Aaron, interrupted

‘Boondocks’ creator Aaron McGruder isn’t a political savior. He’s just funny.

by Frederic Hanson


The boondocks. Drive 45 minutes south of the Cities on Highway 52. When you reach the town of Coates, you’re there.

That is, unless you are cartoonist Aaron McGruder.

McGruder, 31, hails from Columbia, Md., a suburban slice of utopian vision halfway between Baltimore and the U.S. capital. A community of self-sustaining minivillages, Columbia is a long way from a lone roadside pit stop and strip joint. It is a long way from anything most people would associate with the boondocks.

But McGruder seems born to twist perception. Part-time anti-politician, full-time satirist, mastermind behind the “Boondocks” comic strip and soon-to-be “Adult Swim” ambassador, he hardly resembles the description of himself – by himself – as “one of America’s angriest black men.”

He is instead a complete sap for unadulterated comedy, whether it involves Condoleezza Rice or not.

Do people lose sight of that and take him too seriously?

“All the time. Thank you for asking. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Absolutely, yes they do,” McGruder said. “Personally, I’m just satisfied with being a satirist and an entertainer.”

This is strangely anticlimactic for a man who, at the NAACP Image Awards, had the brass to tell the secretary of state that she is a murderer – to her face.

“To be honest with you, it is not really a comfortable and enjoyable thing to be that guy out there with that political commentary. It’s really not what I want to do with the rest of my life,” McGruder said. “I’m happy to let my work speak for itself.”

Maybe the three years since the NAACP exchange have watered him down a little bit. Or maybe – to the dismay of many – McGruder was never that potent to begin with. Maybe all he has ever been is a man ingeniously adept at finding humor in really awkward social situations.

Regardless, he is too smart to let anyone in on his secret.

“I think it’s a mistake for me to try and tell you the message of the show or the strip. I don’t think it’s quite that simple – to a large extent, like any other art, if you try to explain it to people, it takes something away from it,” the University of Maryland graduate said. “I’m happy to let my work speak for itself.”

That work takes center stage Sunday when “The Boondocks” animated series premieres on Cartoon Network’s “Adult Swim.” Centered on characters popularized in the comic strip, the show finds 10-year-old Huey, a political theoretician, and his 8-year-old brother, Riley, a wannabe thug, dealing with life in Woodcrest, a prototypical East Coast suburb. Voiced by actress Regina King, the boys engage in an entertaining anthropological adventure with the indigenous white people.

The first episode, memorably, is based around a familiar suburban scene: A garden party. Hosted by Granddad’s white landlord, Ed Wuncler, the party is a lesson in awkward social customs. There is Wuncler’s wannabe gangsta kid, for instance.

Weirder yet – or maybe just more laughable – is the response Huey gets from the party’s liberalists after shouting: “Jesus Christ was black, Ronald Reagan was the devil and the government lied about 9/11!” Applause and cheers sound, as if he was orating some kind of grandiose artistic statement.

That same kind of applause has often been heaped on Aaron McGruder – by black people, by white people, by liberal neophytes and by veteran policymakers. McGruder is praised and lauded as the next great in black political leadership – as if, like Huey, being candid and black automatically qualifies one for the position. Almost exclusively, it is only the result of public and pretentious misinterpretation.

As McGruder explained, “I think you make a decision when you become a satirist, you’re deciding to be misunderstood by a lot of people.”

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