Late night comedy shows have employed the shove-a-microphone-into-a-stranger’s-face technique for several decades now. The Tonight Show has a long history of quizzes and gotcha-type moments exposing some level of ignorance in the public.
I’m particularly interested in these street interviews when the setting is the historically black Harlem neighborhood in Manhattan. Why? Because I’m black and like seeing people that look like me and am a little bit racist. And because I love you people (yes, I mean it in that way), I have assembled this short collection of my favorite issue-addressing exchanges shot in Harlem.
Stop And Frisk
“Stop and frisk” is a New York City Police Department practice in which officers who have a “reasonable suspicion” that someone has engaged in a crime stop that person then frisk them for evidence, weapons, etc. The practical effect of the practice is cops almost exclusively stopping black and latino young men and boys who have done nothing wrong. It’s serious and depressing and oh-so-rights-violating, but comedian W. Kamau Bell also made it funny.
The Harlem Shake
Who doesn’t remember this annoying Internet trend of five minutes ago? Well, there is a real dance called “The Harlem Shake,” and the activity that blew up on the Internet in early 2013 was not it by a long shot. One filmmaker visited Harlem to get the local take on the dance sweeping the planet in their name.
The Gays And The Gay Marriage
Support for marriage equality among black Americans has historically lagged that of white Americans and Democrats generally, but that is changing as is the country. The folks at Blackline sent their absurdist reporter out to the Harlem streets for a very unscientific survey of men he could get to stop for the camera.
One More Thing: That L.L. Bean Boycott
As I was mentally sifting through my memories of these Harlem street interviews, I recalled my all time favorite was this satirical story by my former employer, The Onion. It’s not technically “real,” but as with the above, does a fine job of exposing a truth.
Do you have other favorite man-or-woman-on-the-street interviews based in Harlem or Morningside Heights or whatever they are calling the area around Columbia University nowadays? Leave em in the comments, and someone might check them out!