Pittsburgh-based comedian Davon Magwood has caught the attention of the professional haters at the Westboro Baptist Church, who say they will picket his August 10 performance at Pittsburgh's Club Cafe.
Magwood, an ally and self-professed fan of the LGBTQ community, loathes the WBC for their treatment of his friends. So when an opportunity to poke fun at them arose, he didn't miss a beat.
I was watching TV and I saw that there was another freaking tornado hitting the Midwest area. So I tweeted - I posted it because, well the humor for me was the irony of the tweet. The WBC loves to blame natural disasters on the gays and I wondered how they would like it if someone turned the tables on them... Clearly they didn't enjoy it.
WBC responded via their Twitter account (@GodsH8sTheWorld, naturally), and after some back and forth, decided to accept Magwood's invitation to his August 10 performance, but as picketers rather than his guests.
Magwood's friends at the Pittsburgh-based Commonwealth Press picked up on the challenge and created a t-shirt with the phrase "God Loves Jags" which is now for sale. "Jags" is shorthand for the local term "Jagoff" which, loosely interpreted, equates to being a jerk.
John Chamberlin, founder of the website Ya Jagoff -- which is devoted to calling out jagoffs -- explains why that word is the ultimate put-down:
The word Jagoff can be used in a few different ways.
1) Expressing appreciation to someone, with a smile on your face and a hug, you say, "Ya Jagoff!"
2) Expressing being startled, half chuckling you say, "You scared the CRAP outta me, Ya Jagoff!"
3) And then there's the version, that's posted on our blog every day... venting about someone that has been a jerk, with a scowl on your face, "Ya Jagoff!"
I love the notion of reversing the WBC's own language on them in a parody combined with the Pittsburghese flavor, "God H8s Jags!" What "church" says that God hates anything, Ya Jagoffs?
There's something poetic about Pittsburgh folks using such a homegrown slur to stand up to bigots. Frequently mistaken for a sexual reference, the term most likely comes from northern English settlers who introduced the term jaggerbush. Jag, or jagoff, quickly devolved into a way to describe an annoyance. In 2012, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette banned the word from its print and web editions. In response, Pittsburgh City Paper editor Chris Potter said, "For a long time I thought that, like a lot of things Pittsburgh, it had a nice way of flattening pretension."
So why did Magwood take a well-placed shot at the WBC?
As a comedian it's kind of our thing to make light of evil things. But what the WBC does is pretty sickening. To not only abuse their right of free speech, but to spread hate and to capitalize off someones pain is lower than low.
The WBC is no stranger to Pittsburgh. In 2003, they sent emissaries to picket the memorial service for Fred Rogers of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood fame. The LGBTQ community responded by creating a human chain of more than 150 people walking between the protesters and the mourners, carrying signs and singing softly. I was at the counter-protest and my most vivid memory was a WBC child, maybe 4 years old, staring with wonder at the large images of characters from the Neighborhood of Make-Believe on the signs we carried. I felt such sadness for her - to not be able to experience the joy and love of Mr. Rogers.
WBC also threatened to picket the funeral for three fallen Pittsburgh police officers who were killed in 2009 while responding to a domestic call; they've also threatened to protest the funerals of local members of the military. In most cases, WBC never showed up.
The T-shirts express solidarity for Pittsburgh's LGBTQ community, the most frequent targets of WBC hate. Gay and Lesbian Community Center (GLCC) chair Lyndsey Sickler appreciates the solidarity:
I think it is a very home grown Pittsburgh way to raise awareness and combat the hate the Westboro Baptist Church spreads.
If the shirts are popular, Commonwealth Press owner Dan Rugh plans to donate a portion of the future proceeds to the Gay & Lesbian Community Center of Pittsburgh, an organization whose work resonates with Magwood. For over 30 years, the GLCC has been serving LGBTQ youth, elders and families with everything from after-school programming to OUTrageous Bingo. Magwood said:
...marching band was the first place where I felt like I belonged in high school and I hung out with a lot of LGBTQ teens then, and it was really cool because they were accepting and fun and regular people really. I hate that this country keeps trying to define people based off who they love. I was bullied a ton as a kid. So making light of stuff helped because making jokes can be an outlet. It is for me. But if you come at hate and mean people with a light heart they can't really get to you, because they feed off negativity.
Magwood includes a bit spoofing the "no homo" phenomenon in his performances and plans to work with the GLCC youth programs.
When asked how he'll respond if WBC does actually picket the August 10 performance, Magwood has thought that through.
Well I was hoping to perform my hour and film it. But the show will be me telling jokes and telling stories. I will probably make fun of them on stage, but people paying to see the show don't really care about [them]. But I will confront them. I think it's been my dream to let them know about themselves and do it in a way where i'm not cussing and yelling at them.
You can learn more about Davon Magwood's comedy at his website or follow him on Twitter to see what happens next @DavonMagwood. To purchase a "God Hates Jags" shirt, visit the Commonwealth Press online store.