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February 26 and 27, 2000, the Original Kings of Comedy play Charlotte, NC. The themes are Blacks and Whites, men and women, old-school and hip-hop. Steve Harvey emcees, celebrates '70s music and lyrics of love, and pokes at folks in the front row. D.L. Hughley mines racial differences and talks about his marriage. Cedric the Entertainer riffs on a Black president and on being grown up. Bernie Mac, who says he expresses what's in the back of our minds, closes with reflections on being 42 (new aspects to his sex life and his attitude toward children). Spike Lee's camera takes us backstage and off-stage with the Kings and into the crowd where everyone's laughing. Written by
As a sometime stand-up comic, it was a great treat that this summer brought a big-name stand-up concert film, namely Spike Lee's "The Original Kings of Comedy". The film, a record of the highest-grossing comedy tour of all time, is not revolutionary and says nothing new about comedy or those who practice it. But it's chock-full of laughs, magnetism, and good, rollicking fun.
The concert in "Original Kings" was taped at Charlotte, North Carolina's Charlotte Coliseum, and it's a great testament to the often unfairly neglected stand-up art that comedy performers could fill such a prodigious space. The MC of the evening, who holds forth from an elaborately decorated stage set, is the WB's Steve Harvey, who has a wonderfully exasperated stage persona and a voice full of gusto as he sounds off about the stupidity of Rae Carruth, the idiosyncracies of black church elders, and the asininity of the band on the Titanic playing as the ship went down. He's got a rip-roaring sense of energy that gets the show started on a good note.
D.L. Hughley's set is perhaps the lowlight of the film. His delivery is not as punchy as that of the other performers, and unlike Harvey, he seems to use profanity as a crutch rather than as a proper comedy tool. Still, his performance has its moments, and he's likable enough that his onstage time doesn't get too dull.
Fortunately, things pick up when Cedric the Entertainer, a big, cuddly bear of a guy in a chocolate brown fedora, takes the stage. His set is the highlight of the film, full of sharp commentary about Tiger Woods, blacks on the space shuttle, and the particulars of a "ghetto wedding". He fills the stage with his expansive body language, and his silly dance interludes are among the best moments in the picture. Someone should give this guy his own TV show, and fast.
Closing things out is Bernie Mac, an abrasive, raspy-voiced, pop-eyed provocateur whose act is the most down-in-the-dirt of all the performers featured. His riffs on the virtues of beating children, the problem of living with a gay six-year-old nephew, and the importance of a certain twelve-letter-word to the black vocabulary, are sometimes more hostile than funny, but his gritty delivery and fast pace socks the best jokes home nicely. Besides, the audience in the theatre where I saw the film gave him applause at the end of his set, the only performer onscreen they did that for, so who am I to argue?
Lee's direction sometimes gets in the way of the performers, with showy camera moves that distract from the words. The film is at its best when Lee's cameraman, Malik Sayeed, just plops his camera down and lets the comics do their stuff. There are some nice reaction shots of the crowd, who are clearly having a great time, and the way that the laughter of the onscreen audience blends with that of the people in the theatre really makes you feel like you're part of the show.
"The Original Kings of Comedy" is not as great as earlier stand-up films like "Bill Cosby Himself" or "Eddie Murphy Raw", films that fell together more cohesively than this one does. Still, if you're looking for some Friday night laughs, you would be well advised to head to the theatre and hail to the Kings.
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