Comedian Alonzo Bodden gets political: Black Lives Matter, ‘defund the police’ rallying cry

Alonzo Bodden on the Sunset Strip, January 2018. Photo by Troy Conrad.

Alonzo Bodden won season three of “Last Comic Standing” on NBC. He ended up becoming a judge on the show — and on NPR’s “Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!” His comedy special, “Heavy Lightweight,” is on Amazon Prime. And he tackles news of the week on his podcast “Who's Paying Attention?” 

“The news cycle now is so full that I can't keep up,” Bodden tells KCRW. 

He talks about Black Lives Matter, the rallying cry “defund the police,” and who would be effective on the Supreme Court and in the White House during this time of COVID-19 and social unrest. 

KCRW: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is one of the subjects you address on the podcast. 

“Here's my problem with Roger Goodell and the whole NFL thing. It started with Drew Brees, right? So Drew Brees said he won't endorse anyone disrespecting the flag or disrespecting the troops or whatever.  And this goes back to a joke I did. English is the only language I speak, but I speak it very well. … And when Colin Kaepernick began his protest, he said specifically what he was protesting: police violence, Black people getting killed by the police, etc. 

No mention of a flag. No mention of America. No mention of the troops. Nothing. But somehow they heard, ‘I hate the flag, I hate the troops,’ right? So they run with that. Now we have Drew Brees basically saying the same thing. And then I think someone tapped Drew Brees on the shoulder and said, ‘Drew, everyone that protects you on the field is a large Black man. Perhaps you should rethink your position.’ And Drew said, ‘Good idea.’

Do you think Drew Brees said that out of self-interest?

“I think it was the publicity thing. Somebody came to him and said, ‘Don't say this, it's the wrong thing to say.’ Or maybe somebody said, ‘What are you talking about? It is not about the flag. It's about the people getting killed.’ Anyway, so Drew Brees changes his position. 

And then Roger Goodell — the head of the NFL — who was all in on Trump's nonsense about these players should be kicked out of the league, and we're going to make a rule, you have to stand up, and we’re going to fine them, and blacklisting Kaepernick. Roger Goodell was all in on that. 

Now suddenly, he has this change of heart because … star players did a video. ... And now he is like, ‘Oh, we're okay with the players protesting.’ … But even when he did that, he still wouldn't acknowledge that Colin Kaepernick started the whole thing, and Colin Kaepernick was right.”

There’s still no job offer for Colin Kaepernick.

“Sports is one thing that when you hit 30, you’re old. So they could argue that he's not — I don't think it's true — but they could argue that he's not good enough to play anymore or whatever. But the point being that he was right in what he said when he protested. 

But I also think Roger Goodell will have a meeting with the owners. And this is the part we don't hear, where he says, ‘Look, we got to say whatever we got to say because we've got to keep him on the field and keep the machine running.’”

NASCAR and other corporations are issuing statements that they support Black Lives Matter. Is that out of self-interest? Or are they truly having a soul searching moment, and they're going to do something about it?

“I think it's both. … NASCAR, you still have the confederate flags flying around in the infield, and in the audience amongst the fans. There is a Black driver in NASCAR, and some Black mechanics and team members. I think some are like, ‘We got to let it go.’ But I think a lot of them still look at it with a wink and a nod, you know? So NASCAR, I would say, is an extreme. 

Other corporations like Ben and Jerry's, they're all in. Ben and Jerry's like, ‘I don't care. We're stating our position. If you don't like it, go eat ice cream somewhere else.’ Which I really admire. And I think others are somewhere in between.”

How far do you think these companies are going to go?

“Look at Nike. Nike is a company that knew when they backed Kaepernick years ago that they were going to lose some people, right? And they didn't care. They did it. Somebody at Nike was like, ‘We want to be on the right side.’ Now some might argue that well, they endorse a lot of Black athletes in sports. 

But whatever their reason, they risk their money. That's when you know a corporation is in — when they risk their money. And also, the tide changes, right? So you do the right thing, even if you were doing the wrong thing at some point. You're like, ‘We got to do the right thing because it's the right thing.’ And at some point, doing the right thing becomes profitable. 

Remember apartheid, and remember that corporations? People were like, ‘If you're doing business with South Africa, we're not going to do business with you. We’re just not.’ 

Well this protest has gone worldwide. There are huge marches all over the world. So I think corporations will look at that and say, ‘Hey, we have a worldwide footprint. … You don't want to be on the wrong side of something like this.’”

