Comedian's BYU black history video goes viral

February 10, 2012 - 8:35 PM

PROVO, Utah (AP) — A YouTube video of a white comedian who painted his face black and quizzed Brigham Young University students about Black History Month has brought some unwanted attention to the Mormon-run school.

Observers have called some student responses ignorant while others criticized the comedian's use of the 19th century theater technique considered racially offensive by black people.

Standup comic Dave Ackerman told ABC 4 that he was going for the shock factor.

"I wanted to raise awareness in an interesting way and get a conversation started," he said.

Ackerman's montage of student interviews at the Provo, Utah, school had nearly 450,000 views by Friday afternoon. About 1,400 viewers indicated they liked the four-minute video, while 2,400 clicked "dislike."

The video starts by showing Ackerman donning skin-darkening makeup on his face and hands. He stops students at the school — where blacks comprise less than 1 percent of the student body — and asks them which month is Black History Month.

Several interviewees said January or March before one correctly answered February.

When Ackerman asks students to name prominent figures in black history, they name Martin Luther King, Jr. and rappers.

The final frame tells viewers to "fight ignorance with ignorance."

BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins told the Salt Lake Tribune that officials at the school, which is run by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, were disappointed by some of the remarks and said they don't represent the more than 30,000 students enrolled there. She also said some students complained the editing was selective and perhaps manipulative.

Others criticized the comedian's use of blackface, which was popular in 19th century "minstrel shows" that caricatured blacks.

"The kids are extremely naive, and Ackerman exploits that," Darron Smith, a former BYU professor, who is black, told the Tribune. "Where it went south was the use of blackface. He doesn't understand how offensive it is."