There are a lot of great characters on David Simon’s The Wire. As you get drawn into the world of drug slinging Baltimore and everything that comes with it, you tend to identify with the characters. When we heard that Robert Chew, the actor who played Proposition Joe on the show passed away, we called back all those moments spent analysing characters and discussing plots. This is a list of our best Prop Joe moments. A businessman, a dealer and a manipulator with wisdom and cunning that made him come alive.
Our first glimpse of Prop Joe was at the famed Eastside vs Westside basketball game in the projects. We were impressed with his cool nonchalance, which came off as even cooler next to Avon Barksdale’s cussing and angry stomping. When Avon asked him why he was wearing a suit, acting like Pat Riley and carrying a fake clipboard when he couldn’t even read a playbook, Prop Joe uttered his fist lines in the show. “Look the part, be the part, motherfucker.” Epic stuff.
This moment is from The Wire prequels shot after the series. The short reel shows us a much younger Joe’s crafty manipulation with his teacher. A school test, money and a teacher he tries to bribe. It was the makings of a Joe who would later be in charge of selling product in East Baltimore and a lifetime of making propositions that slyly benefit him.
Season 5. Herc, cop turned lawyer, met Prop Joe in lawyer Maury Levy’s office. They both sit down and grab a paper. Ervin Burrel, the police commissioner has finally been given the big goodbye by the Mayor and Joe casually remarked that Burrel was a year ahead of him in school. Herc looks like he’s dying of curiosity and he finally spits out, “I gotta ask…” “Stone stupid,” Prop Joe confirmed coolly.
Every single moment that Prop Joe held meetings with the players in Baltimore. He commanded the room with his drawling voice and he had organisational skills that genuinely kicked ass. A born leader and a crafty old dog, Joe kept things simple and well oiled…for a while.
Prop Joe got his name by giving propositions to people he slyly wanted to control. He perceived quicker than anyone else that Marlo was just biding his time with this whole round table deal and so he decided to take the young man under his wing and lead him to a lawyer who would clean his drug money up. He figured, you help, you get saved, and you can practically hear the cogs in motion when he approaches Marlo and tells him how one dealt with the world.
“Who you tellin’? I got motherfucking nephews and in-laws fucking all my shit up all the time and it ain’t like I can pop a cap in their ass and not hear about it Thanksgiving time. For real, I’m livin’ life with some burdensome niggers.”
The way Prop Joe faced and accepted death and betrayal. It always struck us as awesome that the big Baltimore players were always ready to accept the code of the game. “Its all in the game, yo,” said Omar in season one and this how they faced defeat and death. But no one accepted his fate more than gracefully than Joe, who closed his eyes and waited for the bullet. There’s a deadly tenderness in the way Marlo says, “Joe relax. It won’t hurt none.” That scene was the most powerful one in the season.
“Wanna know what kills police more than bullets and liquor? Boredom. They just can’t handle that shit. You keep it boring, String. You keep it dead fucking boring.”
Godspeed Robert Chew. You made a character feel real.