What do we have to do to be accepted? When will we have done enough? Dane Baptiste has a chip on his shoulder about racism – and in The Chocolate Chip, he’s embracing it. No more apologising for being an “angry black man” – anger being a rational response to race relations as currently constituted. Not that Baptiste omits to sugar the pill with some fine jokes, some frivolous ones too, and a neat line in sardonicism. But the show is unmistakably serious-minded – as with the humour-free tirade about middle- versus working-class racism, which Baptiste brings to a pugnacious end with a “hard to hear – but there you fucking go”.
At such moments, comedy feels like a Trojan horse for an act who doesn’t necessarily find life funny, a feeling compounded by Baptiste’s cerebral style: he’s not always the most expansive or expressive comic. But at others, the 37-year-old’s worldview and wit combine into something compelling – like the routine identifying latent prejudice in animal taxonomy, or the surprising racial politics of his enthusiasm for cocktails. As signalled by his twisty opener on black cabs and #BLM, finding racism where others (white audiences, at least) might not even look is Baptiste’s stock-in-trade.
There’s lighter stuff, too, as the Londoner demonstrates the other personality traits (a fear of roller-coasters, say) that complicate his angry image. But even when the jokes fall away, Baptiste is worth listening to. On black public figures being mistaken for one another in the media, or on the blaming of white working-class people for racism, he commands the attention even when not making us laugh.
Sometimes, I found those arguments hard to keep up with: I’m not sure the career of Barack Obama is the best illustration of white culture’s refusal to accept black people. Sometimes, there are no arguments, and Baptiste dishes up 10 minutes of fun but hack material on the relative virtues of cats and dogs. But when the jokes and the polemic are in harmony, this is a potent show about the stubborn persistence of racism – and the right Baptiste has to be angry about it.