Brian Copeland has turned painful memories of growing up black in what once was one of America’s most racist suburbs into a confessional performance that is part comedy, part tragedy. Spark checks out Copeland as he performs in one of San Francisco’s longest-running one-man shows, “Not a Genuine Black Man,” at the Mission District venue The Marsh.
In 1971, San Leandro was named one of the most racist communities in the United States. Though the city borders Oakland, whose population at the time was 50 percent African American, San Leandro’s population was 99 percent white. Congressional hearings found that the city was practicing police harassment and housing discrimination to keep it that way. Through a series of federal investigations, media inquiries and court cases, the city’s system of institutionalized racism was eventually dismantled. But Copeland, who was 8 years old when his family moved there in 1972, grew up right in the middle of it.
“Not a Genuine Black Man” is an artistic stretch for Copeland, who is more accustomed to doing stand-up comedy. Over the course of the two-hour monologue, Copeland steps into the roles of more than 25 different characters and deals with topics that the performer never thought he would discuss in public, including his abusive father and his suicide attempt at the age of 35. Copeland’s performance, a unique combination of humor and heart-wrenching tales of suffering and abuse, has captivated audiences and has even garnered interest for a book deal and a television series for HBO.
More about The Marsh
The Marsh is a unique space dedicated to providing a breeding ground for new performance. It began in 1989 as a Monday night performance series at the Hotel Utah, organized by founder Stephanie Weisman and original collaborator Peggy Howe. In 1990 the series moved to Morty’s in North Beach, then to Café Beano, where The Marsh began presenting more than 150 performances a year. In December 1992, The Marsh moved to its current home at 1062 Valencia.