Thursday, May 19, 2022

Gary Owen: Living for the Laughs in Black and White … and Against the Odds

gary owen (mic)

*As a stand-up comedian, Gary Owen’s job is to make people laugh.  While his ability to make people laugh isn’t unusual, per se, what is unusual is that Owen is white and his audiences are overwhelmingly black.  A white comedian standing in front of black audiences should pose a challenge –right?

“It’s not really a challenge,” said Owen.  “I just have to stay true to who I am.  One of the first agents when I got to Hollywood told me that I would have to switch up my act some.  He told me that I can’t talk so much about black, white stuff in front of black audiences.”

Owens when on to describe how the agent said that black people would never pay just to see a white comic, and if they did, it would be a show with other black comedians.  Owens fired the agent.

“I had to fire him, because I got to be me.” Owen said.  “I am married to a black woman.  I have mixed kids.  I’m going to talk about it and the differences I see between black and white people. I hate when people say that they don’t see color when they see people.  We all see color; you just don’t judge people because of it.”

Owen admits that he didn’t necessary plan for his core audience to be black.  However, once he saw the path that his act was taking, he embraced it.

gary owen (for front page)

Interestingly, Owen, a Cincinnati native, grew up in a trailer park in a neighborhood where there were no black people.  He recalled being the class clown in high school.  At 17, he joined the Navy and adhered to his “natural belief” that all people are equal, regardless of color.

While in the Navy, Owen began to hone his comedic skills while based in San Diego, which earned him the title of “Funniest Serviceman in America.”  He continued to build his comedy acumen in San Diego and Los Angeles, as a regular on stages at black venues, often in the hood.

“I couldn’t get on the stage in white rooms for some reason,” Owen recalled.  “But I could get a lot of stage time in black rooms. There were other white comics who wouldn’t go this route.  They were intimidated by being around a lot of black people.  I was never that guy.”

In a series of events that defied logic, Owen ultimately won a contest that crowned him the “Funniest Black Comedian in San Diego.”  He subsequently appeared on BET’s “Comic View,” even hosting it as the first white person to ever do so.  He also was dubbed by Ebony magazine, perhaps black America’s most storied publication, “Black America’s Favorite White Comic.”

gary owen (think-like-a-man-too)

While Owen has amassed a large black following, there are some limitations to what he will and won’t say.

“In front of any audience, I will not say the ‘n’ word on stage,” he adamantly said.  “I think it’s pointless.  I don’t know why white comics and white people are so consumed with using that word.  I have no desire to say the ‘n’ word; none at all.  It’s not right.”

In addition to comedy, Owen’s entertainment portfolio contains films with major black casts, inclusive of  “Think Like a Man,” “Think Like a Man Too,” “Rebound,” “Ride Along,” and others.   On television, he’s had a recurring role as “Zach the barber” in Tyler Perry’s “House of Payne.”

Owen is currently starring in the silver screen comedy entitled, “Meet the Blacks,” which opened nationally on April 1 (April Fools’ Day).   Actor/comedian Mike Epps stars in the film, and serves as its executive producer.

“Meet the Blacks” is based loosely on the movie ‘The Purge,’ which depicts the legality of individuals committing crimes, even murders, for a 12-hour period.” said Owen.  “There are also elements of the ‘Scary Movie’ Franchise’s type comedy.”

However, Owen said don’t get too comfortable laughing while watching “Meet the Blacks.”

“There are some scary parts, man!” said Owen, who plays the role of Stranger, a killer who wants to purge Carl Black’s (Mike Epps) family.  “People are going to jump out of their seats a couple of times.  This movie has its ridiculous moments, but there are some real scary parts: even I was jumping around a little bit.”

Gary Owen

While being funny is a large part of who Owen is, his tone and demeanor change when asked about his wife, who is black.

“We met in 1997 and started dating in ’98 and have been together ever since,” Owen said.  “I didn’t think I had a shot with her.  I thought she was way too attractive to date and marry somebody like me.  When I first met my wife, Kenya, I thought she must be dating somebody like Michael Jordan or Brad Pitt.”

Owen hopes that a project he recently shot, along with his wife, comes to fruition.

“We just filmed a docu-series for BET,” said Owen.  “We’re hearing good things, but waiting to see if it gets picked up.  I’m this white dude from conservative Cincinnati, who married this progressive black lady from California and brings her back to Cincinnati…and we got our kids.  It’s about my day-to-day life that I talk about in my comedy act.  If people like my act, they will like the docu-series.”

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