Jason Brown, The Advertiser (LA), Jul. 9
Officials at the Heymann Performing Arts Center were caught off guard Thursday when informed about black comedian Willie P. Richardson’s act. Why? Well, it’s because he’s not black — he’s a white man who appears in black makeup.
Richardson is set to open for country music legend Ray Price at the Heymann Center at 7 p.m. tonight. The event has already sold more than 700 tickets.
The show has been scheduled since March, and Frank Bradshaw, manager at the Heymann Center, said he was unaware of the comedian’s act.
“It was our understanding he was an Afro-American. We’ll have to research it,” Bradshaw said. “We’re going on what the promoter told us.”
The promoter is David Stallings of Landmark Productions in Nacogdoches, Texas. Stallings said Richardson is a character portraying a black man and that the show has been seen by people of all races and ages.
Unlike the old-time minstrel shows, which he said could be considered offensive, “he just becomes a black man, and it’s good, clean, rural, Southern humor.”
Stallings would not confirm or deny whether he is the one portraying Richardson.
Ja’Nelle Chargois, president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, was not amused. She said the NAACP will deliver a letter to City Hall today asking that Richardson not be allowed to perform.
But Chargois also was surprised to learn that Richardson is not black. Chargois, who is the general manager at the black radio station KJCB, said that the station has played Richardson’s show.
“I’ve listened to many of Willie Richardson’s tapes and they’re not racially biased in any manner or against any group. But, if he’s someone who is painted in black face, then yeah, I think that’s offensive,” she said.
Asked whether the Heymann Center would cancel the show, Bradshaw referred questions to Melanie Lewis, city-parish director of community development. Lewis said she had not had the opportunity to review the comedian’s material beforehand.
“I have not heard of him before and I’m not even sure when they booked him.”
Lewis, however, said she could see how many could object to the performance.
“I think at the least it would be considered offensive to a lot of members of our community and I’m not saying that it’s just one sector of the community, namely African-Americans, but I would imagine that others would not deny the fact that this is something that we thought was way behind us,” she said.
Stallings, though, says that comedians often portray people of other races.
He pointed to films such as ‘White Chicks’ in which black comedians Damon and Marlon Wayans portray spoiled white girls.
“Eddie Murphy has painted himself every color known to man and portrayed himself as Hispanic, Jewish, made fun of everybody and every race,” he said.
Dee Stanley, chief administrative officer of city-parish government, who was also unaware of the performer’s act, said it was too late to pull the show, and he wasn’t sure that he could or would anyway.
“Having not seen his performance, certainly we would be concerned about bringing anything that would be racially charged or offensive into the community,” Stanley said.
And so far, Stanley said, they haven’t found that it is. After having checked the performer’s Web site, talked with the promoter, and with other venues where Richardson has performed, Stanley said they did not receive any feedback that would indicate it was “racially inflammatory, or insensitive, or derogatory.”