By Cris Gray
One day I was watching the classic John Hughes movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. I love John Hughes movies: Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles. They were the foundation of my adolescent years, and my childhood crush on Molly Ringwald forever conditioned me to have a Pavlovian love of cute, red-headed girls. But John Hughes movies have almost no black people in them. The Breakfast Club is all about kids in Saturday detention at a high school, and not one black kid is in detention! When I was coming up in the 1980s, our detention hall was almost exclusively black kids. The times I got detention, I felt like a white collar criminal who had been thrown into the general pop with some straight up killers at the state penitentiary.
“What are you in detention for, nerd?” said the muscled 16-year-old with the Billy Dee Williams mustache and Michael Jackson jheri curl.
“Umm… I kept laughing in class,” I said, hugging my violin case like a security blanket.
“Laughing? They sent you here for laughing??”
“Yeah. I guess.”
“What were you laughing ‘bout?”
I told him how I had seen our overweight, former Miss Florida beauty queen english teacher stuffing Chips Ahoy cookies in her mouth in between classes. While teaching, her front teeth were stained with chocolate and I couldn’t stop laughing when I looked at her. She told me to stand up and tell the class what was so funny. I did. I got detention.
“What did you do to get detention?” I said.
“I whipped some nerd’s ass who played the violin.”
So, like I said, no black kids in detention in John Hughes’s world? In Ferris Bueller’s Day Off there are some nameless characters of color. There’s the school nurse who comes and gets Ferris’s girlfriend, Sloane, from class. There are the black and Latino valets who take Cameron’s Ferrari on a joy ride. Then, during a parade in the middle of Chicago where Ferris jumps on a float and starts singing Twist and Shout by the Isley Brothers, an entire troupe of random black people come out of nowhere and begin a choreographed dance routine!
I’ve been to Chicago. I have family in Chicago. Like Atlanta, Chicago has a ton of black people. Go down to the south and west side of Chicago and see what I mean. In those parts of the city, you’d wonder if there were any white people in Chicago. But in John Hughes movies there are virtually no ethnic people. I wondered what would happen if these were really the only few black people in Chicago? They would have to know each other. They probably were family or at least lived in the same section of town! They’d have to just so they could get together and practice the dance choreography so they’re all ready at any moment to break it out if some white kid starts singing classic Motown tunes.
What would their conversations be like?
The school nurse would get home. Her son, the valet, would be there.
“Hey, baby. How was your day?”
“Jose and I got to drive a classic Ferrari today!”
“Really? It took both of you to park it?”
“Umm… yeah. I was afraid Jose would scratch it so I rode with him.”
“Mmm hmmm,” she said.
“How was your day, Ma?”
“The usual. Some white girl had to leave early because her grandma died.”
“Why do you get to leave school because someone died? Skipping class isn’t going to bring anyone back.”
“Lord knows that with the amount you used to skip class, you would have resurrected half the cemeteries in Chicago.”
One night at Manuel’s Tavern, I brought this up with fellow Dad’s Garage performers Jon Carr, Mark Kendall, Rickey Boynton, Khari Hunt, and Clint Sowell. We wondered where all the other black characters were during other classic movie like Jaws, Indiana Jones, or anything with Reese Witherspoon. We cracked jokes imagining different scenarios from classic movies that had little to no black people in them. The seeds were planted for a new improv show format. Clint, our token white guy that evening, said “You guys should call yourselves ‘The Dark Side of The Room’.” And thus our improv group was born.
Dark Side of the Room doing their interpretation of “Dirty Dancing” with the forgotten black characters.
We’ve assembled ourselves into a black superhero team, each with our own skills and mutant abilities. Jon is our strategist who keeps us organized and prevents us from spinning off into a world of buffoonery. Mark has a super imagination that allows him to see the funny that most people would never think about. Rickey is our master of physical humor and is a kung fu sensei. Khari is our savant of pop culture references. Me, I’m like James Bond’s Q. I’m just an old hustler down in the lab trying come up with new things that go boom, and I talk about how things were done “back in my day.” Our Associate Artistic Director, Rene Dellefont is our weapons master, and he workshopped the format with us from the beginning. Now we’ve got new blood with Dane Troy, Andre Castenell, and Shannon Byrd-Crossley from our new class of Rookies. We’re so happy to have them to join us and Dad’s Garage.
We’re growing the diverse talent in the Dad’s Garage family. With Shannon as our first female member, Jon no longer has to play all the female roles in shows! Everyone is extremely thankful for that. We also count Clint Sowell as part of Dark Side of The Room. Clint gave our merry band our name, he was our first musical improvisor for our first shows, and now he’s marrying a beautiful woman from Africa: the motherland! See what happens when you spend time with us? We’ll help you get that swirl on in your life!
We also have the talented improvisors Chris Hayes and Kirsten King from Whole World Theater and Jaymi Curley from Village Theater. And we can never forget our member-at-large, Spencer G. Stephens who is so talented and in demand that it’s a huge pay cut when he gets the chance to perform with us. Once you turn to the Dark Side, there’s no escape and we hope you won’t even want to try. Come see us do our thing: making fun of your favorite classic movies by improvising the deleted scenes of the black characters that you never saw in the theater.
Come to the Dark Side of The Room. Visit us at www.darksidecomedy.com and on Twitter at @darksideATL.