"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
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
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