From anthem protests to our hair, our bodies can be symbols of revolution This week with NFL management and players meeting, we’ll see how much progress has really been made

During the last NFL season, Colin Kaepernick, then a San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback, took a knee during the playing of the national anthem. Since then, other players have joined Kaepernick’s protest against racial injustice, including police brutality.

This year, others have protested Kaepernick’s continuing exclusion from the league. Still others have knelt to stand up against President Donald Trump and his allies who have demanded that the protests end. Throughout the various NFL protests and their stated motivations, no one has claimed to be demonstrating against the national anthem, the nation’s flag or its troops.

Nevertheless, Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, has said players on his team will stand during the anthem or they won’t play. He says kneeling is disrespectful. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell says team owners will discuss the demonstrations during meetings in New York this week. Representatives of the NFL Players Association are expected to participate in the meetings.

As those meetings unfold, it would be wise for the owners to remember they own their franchises, but not the games, the players or their rights as Americans to protest.

The protesting players kneel along a path charted by countless men and women who have marched in defense of their civil and human rights and a better America. There is no reason for NFL players or any other Americans to play Mother May I? with team owners or other bosses regarding the exercise of their First Amendment rights.

Still, there can be stark consequences for exercising one’s rights in America. The players are vulnerable to being demonized and exiled, especially if they fail to stand together.

But no matter how the owners seek to circumscribe or proscribe player protests during NFL games, the athletes and the rest of America remain free to work to change the circumstances that prompt the demonstrations.

Meanwhile, the debate about the Confederate flag and other remnants of the Confederacy continues. Proponents say the flag, monuments to Confederate troops and generals, and even holidays in their name are merely benign celebrations of Southern heritage and essential artifacts of the nation’s history.

But those who oppose the valorizing of Confederate people, places and things understand that the Civil War — rooted in white supremacy and its offspring: slavery and black oppression — presented the gravest threat our nation has faced. By the end of the war in 1865, more than 600,000 people had died, making it the nation’s bloodiest conflict. Almost 100 years later, the ghosts of the Civil War claimed the lives of four little black girls in a Birmingham, Alabama, church.

And in August, the specter of the Civil War struck again, this time in Charlottesville, Virginia. Heather Heyer, a white woman, had gone to that city, home to the University of Virginia, to protest right-wing zealots who were marching. She was struck by a car and killed. The driver, James Alex Fields Jr., has been charged with second-degree murder.

Furthermore, the opponents of glorifying Confederate titans know that monuments to Confederate war “heroes” obscure the nation’s cruel history with slavery rather than illuminate it. They know that during the 1950s, elements of the Confederate flag were stretched into white opposition to black civil rights. And they know that at this very moment, the Confederate flag is being used as a symbol of white supremacy in the United States and in Europe.

The contrasting views of the NFL protests and the meaning of Confederate flags and monuments are part of a conflict in America that touches everything from sports champions visiting the White House to our clothing choices and our hairstyles: Who decides what our actions and symbols mean?

For example, earlier this month, a young black woman in New York was stunned to learn that her box braids prompted her manager at a Banana Republic clothing store to rebuke her on the grounds that she was too urban (read: black), unkempt and didn’t fit the store’s image. Other organizations have sought to prohibit their black employees from wearing some natural hairstyles in their workplaces, and some courts have sustained their right to do so.

Power and money are on the side of employers who seek to ban black workers wearing locs, just as they are on the side of the NFL owners and those who seek to continue celebrating a mythical view of the 19th century South in 21st century America.

As always, power and money loom as formidable and determined foes of morality and truth. They form a mighty wheel that’s being pushed up a mountain.

Flags, and now hair, symbolize our independent thinking. Put your shoulder to the wheel or be prepared to get rolled over.

Jay Pharoah knows a lot about being ‘White Famous’ The ‘Saturday Night Live’ alum stars in a new series about the perils of making it big

Truth is, Jay Pharoah isn’t sure if he’s “white famous” or not — yet. But he sure gets the head nod — and maybe the occasional side-eye, if he’s keeping it all-the-way honest — from some of the world’s most famous athletes, a surefire sign that the comedy he produces is landing in the inboxes and on the flat-screens of cultural tastemakers. “When LeBron James said, ‘What’s up?’ to me at the [Mayweather] fight this year,” Pharoah says, stopping to laugh, “it was like, ‘Ohh, snap! LeBron knows me! And everybody knows LeBron! So …”

“White famous.” Get it? It’s ostensibly that moment for people of color working in music, television, film or comedy (or whichever culture space) when one’s star power penetrates the mainstream: Masses of white folks know who you are. One is not just ’hood famous. Or solely Latino famous. One is not purely internet famous, or famous in some other, smaller sector. White famous means one is so famous that one has to mind all one’s p’s and q’s because everyone knows of you — which usually also means that the check is fat.