“Defund the police” has become a rallying cry. The term “defund the police” doesn't mean taking all money away from the police. It means redirecting some of that money toward other organizations and social services. What do you think of that term? 

“The Democrats are screwing it up. I don't support the Republicans, but there's one thing they know how to do — keep it simple. Right? So they just yell out something like, ‘They're killing babies! Obama is taking your guns!’ And all of their people are like, ‘Oh my God, Obama is coming to my house to take my guns. I'd better vote Republican!’ 

The Democrats will use something like ‘defund the police.’ And then you have to get into the nuance. You have to read beyond the three words to understand it. People don't read beyond the three words. The idea, I think, is great. But the slogan is wrong. You have to keep it simple.”

"Make America great again" is a great slogan, no matter what you think of the sentiment. Democrats don't have anything similar.

“This is something else the Republicans are good at. Use things that you can't measure or define. Right? … ‘Make America great again,’ what does that really mean? Is there any way to measure that?

They love words like freedom, liberty. ‘They're taking away your liberty.’ Well, what the hell does that mean? … It doesn't mean anything, but it sounds great.”

So Democrats are losing on the semantics front, but it seems like they're winning on the politics front and support front. Polls for the president are pretty much at an all time low. Does that surprise you?

“For one thing on the polls, they always say like a 3% margin of error or whatever it is. I give it a 10% because I think there is a measurable amount of the population that won't say they're voting for Trump.

And then as soon as they go in that booth and pull that curtain, ‘Of course I'm voting for Trump.’ They're just not going to admit it.

The other thing is it's June. You have to sustain this to November. I don't know whose quote it is, but I love this quote. ‘People are smart. The people — not so much. The people — not too smart.’ So you have to somehow maintain it with ‘the people,’ maintain that momentum going into the elections in November. 

… The problem with polls versus reality is you need that extra push. Because Republicans, one of their specialties is making it as difficult as possible to vote. They're already fighting the vote by mail. They vote by mail, and yet fight against you voting by mail. Like ‘Voting by mail is fraud — except when I do it because I wouldn’t lie to you.’

But people fall for this. So I don't know if a 10 point lead is enough, because you're going against so many other factors. I hope the Democrats can sustain it. I hope they remind people about the Supreme Court. I thought in the last election, that was a big failing. A lot of people didn't like Hillary [Clinton]. And it's like, okay, whatever. But what about the Supreme Court and the judges? Those people are appointed for life and they've blown that one, you know? So I hope they get it right.”

Hillary Clinton did mention the judges as part of her campaign. But it seemed to not resonate with people because it's not sexy to talk about judges when you can talk about liberty and keeping America great.

“It might have been [sexy] if you mentioned that we were about to have an ex-president who is an expert in Constitutional law, who would have been eligible to be a Supreme Court judge. So ‘Vote for me. And Mr. Obama may be on the bench.’ Then people would have listened. ... You have a rock star name. Use it.”

What about Michelle Obama on the SCOTUS bench?

“Did you read Michelle's book? Michelle don't want [sic] to be bothered with us. She's had enough of us. And I don't blame her. … Michelle’s like, ‘Listen, I gave. I'm done. Leave me alone.’”

… Obviously she would be fantastic. It would really be funny — how scared they'd be of Michelle. Because Michelle don't take no nonsense [sic]. I had a Black mother. You don't mess with Black mothers. Black mothers have a certain way of saying things, where you’re like, ‘Okay that line is not to be crossed.’ Michelle has that line. So yes, Michelle might have cleaned up the whole court.”

I feel like if Michelle Obama had been president during this time, the entire country would have been on lockdown for three weeks and we would have gotten rid of COVID-19.

“The Chinese people have been through this before, and when they told them to go inside, they went inside, because they knew that's how you stop this. They didn't say, ‘Hey, if I can't get my nails done, you're taking away my liberty.’ What? Stay inside. ‘Well, let me get my AR-15 and head to the Capitol.’ There was none of that nonsense, right? So they got a handle on it. 

I prefer listening to scientists over politicians. There's something about going to school and practicing science that makes you more credible than a professional liar. But then what do I know? I tell jokes.

—Written by Erin Senne and Amy Ta, produced by Angie Perrin

Credits

Guest:
Alonzo Bodden - comedian, host of the podcast “Who’s Paying Attention?”

Host:
Madeleine Brand

Producers:
Sarah Sweeney, Michell Eloy, Rosalie Atkinson, Brian Hardzinski, Angie Perrin, Kathryn Barnes