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“America is a corporation; for better or for worse. Don’t ever forget that, dude; it’s really America Inc.” These are the words of today’s Q and A guest, Jack Coleman. He spoke them when we had a conversation a few weeks back, talking about what’s good in his world. Before we get to that, allow me to share some background so that you understand him a little bit.
Jack Coleman is from Birmingham, Alabama—an only child who spent summers studying in Exeter, New Hampshire, and watching The Daily Show with his mom while his dad would be in another room watching Fox News. He moved to D.C. more than a decade ago to attend The George Washington University, where he studied political science and English. On the surface you would think that this is someone who represents the “New D.C.” New D.C. residents would be the type of folks who attempted to mute the go-go music that plays in Shaw at Central Communications, the Metro PCS store.
When I went beneath the surface, I found out that Coleman worked for former Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells, during which time he helped residents petition to get speed bumps installed on Orleans Place NE. He also works with Capital Laughs Comedy group, producing shows and performing stand-up comedy in various D.C. venues. His comedy style is simultaneously irreverent and insightful; he has Southern charm, which he uses to his advantage, and to scold his home state for its political restrictiveness. He recently gave a Ted Talk on comedy and comedians, specifically in the D.C. area. The guy even owns an electric scooter and scoots about town, saving money and the environment at the same time. This guy isn’t a gentrifier reppin’ “New D.C.,” he’s a unifier, with an eye for community, commerce, and conservation. How the Republicans let this one get away is beyond me, but I’m glad that they did.
Here’s some more of my conversation with Jack Coleman.
Jack, what’s good?! You moved here at 18 from Alabama to attend school. Why school in D.C?!
I wanted something that was the opposite of Alabama. I think Alabama was like, you know, probably one of the most conservative Republican states—Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma—and I was looking for something that was the exact opposite. GW was like the most liberal school that I got into. [laughs] … It was just so liberal and crazy. A quarter of the male population is gay. It’s like 60/40, girls to guys. I crunched the numbers. That’s a 2:1 ratio of girls to straight guys [laughs] …
… [Laughing] So you were there to study?
Mainly political science, but I took a lot of English classes. I like to write, and during orientation, my small group leader came out to us. And that’s [where I] had dichotomy issues in my brain where I was trying to rationalize this [happening] and think about that [why it was happening]. I was 17, 18, and was ignorant to how hard life could be for people who were different from myself. That’s what I would say was my real big ignorance, and one of the reasons I’m really glad about leaving Alabama, because I still see it the people in my family; there’s just ignorance and lack of exposure to people who are different than you.
What made you stay in the area?
I fell in love with the city, I fell in love with it when I was working for city council. I worked with the D.C. Council for two-and-a-half years in Ward 6. I worked for Tommy Wells, and his chief of staff at the time, Charles Allen, who now is the councilmember for Ward 6. Ward 6 is a great ward. I was probably the only person who was going to GW at the time, at least in my class, who like knew what the f*** Ward 6 was. It’s just an amazing community. D.C. has amazing neighborhoods. It’s not like any other city I’ve ever been to. [They are amazing] people here, particularly in the D.C. suburbs, like Reno [in Upper Northwest], or like Orleans Place [in Northeast near Florida Avenue] where I got speed bumps put in. There was a little girl that got hit [by a car], and so my job was to go around and petition all the people in the community to get a speed bump put in. So I went door to door, and got all them signatures.
That area has changed a lot?
Yeah, I know. It’s tripled in value [laughs] … I went to a rooftop party. This guy who was like the only house on the block, he [had] just [had it] built. This is probably 10 years ago. He paid like, I dunno, $300,000 for the whole thing. It’s probably worth a million bucks now.
So while you were working for the councilmember, what were Ward 6 residents saying to you about the change?!
“The Change”—you mean gentrification. I’ll say the bad word, I get it. It’s like, “gentrification,” hashtag “make our neighborhood great again.” It’s a problem. Truth is D.C. was fine before people started [making the move to live here], people were fine. The problem is D.C. is like a sponge, to an extent; when you squeeze, it just can’t grow. And all the people inside are going to be pushed out because [the city] can’t go up. And these people have nowhere to go, and then you have these people [moving in] who have more money. They want to live here, guess what, they’re f***ing gonna live here. Right? It’s a problem.
Well you got rent control and there’s a lot of other good stuff that D.C. does to protect itself, but it’s different than it was 20 years ago. Man, it’s a f***ing different world.
It’s almost a symptom of a larger societal problem of like, you know, America Inc.
Aha!! What is America Inc., Jack?!
We’re just a corporation, dude, don’t ever forget it. For better and for worse, we’re a f***ing corporation, and corporations are people, and so is America. We are people. I think one of the things that America is struggling with, and will probably struggle with for a long time, is giving fair opportunities. I think that’s why our America Inc. is not functioning efficiently, because you’re not allowing all of the workforce to take part. So if you’re trying to make America make a lot of money and your business make a lot of money, you’re going to need to have all these different diverse people in your business because you should only be looking at it like we do in comedy. [What we look at] is at how much someone is funny, or how much [money] someone is going to make you. So if you really had a pure capitalistic corporate look at America and there wasn’t actually baked-in bigotry and hatefulness, then there would be a lot less racism and sexism and that sort of thing because people would just want to make money. Right?!
So what’s next for you, Jack? What do you see coming for you? what do you see yourself doing here? ’Cause you can go anywhere. You could go to L.A. and do comedy. You can go to New York, Chicago…
But I can’t. That would assume that other cities are doing the same thing that we’re doing, which they’re not. We are doing something completely special, different, and unique than anywhere else in the entire world. Especially in comedy; [in D.C.] we’ve upgraded the lemonade stand and now everyone’s getting better lemonade. When life gives you lemons, make a lemonade stand, and sell some f***ing lemons [laughter]. That should be the quote right there. When life gives you lemons, make a lemonade stand, and sell some f***ing lemons. I got some free lemons?! I’m going to go sell lemons. How many lemons is life going to give me? ’Cause I’m just going to print money. [laughs]
That’s hilarious, Jack. I like how you think. Taking life’s lemons and turning them into Lemonade worked wonders for Beyonce. She printed money with that record. Thanks for sharing what’s good with you. What’s good that you have coming up that people could come visit?
I did a Ted Talk that should be released in August, and there’s Capital Laughs. We’re doing 10 shows a week so come check us out.
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