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What's so funny about racism, police brutality, and Hurricane Katrina? Plenty, according to African-American activist, educator, and actor Jon Mahone '99. He's the director of In House Freestyle, a Providence-based sketch-comedy group aimed at raising awareness about social issues affecting the black community. The group started five years ago, when Mahone; his wife, Ghislaine Jean Mahone; and a group of like-minded artist/educators began performing skits, music, and poetry in their living room. Since then, In House has moved out of the house and into theaters, schools, and community groups around Providence, using comedy to promote change.

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Luna Photography
"For me, it's always been about finding the best way to educate people," says Mahone, who teaches writing at the Community College of Rhode Island. "With comedy, people let their guards down and let ideas come at them without getting defensive."

In House Freestyle's all-black cast plays satirical characters in the style of the sketch shows In Living Color and Mad TV. The sketches combine broad physical humor, music, and dance with blunt social commentary—think Charlie Chaplin meets Richard Pryor—and are often inspired by cast members' real-life experiences. One memorable character, Snuggles, a nasal-voiced, goggle-eyed, one-armed Army recruiter, grew out of Mahone's experience as a teacher at Providence's Central High School.

"There was a military recruiter in the cafeteria every day, but there was never a college recruiter," Mahone recalls of his highs chool days. "I thought, What kind of message is this sending to the students?" So Mahone created Snuggles to call attention to the military's intentional targeting of low-income youths.

In another popular sketch, a song-and-dance number called "Microwaved-ed Cake," the troupe addresses a subtler problem in the African American community—low-cost, sugary foods that can lead to such health problems as diabetes. "Black people are at the top of all the health-risk lists—high blood pressure, strokes, diabetes—and this is directly related to the highly processed foods we eat," Mahone says. These statistics may be sobering, but in the hands of Mahone and company, they become a catchy, toe-tapping music video. "They useda kill black folks, with lynching and slavery./Now they killin' black folks wit' yo local grocery," the group sings, in the style of an old minstrel show.

Armed with a DVD of their best material and a passion to educate and entertain, the troupe aims to take their show on the road. They're also looking to develop their issues-oriented comedy into a television show that Mahone describes as a comedic version of The Wire." We want to show how [African Americans] creatively over come obstacles," says Mahone. "We want to give people hope through comedy."

Mahone's sketches are online at inhousefreestyle.com .

Michelle Walson studies television production at NYU.





Comments (11)
11/16/08
 
Great comedy has always grown out of great pain and real problems. Its very easy to curse the wind and give in to cynicism when it comes to the complex challenges facing African America. Its a little harder to make lemonade from lemons in the tradition of Pryor and more recently Dave Chapelle. Its a great accomplishment however, to begin addressing the solutions to real problems through a the powerful medium of comedy. More power.
 
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11/16/08
 
Nice. This is exactly what African Americans need. It's a reality check and also a bridge to viewing our world from a different perspective in the hopes of changing that world. As African-Americans we're often the puppets within our own lives. It's good to see something different that causes you to think, react, and in some respects feel a bit silly for doing the same things again and again to your own detriment.
 
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11/17/08
 
Keep on rockin', John! This stuff sounds hilarious but also well thought out. 
 
The grocery store thing resonates... My paper took a look at "food deserts" (one 's') where there are basically no grocery stores and people are eating out of convenience stores, versus neighborhoods with high concentrations of them. The income and racial disparity was pretty obvious.
 
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11/17/08
 
No 'h' in Jon. My bad!
 
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11/19/08
 
glad 2 see that class of '99 is reppin' here. thanks for all the positive energy and comments! 
 
PEACE! 
 
Don't forget you can buy a DVD of our material at:  
http://inhousefreestyle.com/global/store
 
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11/21/08
 
just purchased the DVD of your material. Looking forward to viewing it! Keep the positive vibe!!
 
Claudia Rodriguez; Class of 20
11/24/08
 
While we face so many challenges as a whole in our Urban Communities this sketch as well as others that you have produced is well needed to break up the serious attiudes we face. Laughter is always good and your messages ring clear! Looking forward in working with the group real soon! Keep up the positive work
 
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11/24/08
 
Thank you for the information and the inspiration. The work that you and your group produce is extremely important.
 
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11/24/08
 
Thank you for presenting this bitter pill with a libral dose of love, light and laughter... Y'all bringin to the masses!! I'm so proud! I've been circulating the DVD and Baltimore will soon be laying out our finest in red carpets for the In House fam...
 
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11/24/08
 
Go john and ghislaine!  
 
I have to come to a show. Much love from PrYSM.
 
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12/02/08
 
saw you on the brotherhood series on sunday!
 
a fan

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