“United We Laugh: Stand Up to Break Through,” a night of comedy and conversation aimed at bridging the racial divide, is coming to Riverhead Jan. 28.
Created and hosted by comedian Richie Byrne, “United We Laugh” is presented in two acts. Act one is a stand-up comedy show with Byrne and comics Chuck Nice, Melissa Diaz and DC Benny. Act two is an audience discussion moderated by Dr. James Banks, Suffolk County Community College coordinator of multicultural affairs.
Byrne, a Staten Island native, has worked top comedy venues for over 20 years. He has been the warm-up comic for “The Dr. Oz Show” since its inception in 2009.
He told Cindy Clifford on her “It’s Me” podcast he conceived the “United We Laugh” show after agreeing to do a tour with four other comics.
“We had a meeting, we looked around and realized we were five white guys. One guy said, ‘People are going to hate this. We’re all white guys,’” Byrne recalled.
Byrne suggested calling it “the White guilt tour” — only half jokingly. “You can’t do an all white guy tour,” he said. Byrne hastens to add that the show isn’t about “the plight of the white male.” But, he said, he thinks “it’s sad and it has to be addressed.”
There are very few white comics who get into issues of race, Byrnes notes. He said he thought about “doing an all white show in front of black audiences,” and that led to the current format. “I thought, what if we brought the audience into the conversation and got them to talk about racism and bias.”
Byrne first brought the show to the Hellenic Snack Bar in East Marion in August, a gig he said Patch editor Lisa Finn helped him set up. He wasn’t sure how it would go, but was delighted to find the audience willing to get into a conversation about the tough issues surrounding race and ethnicity — and surprised to see how involved the comics were in the conversation.
“I didn’t expect the comics to be so engaged,” Byrne said. “When we opened it up to the audience, (the comics) were so engaged, so passionate.”
“The other thing that surprised me is how much the audience is willing to talk,” he said. “It was like, ‘Hey we all just laughed together, let’s talk together.’”
Byrne said most people think they’re not prejudiced. He used to be one of them. But the show has opened his eyes to his own biases.
“Everyone has some biases,” Byrne said. “It doesn’t necessarily make them bad people.”
“I know I’ve changed (since doing the show),” Byrne said. “I’ve definitely changed. I was definitely one of those people who thought it’s not that big a deal. It’s 2019. C’mon,” he said.
He’s come to realize he saw things through the lens of race.
“I hated the term white privilege. I hated it,” Byrne said. “Then you start hearing the stories of what people have been through,” he said. And it was eye-opening.
“As James Banks says, you don’t understand white privilege because you have it.”
All people, regardless of race, need to feel like they are being heard, Byrne said. That’s the point of the show’s second act.
Since its debut at the Hellenic in August, Byrne has brought “United We Laugh” to venues in Southampton and Hampton Bays.
“United We Laugh,” presented by Soul Joel Productions, is sponsored by the Riverhead Anti-Bias Task Force. It will be held at the town’s community center in Aquebogue at 60 Shade Tree Lane. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. for the 7 o’clock performance.
Advance tickets are available online for $20 (plus $2.19 service charge), $15 for students and seniors (plus $1.69 service charge.) Buy tickets
Tickets at the door are $25.
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