By Claire Gallegos
The line to get in hit the back door, and the room was filled with excited chatter.
With nothing but a stool and a stand for his water, Brian Copeland was able to bring the stage to life. By setting the audience directly into the scene, Copeland told his troubling experience as a young child moving from Hayward to San Leandro in the 1970s, which at the time was labeled one of the most racist suburbs in America. And 99.9% white. Growing up, that caused Copeland, who is black, some problems.
Copeland is a man of tremendous talent. He began performing at the age of 10 and has since become an actor, author, comedian, KGO Radio talk show host and more. “Not a Genuine Black Man” has been the longest running one-man-show in San Francisco history.
He flawlessly took the audience through his incredible transition from being hassled by police officers, to eventually hassled for autographs. Hanging on every word he said, the audience was filled with laughter, and even some tears. The parts where Copeland described his abusive father kept the audience riveted.
At only eight years old, his father moved out. After he became the man of the house, reality struck for Copeland when he had his first encounter with a San Leandro police officer. He was quickly exposed to the harsh stereotypes that would follow him into adulthood. Despite the density of the topics, Copeland was always able to make the audience laugh.
Brian Copeland performed “Not a Genuine Black Man” Feb. 9, on the Main Stage Theater in the Mertes Center for the Arts.
The show’s title comes from a piece of mail Copeland received at the KGO studio. The letter accused him of being “not a genuine black man.” Copeland jokes that while he does have his TV programmed to record “Frasier”, who is it to say that makes him any less of a “genuine black man”, and who decides that, exactly?
“Genuine” is an exploration of identity. The biggest take away, says Copeland: “it’s that no one has the right to define you BUT you.”
Going in, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. 90 minutes later, I left inspired by his powerful and thought provoking performance. What did I get out of it? As Copeland said, “Stand your ground and play your cards, no matter what is dealt.”