Hoch has spent the last decade applying his talent and guts to the creation of one-man shows that place characters Broadway and Hollywood won't touch beneath the spotlight, center stage. A jailed Vietnam vet with AIDS; a Polish handyman whose earnestness to communicate dissolves the language barrier; a Puerto Rican kid, crippled by a cop's bullet, who insists that he is still one of the best dancers in the world -- dozens more.
But Hoch takes pains to remind folks that he's not "some anthropological/theatrical case-study guy." He's just writing (and acting) what he knows. Hoch's boyhood in multi-ethnic Queens, where neighbors formed a vast collective family, was one of positive cultural confusion. "I didn't know I was a white Jewish kid," he says. "I thought I was a white-Jewish-black-Latino-Russian-Georgian-Senegalese kid."
This composite sense of self is no doubt what accounts for Hoch's total (but totally relaxed) control of his material, and gives his monologues their stamp of authenticity. Add to this a pitch-perfect ear, equal parts humor and empathy, and you've got a performer who can, for example, play a young white male who laces his speech with "nigga" and "ho" without anybody questioning his authority to do so.
Whiteboys and Jails have such a character in common -- Flip, a Midwestern teenager who has rejected his cracker heritage and has recast himself as a malt liquor-drinking, spray can-wielding gangsta rapper. A black gangsta rapper. The idea for Flip presented itself to Hoch on a tour of the Midwest, where he met a number of "really blond kids" who not only mimicked black culture, but proclaimed that they in fact were black.
Hoch plays the part with an eerie precision, delivering Flip's semi-skilled rhymes with just the right touch of brittle, nasal whiteness, and throwing physicalities that perfectly convey his hours of practice in front of MTV.
In both play and film, Flip discusses his contradictions during a mock interview with an invisible Jay Leno. "I know what you're thinkin', Jay," says Flip. "You're thinkin', like, 'How is it that this white dude could be such a dope rapper?'" Flip's explanation: He suffers from a "mad rare" skin disorder called "eosinophilic ionic... dermatitis." Presenting a tiny mole for inspection, he says, "It's not really a birthmark, see, that's the real color of my skin, and the rest of me is a birthmark, man." But Flip's problems are beyond skin deep. "These [white] people are stupid," he says. "All they do is hang out at the mall every day and walk back and forth from Foot Locker to Chi-Chi's, Chi-Chi's to Foot Locker. Then they go home and watch damn Friends.... What the hell I wanna be white for?"
What Flip wants instead is the power and the glory of his rap video idols: Their thug-toughness, their ho-draped virility, their flaunted gold, as well as membership in a community that values a well-wrought rhyme. Somewhere along the way, Flip's skin privileges were exchanged for a packet of food stamps and a seat at a monster truck rally. His desire to be black, strange as it may seem, is nothing less than the desire to better himself. How's that for the old switcheroo?
The Flip of Jails exists as a perfectly realized seven-minute monologue that far outweighs itself in food-for-thought value. For Whiteboys, Hoch has created a feature-length, Flip-based plot, which includes a field trip (far more harrowing than any Blair Witch Project) to Chicago's notorious Cabrini Green, where Flip tries to mix it up with the urban black residents whom he feels so close to in his corn-fed heart.
Hoch has made a career of presenting just this type of high-risk material. But he's not doing it for him, he's doing it for us. On behalf of Danny Hoch, I urge you to check it out. When's the last time you were part of a cultural revolution?