Paul Carrick Brunson has been getting a lot of buzz in the DMV of late and he added to that word-of-mouth with his first ever live show at The Gala Theater in Columbia Heights Saturday evening. Billed at The Modern Day Matchmaker Live, Brunson, along with a little help from friends, local poets, bloggers and some very chatty panelists, tackled love in the aughts. Here's what went down as hundreds of women (and some men) packed the Gala to learn how to find love in an era where for many folks (especially black people it seems), love has become a battlefield of hurt and recriminations on both sides. It's an interesting, frustrating war of attrition, and a lot of the speakers at the event articulated that.
With W. Ellington Felton and his band on back-up and the theatrics of poets Bassey Ikpi, Jonathan Tucker and Rasheed Copeland and a live-video blog feed done by YouTube star TonyaTKO, things were promising for Brunson's first ever live show. I was curious as to what a "live" matchmaking show would entail. Would people be plucked from obscurity to find mates? Would it be like a relationship workshop? Instead it was a rousing, sometimes combative battle of the sexes panel session featuring some strong personalities, a sprinkling of Brunson and some very promising, Web 2.0 interactivity.
The evening began with us all herded into the waiting area outside of the auditorium. It was a little warm and the intermingling scents of more than a hundred kinds of womens' perfume, mens' cologne and someone's musty funk of unfortunate-ness made things a little uncomfortable for myself and the many women in fashionable, yet improbably fabulous (Re: uncomfortable) shoes. Fortunately, there was free drinks. Nothing placates a warm, foot-sore crowd like free cocktails. So despite the show starting a little late, everyone was in a generally good and buzzed mood. This buzz would lead to some "interesting" impromptu moments in the show, but for the most part, people were actively interested in what Brunson had to offer.
Brunson hosted, but there was clearly not enough of him to go around. New to helming such a spectacle, he did well, but he largely let the show be dominated by the panel he'd arranged of men and women to debate the merits and demerits of dating. This was disappointing as I wanted to really see Brunson go to work and show his skills in the love department as a real-life version of "Hitch." It was great that he gave so many new and hot bloggers, media-types, authors and personalities a shot, but with his name on the program, it really should have been his show. Yet he largely stayed on the sidelines while author Nikki Nokes moderated the panel that featured "Why I Love Men" author Jennifer J.J. Smith, exceedingly gorgeous to the point of ridiculousness (according to the straight male portion of the audience) former model Leah Santiago, host of BETJ’s late night talk show The Turn On and author of the novel "Cosmopolitan Girls," Charlotte Burley, former model Reinaldo Faberlle, blogger with VerySmartBrothas.com The Champ and, oddly, Dominic Perrin of "A Double Shot At Love With Tila Tequila" fame, one half of the pair of twins who appeared on the show. The original third male panelist had to opt out due to a family emergency, but Perrin, who struggled throughout the panel, seemed to have very little to offer to the debate.
The panel often reflected the attitudes of many black men and women who are struggling to navigate the modern world of dating with The Champ being one of the voices of reason throughout the discussion (he repeated the statistic that 92 percent of married black men are married to black women), while Faberlle often played the sarcastic, cynical foil, often causing the ire of the women in the audience and on the panel. When asked by moderator Nokes what he wanted out of a relationship he gave the slightly unrealistic answer that he wanted someone who was supportive and would add to his life, making him better while at the same time someone who would, to paraphrase Dave Chappelle, "Make me a sandwich and shut the fuck up."
He wanted a woman who wouldn't "bust his balls."
Jennifer J.J. Smith was the first to point out that this might be a bit of a contradition -- looking for a woman who will make you a better person, but will also "shut up."
Faberlle's comments caused a lot of moaning in the crowd and resulted in a rebuke from authors Burley and Smith, who wanted to know what someone like Faberlle was "bringing to the table" to warrant such treatment. Burley said to want such things he would have to have "baller privileges" which Faberlle interpreted as if he was making lots of money and taking care of home he could "fuck your sister" and just about every other girl in the world as long as his woman was financially secure. Adding to the raucousness was band leader W. Ellington Felton, who was also on the stage (with the band of course) who repeatedly interjected throughout the panel discussion with his own, sometimes eye-opening views on relationships. (At one point he blamed Beyonce for singing more songs about booty jiggling than positive songs about her own marriage.)
