Diversity Through Laughter

Here is an article I wrote for this week’s Mountain Xpress:

Asheville likes to celebrate diversity, and we’ve got the bumper stickers to prove it. But when it comes to actually experiencing diversity, that’s another story. “I come from Miami, and I’m so used to seeing a diverse group of people, all kinds of people, hanging out,” says Tiffany Gill of The Color ME Brown Project. “I’d like to see more of that here in Asheville.”

Victoria Blount, the nonprofit’s creative director, puts it this way: “If you’re in a certain demographic, there’s a ton for you to do. But if you are not, it’s hard to get out there, so you have to make your own way.”

Sheneika Smith of Date My City, a local initiative to encourage cultural diversity, says: “Diverse entertainment in Asheville is essential for the overall well-being of the community. I believe if we offer opportunities to unite, even through arts and entertainment, it will eventually give way to opportunities for civic engagement and improved community involvement.”

joe greene asheville

Happily, promoter Joe Greene has a plan. “We’re promoting diversity through laughter,” he says of the vision behind his production company, KJG Enterprises. Specifically, “KJG Enterprises is built upon the belief that the cultivation of diverse audiences can create positive exchanges and foster equity for all community residents in Asheville.” This goal grew out of his experience with what he calls the social, economic and cultural isolation of the established African-American community.

“That’s my whole focus,” says Greene. “To break down walls between people; to get everyone together.”

KJG Enterprises’ next event, “Funny ’R’ Us,” will be held Saturday, Jan. 18, at Asheville Community Theatre. The show will feature urban comedians Tyler Craig, Fredo Davis and Terrell Marrow. All three are based in Atlanta. Craig, a native of that city, has performed on the BET network’s Comic View and worked with Chris Tucker; Davis, aka Fdstmp, has also worked for Comic View and the TV series Who’s Got Jokes?; Marrow is a standup artist. Asheville musician Lyric will open, and Blunation Films and Go Diva Photography will document the evening.

A portion of the proceeds from “Funny ’R’ Us” will go to support My Daddy Taught Me That, a development program for 12- to 19-year-old males, run by local author and social worker Keynon Lake. The mentoring program supports participants in character building, academics and career preparation. There’s also an emphasis on “morals and being accountable for your actions,” says Lake.

Greene says both he and Lake “want to show people that we can come together … that everything a young black male presents is not negative.” Lake agrees, saying he wants to send a message to “bring our different entities together to focus on one common goal.”

Unfortunately, says Greene, “coming from a minority man’s point of view, it’s hard. I’m fighting every day to do something the right way, but I’m already put in that category and limited by that stereotype.”

The Asheville native spent his childhood in the Klondyke public housing complex, then moved to West Asheville. He attended college in Greensboro, playing football for N.C. A&T State University. During that time, he got into event promotion. After college, Greene moved to Charlotte, where he continued working as a promoter. “I stayed away from Asheville for 10 years, because I thought there wasn’t anything for me here,” he says.

When Greene finally did return to his hometown, he was disappointed by the lack of entertainment options that appealed to him, so he began putting on events. His first Asheville comedy show was at The Rocket Club in 2007. This was followed by events at venues like The Magnetic Theatre, Asheville Music Hall, Haywood Lounge, Diana Wortham Theatre, YMI Cultural Center, the Asheville Civic Center and Hole N Da Wall.

During the past year, Greene took a break from putting on shows to focus on building his business skills. “I had to take a step back to learn,” he says. He participated in the Eagle Market Streets Development Corp.’s BLOCK Academy program and Mountain BizWorks’ Business Boot Camp.

“This show,” says Greene, “is to introduce everyone to what I’ve been doing.” With an early start time (8 p.m.) and a classy venue, Greene says “Funny ’R’ Us” is for “people who want to dress up, go out, relax and have a laugh.”

If things go as planned, KJG Enterprises will branch out into other types of events. Greene says he’s considering plays, R&B vocalists and old-school rappers. Greene says the latter is a strong possibility, since he hung out with Doug E. Fresh in New York City recently, thanks to connections made through KJG.

“I’ve been doing this for a long time: I’m, like, 15-plus years deep in this,” says Greene. “I’m fighting for it. I am fighting to break the barriers down.”

what: Funny ’R’ Us Comedy Show featuring Tyler Craig, with Fredo Davis and Terrell Marrow. Lyric opens
where: Asheville Community Theatre, ashevilletheatre.org
when: Saturday, Jan. 18, at 8 p.m. $25

photo by jon farmer