Mark Kendall is the writer and performer of the one-man-show “The Magic Negro and other Blackity Blackness, as Told by an African American who Also Happens to be Black.” Midtown Direct Rep (MDR) will present THE MAGIC NEGRO on January 14th at 7pm at The Woodland in Maplewood.
Below are excerpts from a conversation between Mark Kendall and Marni Raab, Literary Manager at MDR:
Marni Raab: Thank you for taking the time to chat today, Mark. MDR is thrilled to invite you to present THE MAGIC NEGRO here in SOMA. Can you share a bit about how your development process began?
Mark Kendall: Yes, I’m an ensemble member of Dad’s Garage in Atlanta, Georgia. We do improv shows every weekend. We produce scripted content, too, and every year we pitch ideas. I pitched my solo show in the winter of 2014. That fall I started doing it in front of audiences.
MR: You’ve since played for audiences around the US and Canada. It strikes me how effectively you use comedy to stay inviting without soft-pedaling your ideas. How do you find that balance?
MK: I benefit from being able to try excerpts out in front of people. I stay with the core tenets of improv, too. Like create a positive environment. There’s a lot of audience participation in improv. When you bring up an audience member you do things to make them look good. In stand-up, that may not necessarily be the case. If I bring up an audience member it’s never to embarrass them. I see the show as sketch comedy first. It’s about representation of Black men in media, but I feel like if you deliver the comedy goods, the audience will let you push further. So I try to build up comedy goodwill and let it take us places.
MR: When did you first get into comedy?
MK: Growing up I was more into film. I was a film major at Northwestern. I joined a sketch comedy group on campus. Then, I did a summer internship Chris Rock established at Comedy Central for writers of color. They called us Rock-terns. The crux of the program was to spend a week trailing writers of The Daily Show, and a week with writers of The Colbert Report. It was eye-opening to see a lot of the writers were also accomplished improvisors and performed stand-up. They’d write jokes for Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert during the day, and at night they would go to clubs and work stuff for themselves. Before the internship I saw performing and writing as more separate. That internship let me see that I could use performing to build out my writing.
MR: What comics first influenced you?
MK: Growing up, Chappelle’s Show was pretty significant. He was able to maneuver dangerous territory with humor in a way that was accessible. Also The Boondocks by Aaron McGruder. He took a satirical approach to Black culture and American culture. And Chris Rock can take complicated issues and boil them down to a sentence or phrase.
MR: Were your first experiences as a performer in college? Did you perform as a kid?
MK: As a kid, I would do little kid plays, but nothing that made much of an impact on me. Although, I did play Chris Rock when I was in 6th grade.
MR: Oh, you did?
MK: Yeah, we wrote our own Academy Awards play, and at the time Chris Rock was hosting or something. I played Chris Rock and wrote a monologue. So, I guess I was writing my own jokes then, too.