It’s a wet Saturday night and at the Acme Comedy Theatre in Fairfax, a predominantly black audience is watching vintage footage of Soul Train dancers make their way down the line but superimposed over dancers' faces are the faces of various African-Americans who've run afoul of the black community: Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, conservative activist Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, radio talk-show host Larry Elder.
“All right, give it up for the coons,” says Tariq Nasheed, host of the inaugural Plantation Celebration Awards, aka the Coon Train Awards.
For nearly two hours, the audience laughs at and boos the three dozen black entertainers, politicians, athletes, YouTubers and Donald Trump supporters who've been nominated for various dubious distinctions.
The awards-show spoof/roast has an intentionally inflammatory title and a statuette modeled after a slave playing a banjo on a train. Think the Razzies, except instead of Adam Sandler or Sylvester Stallone, the “honorees” here are considered sellouts and laughing stocks who've betrayed their heritage in one way or another.
The parody is the brainchild of Nasheed, a Detroit native who runs a film production company called King Flex Entertainment. He’s authored books and performs lectures mostly on dating and relationships among black men and women. Nasheed also hosts The Tariq Elite Show, a podcast with 200,000 listeners a week.
In light of the elections, Academy Awards, police brutality and other racially charged, hot-button issues that have recently dominated the news, Nasheed conceived of the awards as a way to satirize black public figures he and others accuse of denigrating black culture.
“Every week it seemed like there was a black person who went viral by saying something negative about black people,” Nasheed tells L.A. Weekly. “The media will cover up their own racism by co-opting black people to parrot racist talking points for them. This is why we see the ‘Stump for Trump Girls,’ the Jesse Lee Petersons. There’s no reprimand, no deterrent for them to do that, only rewards. We needed to come up with an awards show about selling out the black community and cooning.”
“Coon” is a derogatory term for an African-American that dates back to the 1800s. (Nasheed officially called the event the Plantation Celebration Awards on the theater’s web site and on Facebook to avoid being flagged for inappropriate language.) Still, he liberally uses that and other racial slurs to refer to his targets. “A coon is anyone who for their personal gain gives the white supremacists justification to harm black people collectively,” Nasheed says.
After announcing the awards' launch on his podcast and social media only a few months ago, he received more than 300,000 votes for the awards’ 12 categories on its website.
During the show, the categories were accompanied by video clips of each of the three nominees giving cringe-worthy soundbites in interviews, speeches, etc. The first award, for “Political Sambo of the Year,” went to Kamau Bakari, a Nevada congressional candidate who appeared in a bizarre 2014 TV spot with Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy in which the two awkwardly discuss race relations while dressed as cowboys.
“The campaign ad was so racist people didn’t even believe it was real,” Nasheed says. “We had to explain that this was a real campaign ad, not a comedy skit.”
ESPN personality Stephen A. Smith — who recently declared in a speech at the University of South Alabama that “racism doesn’t exist” — won “Sportscaster Coon of the Year,” beating out former NFL defensive end Dexter Manley, who also recently remarked on CBS’s Game On that black quarterbacks are more mobile “because they’re probably used to running from the law.”
The audience voted along with a panel of judges that included Zo Williams, Hope Flood and Freez Luv, who cracked wise about the contenders.
“Mammy of the Year” was given to Lynette “Diamond” Hardaway and Rochelle “Silk” Richardson, better known as the “Stump for Trump Girls.”
“Those bitches looked like they got paid in Hennessy,” Luv said.
Rapper (and former L.A. Weekly cover boy) Riff Raff received the “Caucasian Coon of the Year,” a category in which the compatition included Miley Cyrus.
“Vanilla Ice is saying, ‘I wasn’t bad after all,’” quipped Flood.
Not surprisingly, Stacey Dash took home “Negro Bed Wench of the Year,” and not solely for her WTF appearance on this year’s Oscars. The Clueless actress turned Fox News contributor has spoken out in favor of eliminating Black History Month and the BET Awards.
The last and least coveted honor, for “Coon of the Year,” was bestowed on Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, who has denounced the Black Lives Matter movement and denied not only police brutality in America but also racism.
“Some of the nominees were silly,” Nasheed says. “Where it gets dangerous is when you have someone like Sheriff Clarke talking about other people harming black people.”
Despite the show’s political overtones, Nasheed kept the comedy coming with stand-up bits by comics Kevin Tate, Memphis Will and Cookie Hull, who joked, “Black lives do matter — as long as you don’t owe me any money.”
Nasheed hopes to make the awards an annual event and include more comedians next year.
“This is a very sensitive topic,” Nasheed admits. “You can see everyone getting mad watching the clips with black people saying all this crazy stuff about other black people. But it’s still comedy, a place to let your hair down. We can have a good time doing it.”