Here are some of the choice quotes:
"You can be a good person, but terrible in a relationship. We make the mistake of equating 'I'm a good person. I'm gonna be a good mate.' Not the same thing." -- The Champ
"Know yourself and face your demons. If you have five babydaddies (tell your date that). Be honest in your relationships." -- Charlotte Burley
On the so-called dating crisis over the lack of "eligible" black men: "I think there's a whole lot of propaganda out there. I equate (finding a mate) to a job search. There's all this information saying there's only five positions. If you have to lie on the resume. If you have to stay with a bullshit job with a boss you hate (you do what you have to do)." -- The Champ
"I think a lot of women choose to be single or the guys interested in them they aren't interested in." -- The Champ
On how often you should see a person you're dating: "Make the person miss you ... If it takes four years for her to call you back, wait four years. Men want a little bit of a challenge. Let me work for it at least a little bit." -- Reinaldo Faberlle
"Don't play games." -- Charlotte Burley
"Date as many as possible. It's important to be available but don't sit around waiting on one man." Jennifer J.J. Smith
"Find love where it comes. Don't close the door (on someone because they're a different race). As women we are raised to have these fairytales ... Don't live for society. Live for yourself. If he makes you hot then go for it." -- Charlotte Burley
"Go out alone (if you want to meet someone)." -- Jennifer J.J. Smith
"A lot of people say they're expanding my dating portfolio (Re: dating outside their race). But they're just mad as shit at each other." -- W. Ellington Felton
On how can a woman get a man to commit: "There is nothing a woman can do to make a man do what he doesn't want to do. I'm Peter Pan. When I go out, when I get dressed in the morning I live for possibility. Eventually you do let go of Never Neverland and the lost boys ... (But right now I like) to go out, it's like a hunt. And the possibility is there that I could fuck everyone." -- Reinaldo Faberlle
(Charlotte would counter this by pointing out that women could potentially do the same thing "fuck everyone in the room," but there's the issue of pregnancy and "We can't have everyone's baby.")
On the change in gender roles for women in the last forty years: "Men aren't allowed to change in the same way women are. Society has different expectations of women from men. If you jump out of the box that might not make us as attractive to you anymore." -- The Champ
There were also several bloggers at the event, including Fungke Blak Chik and Fauna Solomon of The Dating Truth. The crowd was a mix of the curious and the legitimately interested. Some shouted back at the panelists. Like the men howled, panted and cooed over the beauty of Leah Santiago, creating her own instant fan base even though she didn't speak a lot. More intense verbal sparring with the audience was directed at Smith and Charlotte Burley. At one point an audience member accused Burley of talking "bull shit" in her opinions on dating and commitment, particularly related to how men and women are raised. She was pointing out that women are raised to save sex for someone special whereas men are often encouraged to do the opposite. This prompted the calls of BS and a few shouts of "Nature versus nurture."
Burley also caused the wrath of a few folks on Twitter and on TonyaTKO's livecast when Burley stated that there is a different between commitment and monogamy in an answer to a question about open marriages. Burley said in a relationship you can have commitment or monogamy or both, but that couples need to mature and have a real conversation about what those things mean. Someone can be fully committed to you, but still cheat on you to meet some other need. She was against cheating in principle, but felt an open relationship was away to deal with infidelity by getting it out in the open and seeing if it's something a romantic partner can handle.
Verbal sparring from the panelists aside, some of the best parts of the show came from Felton's band and the work of the three poets. Bassey Ikpi, as many of you know as @basseyworld on Twitter, was phenomenal. It was my first time seeing her perform live (and meeting her in person after knowing her online for more than a year), and she was even better than expected, reciting her poem as if she were responding to the incessant texts from a disappointing lover.
When the performance was over the action moved to the club Social, a few blocks down from the venue. A wonderful, posh little spot, Brunson continued to hold court along with the other panelists, chatting with those who attended the program. There were many more men at the after party than who attended the event, creating some final, much needed parity. I mostly spent the party hanging out with Bassey, her cousin, Fungkeblakchik and probably one of the most funny "bish plz" guys I know Michael Eady, who I initially met several weeks back at a Sade release party.
While I didn't learn a lot of new things (some of the topics broached have been discussed at length on this blog in the post "Dating Is Not A Democracy") the evening was a great start and Brunson has some promise as he continues to push this show on the road. Brunson said they plan to do matchmaker shows in New York, Chicago and London. Alluding to the female heavy audience, Brunson admitted that initially 98 percent of the tickets purchased were by women, but in the later hours before the show "dozens" of men signed up. Brunson stated that he is in unique, uncharted territory, claiming that he is the only African American male (and the first black male) professional matchmaker. You can learn more about him here.
As the show evolves, things will only get better for Brunson. My only suggestion would be more matchmaker and less panel ... or to have the charismatic Brunson helm the panels himself. After all, this is his business and his brand. He should be front and center for the majority of the show. He is the one everyone came to see.