It’s the 80s and I’m in high school and I see this, okay?

And I didn’t know. I mean, it’s funny all the way up to a certain point and then it turns very not funny and yet it still is but it’s way not at the same time. And I didn’t know. I mean I’d never thought about it, but women have consequences that men don’t have, okay? And I don’t remember ever thinking about that before I saw this. When I saw this it clicked. I got it. I mean I didn’t get it. I knew in that instant that I’d never fully truly understand from a girl’s point of view what they go through that boys don’t go through but while I couldn’t understand to a point where I could say I’m a guy and I get it I got it enough to know that I got it. That boys should carry that responsibility too, and it’s wrong to have unprotected sex with just any girl if you don’t know her much and you don’t really care about her you just wanna get your rocks off, and so I didn’t, okay? And I’m not saying that Whoopi was the only reason why I chose to be a little more careful than other guys around me in high school and later college. Guys who’d get girls knocked up and wouldn’t care or they would care and now they had to make a decision and sometimes they did the right thing but usually it was for the wrong reasons and I never had to worry about any of that cuz I was careful. I’m not saying Whoopi set me straight and there were no other factors, but if I hadn’t seen this, and if she hadn’t psychologically kicked me in the groin when she started miming the wire hanger..

Whoopi Goldberg’s stand up routines were often a little different. She usually portrayed characters. They weren’t just oneliners or topical current events stuff. She put a lot of thought into it. Whoopi’s always been a bit of a performance artist who also made you laugh. Her approach to the same stages that carried everyone from Bob Hope to Jerry Seinfeld and beyond gave her a very unique edge. Nowadays she’s on The View I don’t know if she even bothers with stand up anymore, but she was a walking one woman play. Other comedians have done this to great effect. Richard Pryor comes to mind. Flip Wilson. Robin Williams. Andy Kaufman. Telling a story not just by being yourself and talking about something, but actually being that person and living that something naked in front of the audience. Many comedians have done this. None have done it like this.

I say I’m PG and she says are you in a movie and I still don’t get it.

Whoopi starts with a character that on the surface is just that. Surface. Vain. False. Stereotypical. And her portrayal of a surfer girl is impeccable. She transforms. After awhile you stop seeing the dreads and you start seeing sunkissed blonde locks. She’s got the patter and the rhythm and the mannerisms down and the opening bit about how surfing is almost spiritual in how water is so universal, it rings hollow even tho there is some value to the words, and they echo long after she’s moved on. Immediately we know there’s more to this girl than meets the eye. Whoopi’s telegraphing that but the stereotype is so strong we don’t realize until later that one of the many messages Whoopi is laying down on us is that you should never take anything at face value, and every person whether they’re hanging on a beach or are homeless on the street deserves to be treated with respect and not dismissed as a stereotype that you don’t associate.

Arguably, Whoopi’s approach to standup can be heavy-handed, but she gets away with it where in another’s hands this would seem preachy and more like a persuasive speech about how much fear and hate have permeated our society and left girls at tender ages forced to face tough decisions alone, when we need to put an end to that. It amazes me that now, almost thirty years later, this piece is still relevant. It still screams out the need to be heard. If conservative fundamentalists continue to destroy our society with superstitious nonsense, we will be right back to wire hangers in public restrooms like we had before Roe vs Wade. That may be happening already. This is not something we can sweep under a rug. So yeah, it’s heavy handed. It’s hitting the audience over the head with a message they don’t want to hear, but Whoopi does add some honey up front to make the medicine go down easier.

I love this bit. It’s well-written. It’s funny. It’s deep and meaningful but not at first. Like the ocean itself we wade into the life of this small young person that Whoopi introduces us to and we slowly walk further out into the depths of her life and loves and fears and mistakes, and then for just a second we get pulled down by the undertow, but we make it out. She helps us out. It’s okay. And by the end of the piece we are being comforted by her. She’s the one who’s gone through this tragic ordeal, yet she is comforting us. And it’s okay. Okay? Do you know what I’m talking about?

Advertisements