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More than just jokes...

COMEDY: Sharing our narratives enabled communities to forge and strengthen ties

THERE ARE parts of the Windrush journey that, quite frankly, if you didn’t laugh at, you would cry. To leave a ship destined for what you thought were pastures new only to be confronted with signs that read, ‘No Irish, no blacks and ‘no dogs’ would have been enough to knock the humerus bone clean out of its socket. Nothing funny about an unwelcoming welcome.

But find humour is what we did.

From those early days of hostile integration up until the present day, the journey of the black man and woman has always provided a basis for storytelling that had to be peppered with humour in order to take the edge off of the realities of the existence.

Today, we can hail the likes of Sir Lenny Henry, Miles Crawford, Kojo Anim, Angie Le Mar and Gina Yashere as some of the kings and queens of the art form that is stand up comedy.

A lot of the content they’ve espoused is steeped in the same narrative of yesteryear, a tale of the battle against iniquity.

KNIGHT OF THE REALM: Sir Lenny Henry is one of the best

In our search for the egalitarian utopia, that place where we are seen as the same as indigenous folk, the comedy stage has given rise to many to detail their journey through the mire.

Sharing our narratives enabled communities to forge and strengthen ties. In a pre-internet era, word of mouth was king.

How you imparted your lyrics, how you verbalised your truth would set you apart from the next comic - delivery was everything.

History will and should pay homage to the likes of Charles Adolphus Williams, universally recognised as one of the first black comedians to grace our TV screens.

His feat is all the more remarkable when you consider his Yorkshire accent was still a relatively new thing on our screens.

While Williams came to prominence in the 1970s, he wasn’t a Windrush child, it was a generation later that the emergence of new talent began to appear and with it, the belief that the stage was as much their place to be as the next man.

The challenge to be respected for your craft is an ongoing process.

COMEDY QUEEN: Angie Le Mar was the first black female stand up to sell out a West End theatre

Still today black people are fighting to get a primetime spot on television and be allowed to build a cult following like their caucasian peers. The likes of Henry have attained a knighthood, at the turn of this century Le Mar became the first black female stand up to sell out a West End theatre, Crawford presented variety show The 291 Club live from the Hackney Empire on ITV, and smash hit The Real McCoy was made available to download on demand via the BBC after a successful campaign by The Voice.

Progress is being made and with the advancement of online platforms offering the opportunity for aspiring comics to promote their skillset, a future with more black people at the helm is coming, and that’s no joke.

There are so many names to add to the list of contributors to black British comedy, there is no way to salute them all.

The journey is far from over, but the need for humour is still as relevant today as it was when the famous Empire Windrush ship docked in Tilbury in 1948.

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