Christian, White Male: Acton native Finnegan talks race and new show “Black and White”

Christian Finnegan, the stand-up comic seen in a number of TV shows including VH1’s “Best Week Ever,” TBS’ “The Chappelle Show” and his own comedy special “The Fun Part” on Netflix, is back at it on TV, questioning racism in his own way, the way he knows best: with comedy.

“Black and White,” the newest upcoming show from A&E, is the brainchild of Finnegan and fellow comedian and longtime friend, Sherrod Small. And if Finnegan’s summary of the show tells us anything about it, it’s sure to be a boat-rocker in the current social climate.

“In a nutshell, ‘Black and White’ aims to pick up where conversations about race usually end. My co-host, Sherrod Small, and I disagree a lot, but it’s always friendly in nature,” said Finnegan. “I hope the show will serve as a kind of ‘demilitarized zone’ where we can address issues like racial profiling, cultural appropriation and Hollywood typecasting without retreating to knee-jerk hostility or self-righteousness,” he continued. “And d—k jokes. Lots and lots of d—k jokes.”

After a number of acting roles in which he played, for lack of a better term, the quintessential white guy, such as Chad in “The Chappelle Show” sketch, “Mad Real World,” or Martin, Terry Crews’ neighbor in “Are We There Yet?” Finnegan still jokingly describes himself as the “representative of American whiteness.”

“There’s a weird thing in my career, where people have just constantly wanted to watch me interact with black people,” said Finnegan, with a laugh. “And it’s because of, like, when you see comedians do an imitation of ‘the white guy,’ that’s pretty much me,” he continued. “Even before I started doing comedy, race was a big issue for me. One of my major college term papers was about ‘Do The Right Thing.’ People get so uptight when the topic of race comes up, and it’s great to see that when I talk about race on stage, the people who react to it the best are the people you are talking about.”

“I’ve told the story before, in my comedy, of how my wife and I live above a Latin nightclub, and how annoying it can be, and how loud it is at time, the fights that go on in the street, and stuff like that. If I’m in front of a room full of white people when I tell that story, you can just feel the tension in the air. But if I’m in front of a room full of Latino people, they absolutely love it. I feel like white people always think ‘why do black people need to talk about being black?’ or ‘why do gay people need to talk about being gay?’ It’s because they don’t have the privilege of not talking about this stuff the way you do,” said Finnegan.

“No paradigms are being shifted by my words, but I do find it fun to poke that bruise and talk about how ridiculous it is,” he continued. “I feel that things won’t ever get better until, at the very least, people start being genuinely honest about where they stand on these things and how it affects their lives, and not from any angry, baby-boomer white guy. It’s from an ally,” he continued. “I feel that that is the voice you don’t hear. You hear angry white people complaining about race, then you hear quote-unquote liberal white people not wanting to talk about it period. It might just be a juvenile, comedian mentality, but whenever you feel this pressure to not talk about something, you just wanna talk about it.”

So, what led Finnegan, a native of Acton, to create a show like “Black and White”? Wait … scratch that. What led Christian Finnegan to become a comedian in the first place? When did that “defining moment” hit him?

“Well, that’s actually a really good question. Any day now, I’m sure,” said Finnegan, with a chuckle. “For me, [stand-up] just made logical sense, because I had gone to Walnut Hill [a school in Natick], and all the students had majors there, and in my senior year, I had a double major in both acting and creative writing,” he continued. “After a year of being an acting major at NYU, I realized that it wasn’t how I wanted to spend my life, so I switched to playwriting, and bounced between acting and writing for a while.”

“It took a little to realize that my talents weren’t totally suited to either of those, in the sense that whenever I was just an actor, I felt I wasn’t being fully creative, and I didn’t have the discipline or work ethic to be a good writer. So, stand-up was kind of like the clouds parting for me, where I got hit with this shining light. And once I started doing stand-up, it just hit me like ‘oh, duh. Of course. This is what I should be doing.’”

Finnegan’s brand of comedy may not be lined up with the socio-political, satirical motives of Lenny Bruce, Bill Hicks, Richard Pryor or George Carlin, because politics and social commentary do not dominate his set. But by bringing these topics up to begin with, he’s paving the way for a bigger, deeper conversation that could spark progress at any given time. It’s not divisive, it’s not demeaning, it’s just saying what needs to be said.

“I don’t think it’s unfair that a majority of white people go through their day without thinking about race at all, because they don’t have to. It doesn’t impede them, it doesn’t get in their way. They don’t have to walk into a store and immediately feel that look of suspicion, they aren’t forced to feel like the other. A lot of the time, I feel like maybe white people might need to discuss this more, and they need to say that whiteness isn’t the control group. The whole mindset of ‘let’s not talk about it’ impedes any sort of progress.”

“Black and White” premieres on Wednesday, July 13th at 10:30 p.m. EST on A&E.

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