I want to let you in on a secret. I’m black. And not like Samuel L. Fury black, or Rick James black, or Dwayne Wade (as if anyone reading this knows who that is) black. I might even like to think of myself as a little bit Floyd Mayweather or Jay-Z kind of black, but the truth is I’m more of a Steve Erkel, Barack Obama, Toofer Spurlock (The Black Guy From 30 Rock Who Isn’t Tracy Jordan) kind of black. That’s okay, though. Makes me kind of a history nerd.
I also like funny things. So you can imagine my joy when I discovered “Ask A Slave.” What is Ask A Slave, you ask? Well, it’s just about the funniest new thing on either side of the Mason-Dixon line. Here’s the rundown: Azie Dungey, NYU grad and DC-area native, translates her experiences as an actress to a hilarious series of videos by playing a plantation house-slave at an unnamed historical site. Her character is Lizzie Mae, 28 years old (116 in slave-years!), a fictional house slave at Mt. Vernon. They can all be found on the website, or on her YouTube Channel, which updates on Sundays.
While they are raucously funny, lampooning inane questions like “Why don’t you just go to Massachusetts?” and “Did you respond to an ad in the paper to get your job?”, they also address serious subjects like our inaccurate historical view of abolitionists and a genuine lack of knowledge about slavery on the part of people who live in the United States. By responding to “The Washingtons seem really nice. I bet they’re really nice to you, right?” with “Oh yes, they always give me a biscuit on my birthday!” and then looking meaningfully into the camera, Dungey is satirizing public ignorance and educating through humor. Here, check out the first installment:
As if you needed any help figuring out why this is fantastic, you could check out all the press they’ve been getting, from Gawker to NPR. Ask A Slave has achieved a meteoric rise to internet notoriety. This is a great example of “those who can, do.” Azie Dungey is using her theatre background and her experience in living history to do exactly what theatre is supposed to do: educate, challenge, and entertain.
It follows then, as hilarious as these videos are, that Dungey and her team see themselves as doing important work. To quote her:
Though this is a comedy, it is my hope to honor the memory of those people who struggled and survived through their uncanny intelligence, their strength, their love, and…laughter.
So, please, check this out. I guarantee you will laugh. A lot. You might just learn something. And remember, don’t let any abolitionists touch your hair: