The past few weeks have been a whirlwind for James Davis. The 26-year-old comedian became the center of the Internet's attention just before Tuesday's election when he released "Baracka Flocka Flame: Hard in the Paint", a parody mash-up of the president and Atlanta-based rapper, Wacka Flocka. The video features Davis, dressed as what Jon Caramanica at the New York Times called an "extremely convincing impersonator"" of Barack Obama, smoking weed at what looks like a South Central block party while loudly proclaiming that he's head of the state. It has pissed off a whole lot of folks who feel the comedian strayed into inappropriate territory, particularly for a tense election season. Davis found himself being grilled on Inside Edition, featured in the Times and inexplicably having to admit that yes, he had gone to school with white people.
My own Facebook newsfeed showed the range of emotions involved. I went to college with Davis, and remembered him as a funny dude who had the nerve to one day up and leave school and move to Hollywood. (Ok, it was only 45 minutes away. But still.) Some posted congratulations to Davis and wrote passionate defenses of his work. Others, however, echoed the waves of criticism, including some youth voter advocates who had been working hard to get out the vote. Here's what Davis had to say about the whole thing when ColorLines got in touch with him earlier this week.
From your perspective, why did you make this video in the first place?
Just to make a funny parody. To spoof the Wacka Flocka "Hard in the Paint" video.
And describe the reaction you've gotten so far.
I've gotten a lot of positive feedback and I've gotten a lot of negative feedback. [Laughs]
Describe that feedback. What does it look like?
A lot of people think it's hilarious. It's been called "the best spoof of the year", "best spoof of all time." These are things I've seen commented on the YouTube video. And I've also heard that I might have set black people back a couple hundred years.
How do you feel about that? That's a pretty heavy criticism.
I think it's a little extreme. It's crazy. I just like the fact that I've sparked a conversation. I've made an impact in society with one parody, one spoof.
Have you noticed a difference between who thinks it's funny and who doesn't?
I definitely think that the older demographic is feeling the video less than the younger demographic. A lot of people are defensive when it comes to Obama. They're very protective of Obama and I am normally one of those people as well. However, I saw a comedic premise that I thought would be very good and something that hadn't been touched on, and I thought it'd be funny to joke around with it.
And because I had heard people in conversation kind of joke around with the idea of "What if Obama was hood"? "What if his 'black' side came out?" Or when was his black side going to come out? I thought me showing that would have a positive reaction and people would feel the comedy because I've heard the conversation before. I didn't think it was a wild, offensive premise or anything like that.
For you, what's the significance of that comedic premise? Of showing Barack Obama kickin' it in South Central? Why is that so difficult for people to grasp?
It's our first [black] president. We want him to be the very best. We see him in such a righteous light. I say it in my stand up all the time. People act like he's Jesus Christ, Jr. They really hold him to this standard. So I think it was funny to just break down that wall of idealism and unrealistic portrayals. He's not some super human. He's just a regular individual.
And to put him in the most opposite, contradictory circumstance that you would assume him to be in, I thought it would just be funny. I thought it was something that people wanted to laugh at, but hadn't had an opportunity to. It was like one of those things that everybody was laughing about inside, but not talking about in public. So I was like "let's visualize that for a spoof within this Wacka Flocka parody."
And Wacka Flocka himself doesn't even like it.
I think that's very weird that he doesn't like it, but you know. What are you gonna do about it? Him and his mom aren't feeling it, they tried to get it taken down. His mom thinks the song is disrespectful to black people, but then it's ironic when you look at the catalogue of music coming from her son, Wacka Flocka.
I respect everybody, and I'm a fan of the original song. It's unfortunate that they aren't in on the joke.