Awesome Men Throughout History: Aaron McGruder
There’s been some controversy about The Boondocks returning to television without its creator, Aaron McGruder. According to his friend Michael B. Jordan, who appeared in the fourth season premiere, McGruder was fired from the show for undisclosed reasons, and McGruder himself has said that leaving the show was “painful,” but didn’t go into specifics.
Man, starting off an Awesome Men Throughout History column like this is awkward. Since Aaron McGruder is this week’s subject, let’s not start off talking about how he got turfed from a project he loved.
McGruder grew up in Columbia, Maryland, and went to the University of Maryland, where he came up with The Boondocks as a comic strip in the campus newspaper, then edited by New York Times plagiarist Jayson Blair.
Sidenote: I only recently figured out that Woodcrest, the suburb in which The Boondocks takes place, is based on Columbia. That makes sense; I live about thirty minutes away from Columbia, and it’s well represented by Woodcrest, specifically the fact that it’s bland and eerily Stepford-esque.
But enough about that. The Boondocks was a fairly successful comic strip, and the animated series only heightened the franchise’s popularity. McGruder received a lot of critical praise—including a Peabody—for the show’s take on cultural and political issues, but he also took a lot of flak for employing adult language, an unapologetic, edgy tone, and some really unflattering portrayals of famous people (R. Kelly, Tyler Perry, Bill Cosby, etc.). The show’s vendetta against BET got really nasty, resulting in episodes getting yanked off the air and legal action being threatened against Sony (the studio behind the show).
For his part, McGruder tried to balance his desire to address and/or attack injustice with his desire to be funny and tell what were ultimately stories about human beings. In 2008, he told the Washington Post that “it’s indulgent to turn off the audience for the sake of preaching,” but also said that “it can never just [be about the jokes] for me. I’m not like a funny person. I’m not like a comedian. I have things I want to say.”
It’s a difficult line to walk, but I think McGruder made it work. Over the course of three seasons, the characters he created do become well-rounded and complex; they’re not opinions thinly disguised as people. He also developed a multi-tiered approach to his storytelling, which helped a lot. To use his words, “they got the Rosa Parks jokes, but the kids love Gangstalicious.”
To this day, I can’t believe that no rappers thought of the name Gangstalicious before McGruder did. It’s so good.
Anyway, Aaron McGruder is working on a new project for Adult Swim, so it’s not like he’s just sitting around moping. It’s a good thing, too; with Stephen Colbert named as the heir apparent to Jay Leno, it’ll be good to have at least one satirist around who isn’t secretly trying to become part of the system.
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About Dave Kiefaber Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at www.beeohdee.blogspot.com.