JoCardo is an Other, an out-sized large, biracial gay man striving to be and live freely of the thin, white and ostensibly heterosexual mores mooring us to the oppressive ways and meanness casting out anyone who isn't the same.
And like all the other Others who don't fit because we're too large for quick consumption despite this Super-Sized culture that spawned us and too big to be engulfed by everyday vulgarities conspiring to dismiss us, JoCardo squirms against the silence that beckons him to trivialize himself in favor of acceptance and, ultimately, invisibility.
In No Sex in the City, his I'm-in-my-bedroom therapy session disguised as a one-man show, JoCardo broke down his frailties and shortcomings, unwrapped the wicked humor hiding them and spread them before us like he was laying out a picnic blanket. Only his "Here, please sit down" gestures were a rouse.
JoCardo had a captive audience, and it was about damned time someone listened to his life in the anecdotes culled, I'm guessing, from years of regaling friends and co-workers with vignettes of what it's been like to be him. He's a gifted storyteller known in his circles for stories rife with recurring mean-spirited characters from everyday life -- repairmen, store clerks, clubgoers and classmates -- whom he zings and then slams with his quick-draw wit.
But listeners are sometimes caught in the headlights of a laugh or a wince. Laugh at the obviousness of the humor or get caught up in the deeper emotional snare of the pain JoCardo endured to reach the punchline?
It's a beautiful mess.
"My gayness was a gift," he exclaimed at the outset of his Sept.
27 show at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, part of Enjoy the Arts' 20/20 Festival. "I enjoy being one big old ball of homosexual happiness!"
After the thump of the House music faded and JoCardo spun awkwardly out of a gay-diva pirouette and a rainbow-colored headscarf, he spent the next hour disproving the overly simplified stereotypes of that pronouncement. But it was the stereotypes -- the pursed lips, rolling eyes, "honeys," diva snaps and other clichés -- that, at times, nearly undermined the meaningfulness in the shaded nuances of his show and his life.
He made de rigueur references to Steel Magnolias, The Golden Girls, Lifetime Television for Women, The Wizard of Oz and Barbara Streisand, and he rhymed female genitalia with "acute angina."
His show's strengths are twinned with JoCardo's own. When he's simple, earnest, specific and articulate, his show is identical. There's some self-pitying, but it's how the Other gets through in lieu of therapy and the postmodern self-medication of club drugs and alcohol.
JoCardo always rescues himself, however, from the worst of it -- the wannabe tragic diva -- by constantly self-correcting. That is, he's perpetually deconstructing the truth of JoCardo Edward Ralston, the used-to-be melodramatic, immature man who had a debilitating self-image and who made bad choices.
"I felt that I was too fat and too ugly to ever deserve happiness," he says. While that sounds like a confession fit for Oprah or her evil spawn, Dr. Phil, it's a chain- and cycle-breaking pronouncement cutting to the core and the quick.
When his first love reappears to tell JoCardo he's met and married the man of his dreams, JoCardo takes the low road like we sometimes should.
"Congratufuckinglations!" he shouted.
"It's not the lack of people, it's the lack of the right people," he says, calmer. "Plus, it's not easy being a big guy in the gay world. I'm fat. That's right, I'm fat. I've been told so by people who are thin, so it must be true."
JoCardo's spent a lifetime absorbing, processing and externalizing a succession of casual yet pinching comments casually tossed off by people we brush against who have no idea what it must be like to be us but who flaunt the reversed covetousness of our dreams to someday be them. Yet I believe he's as happy as he says he is.
"I am not a pretty little gay boy, and in this city I get ignored," he said, winding the show to a close. "Not just ignored. Pushed aside. I know I sound like I should be at the top of a church tower yelling down to people but," stopping to draw up his arms and contort his large body, "I am not an animal."
The laughter was delayed, like we weren't sure what we were looking or laughing at. I knew I was looking at beauty laughing mockingly at invisibility.
Kathy's collection of columns, Your Negro Tour Guide: Truths in Black and White, is available in bookstores now.