Danny Hoch has this astounding quality that makes a person, after hearing one of his rants, say to themselves, “Well, I don’t know about that,” and then moments later say “Yeah. Hell yeah!” Even though many people probably want him to get into politics, with all of his truth-telling, it’s most likely a good thing that he doesn’t, lest it corrupt him. Hoch has that touch of pretension or self-righteousness that one expects from someone who has a lot to tell you, who has the mission of opening your eyes to reality (like the smug kids in the Truth ads), but it suits him. It feels like he’s earned it.
The crowd at the Emmett Robinson on Thursday night was… unexpected, with a sea of Lilly Pulitzer and Lacoste, designer jeans, retirees, a handful of young children, and maybe — maybe — three or so non-white faces. Spoleto organizers were supposedly involved in some sort of outreach mission for Hoch in order to go outside of the Spoleto-patron demographics and get some younger, urban, non-theatregoers into the seats. One of three things may have happened:
1. Those efforts fell through.
2. Those efforts applied to something other than the opening performance.
3. Organizers handed out tickets to hip young couples at the Mt. Pleasant Wholefoods on a Saturday, in a horrible misunderstanding of who Hoch’s intended outreach audience is.
Whatever the scenario, it’s a shame there wasn’t a more diverse audience.
The first segment, entitled “P.S.A.,” comes from his stint on HBO’s Def Poetry. The monologue is a hilarious and biting explanation of hip-hop’s differences from rap: “There is no culture you can buy off the shelves of a store called ‘Coconuts.’” “Hip-hop is resistance!,” he says, “Hip-Hop does not wave an American flag.”
And that’s just the beginning. Through his characterizations, Hoch strongly argues against war (and the government’s motivations, methods, and abuses of its citizens), speaks out against corrupt and brutal police (one character says he’d rather go to jail than depend on them for protection), and rails against American tourists (a little too clichéd and obvious, even though the point is a good one). If you ever find yourself saying “if you don’t like this country then get the hell out,” chances are you will rigorously dislike this show. But perhaps you’d hear some things that might move you a little, to try to make America better. Sorry — even better.
Within and aside from the political invectives, Hoch has crafted characters that show his genuine care for other humans, especially the forgotten, those living on the fringes of society. There’s Flip, a young white Montana jagoff who wants to be black and pretends to be a rapper having an interview with Leno. He thinks ghetto life is awesome, with guys riding around in BMWs picking up girls in bikinis. He can’t wait to leave Montana and get out to live the ghetto life. In spite of Flip’s silliness, Hoch shows us that Flip can’t help but have the ideas of black people that he has, based on what the media shows him.
There’s Gabriel, a 19-year old at a going-away celebration for the speech therapist who has helped him deal with the crippling results of being a crack baby. Adam, a white Jewish record producer tells of a conflict (with an unexpected ending) with a black rapper. MC Enuff gets on Letterman finally and talks about the (sometimes forced) evolution from hip-hop artist to rap artist. These are boiled-down summaries, but the stories and characters go much deeper, often detouring into other subjects.
Hoch transforms into the characters with different baseball hats, and sometimes sunglasses. Some of them are garishly ridiculous, and others endearing (like Victor, the Puerto Rican trying to pick up a girl in a hospital waiting room). His characters come from his plays Jails, Hospitals, & Hip-Hop and Till the Break of Dawn. He also reads an essay at the end on global hip-hop culture and what exactly hip-hop does for youth, at its core.
The kind of speeches that Hoch tosses out are much more shocking and incendiary than what we get spoon-fed by the media as being provocative. Comedy Central tells us that Carlos Mencia is shocking, for God’s sake. Hoch’s coverage of race, class, politics, the rap industry, and media are some of the best you’ll ever hear and the best that people — of all kinds — need to hear. Hoch has tremendous humor mixed in with his didacticism, which is a good thing, because 90 minutes of Hoch’s straight soapboxing could get a little old to anybody despite its shock and profundity. He forces us to think about ourselves, our country, our media, our government, and our voices, and he does it with great characters, motivating speeches, and high humor.
Hip-Hop Theatre: An Evening With Danny Hoch • Spoleto Festival USA’s Solo Turns • June 8 at 9, June 9 at 9, June 10 at 9, June 11 at 12 noon • $22 • Emmett Robinson Theatre, Albert Simons Center, 54 St. Phillip St. • 579-3100