The theater was filled with the chatter of excited students and staff while in the background, classic rock music hummed from the many speakers. But when the lights went off and the music died, so did the buzz of activity until everything was quiet and Copeland stepped on stage.
The famed comedian Bryan Copeland has performed in venues from Caesar’s Palace, to the far away Taj Mahal. Wednesday, Sept. 17, Copeland returned to the college to perform “Not a Genuine Black Man” on the main stage theater in the 4000 building. Copeland has become a frequent performer at the college, performing for the benefit of the student body, the psychology department most of all.
In his most recent performance, Copeland discussed themes such as racism, abuse and most importantly depression. Although the topics discussed were dark, Copeland was able to expertly turn it into something to laugh about.
When he was a young boy, he lived with his little sister who had a knack for “mixing shit up,” his mother who pretended to be from Providence, Rhode Island, and his grandmother who would tell her to “stop making shit up.” And then there was Sylvester, his abusive father.
All of these people he portrayed with amazing and hilarious ease. While his mother would speak very airily, his little sister Tracey would talk in a high squeaky voice and terrible grammar. His actions and voices kept the audience in stitches.
Then the audience went quiet. He explained in great detail how his father once beat him senseless. After that, his family moved to northern California.
Having moved on from his father’s abuse to the topic of racism, Copeland said, “It’s always the racists who decide who the races are.” Giving examples of his childhood living in San Leandro, a predominantly white community, he explained that he once went to a cop for help, only to be patted down and taken home and accused of using a baseball bat as a weapon. He was eight years old at the time.
The racism he experienced was a large contributor to a depression that would haunt him in later years of his life. After the numerous examples he gave, Copeland said, “No matter how many times you hear these stories, you cannot understand unless you walk in those shoes.”
Jumping twenty years in the future, Copeland told the audience a story of when he took his four-year-old son out to buy finger paints. Once he finished his “driving a minivan” scene and the audience had recovered from their hysterics, Copeland changed the mood yet again when his son asked him if they were bad for being brown people.
The question had made him physically sick. His depression grew to the point of suicide. He made himself a drink, turned on his car and radio and closed the garage door. The lights went off.
When the lights came back on, he described a hospital scene with him lying on a gurney. This time, when the cops showed up in the scene, they weren’t falsely accusing him, but asking for an autograph. The irony was not lost on the audience.
All in all, the night dealt with some heavy topics, but left the audience with grins on their faces.
Copeland will return to bring the campus laughs on Wednesday, Oct. 1.