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Standing His Ground: Brian Copeland finds humor while reliving the pain of isolation in “Not a Genuine Black Man”

Brian Copeland is one of the top voices on KGO radio, but he also knows his television. When he first developed Not a Genuine Black Man – his riveting one-man show about growing up black in San Leandro in the early 1970s, at a time when the East Bay suburb was notoriously 99.9 percent white and determined to keep it that way – he set out to capture the style of All in the Family, Good Times, Maude and other groundbreaking comedies produced by Norman Lear, where the audience finds themselves laughing hysterically one moment and sobbing the next. “It would be really funny – then you’d find out Edith got raped, and you’d go, ‘Where in the hell did that came from?’” he explains. “Or you’d watch Good Times, there’d be a hilarious line, then all of a sudden J.J. gets shot by a gangbanger. So when I wrote the show, I knew the rhythms I wanted were the rhythms of Norman Lear.”

Copeland nails those rhythms in Genuine, the long-running San Francisco solo show from 2004 that recently debuted in San Jose after successful runs in Los Angeles and off-Broadway. The show runs at the Historic Hoover Theater through Aug. 24. At a time when Barack Obama calls for a national discussion on race in America, Copeland provides that and more in a two-hour roller-coaster ride that explores how our surroundings (and surviving them) make us who we are.

For the complete interview with Brian Copeland, and to learn more about his one-man show, click here.

Ed Robertson

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