, Learning, Outrageous. Unique and Talented, Washington said.
"The tour can be about anyone Asians, Mexicans, lesbians," Washington said. "For example, just because you know one lesbian, doesn’t mean all lesbians are alike.
"Also, We want everyone to know this is a mainstream show," he said. "It’s PG-13. You can bring our kids as long as they aren’t that young and you can bring your parents as long as they’re not that old."
"S.E.L.L.O.U.T., a Standup Comedy Tour," with Billy D. Washington, BT and Vince Morris, will run Friday and Saturday, March 4 and 5, at 8 p.m. at the Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main Street. Tickets are $20-$30 and available by calling (435) 649-9371 or by visiting http://www.egyptiantheatre.org.