White Famous also happens to be the name of Pharoah’s new show (it premieres on Showtime on Oct. 15), inspired by the early career moves of Academy Award winner Jamie Foxx, who executive produces the show in collaboration with Californication creator Tom Kapinos. Californication creator Tom Kapinos) directs the first episode. Pharoah plays a rising comedian trying to maintain his cred with black fans while crossing over to a broader audience.

But as for himself? Pharoah made his mark starring in NBC’s Saturday Night Live — he joined in 2010 — on which he delivered memorable impersonations of President Barack Obama, Jay-Z and even First Take’s Stephen A. Smith. His tenure there ended unceremoniously before this last keystone season, in which Alec Baldwin won rave reviews in 2016 (and an Emmy last month) for his impersonation of President Donald Trump. But for Pharoah, the time was right to step away, he said.

“LeBron knows me! And everybody knows LeBron!”

“I was looking for the next-level type of thing … something that would show every aspect of Jay Pharoah, and not just from one area. I was looking for something that was going to show the spectrum. You start knowing it’s time to go when everything’s like, ‘OK, I’ve seen it all.’ When you start to get antsy.”

This new character, Floyd Mooney, of course feels familiar to Pharoah. “I immediately connected with the material,” he said. “I know how that journey is. I know how it is to being a hot, popping comic and trying to cross over. I know how that feels. I know that story.” But here’s what’s foreign: being the main guy. This is Pharoah stepping out and anchoring a show — for the first time. Pressure.

“There’s definitely less sleep [and] there’s more memorization, but I always feel like I was being groomed to be what I am now,” he said. “It’s a little nerve-wracking! But it’s not as intimidating as maybe it would’ve been when I was 22, you know? I actually had a chance to be a lead of a show. [But] I was … nervous, and nobody really [knew] me. I’d rather build my base, build a name, and then get off of that show and go do something where I’m starring. And that’s exactly what happened.” He said he feels like he’s right where he needs to be.

“I’m ready for everything. I’ve seen this industry; I’ve seen what it entails. I know what to stay away from. I know what type of vibe I don’t click with. I get that now. I’m 29. Before, I was a little more wet behind the ears … but now I feel like I’ve fallen into the position very well.”

Pharoah’s character is very principled, and in some ways it feels like a direct lift from Pharoah’s own life story. Pharoah has talked before about the back-and-forth toward the end of his tenure at SNL. “They put people into boxes,” he said in April, not long after his contract was not renewed. “Whatever they want you to do, they expect you to do. And I’m fiery. I’m not a yes n—–.”

He continues to think about things he refused to do — such as wear a dress.

“The dress conversation is a big topic in the black community,” Pharaoh said. “There’s always a conversation [about] Hollywood trying to emasculate black men.”

The series addresses that very thing, right away, with a savvy assist from Foxx. It’s one of those topics — complex, risqué — that the show wanted to have a conversation about.

“That definitely gets brought to light in this show. A lot of topics that get talked about behind closed doors, that celebrities, especially black celebrities, have to deal with,” he said. “I think there’s going to be a lot of water cooler conversations.”

“I know how it is to being a hot, popping comic and trying to cross over.”

One conversation he likely won’t be part of with this new show, though? Uncomfortable ones with superstar athletes. This new Showtime series is scripted, of course, and doesn’t rely on his spot-on impersonations.

“I do LeBron James, I do Shannon Sharpe, I do Stephen A., of course,” Pharoah said. “I do [Floyd] Mayweather, I do [Mike] Tyson. Draymond [Green]. Charles Barkley. Shaq. I get flak from some people. I do all these folks, but it’s all on love. I never have any malicious intent. I just want everybody to have a good time and laugh at themselves. Just like if somebody impersonates me, I’ll laugh at myself.”

‘Saturday Night Live’s’ Colin Jost and Michael Che aren’t mascots for the resistance ‘The Weekend Update’ hosts discuss real and fake news — and giving LaVar Ball a wedgie

Thanks to a never-ending presidential campaign and an even wackier Election Day aftermath, Saturday Night Live once again became the can’t-miss nexus of weekly political comedy that it hadn’t been since Sarah Palin was a candidate for vice president.

