If Gary Owen is the example of white people being too comfortable, Shannon Sharpe is the Black people who let them

OPINION: Gary Owen’s recent appearance on Shannon Sharpe’s “Club Shay Shay” was a disappointing display of a Black man enabling a white culture vulture’s performance of “Blackness.”

Shannon Sharpe, left, and Gary Owens on "Club Shay Shay." (Screenshot/"Club Shay Shay" via YouTube)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

I used to be Shannon Sharpe’s biggest fan. 

I have tweeted, posted on “the gram,” opined on Facebook, and pretty much discussed this man anywhere I can get anyone to listen. 

I once seriously pissed off a man because I jokingly said, “If I was out with you and Shannon Sharpe walked into the room, I would pretend like I didn’t even know you.”

He didn’t appreciate that. 

The point is, this was previously a Shannon Sharpe stan account, and in as much as he has said some goofy things here and there, I lovingly gave him a pass because he was my boyfriend in my head. 

Then I watched the “Club Shay Shay” interview with Gary Owen, and all that love and every other part of me dried up and shriveled like a raisin in the sun. 

Oh, Shannon. 

The bull dookie starts almost immediately. During his introduction, Sharpe says Owen is “the funniest Black comedian in San Diego,” and as soon as I heard that, I knew it was going to go downhill from there. Granted, as Sharpe was reading from his notes, it could be assumed that he didn’t actually give Owen that “honorific,” but as a Black man, I don’t understand how he allowed himself to say that. 

It’s giving Bill Clinton was the first Black president because he went on “The Arsenio Hall Show” and played his saxophone. 

Sharpe goes on to tell us that Owen is the only white man to ever host BET’s “ComicView,” he’s “Black America’s funniest white comedian” and he’s “welcome at any barbecue or family reunion.”

Owen and his former wife, Kenya Duke, went through a very public and messy divorce a few years ago, and Shannon opens the “interview” by asking him about it. 

Owen proceeds to tell his side of the story, and in it, he reveals that he and Duke had never discussed getting a divorce or separating or anything of the like. 

Unbeknownst to her, he filed for divorce in Ohio (she was at their home in California while he was out on the road on tour) and didn’t tell her about it until the day the process server was on the way to their California home to serve her with the papers. 


Even after admitting this, Owen spends the rest of the interview pretending to not understand why his Black wife and Black children don’t want anything to do with him, and as he tells joke after joke about his marriage and the subsequent divorce, Shannon Sharpe kicks his heels together and giggles after every joke, including when Owen says he registered at a hotel under the name “Muhammad Shabazz” so no one would know he was there. 

There’s a part of the interview when Owen is telling Sharpe about the day he and Duke got married and all the disasters that happened, including the officiant leaving because the wedding was late getting started. 

When Shannon asks Owen why they were late, Owen says, “You know I wasn’t late,” and he does it in this tone that oddly seems like he’s trying to mimic Black intonation as he says it. 

He then says, “Was John Elway ever late to practice? No, but I bet Steve Atwater was.”

For those who don’t keep up with football, John Elway was the white quarterback of the Denver Broncos, and Steve Atwater, who is Black, was a defensive back for the same team. Shannon was their teammate.

Owen’s comment is obviously a reference to “CP time” or “colored people’s time,” which is the idea that Black people don’t get to appointments or events at the designated start time but rather whenever they get there, thus “CP time.”

That’s not Owen’s joke to make, but he has gotten so comfortable around Black people that he feels like it is, and that’s a problem – at least for me. 

There’s more, though. 

When Sharpe brought up the fact that Owen seemed to only be attracted to Black women, Owen confirmed that it’s been that way his entire life. He likened it to gay men, saying they don’t know why they are gay, they’re just gay. 

Owen has made this same statement before during an interview with Cam Newton

Maybe it’s a bit, and maybe it’s part of his comedic schtick, but that doesn’t make it any less offensive – to both Black women and gay men. 

Gary made plenty of comments during the interview that teetered over into “you doing too much” territory, and not once did Shannon push back or call him out on it. 

Look, I get it. Gary is a comedian, and at the end of the day, he’s going to get his jokes off. 

Shannon is not a journalist, as people repeatedly point out, so he’s not the best at pushing back when his guests say questionable things. 

Still, in my eyes, this is not so much about being a journalist as it is about Shannon being a Black person who is a prominent and beloved fixture in our culture, and as such, it’s very disappointing to watch him sit idly by while this white man uses his proximity to Blackness to make repeated jokes at the expense of Black people and specifically Black women.

If Shannon is going to continue to allow his platform to be the place where people come to do the Festivus airing of grievances, then he has a responsibility to his audience to maintain control over the episode. 

What we’ve seen so many times with Shannon is him sitting back and allowing his guests to take over, and then we get episodes like this.

Gary Owen made Black women the butt of multiple jokes as he sat there on that couch, and Shannon said nothing, not even when Gary called Shannon out for not protecting Black women.

All Shannon did was laugh.

Gary Owen used his proximity to Blackness to make jokes that are specific to our culture and belong to us, and Shannon said nothing.

Worst of all, Gary Owen took this opportunity to try and paint himself as a victim in a situation entirely of his own creation, and he simultaneously turned his ex-wife and his now adult children (and I have to keep stressing this because some of y’all are in his ex’s comments acting like she’s keeping his children from him when they are making their own adult decisions not to deal with him) the villains in his story. 

I’ve always been somewhat put off by Gary Owen in the same way I am put off by any white person who thinks they are Black by proximity. 

If Gary Owen is the example of white people being too comfortable in Black spaces, Shannon Sharpe is the example of Black people who let that happen.

They are both wrong. 

I would like to permanently rescind whatever invitation Gary Owen has received to the cookout, barbecue, family reunion or whatever else because enough is enough. 

We need to stop inviting every white person who happens to say one cool thing about Black people once ever or who can snap their fingers on beat or who demonstrates one instance of being down. 

At the end of the day, Gary Owen is a white man who grew up in a bigoted family, and he has always been open about that, and perhaps that is what lent his “appreciation” of Black people and Black culture a modicum of credibility.

It’s not enough. 

Gary Owen has built his entire career on being the “down white boy.”

He’s gotten too comfortable. 

He needs to get a new bit. 


Monique Judge is a storyteller, content creator and writer living in Los Angeles. She is a word nerd who is a fan of the Oxford comma, spends way too much time on Twitter, and has more graphic t-shirts than you. Follow her on Twitter @thejournalista or check her out at moniquejudge.com.