Martin Lawrence is one of those epic comedians that defines a generation. Well, at least he defines a decade, the 1990s. Lawrence’s show 20 years ago was far better than the “Big Momma” stuff he did later on, but most black people know him and love him.
But one thing that people don’t know is that Lawrence was banned from SNL for an appearance he made during the 1990s. During the monologue, Martin went on a rant about female hygiene that apparently upset the producers. The original show was live, but the later versions of the show cut him off and gave an official statement from the network on how they don’t approve of Martin’s words, blah blah blah.
SNL has been under fire in the past for ignoring black comedians, particularly black women. They recently made the decision to try to right some of those wrongs by hiring Sasheer Zamata to the show. This was a long-awaited change that goes back about 40 years, over which time, the network rarely gave a black woman a chance to be funny. All the while, hilariously talented comedic actresses such as Tiara Williams and Issa Rae have been pushed to build their own audiences on the Internet.
Since the 1990s, Lawrence’s career has pretty much flat lined. No one knows exactly what happened, but we might have to file a missing person’s report to figure out who kidnapped Lawrence’s career. It’s pretty sad to watch.
Financial Juneteenth lessons from this story:
1) White people own most American media, which allows them to make most of the rules. Even if most African Americans do not take issue with a comedian’s commentary, the powerful white guys at the top make the final decision, creating a skewed power structure in the media decision-making process. This gives the powers that be the ability to define the careers of black actors, comedians, politicians and even black leadership (for example: NBC does approve of Al Sharpton, which is why they gave him a show; but they would never approve of someone like Dr. Umar Johnson, who speaks forthrightly about African American intellectual and economic independence).
2) Whether it is in entertainment or any other field, African Americans are best off when learning to find ways to create our own platforms. So, while SNL did the right thing by hiring a black female comedian, a better alternative would be for black people to have stronger ownership stakes in media that allow us to define our own favorites among actors, leaders and public figures.