The show was rewarded with 22 Emmy nominations (tying HBO’s Westworld for most nods in 2017) and record ratings. It’s doing so well that NBC has spun off its Weekend Update segment into a stand-alone show, Weekend Update: Summer Edition, which premiered Aug. 10 and will continue airing Thursdays at 9 p.m. EST. SNL’s cast, including Update hosts Michael Che and Colin Jost, have become mascots for the Resistance. And while Kate McKinnon, Alec Baldwin, and Melissa McCarthy have embraced that role, it’s made Che and Jost uncomfortable. Neither of them got into comedy to change the world. That may seem odd, given that Che is a former Daily Show correspondent and Jost is a former journalist, both jobs that required a greater-than-average literacy about news and politics.

And yet, Che and Jost insist we’re taking them way more seriously than they take themselves. “If you had a joke they liked … now people are like, ‘Thank you, on a political level,’ or something, which is weird as a comedian,” Jost said. “That’s not really the point of what we’re doing. We’re not really doing political activism, we’re just trying to figure out what’s funny if we can.”

“It’s taken on different kind of importance that I don’t know that we’re emotionally capable of accepting,” Che said. “We want to piss off liberals too. I want to disappoint everybody, not just conservatives.”

What do you guys see your role as in democracy?

Colin: Class clown, probably.

Michael: Yeah, I think it’s just funny. It’s weird to get with so much news and so much coverage of politics and TV, that they’re still looking at comedians as the truth-tellers.

It’s all Jon Stewart’s fault.

Michael: It’s strange. You know what, you’re not wrong about that, either. It’s weird. It’s not really why I do comedy, you know. We always want to be funny. We want to be able to hit you from any angle and make fun of anybody. I feel like when people define your role, it’s easier to disappoint them, because they’re like, ‘Well, that’s, you’re not really on the right side,’ because you have to fit the consistency that they have already set for you, or the standards that they’ve already set for you, and I feel like with comedy, that should never be the case. You should never know where the ball is, to use a sports phrase. You should always be able to hide the ball.

Colin: Wow, you are a big sports fan.

Do you feel like there is anybody who is successfully managing to circumvent that without having to either face backlash or outrage from either side?

Michael: I think we do. I think we get written about for certain things that we’ve said, like making jokes about Hillary [Clinton]. I remember one time, we said in an interview, ‘Trump was smart.’ Before he won, it was like, ‘Well, you know he’s a smart guy,’ and people trashed us.

Colin: It was a whole headline, like, ‘They Think He’s Smart.’ How dare they?

Michael: They were so mad at us.

Colin: And first of all, we were saying both he and Hillary are clearly smart people, and the headline was, ‘Trump is Smart.’ He went to UPenn for college and is a billionaire. How many billionaires are idiots, you know? It’s tough.

Michael: I don’t know, maybe Floyd Mayweather? No, that’s a joke. Yeah, well I didn’t say [Trump] was the smartest, I just said he was — he’s smarter than me, that’s for sure.

If you got one gimme, one consequence-free opportunity to punch somebody out, who would it be?

Michael: That’s weird that she says it while LaVar Ball’s on TV. He’s just yelling at a lady.

Colin: Yelling at a lady for being out of shape, did you see that? Oh, my God.

Michael: I don’t know. Punching never gets you anywhere. I wouldn’t want to punch anybody like that, even LaVar Ball. Wedgie, yes. I would love to give him a wedgie. But he strikes me as the kind of guy that doesn’t wear any underwear.

Colin: You reach in, you’re like, ‘What?’ He looks back, like, ‘Yeah. Gotcha.’

Michael: Does that answer your question? LaVar Ball is pretty unlikable, but he’s getting the coverage, and people are entertained by him. I think people just need those outlets. You can yell at your TV at LaVar. It’s all entertainment. You kind of got to remember that and not take it too seriously.

Colin: Yeah, and if you’re a basketball player, you’re probably like, ‘What the hell is wrong with this? Why is he doing this?’ But then, if it helps basketball, and then you ultimately get paid more as a basketball player you’re probably going to —

Michael: Yeah, I mean when his son develops a rivalry with another player, and that adds a fold to the story and it makes people watch the game and it makes people excited. These kinds of characters is what makes rivalries important. That’s why I was telling people with sports teams, I think fans get that, because you see players and personalities that clash with … so like how mean were Boston fans to Derek Jeter, but when Derek Jeter left, everyone —

Colin: ‘He’s a good man.’ Welling up with tears.

Michael: Because he makes so many memories. You hated him, but you appreciate how fun he made the game, and how much fun it was to boo that guy. I think that’s also important too.

Colin: I was going to say I feel bad for his kids, but I don’t. I think they’re doing fine.

