Roscoe Burnems’ Traumedy Brings Uplifting Humor To Difficult Subjects

by | Jan 23, 2020 | FILM / TV

Prepare to laugh, cry, and laugh again — spoken-word artist Roscoe Burnems will premiere his first stand-up special, Traumedy, at The HEALing Hub this Sunday.

“Laugh till you cry, cry till you laugh.” As award-winning spoken word artist and RVA local Roscoe Burnems brings together comedy and spoken word for his first film special, Traumedy — premiering at The HEALing Hub on Sunday, January 26 — be prepared to do more than just sit back and enjoy. This healing presentation will start conversations on hard topics even as it brings some light-hearted humor to each.

“If you can’t laugh at the pain, what can you do with it?” said Burnems. “You can’t let it make you bitter, but you can let it make you better.”

Living up to its amalgamated title, Traumedy blends comedy with the traumatic realities of life, which for Burnems particularly focuses on the experiences of men in the black community. By discussing fatherhood, addiction, relationships, and mental health care acceptance, Burnems opens the dialogue for men to grow and open up from their past traumas in personable ways. 

“‘Children without fathers’ should have been the name of my mixtape. I know it’s a pretty common thing, having to deal with neglect and absence, how traumatic that can be, and how that can affect our mental health. I’m at a point in life where I can joke about it,” said Burnems. “[In the show] I attack what my relationship with my father is like after I got a chance to meet him, and talk briefly about what issues he may have been facing as a youth that maybe contributed to the neglect he gave his kids, or not wanting to be in the lives of his children.”

By opening up about personal struggles and heartaches, Burnems not only continues to work through them himself, but allows other men a space to begin healing and eventually learn to laugh at the pain as well. 

“Comedy was one of my first loves. My mom let me watch a VHS of Def Comedy Jam, which was probably not the most responsible thing,” Burnems said. “But it sparked this passion for telling a story, sharing this difficult content and making it funny. This is me marrying the two to create an experience where people can literally laugh till they cry and cry till they laugh.” 

Originally a live show that Burnems performed in October 2019, Traumedy was filmed and edited to prepare for an online release through Amazon Prime. In the filming process, Burnems received glowing audience feedback and created a trailer that encompassed the heart of the experience. Within the longer trailer, Burnems tells knock-knock jokes based on absent fathers and focuses commentary on how he has hoped to grow beyond that absence within his own family and become a strong father figure for his children. 

“The father is a really important part of my identity as someone who grew up without their father present. And now I am a proud father of two, a 13-year-old and a three-year-old, which makes the house really interesting,” said Burnems. “My kids are with me every day, and I take a lot of pride in that, because I really didn’t see that growing up, and I knew how important having that figure in the household could be.”

The strength of this presentation did not go unnoticed. Beyond audience members who have appreciated Burnems’ work, he has also gained a strong reach within the mental health community in Richmond. After the live show last year, James Harris, a Richmond based mental health professional and owner of The HEALing Hub, approached Burnems to discuss showing the special to more men who need the vocabulary and permission to express themselves and the struggles they have gone through and never been encouraged to talk about. The film’s premiere at The HEALing Hub this Sunday is the fruit of the growing relationship between these men working towards a common goal. 

“I think the environment [Harris has] created with The HEALing Hub, and the energy around that, is very in-tune with what Traumedy stands for,” said Burnems. “It’s entertainment, designed to get a laugh. Some of it gets kinda dark, and the content gets kinda heavy, but you walk away having learned something about yourself — and that’s what therapy is designed to do. It all runs together.” 

Beyond Traumedy and beyond taking his children to school and sports practices, Burnems focuses his time working with Richmond’s middle and high school students, bringing them access to spoken word and other similar art forms to teach them how to express themselves through their own struggles. 

“It’s been so fulfilling, especially as a teaching artist, to gift a love of mine to a generation who didn’t really have access to this art form before. I stumbled across poetry when I was really young because I was fortunate enough to have teachers who also really loved poetry,” said Burnems. “I grew up a regular black kid in a regular black school, where if you liked to write or liked poetry in some way, shape, or form that meant you liked to rap. Everybody I knew was rapping. The stigma was that boys weren’t allowed to be soft, or be storytellers in this way.”

Between Burnems’ platforms of influence, he primarily focuses his energy on gifting and lifting other’s voices. Whether he is working with students or encouraging adults through a shared laugh and tears, there is no leaving his presence without a more open heart.

“The students get a chance to vocalize it and feel empowered by their ability to use their voice in this way,” Burnems said of the goals for the film. “At the end of the day, we’ve all experienced some level of trauma and neglect, these very hard-hitting emotions. Those things aren’t specific to any one type or group of people, so it’s stripping away some of the statistics to focus on how you personally identify with it and stepping away for a moment of self care.” 

For some soul healing and belly laughter, make sure you attend the premiere of Traumedy on Sunday, January 26th at The HEALing Hub, located at 916 N Arthur Ashe Blvd. You can find tickets on Eventbrite for $10, or purchase at the door. And never fear, if you can’t make it, later this month the film will be made available on Amazon Prime.

“I really want people to take this journey with me,” said Burnems, “and find themselves along the way.”

Alicen Hackney

Alicen Hackney

Alicen Hackney is a music journalism student at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg. Her passion is sharing and exploring music and it's cultural ties, and she is always looking for new artists and styles.

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