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The Original Kings of Comedy

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: The Original Kings of Comedy

Starring: D.L. Hughley, Bernie Mac
Director: Spike Lee
Rated: R
RunTime: 100 Minutes
Release Date: August 2000
Genres: Comedy, Documentary

Review by Steve Rhodes
3 stars out of 4

"Everybody knows what's going to happen," says comedian Steve Harvey about the long film TITANIC. So, "bring on the water," he says is what most black folks think. He also says that no black band would be so dumb as to continue playing as the ship goes down. Instead, they'd be trying to float the furniture for lifeboats and blow on their handkerchiefs for sails -- anything that might work.

Harvey is the king of the kings in THE ORIGINAL KINGS OF COMEDY, a documentary by famed director Spike Lee. Besides doing his own comedy routine, Harvey host three other black comics (Cedric the Entertainer, D.L. Hughley and Bernie Mac), all known mainly for their television work.

During a long tour around the United States, they are filmed at their stop in Charlotte, North Carolina. The concert audience was 98% black, whereas our movie audience was widely mixed. The surprise was that humor directed at a black audience turns out to have a strong resonance with all races. Our audience members were in stitches throughout. Part of this could be explained by the non-racial humor. Church, for example, was so demanding and exhausting while he was growing up, Harvey says, that he thought hell sounded a lot easier. He then ticked off all of the services he was required to attend by his very religious mother. The devil certainly would have required less.

Other jokes have to do with poverty, such as dealing with a bill collector when you can't pay. ("'When should I expect payment,' the bill collector wanted to know. 'You pick the date and then we'll both be surprised.'")

Other bits of humor illustrate the differences in racial experiences. Anorexia may be a common problem with white girls, but, in a black household, it can only mean that the father has lost his job. And bungee jumping. No way would a black engage in that. It's way too much like lynching.

The humor is foul-mouthed and quite raunchy, but it comes across as remarkably sweet, nevertheless. Perhaps, it is because the comedians are so good-spirited and frank. One of my favorites has Harvey bemoaning the lack of "old school music." As the audience literally dances in the aisles, he plays some of this music. He contrasts the old school's homages to love with hip-hop's obsession with violence. His final putdown concerns the numbers of microphones. The Temptations, he said, shared a single mike, whereas the rappers each have their own mike and still are unintelligible.

Lee has the camera panning the audience to give the movie some of the electric energy and fast-paced spontaneity that the members viewing the concert live must have felt. Less successful are his sequences filmed off stage, before and during the concert. These scenes feel staged and awkward.

The movie attempts racial humor that most people would avoid with the proverbial ten-foot pole. (There won't ever be a black president because he couldn't deal with a 7 trillion dollar national debt, laughs Cedric the Entertainer. "Tell 'em, I ain't got it. Ask 'em if they'd take a post-dated check," he says is what a black president would say.)

But there is also celebration of black achievement. Since Tiger Woods has made it in golf, the other sports are soon to be similarly conquered. What will be their secret in downhill skiing? They'll eschew skis and just wear "church shoes."

THE ORIGINAL KINGS OF COMEDY runs 1:57. It is rated R for language and sex related humor and would be fine for older teenagers.

Copyright 2000 Steve Rhodes

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