If you go
› What: “The Magic Negro and Other Blackness”
› Where: Improv Chattanooga, 1800 Rossville Ave., Suite 118
› When: 8 p.m. Friday, May 10
› Admission: $10, $5 students with valid student ID
› For more information: 423-843-1775
Mark Kendall was a late-comer to comedy performance — a college student at Northwestern University studying film when he joined the campus sketch team. And even then, he was working behind the scenes or writing sketches, not performing them.
It wasn't until five years ago that he developed a one-man show that has since been presented from New York City to San Francisco.
"It's a one-person sketch about the representation of African-American men in the media," Kendall said in a phone interview from his home in Atlanta.
Improv Chattanooga is hosting the comedian on Friday night, May 10, to present "The Magic Negro and Other Blackness."
Steven Disbrow of Improv Chattanooga says he was impressed when he saw Kendall perform at Dad's Garage in Atlanta.
"He's an amazing improviser. He's an incredible performer and a great guy. Plus, one of our long-range goals at Improv Chattanooga is to make Chattanooga an improv destination like Chicago or New York. That means opening up our stage to great improvisers from across the country and featuring unique shows like this one," Disbrow says.
The Magic Negro is a character Kendall created to guide his audiences through his show's discussion on race. He based the character's development on a stereotype he sees "often used in movies to make white people feel comfortable."
"I think of him as Uncle Remus — that older black man who's the wise old man with sage advice for the white male protagonist. I always thought that was such an unusual depiction of a black man, but because it's so popular and the sketch is so well-liked, I wanted to use that character to guide the audience through this discussion on race."
That character is one of anywhere from 10 to 12 he plays in the one-hour performance. Among others: a shark, NFL player, a scientist, himself and LeVar Burton from "Reading Rainbow." He uses few props, relying on his wit and delivery to carry the one-man show.
Kendall says as the performance progresses, it asks questions of its audience that cause them to examine why they find certain things funny or what it means to be a black performer.
"I'm not trying to change anyone's mind about anything, I just want them to consider other possibilities, not stereotypes."
Kendall acknowledges there are points that people "will have strong feelings about," but the show is for all races.
"I'm sharing my personal experience. If I'm vulnerable and honest about it, then it makes it easier to broach any kind of topic. That's the tone throughout the show."
As Magic Negro leads the audience through the performance, Kendall says, "At the start of the show you think you like the character. By the end of the show, you're questioning why you liked him."
This show is rated R, no minors admitted without a parent or guardian.
Doors open at 7:30 p.m. before the 8 o'clock show. Anyone who preorders their ticket online will receive a free small popcorn (one per ticket).
Because Kendall is an improviser, he says he plans to stay and participate in the 10 p.m. show at Improv Chattanooga. "Good Old-Fashioned Improv Show" is a mix of improv games and long-form improv. That show is rated PG-13.
Tickets for either show are $10 adults, $5 students with valid ID.
Contact Susan Pierce at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6284.