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The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

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The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Actors poke fun at racial slurs

By Carlos Mayorga

After months of controversy, more than 1,400 people showed up to see “N*gger, Wetb*ck, Ch*nk: The Race Show,” last Friday and Saturday nights at Kingsbury Hall.

Although student ticket sales were up just days prior to the show, attendance was about 700 each night, short of the 800 tickets Kingsbury Hall was hoping to sell, said Sheri Jardine, a spokeswoman for Kingsbury Hall.

The theater lowered ticket prices last week after the student government refused to help sell tickets for the event. Some students and faculty in the Center for Ethnic Student Affairs and other groups objected to the performance because of the actors’ excessive use of racial slurs.

With a partially full theater, actors Allan Axibal, Miles Gregley and Rafael Agustin, the stars of the show, took the stage in their opening performance in Utah on Friday night.

Although the show is intended to be funny, it’s also supposed to make you feel uncomfortable, Agustin said after the performance. The actors shared personal experiences of being stereotyped and dealing with racism in the 90-minute comedic performance.

“Relax, it’s a comedy,” an announcer reminded the audience just before the actors walked onstage — a subtle disclosure about what was to come.

What followed was an opening chant of the words “n*gger, n*gger, wetb*ck, ch*nk, ch*nk.” In a matter of minutes, the actors chanted the slurs several hundred times.

“I really like their approach,” said Alex Telis, a non-matriculated student at the U. “They did a really good job about getting people to think about the words.”

But the whole performance isn’t just about the shock value of the words — the actors use comedic sketches and personal experiences to show the seriousness of stereotyping and explain the history of the slurs.

Gregley recalled being a student in an all-white classroom while reading the book “Huckleberry Finn” in class. When the group came across the word “n*gger,” everyone in the class looked at him, waiting for his reaction — he realized he was different, he says in the performance.

Agustin, who emigrated to the United States as a child from Ecuador, shared his family’s hardships living in southern California. Although his father was a surgeon in Ecuador and his mother an anesthesiologist, in the United States, they had to take jobs at a car wash and stocking shelves at K-Mart.

Axibal, whose family is of Filipino descent, shared his childhood obsession with looking like Tom Cruise, but being told by another child he looked too Asian.

The three learned through childhood experiences how many people perceived racial minorities through incorrect generalizations, including them, in the performance.

The actors list some of these stereotypes through their comedic “list game” sketch.

Asians can’t drive, African Americans eat watermelon and drive Cadillac cars, Hispanics eat beans and are oversexed — just a few of the negative stereotypes toward racial minorities the actors address.

“I know these guys, I’ve talked to them before, and they’re all about popular theater,” said Kate Campbell, a non-matriculated student at the U. “They want to bring about discussion that makes people laugh. Then all of a sudden, their laughter turns into questioning why they are laughing.”

After a standing ovation by almost all in attendance at Friday’s performance, most stayed for an informal half-hour Q & A with the actors. Some in the audience used the time to get the actors to address their concerns.

“I found (the show) a little homophobic,” said David Luna, a former U student in the theater program.

Luna’s reference is to a scene reenacting a point in Axibal’s life when he questioned his sexual identity. In order to figure it out, he visits a gay bar. After dancing with two men (played by Gregley and Agustin), he discovers he isn’t gay.

After the skit, Gregley and Agustin question Axibal about the experience.

Luna said he felt the actors behaved in a way that portrayed being gay as something bad and “disgusting that Axibal would stoop so low to act gay or even try being gay because he didn’t have his own identity.”

“I have no problems with comedy, but let’s contextualize it — let’s make fun of these stereotypes, but let’s talk about why they’re not true,” Luna said. “They created this stereotype of gay, but then no discussion about it whatsoever. When I tried to have a discussion with them (after the show) they said, ‘Oh, we go to the gay bar.’ I don’t think I was being heard.”

Another asked whether students of color will be forced to be race counselors after the actors leave to explain to the student body why racial slurs are offensive.

Agustin said because racism exists, students have to confront it.

In general, the questions were more serious than at other venues where they’ve performed, Axibal said after the performance, adding that the questions aren’t much of a surprise considering the controversy at the U leading up to the show.

But many who watched the show Friday night met with the actors in the Kingsbury Hall lobby after the show to take pictures and thanked them for coming.

“I think it’s great that it’s here, and I think it makes people feel uncomfortable, and that’s okay,” Campbell said. “I think we need to examine why it makes us uncomfortable, and I think that’s what theater does is bring up those questions that create a discussion.”

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Liz Rohde

Rafael Agustin, Miles Gregley and Allan Axibal display their “race cards” during the performance of “N*gger, W*tback, Ch*nk

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