Thurston brings passion, humor and a dope beard to Dibden


Baratunde Thurston

“If I had known Vermont would be so excited for another black person coming to the state, I would have come here much sooner,” Baratunde Thurston said to an overflowing crowd inside Johnson State College’s Dibden Center for the Arts on the evening of Sept. 18.


Using that statement as his opening line, Thurston immediately was showered in laughter for this brief tease of his unique brand of satirical comedy, which blends his own life experiences as a black man in the United States with the racial and political strife the country is currently facing.


After a brief introduction, Thurston began his PowerPoint presentation with some light and unexpected humor. “Let’s talk about toasters,” he said, to the audience’s surprise. He then proceeded to talk about his search online for a new toaster, where he had discovered a lengthy one-star review on Amazon for a specific brand.


As Thurston made his way through the comically long review, he riffed on the unknown writer’s prose and word choices, playfully mocking the choices and world views they could represent.


With the toaster bit proving to be an effective lubricant for the crowd, easing them into his more serious topics, Thurston then transitioned to the main purpose of his performance: his book. “How to be Black” was chosen by JSC as the required summer reading for incoming students.


“If you don’t buy this book, you’re a racist,” Thurston said, jokingly. “Consider it an update for America on what it means to be black in today’s world. Also, the cover is designed intentionally to create awkward moments, especially when read in public.”


Once he had wrapped up his segment on “How to be Black,” Thurston delved into his own background. A graduate of Harvard University, he was born and raised in Washington, D.C., spending most of his formative years with only his mother and sister after his father was shot and killed when Thurston just seven-years-old. Tragedy then struck again when he was an adult, as his mother lost her life to cancer.


Although these revelations darkened the mood among the mass of JSC students, faculty and staff, Thurston deftly flipped the mood back to its previous state with tales of his recent European vacations.


Among these anecdotes, Thurston spoke about his girlfriend breaking her ankle in Spain, sitting next to an extremely talkative and open Nazi on a train in England, and the remarkable amount of human slaughter he learned about at every landmark along his trip through the United Kingdom. “British history is basically ‘Game of Thrones’ without the dragons,” he said.


By the time the applause and uproar from his previous jokes quelled, the ever-enthusiastic Thurston altered course yet again, this time musing on the current political environment. “How did we get here with this orange cloud of doom hanging over our country?” he said. “I blame Isaac Newton’s third law: for every first black president, there is an equal and opposite shitty, super-white president.”


Next, Thurston enlightened the enthusiastic JSC crowd on his issues with technology and how it has impacted the state of the federal government. “We get so used to believing the truth behind the screen that we let it lead us,” he said. “With democracy, we need to be the driver.”


For his final act, Thurston set his sights on the technology industry as a whole and their true motive. “The tech industries claim they want to make the world a better place, yet they’re all trying to leave us behind and go to Mars,” he said. “But the Mars plan is really just a cover for extreme white flight.”


With the performance complete, Thurston was met with a unanimous standing ovation before fielding questions while standing in front of a “grumpy cat” GIF with a background of fireworks continually bursting over the American flag.


The questions ranged from “How do you suggest we speak about racism without your confidence and platform?” to “How do you grow such a dope beard?” and he answered them all with the same comedic satire and passion that he had exhibited the whole night, all the while evoking a seemingly infinite stream of merriment from the captivated spectators.


Nearly two hours after walking on stage, the time for queries expired and Thurston exited the stage as the viewers erupted into a final raucous applause.