Arts & Life

Jaboukie’s got jokes: A tailored comedic experience for his college audience

Nov. 7, 2021, 7:48 p.m.

Comedian Jaboukie Young-White performed in CEMEX Auditorium on Friday at an event hosted by the Stanford Speakers Bureau (SSB).The show was Jaboukie’s first in-person show post-quarantine, and he emphasized how thrilled he was to be back performing on college campuses. Following a half-hour comedy set, Graduate School of Business lecturer Allison Kluger moderated a Q&A session with Jaboukie.

Born to a Jamaican family and raised in a Chicago suburb, Jaboukie has contributed to multiple entertainment programs like Trevor Noah’s “The Daily Show,” which he described during the event as “grad school for comedy.” On “The Daily Show,” Jaboukie participated in conversation bits with Noah and comedic field interviews. He has also ventured into acting, lending his voice to animated films like “Ralphs Breaks the Internet” and starring in the Hulu original “Only Murders in the Building.”

Jaboukie explained during the event that he attended DePaul University but dropped out in his senior year to pursue comedy full-time. The comedian did a great job of immediately connecting with the crowd with targeted humor that focused on Stanford and the college experience. For example, he joked about the “bougie” nature of Stanford’s location. He said he expected to see a “quaint,” mom-and-pop style college town and was floored to see comparatively high-end establishments like Anthropologie, Salt & Straw and Neiman Marcus in the University locale, joking that it “must be hard to be fake poor” on this campus. 

Satirizing his own college journey, Jaboukie lamented on his college essays. He said it is crucial to incorporate family trauma into personal statement essays as a hook but later casually drop a handful of accomplishments — something that perhaps hits close to home for an audience that thrives on intellectual vitality, as it drew a strong chorus of laughter.

He said that he lost the opportunity for a perfect “trauma” application because he was unaware of his family’s unusual immigration story. Apparently, his father landed in Florida from Jamaica via a perilous speed boat journey from the Bahamas. Jaboukie joked that he could have gone to Harvard if he had written his admissions essay about this startling story. 

Jaboukie shared multiple pearls of wisdom that would be useful to college students, interspersed with comedy. First, for safety reasons, do not walk around with two headphones in. The comedian learned this lesson from a botched phone robbery attempt. He explained that he was attacked by two assailants, with one man threatening him while the other provided aggressive hype-like rap ad-libs. As someone who is fond of SoundCloud-era rap and trap music, I was really amused by the ludicrous nature of metaphorizing violent quasi-thieves as musical artists. Without a doubt, Jaboukie’s smooth connections to pop culture references throughout the show demonstrated his ability to build rapport with the audience. He even interacted with the audience one-on-one at times, building an intimate sense of connection and relatability.   

For students interested in pursuing comedy, Jaboukie said that humor is a learned skill and suggested that, nerdily enough, reading books about comedy is a great first step. With regards to his personal humor philosophy, he gave the interesting insight that everything can be a joke, but not everything is funny. Humor is “not a universal law like gravity,” Jaboukie theorized. He even went so far as to provide tips about the linguistic delivery of comedy, explaining that the setup of a punchline can completely change a joke’s success.

The vibe of the evening was definitely casual and even raunchy at times, with a particular joke about a lack of pineapple shipments due to the 2021 Suez Canal obstruction impacting bedroom activity. He ran the gamut of content, from poking fun at names of Catholic schools to reliving life-threatening experiences, and I really enjoyed how the audience’s reactions highlighted the irreverent and desensitized sense of humor that Generation Z has.

Hannah Pingol ’22 appreciated Jaboukie’s vulnerability on the stage, saying “he wasn’t embarrassed to take out his notes and acknowledge his anxiety over performing.”

Outside of his standup and performing, Jaboukie is also known for his uproarious presence on Twitter (@giabuchi). During the Q&A section of the night, the comedian explained that his relationship with Twitter is undeniably turbulent; he has been banned from the platform multiple times, once for impersonating the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Something unusual about Jaboukie’s Twitter account is that he frequently tweets-and-deletes. He explained that this is a clever strategy he employs to make an impact while avoiding consequences (like account bans), with the tweets’ legacy living on through screenshots. Seeing a tweet from the comedian not in screenshot form is a rare, ephemeral thing — akin to seeing a “shooting star,” Jaboukie said.

While the majority of the event was a hit, the Q&A portion was a place of significant tension. When the moderator, Kluger, posed a question about “cancel culture,” there was some laughter in the audience. Immediately, Kluger demanded what was funny, which struck me as unreasonable; the attendees were just diffusing tension around the controversial topic. In another uncomfortable moment, she asked Jaboukie about his name and how it could contribute to success, which came off as rather inappropriate because it could presume that success comes from a name rather than years of diligent work and dedication. There were uneasy reactions from the audience in response to the racial undertones of this question, which seemed to posit some names as unique or unusual compared to Euro-centric names. In the future, perhaps SSB questions should be peer-reviewed to ensure comfort for the guest and audience.

In terms of the future, Jaboukie talked about how he would be working with Issa Rae ’07 for two upcoming television shows. He reflected on his success, explaining light-heartedly that when someone searches the phrase “young white comedian” expecting to see someone like Pete Davidson, they will be pleasantly surprised (or unsurprised!) to see that the number one result is Jaboukie Young-White, given his last name. Overall, the comedian gave a truly engaging performance, and I am excited to observe his journey in the entertainment industry. 

Contact Sarayu at smpai918 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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