The Original Kings Of Comedy

Laura Clifford
Robin Clifford

Steve Harvey ("The Steve Harvey Show") emcees the event held in front of a 6000 strong audience at the Charlotte Coliseum in Charlotte, N.C. The performer is also one of the quartet of talented comedians performing, including D.L.Hughley ("The Hughleys"), Cedric the Entertainer ("The Steve Harvey Show") and Bernie Mac ("Life"). Harvey mixes his dual roles with ease as he announces, with real warmth, each of his fellow comedians. When in the spot light himself he rags on hip hop and rap music and calls for the return of the love song of the 70's - like the Temptations and the Spinners - an idea accepted with much enthusiasm by the rowdy crowd. His dancing, a la the Temps, is both accurate and funny.

Each of the funny men has their own distinctive style, but you can see that all were influenced by the more earthy, black comic greats, Richard Pryor and Redd Foxx, rather than the wholesome humor of Bill Cosby and Flip Wilson. All of the performers in "The Original Kings of Comedy" provide a fresh look at life while having fun with making fun of race, gender, age and much more. D.L. Hughely, with his white folks/black folks jokes and his riff on old people and Viagra ("Niagra" he calls it) brought down the house - both at the Coliseum and the packed theater I saw it in. When he explains why black people don't do bungee jumping because "it reminds us too much of a lynching" it is both caustic and matter of fact and got the laugh.

All four of the performers pull no punches with their musings on life. Cedric the Entertainer has fun with President Clinton and his sexual shenanigans, then goes into his routine why there can never be a black president - the national debt and the fact that black folk don't handle owing money too well. He also explains why black people don't go into space - they would want to repaint the space shuttle Cadillac green and have the radio turned up too loud. Cedric, for a big man, is terrifically physical and got roars when he demonstrates how a black person would take to downhill skiing.

Bernie Mac ended the concert with his stories of getting older and having sex, opening a day care center and dealing with kids, stuttering and, in a long bit, explains the word "motherf***er" as a noun. He proceeds to prove it as such as he rambles on, using the expletive in just the way he described in a fast, funny outpouring. Please be advised that the "m" word is used frequently and with fervor by the comedians, so it may be inappropriate for younger or more delicate ears.

Director Spike Lee does a fair job in capturing the comic event with his use of digital, remote controlled cameras that can move freely around the comedians. The audio for the comics could have been better. The less-than-crystal-clear audio, my own rotten hearing and the uproarious reaction of the theater audience hampered me in hearing good size chunks of the routines. Some people even broke out into screams of anticipation before the punch line is delivered. I missed out on about a third of the jokes, but what I did hear was sometimes damn funny.

Promoter Latham created the comedy tour as a means of getting the humor of black comedy out of the small clubs and into a larger scale venue, earning the tour a dedicated audience, principally African American, where ever it played. The concept for the film and subsequent involvement by Spike Lee helped propel the project to allow Latham to get his vision out to an even broader audience, black and white alike. It is for mature audiences and the subject matter takes no prisoners, so keep that in mind. All four performers do a bang up job with four distinct and different routines. If you like comedy, give "The Original Kings of Comedy" a shot. I give it a B.

In 1997, entrepreneur Walter Latham packaged a group of Black standup comedians as "The Kings of Comedy" and they've been selling out arenas every since. Filmmaker Spike Lee has made a documentary of the current foursome as they arrive in Charlotte, North Carolina and play The Charlotte Coliseum.

Steve Harvey, star of television's "The Steve Harvey Show" acts as the emcee of the event and has the most crossover schtick. His take on how Blacks would have dealt with the Titanic disaster is hilarious and his skewering of today's rap vs. the soul crooners of the 1970s is sharp and nostalgic. He gets the immense audience on their feet as if they were at a Gospel revival. Harvey also has fun spontaneously playing with an audience member named Boogie by swiping his coat when Boogie has the audacity to leave during Harvey's act. Harvey spreads his material out through the entire show, reappearing to introduce each of his three fellow comics.

D. L. Hughley is also known through his own sitcom, "The Hughleys." Hughley gets a lot of mileage out of his home life, although his routine is edgier and a bit raunchier than the similar patter dished out by Bill Cosby. Cedric the Entertainer is Harvey's costar on "The Steve Harvey Show." He's the most physical of the four, with the portly grace of a Jackie Gleason. He delves into Blacks in sports, having the most fun with golf and hockey. His bit on a cool dude smoking a cigarette is a full body presentation. Last up is the most aggressively combatative, Bernie Mac of "Moesha" and Lee's "Get on the Bus." Mac's tightly strung, with his eyes bulging out as if he had no eyelids to enclose them. His central piece on his drug addicted sister's two, four and six year olds he cares for rather than allowing them to become wards of the court is pretty funny ('the two year old is the devil'), but it's also derogatory to gays. Mac says whatever he wants and doesn't care who's offended and is, therefore, not for all tastes.

All of these comics, with the possible exception of Harvey, seem to aspire to the Richard Pryor brand of assaultive comedy, with each including bits on the differences between blacks and whites (the few white audience members are each singled out by the end of this show). However, none possess the insight that made Pryor's humor so gut bustingly funny. They're all entertaining guys, but only Harvey had me consistently smiling. The other three were frequently difficult to understand (particularly Cedric), clearly playing to the dialect of their black North Carolina audience (although it should also be noted that the screams of laughter from the audience at the screening I attended also obscured many of the punchlines).

Lee's direction is nothing revolutionary, intercutting multiple stage angles of the performances with audience reactions and closeups. There are some brief 'behind-the-scenes' video of the gang at a radio station, playing poker and warming up (Cedric sings, showing off a former life as a choirboy perhaps?). One of his digital video cameras is seen frequently, gliding on a rail in front of the stage.

"The Original Kings of Comedy" is an amusing way to spend a couple of hours, but I don't foresee it becoming one of the classics of the genre.


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