Andrew Trabass: Laughter + Caribbean Representation

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Why you should care

Because if there’s someone getting slapped upside the head and there’s ranting in a thick West Indies patois, Andrew Trabass has something to do with it.

If your Facebook friend circle and Twitter timeline are diverse enough, you may have seen a Vine or a YouTube clip of a man speaking in a thick West Indies patois. He might be cross-dressing, there may be someone getting slapped upside the head, and there may be a bit of ranting. But if he has that distinct voice and that haircut reminiscent of Tupac Shakur in Juice, he’s comedian/artist Andrew Trabass — a Jamaican descendant who resides in New York.

Starting in 2009, Trabass slowly became a YouTube star with his comedic takes on Caribbean culture, frank discussions about the opposite sex and sub-three-minute shenanigans. He has 255,000 subscribers on YouTube.

And obviously a lot of fans. Trabass’ “Jamaican Road Rage” skit from 2012 — a humorous take on driving issues rife with Jamaican vulgarities — has more than 1 million views. Most of his videos from this year have hit over 200,000 views.

Trabass’ game on Instagram, where he has 175,000 followers, has been pretty on point, too. In a video posted on Sept. 25, Trabass pokes fun at the futility of a kid crying, in hopes of avoiding punishment from a Caribbean mother — it may actually make it worse (I’ll give you something to cry about). Many people aren’t all that familiar with that type of upbringing, but between Trabass’ hilarious overacting and the possibility that there are enough people who simply get the joke, the clip is still catchy enough.

Trabass’ TV popularity is a small miracle in itself. For years, there’s been major criticism about how small of a representative voice — one that doesn’t err toward entertainment caricatures — African-Americans have in the mainstream media. It’s an issue that leads to a decent show like Black-ish being viewed with a quizzical eye on just its first episode in fear of perpetuating stereotypes and to tone-deaf articles like Alessandra Stanley’s on “How to Get Away With Being an Angry Black Woman” in The New York Times.

While African-Americans struggle with how they’re being represented, Caribbean-Americans are struggling with being represented at all. This goes for YouTube (comedy, social commentary, critique, et al.) and mainstream television. In fact, Caribbean touchstones for the uninformed public include dancehall music, the food, the Jamaican crime film Shottas and that one scene from Belly.

There’s so much that’s underrepresented in realistic Caribbean-American life, from family dynamics to cultural values. That issue is likely a long way from being totally addressed — again, the broader African-American community is still struggling with representation. But Trabass’ popularity at least shows that there’s some interest.

Next for Trabass is music. He’s recently spread his brand and released two new songs on iTunes. “Make Luve,” which dropped earlier this year, is a bit shoddy and isn’t a Billboard chart-topper by any means. But like the entertainment possibilities in the Caribbean culture, it deserves a shot.

This OZY encore was originally published Oct. 4, 2014.

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