Joker Joker Deuce is Paul Beatty's second collection. His first, Big Bank Take Little Bank, was published in 1991 after he was crowned the first champion of the famed Nuyorican Poets Cafe's annual Grand Slam contest. His poems are included in several noteworthy anthologies, and he's read his work on "MTV Unplugged."
In both collections and in his novel, The White Boy Shuffle, Beatty displays a voracious appetite for popular culture, filtered through a sensibility that is decidedly postmodern. A master of the dozens (urban repartee based on the rapid-fire exchange of humorous insults), Beatty mixes subtle allusions and bodacious declarations to produce rhythms that recall the cut-and-scratch skills of hip hop's best turntable twisters. References to subjects as disparate as Frisbees, Malt-o-meal, Hanna-Barbera heroes, and advertising jingles are likely to turn up in the same stanza, fashioned into lines that are equally indebted to the Beats and to the big guns of the Black Arts Movement.
Unlike the latter, Beatty is committed to sending up black American culture as much as he celebrates it. He's an intrepid parodist willing to sling literary spitballs at the sacred totems of black mythology. His novel begins, "Unlike the typical bluesy earthy folksy denim-overalls noble -in-the face-of-cracker-racism aw shucks Pulitzer-Prize-winning protagonist mojo magic black man, I am not the seventh son of a seventh son of a seventh son. I wish I were, but fate shorted me by six brothers and three uncles."
Gunnar Kaufman, the author's protagonist and alter ego, may have been shorted by fate, but Beatty himself has been generously blessed. Beatty was born in Los Angeles, but after stints in New York and Germany, he is now a citizen of the world.