Michael: They’re great athletes, and you know what, even if they don’t make it, they’ve lived a great life. They’ve gotten a lot further than a lot of people, mostly because they look like they’re having fun. They seem to be enjoying it, and that’s cool, because at the end of the day, it is sports, and they could be digging ditches and tarring roofs.

Colin: That’s great, they enjoy it every time they’re on the court because there’s buffer from their dad.

Michael: You know they’re not going to get any fouls.

Colin: Think about that. That’s why they’re smiling on the court, they’re like, ‘We can’t hear him right now.’ That’s why they’re trying to get the crowd louder. They’re like, ‘Pump it up so that we can’t hear our dad yelling from the stands.’

Oh, no, you make them sound like the Jacksons.

Michael: Oh, I mean, yeah. I think Joe Jackson wears underwear though.

Colin: That’s the one difference.

A lot of comedians who predated social media complain about YouTube ruining the culture of stand-up.

Colin: I’m amazed people will write reviews of a show and quote every joke in it. I’m like, ‘Well, you just gave away all their material.’ You have to realize probably not so many are going to read that, but you just feel self-conscious as a comedian. If they quote your jokes, you’re like, ‘Oh, now I feel weird telling those jokes, because they’re already out there.’

Michael: Yeah, it kind of hurts the integrity of what you’re trying to do.

You guys grew up with the internet more than, say, someone like Chris Rock or Louis C.K.

Colin: Yeah, but when it’s on phones — you could record stuff when we were younger, or when we were starting out, but not everyone had a phone with a camera on it, so every single person in an audience has the ability to record your entire set.

Michael: There’s a company called Yondr. Do you ever use them?

Colin: Is that — they shut down phones?

Michael: They put a phone in a pouch, and they lock up your phone pretty much. [Dave] Chappelle does it. [Chris] Rock does it. Hannibal [Buress] does it. … I did it at Denver Comedy Works, and it’s amazing because your attention span, your sense of focus as an audience, is completely different. When the show starts, you’re looking at the stage. You’re not texting. You’re not trying to get a picture. You’re not trying to take a selfie. You’re not scrolling through Instagram one last time. The only thing going on is the stage, and the focus and the crowds are so much better and so much more attentive. It’s different. It’s night and day.

Did you work on your high school paper?

Colin: I did. I was the editor in chief of my high school newspaper, The Owl, no big deal. But then I worked at . . .

Michael: You’re right, that is no big deal.

Colin: . . . I worked at the Staten Island Advance, which is a newspaper on Staten Island. That was my first job.

How did you go from serious journalism to fake news?

Colin: I wrote, it’s so dumb, a humor column for my high school paper. You’ve got to start somewhere. And then for the real paper I worked at, I would just write things in my spare time, you know, Onion-style things at the time. I always wanted to do comedy. I just took a job because there was a job open, you know, like a journalism job. I’m shocked now, having … like it was a really good newspaper, even though it’s a small Staten Island newspaper. They have a really good staff and everything there, and I learned a lot about journalism while I was there, and when I see things now, like there’s so many factual errors in articles, and I’m like, ‘Where is any sense of integrity to it?’ That’s the strange thing to me. Certain things I get when people complain, like when politicians complain about the media and stuff, I see elements of it, because I’m like, yeah, when they get something wrong, or you just said something and then you’re misquoted or it’s changed or facts are wrong in the story and no one checked them. You’re like, you’re leaving yourself open to being criticized, you know?

The Daily Show built its brand on media criticism, and you guys have both spoken up about pointing out what we get wrong sometimes. Do you ever feel like that’s something you want to incorporate more into Weekend Update?

Michael: That’s sort of more of a Daily Show thing. We’re always kind of wary about doing what seems familiar, because as comedy fans, it’s a thing that we’ve seen.

And even at the show, we’re doing the job that Tina Fey did, and Amy Poehler, and Norm MacDonald, and Seth Meyers and all these people. They did it so well and at such a high level, and they’re so talented. We have to find a way to do that same thing and make it your own, you kind of don’t want to do the same thing as — it’s so easy to do what’s familiar because you’ve seen it done so well. You kind of just want to make it your own. So we started to make it a little bit more opinionated, a little bit more longer runs, a little bit more of the way that actual cable news is, as opposed to the way local news is, like how it started, where it was literally reading headlines. Now it’s a little bit more of a narrative.

Colin: It’s sometimes harder to get into some of the media stuff, because we don’t have so much time. Sometimes you have to get a little more in depth to explain, OK, this was the angle from that media source, and here’s why that’s wrong.

Michael: That’s why we’re really excited about doing these half-hour Updates, because we’ll have a little bit more time to kind of unravel that onion.