Brow Beat

Terence Nance Introduces an Exciting New Reparations App to a Very Unhappy Audience of Technology Journalists in This Random Acts of Flyness Sketch

Terence Nash, in a black shirt, giving a technology presentation.
“I’ve got a surprise for you today. Everybody take out your phones.”
HBO

If you’re the sort of person who finds applause-laden technology press conferences vaguely embarrassing for everyone involved, this sketch from HBO’s Random Acts of Flyness feels like justice. And if you’re the sort of person who finds our nation’s ongoing failure to grapple with white supremacy vaguely embarrassing for everyone involved, you’re in for even more of a treat, because the technology press conference aspect of the thing is pretty far from the point, justice-wise. Watch show creator Terence Nance unveil a “proximity based social app” that pairs black people with the white people who owe them reparations for slavery:

The joke of taking something as relentlessly positive as a technology press conference and sailing off into threatening waters has a long and proud tradition—see, e.g., Monty Python’s architect sketch, Saturday Night Live’s “Creeley’s Soup,” Mr. Show’s “Thrilling Miracles,” and on and on and on—but the comedy usually comes from the slow realization that the sketch’s authority figure wants something bizarre or irrational. Monty Python’s architect wants to build slaughterhouses for humans, the Creeley Soup guy likes watching kids put corn up their noses, and Mr. Show’s version of the Amazing Discoveries guy is an abusive lunatic. But Nance’s version of Monty Python’s rotating blade mechanism—the violent thing that doesn’t belong in the sketch’s anodyne setting—is a montage of images of white supremacy, from lynching photos to Alex Jones. Those are real things, and the authority figure they damn is not Terence Nance. Or take his explanation of how the app works:

Our algorithm takes into account medical records, criminal records, real estate records, land rights, and treaties in order to make extremely precise determinations about how much our black users are owed, due to the contemporary injustices of red lining, hiring discrimination, and, of course, mass incarceration.

You either think the historical and ongoing injustices Nance describes are worth trying to set right or you don’t, but either way, taking what is essentially “The Case for Reparations” and putting it in a sketch format where we’re primed to treat it like something self-evidently insane is a pretty good, sick joke all on its own.

Correction, Aug. 21, 2018: The headline for this piece originally misidentified Terence Nance as Terence Nash.