N*gger Wetb*ck Ch*nk
What’s in a name? Or more specifically, a slur?
Well, quite a lot, in the case of a show about racial stereotypes that’ll visit the Mondavi Center in Davis from January 23-26.
Titled N*gger Wetb*ck Ch*nk—and more discretely known by the initials N*W*C in press releases—the show opens with three characters striding purposefully onstage, dressed as a black pimp, a Latino gang-banger and an Asian martial-arts master, loudly chanting dozens of times … well, you know, the nasty epithets above, which you’re not supposed to say on the radio—and most newspapers avoid as well.
The show—a mix of slam poetry, shock-jock talk, hip-hop and point-blank stand-up comedy—originated about five years ago when actors Rafael Agustín, Miles Gregley and Allan Axibal were undergraduates at UCLA. Working with two former teachers (including Steven T. Seagle, known for graphic novels and comic books), they staged a short form of N*W*C at a theater festival. Positive audience response led to two short runs of a full-length version at UCLA.
That led to a six-week engagement at the Los Angeles Theatre Center, which blossomed into a two-year tour on the university circuit, touching down in 24 states. (Full-time work; doing something that gets your name in the news: the goals of most every young actor with a degree so recent that the ink’s barely dry.)
The show has drawn protests on occasion. It’s also made a splash in The New York Times, which described N*W*C last fall as “well-timed to land in the middle of the national discomfort zone,” while noting that “the [show’s] title is a trifecta no-no.”
The L.A. Times said last summer that “by diving straight into the cesspool of bigotry in America, these versatile comics employ a tactic of subversion by immersion,” and added, “Those who have been oppressed have the right to co-opt the language of their abuse and turn it into a weapon of self-defense.”
Need we add that a talk-back session with the artists follows every performance?
The show is also a vehicle for the frustrations that the young writers/performers already have experienced. Agustín was turned down repeatedly for leading parts in classic plays by Shakespeare and Tennessee Williams, and encouraged by directors to try out for parts in Latino plays instead; Agustín’s father, a doctor back in Ecuador, ended up with a job at Kmart after moving to this country.
Axibal, who suspended his graduate studies in order to tour, has spoken about the realization that his Filipino features probably precluded a film career as a major Hollywood heartthrob. At one point, his mom suggested he consider surgery to make his eyes look, as he puts it, “more cauc, less Asian.”
And Gregley, who’d won awards in collegiate speech competitions, fretted at one point about whether he was wearing his pants low enough.
Eventually, it became clear to the trio that they should move their careers forward by creating their own material. As they put it in their forward to the show, N*W*C “gives voice to a generation who have been largely silenced in the race dialogue by both political correctness and the painful legacy of the past.”