A New Comedy Sketch Helps Karens Diffuse Their 'White Emergencies'

Picture a world where every time a "Karen" dialed 911 in response to seeing a Black person or a group of Black people in public doing nothing wrong, their calls were redirected to a "white emergency" line 912 where the operator told them off for their ignorance. In their latest comedy sketch, co-directors A'Darius Bell and Adam Mansbach (who also wrote the sketch) get some of the funniest people in entertainment industry to educate those Karens when they're at their worst.

With the comedic talents of Craig Robinson, Sarah Cooper, W. Kamau Bell, Sarah Silverman, and Lewis Black, Bell and Mansbach humorously educate people about what effects calling the police on a Black person who's doing nothing wrong can do. The comedians tell off the Karen (and "Kieran") and educate them by both airdropping books like The New Jim Crow on the woman and putting things into perspective for the man.

Released on September 23 in partnership with Color of Change, Mansbach told Newsweek that he was inspired to write the sketch in light of so many current events similar to those depicted in the sketch. "With the endless profusion of white people abusing 911 to call the cops on Black people for no f**king reason whatsoever, the idea of having them transferred to an alternate hotline where they might hear some deeper truths about themselves seemed like it could be funny and also could drive home the point in a certain way," he said in a phone call.

A'Darius Bell told Newsweek a major component for the video was making Black people feel seen. "It felt really urgent at the time and even now, and it feels like something we want to develop creative responses for and things that we want to essentially be able to respond in a way that makes Black people feel good and not yucky about the society, but we also want to be protected and felt safe. So being able to make something like this where it felt like we had and could be embarking on more allies. I this ally-ship is what we need right now, and this was a way to creatively look for more allies."

Besides showing people the absurdity of the situations, Mansbach also said he hoped the video demonstrated ways that white people can call each other out when someone is being irrational. "Also find ways to hold white people accountable for the actions of other white people," Mansbach said. "Another main goal of the video was not just to show white people acting badly, but to show ways in which other white people can step in and intervene in those situations and use their privilege to the right effect."

While 'Karen' only entered the vocabulary relatively recently, Bell said that he's had a number of encounters with them before they had their own special name. "I've had several Karen experiences. It comes with the territory of being Black," Bell explained. "Between production, I actually had a Karen incident where me and my son were playing soccer and the police were called on us. It was really important for us to find ways to build actionable steps to one: show what Black people go through and then, two: how can we be better in responding? How can we be better in taking care of our fellow man? How can we be better in actually assessing situations?"

Bell made it clear how Black people feel in situations where a Karen. "It's really uncomfortable for African-Americans and a lot of people of color in these situations, and we need help and this video is giving instructions to some of the biggest offenders of that harm," he said.

Collaborating with Color of Change seemed logical for the pair to turn the funny messaging of the video to real actions to bring change. "This just seemed like a great home and great partnership for us to be able to one: share the message, but then two: find a way that we can have an actionable step into stopping stuff like this and preserving Black bodies, systematic racism, addressing a bunch of things-it seemed like a good home for it to live," A'Darius said.

Mansbach highlighted the scene with Sarah Cooper as the most important part of the video. In the scene, Lewis Black as the 912 dispatcher connects Cooper to one of her co-workers who is just starting to "begin to grapple with all the privileges your whiteness affords you and just how deeply imbedded your racism is." Cooper says to her co-worker that holding his hand through those realizations will be "f**king exhausting."

Mansbach said that it was important to depict the "emotional labor forced upon people of color by white people when they finally decide try to engage with issues such as this," because it's not spoken about enough.

He also said that while he hopes that people feel seen by the sketch, he also wants it to provide means for white people to be active in bettering themselves and being more self-aware. "Anybody that's been on the receiving end of this kind of harassment, this kind of racism, would feel seen, would feel some level of catharsis even at the depictions, and that anybody who's been on the other side of it or anybody who's considered making a move like that or anybody who's not stopped somebody else from doing that, that there would be lessons to learn. That it would be a toolbox, a playbook-whatever you want to call it-that it would be both entertaining and funny and also deadly serious, and something that could be used to teach as well as to entertain."

Bell said he's dreaded getting calls from white friends saying that the video changed their perspective, "because that means we weren't as aligned as I thought we were," hoping that none of his friends were Karens. "My Black friends who have white friends who wanted to bring up these conversations are having a really easy time being able to navigate around this conversation with their white friends."

Early in the call, Mansbach also reminded that these incidents are far more common than we see on social media: "For every Karen who's caught on video, there's a thousand who aren't." While there's hope for changes, the video will surely continue to be relevant as more unnecessary calls to police are made by Karens.

Protest
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - JULY 25: Police officers stand guard at a Blue Lives Matter protest on July 25, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois. A new comedy sketch makes light of Karens who are a little to quick to dial 911 in situations where police aren't needed. Scott Olson/Getty