“Am I racist for asking [if I’m racist]?” “Depends. There’s no right answer. Things aren’t black and white,” Gabriel (Shane’s black ex-boyfriend from episode 2) whispers, “Or are they?” “Ohh… Oh no. Oh no. Ohh no. Oh no.”
This cold open for Lady Dynamite is the perfect introduction to the subject of the episode: race relations between black and white people.
This entire episode is about the white person’s worry they’re racist. All the time. Maybe they are. The paranoia snowballs and then they’re asking every friend, no matter their race, if “that was” or “this is” racist. Brady and Hurwitz skewer this stereotype by bringing it to a whole new level of insanity. Satire is too soft a word.
Fictional Bamford seeks out a safe place she can discuss race issues without being an offensive nuisance. Chantrelle, Bruce’s Chinese assistant, Asks Jeeves (yes) where in L.A. Bamford could find herself this safe place. The search engine suggests a group called “L.A. PURE.” She goes. The group leader, Sheri, explains the group’s position, and in doing so kicks off the streak of satire: “We believe that interfering or even trying to relate [to black people] is an implicit insult to people who’s struggles we couldn’t possibly understand. Look, I used to really want to relate. I practically wanted to be a black person. But we can’t burden them with our issues. Keep it light! Weather, sports, ‘Is that a new car?’ That type of thing. Remember: if you’re white, keep it light.”
Fictional Bamford tries to do a good thing with her role in White Trash, a fictional sitcom Bruce finds for her. She plays the servant of a woman named Mrs. White (played by real actress Mira Sorvino). But Fictional Bamford feels uncomfortable with the show. The two leads, real black actors Keith and Kenny Lucas, who play themselves in Lady Dynamite, play garbage men in White Trash. She thinks this is offensive and asks the writers and creator of White Trash to change the Lucas Brothers characters’ jobs from garbage man to business man, or doctor. She gets what she wants, but after the rewrite we see now things have shifted so it’s grossly misogynistic (Fictional Bamford’s so worried about race she doesn’t even notice). Not only that, the fictional Lucas Brothers aren’t happy their characters’ occupations have changed. Aren’t they happy to represent their race in this (better) way, Bamford asks? No, they respond. They’re comedians. They just want to be funny. They love laughter. This is played straight. It’s poignant.
Fictional Bamford immediately attempts to right her wrong, delivering a heartfelt speech that these men should be garbage men! And then the fourth wall is broken. And we’re watching the actors on Lady Dynamite discuss what’s happening. “Is that how you’re gonna end the show? …You didn’t solve anything.” The Real Lucas brothers explain. Real Bamford struggles with a response. She calls out to Real Oscar-winning screenwriter John Ridley for help. He can’t. He resumes eating craft services in the background.
The episode ends with this: The real actor, Craig Frank, who plays Gabriel on Lady Dynamite, and John Ridley speak just off the set of White Trash. “I can’t believe this episode is about race and they introduce me in the beginning and then I just disappear from the script!” Ridley responds, “Yeah but what do you expect? It was written by a bunch of white people, who I think were good-intentioned but I don’t know these people. I’ll tell you this, they got a real problem with the Jews though. I mean it’s a daunting enough task for anybody to try to tackle an examination of race relations in America. I barely scratched the surface when I wrote 12 Years a Slave and that was an entire movie! The key thing about race is, is that we as a people–” Real Bamford runs between the men yelling “Later Gators!” Ridley gives a half-hearted compliment, telling Bamford she tried to work race relations out on her show, and even though it wasn’t successful, at least she tried. She responds “good enough for me!” This was not what he wanted her to say. She rides away from the camera on the back of a garbage truck.
The only reason the episode grade isn’t a full A is because both Frank and Ridley have a point, and pointing out your shortcomings isn’t the same as solving them.
Some Bits I Liked:
- Singing: “Cradle the balls and work the shaft!”
- Everything else part of the flashback meeting with Fictional Bamford, Bruce, and Karen
- Mira Sorvino playing fictional actress playing the White Trash character Mrs. White holds two bananas and two oranges beneath them. Guess what she’s doing to the fruit as she speaks to the fictional Lucas Brothers? Hint: It’s two points above this
- Joel Bamford’s response to his cobbler apprentice, who asks him, “Can you talk with my dick in your mouth?” is “Ooh!” Not offended, but impressed. It’s incredible.
- “Your son has a sailor mouth that belongs on the poop deck.”
- The way Fictional Bamford runs excited after Joel – to cheer her up as she’s deep in an episode – says they’re going to DQ is genuinely heartwarming
- Mira Sorvino’s Mini Cooper is a spaceship
- “Our nation’s ultimate shenanigan: slavery.”
- “It’s this show about two black comics. You can’t tell one from the other!” “Bruce…” “No, no, no! They’re twins!” “Oh!”
- There’s a flashback immediately following Fictional Bamford’s visit to L.A. PURE where she’s part of a debt support group. The group is made up of the same actors in L.A. PURE, with marginally different names (Cherié instead of Sheri).