There is a lot of noise in American politics: politicians and pundits talking over each other on television, people shouting at each other in the street, speaking in all caps in Facebook rants. It’s often ugly, and it gets to the point where it’s hard to suppress the urge to tell everyone to shut the fuck up. In his new book, I Want You to Shut the F#ck Up: How The Audacity Of Dopes Is Ruining America, D.L. Hughley doesn’t suppress much of anything. He revels in the urge to drown out the “dopes” he feels are ruining America, and he certainly has the pipes for the job.
Hughley, who rose to fame with The Original Kings of Comedy and has gotten more into political commentary over the past several years, sees an America gone soft physically, mentally and spiritually. He’s not shy about placing the blame. Right-wing politicians, self-appointed civil-rights leaders who interfere in entertainment, liberals who want to ban guns, gun advocates who support legal high-powered assault weapons, abusive cops, black women who think black men date white women because they can’t handle black women, people who think America is a post-racial society because Barack Obama was elected president. All are singled out for ridicule.
Hughley’s stance is that of the realist. His mantra is that he sees the world as it is, not as it should be or he’d like it to be. That’s why he’s willing to let his kids fail or get bullied (to a certain extent), so they can learn how to fight back and stand on their own. It’s also why he supports guns and gun control, writing about chasing an intruder away from his home as a teenager. The man was looking through a glass door into Hughley’s darkened room, then quickly left when he recognized the sound of Hughley putting a round in the chamber. But Hughley also puts assault rifles and more deadly weapons in a different category, calling bullshit on the argument that people would just use something else to kill if they didn’t have machine gun. He can’t see anyone taking out large groups if armed with either rocks or produce.
Hughley can be nuanced, pointed and funny in his blunt assessments. But he can also be erratic and over the top. Arguing in one chapter that Republicans have to kowtow to their crazy base in elections, Hughley writes, “People on the left think that everyone on the right is stupid.” Then in a section on Newt Gingrich a couple of pages later, he states, “Conservatives bitch that progressives think they’re all fucking stupid. That’s not true in the slightest.” He is illustrating two separate points–one about how a certain element of the Republican Party makes the rest look stupid, and the other about how conservatives never give liberals credit, while also personally crediting someone like Gingrich as being bright. Unfortunately the statements still contradict.
He starts a later section on black men in prison writing about the racehorse Barbaro, who was kept alive after he broke his leg. “He was insured for $20 million,” Hughley marvels. “They don’t have that kind of insurance on Kobe Bryant! Of course, I’d rather be Barbaro than a negro.” He moves on to a referendum in California for the humane treatment of animals, comparing it to how the nation treats black people. “If you damage the California Tiger Salamander’s habit, the punishment is a $50,000 fine and a year in the federal penitentiary,” he reports. “But you could gun down a young black kid and nothing would happen.”
Hughley doesn’t follow that up with a case in which a young black kid was gunned down and nothing happened, but instead makes a stronger point about more black people being in prison than college. Yet the statement that nothing would happen to someone who gunned down a young black kid lingers, and the logic doesn’t quite follow. Hughley hasn’t really shown his work. The argument he eventually makes, citing philosopher Thomas Hobbes, is that when a system breaks down, people fend for themselves, which is what he feels often happens in black communities. That statement shows examples and ends up being more compelling.
Hughley is at his best when he’s focusing on his own experience, talking about his son’s Asperger syndrome or his relationship with Bernie Mac, and hit or miss when he’s aiming at the bigger targets. Some of the faults may be a result of a standup not moderating his cadence for print. There are moments that come off as punchlines, statements that might work in front of a live audience where a comic is moving quickly from subject to subject, but don’t hold up to the scrutiny of the written page. He’s a smart guy with some serious gripes; unfortunately both are presented in scattered form here.