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Comedy a Tool in the Wait for Black President

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Many Black Americans are still trying to take in the fact that Barack Obama has been elected this country's first black president. It's something people have said they didn't think they'd witness in their lifetime. And because it sometimes seemed too much to hope for, the idea of a first black president has been a subject of humor among black comedians and others.

Four years ago Dave Chappelle called himself "Black President Bush" on his comedy show and in this skit pretends to justify the Iraq War.

ambi: Chappelle clip

Chris Rock's movie Head of State stars the comedian as the first black president, diamond studs in ears. This clip raises the curtain on the campaign.

ambi: Head of State Trailer 

And Richard Pryor greeted a press corps with a penchant for "your mama" jokes and 1970's humor as the imaginary 40th president of the United States.

ambi: Pryor clip

Okay, so these are funny, fictional accounts. Black America often uses comedy to cope with racism. The idea of a black president had seemed so far-fetched, so absurd. And that made these skits and other jokes about painting the White House black amusing, and comforting.

Now fiction has become reality.

On the warm autumn night Barack Obama won the presidency, many black voters talked about the surrealism of his achievement.

JACKSON: Because we know there's an element of racism in this country that's kept black people and other minorities down from the type of position where there's real power for as long as I'm old.

That's 72-year-old Lucille Jackson on Election Night.

Karla Smith is decades younger but on the same night she expressed the same sentiment.

SMITH: I just told someone else that. And they say, 'You make it seem like you was in the Civil Rights Movement!' But I never would have thought. I was telling them how it's hard to get African-American CEOS of companies. Here we have a black president-elect.

It's been stunning and solemn for swaths of Black America. Sam Cooke's 1960s; song “A Change is Gonna Come” is one of the many unofficial anthems. Obama hinted at its lyrics on Tuesday night.

ambi: Obama speech

Those are serious notes, and there are many.

But there are also black intra-racial emails circulating that are having fun with the whole idea of stereotypes. Cautions about black etiquette now that Obama is readying for his role as Commander-in-Chief. The tongue-in-cheek humor instructs no singing “We've Come this Far by Faith,” no bringing fried chicken to work and no choreographed Obama Electric Slide dances. Oh, wait, there is an Obama electric slide. YouTube it.

Washington D.C. satirist Bomani Armah wishes Obama had done one thing before his victory speech.

ARMAH: I would've loved for him to walk up to the podium and say Asalamalakam and then be like, 'I'm kidding, I'm kidding, I'm kidding.'

Armah says, in all seriousness, Obama's win didn't seem likely at first.

ARMAH: Not only is he black, but he's got a Muslim name, he's got African ancestry. It's mind-blogging how many reasons he shouldn't be president. One of the reasons we joked about it is because we never thought it would really happen.

As Sam Cooke sang, it's been a long time coming.

But there's another unofficial anthem.

ambi: “Jeffersons” theme song

I'm Natalie Moore, Chicago Public Radio.

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