Watch out for Danny Hoch. The actor/writer/performer, who knocked the New York theater scene flat just five short years ago with his show Some People,

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Hip Hoch

The New York performance artist tackles race, rappers, and just about anything else.

Watch out for Danny Hoch. The actor/writer/performer, who knocked the New York theater scene flat just five short years ago with his show Some People, is set to open in two films in the next year: the rural hip-hop film White Boys (written around his character Flip, a fly homie who unfortunately lives in suburban Montana) and a filmed version of Jails, Hospitals & Hip-Hop, which he performs live at this year's Bumbershoot.

In addition to a superb ear for accents, a hilariously precise eye for body language, and a finely developed social sense, the 29-year-old Hoch has a tremendous amount of self-confidence. Witness his piece "Danny's Trip to LA," a wickedly astute autobiographical monologue about how he was offered a small part on Seinfeld only to be replaced because he didn't want to do the character as a stereotypical slapstick Latino. While it may have resulted in a permanent blacklist from Jerry et al., it's one of the slickest skewerings of the lowball instincts of network TV you'll ever hear.

In conversation, Hoch is refreshingly straightforward about issues like race and the excesses of capitalism that have most entertainers ducking nervously. A white guy who grew up deep in the hip-hop scene, he admits that he's downright nervous when touring in predominantly white parts of the country. "I feel like I'm in a foreign country when I travel in the US. I'm from a place where there is no predominant race or culture. It's dangerous to your psyche to not have that. I was just in Colorado, and it was all white people. I freaked the fuck out."

Hoch often gets complaints from white audience members about his portrayals of black rappers, Latino street merchants, and the other people "peripheral to society" who are the focus of his plays. "Sometimes people refer to it as 'minstrelsy.' Then they go home and watch Saturday Night Live, and have no problem with the humor in that. They seem to think I'm doing stand-up comedy, like these accents are supposed to be something you laugh at. But I'm not doing stuff just to make people laugh. Guess what, everybody, this is theater. It's supposed to make you feel responsible and uncomfortable."

Having grown up with rap and Hip-Hop, Hoch remains a strong defender of the music and the culture, despite the fact that both forms have been compromised by the promotion of sex and violence (a charge he addresses in the character of Emcee Enuff, a successful rapper who abandons his dont do drugs, stay in school message because I had to pay the rent, man. I had house payments.) Every culture of resistance is attacked sooner or later by the evils of capitalism. I do feel the positive aspects of Hip-Hop are prevailing, not on TV, not on radio, but if you live in that culture, you see real political and social commentary. But you wont see it on MTV.

Hoch has criticized contemporary theater for lacking relevance to a younger and more diverse audience. Broadway is all musicals about river boats and Mississippi, and all the audiences are from Mississippi. Where are my people, on the stage, in the audience? Were still producing Tennessee Williams, Beckett, Shakespeare, Sam Shepard, and were not producing contemporary writers who are changing the face of American theater. Angels in America and Bring in da Noise, Bring in da Funk were closer to reality, but who were they accessible to? Noise played at the Public Theater for 6 months, then played on Broadway for two years, and then finally they were able to write a grant to bring Black youth to see it.

Hochs commitment to being seen by people aside from White septuagenarians is one of the main reasons for his appearance at Bumbershoot, instead of a Seattle theater with an older white subscriber base. I dont usually like to perform out of context, like Ill be at Bumbershoot, but at least I should get a more diverse crowd. My show is generational, by and for my generation.

For Hoch, the best thing about touring his show is that it's a chance for people to get closer to others whom they might otherwise just walk past, or, in the case of the largely white audiences in Seattle, never encounter at all, despite what they might think. "People see blacks on their TV. But they've never met any in real life. Black TV is only all-black sitcoms, no black dramas. We're not supposed to take black people seriously. And for Latinos, Asian Americans, and Indians, they're invisible. TV has become the guide for how we relate to each other."

As his dealings with Hollywood and TV executives increase (what he calls his "pseudofame"), Hoch says that he's constantly told to focus on "mainstream America." "This one exec actually told me that white audiences just don't want to see Puerto Ricans or rappers taken seriously on TV. I told him, 'Sure, they don't want to watch them, they want to be them.' Look at all the white kids buying black fashion, black music. At the same time, advertisers are working to keep the divisions up. Mercedes won't advertise in black magazines because they want blacks to think that it's inaccessible; this isn't a car for you. But in reality, we want to watch each other. We want to be each other."

Check out our stage picks for Bumbershoot.

 
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