The Original Kings of Comedy (2000)
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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.
Easily the best comedy showcase since Eddie Murphy "Raw", possibly since Bill Cosby's "Himself". If you have never seen these stars perform their stand-up before, you are really missing out. The only problem with this "film" is the "filming" itself. I use quotes because this movie was recorded entirely with digital cameras, which, at times, look like your mom's video tape of your 8th grade school play. I don't understand how Spike Lee can even credit himself in this movie. It doesn't take a genius to put a camera on the front of the stage and periodically pan to the crowd. (-Groundbreaking work, Spike! ) In conclusion, this is the best comedy film I've seen in years even if it does look like 1985 CBS file footage of an NBA game.
But the sanctimonious Spike Lee will be embarrassed in a generation or two as this humor is considered today's Amos and Andy. Doesn't matter that it comes from blacks. Doesn't matter if everyone thinks it is funny now.
Plus. No element of American culture is natural today, and this is especially so with Black culture. It is now in the hands of record, fashion and media companies. Spike may insist he is a free man, but he is not, and now complicit in another big company's inventing of a culture.
I don't know why Lee chose this project to place his name on and why he proclaimed these four to be the "Original Kings of Comedy." To me that is a bit misleading. If he is speaking about African Americans being a part of comic culture, then I don't think these were the four to best represent it. What about Eddie Murphy, Red Foxx, or even the great Richard Prior? What about Bill Cosby? There just seemed to be a self-proclaimed stigma already attached to this project before we even began it that was hurt with the opening of each of their mouths. I was not impressed by any of them. If I had one dollar to give to one of them for their performance from the evening, and was forced to hand it to one of them, it would have been Cedric the Entertainer. He just seemed the most genuine of them all. His performance on stage was honest, yet bold all at the same time. He was talking to the audience, not above them, as the other performers seemed. While I don't think he was the most liked in the audience, I did think that he was the most talented of them all.
Another huge problem that I had with this film was the cut sequences. You know, the moments that we spend talking to them off-stage about their lives and opportunity ahead. This tries to give them a sense of humanity, showing the audience this different side to them than when they are on stage, but what I witnessed was something a bit scarier. It seemed as if each was trying to grab the attention of the camera. Were we dealing with a group of camera hogs that were willing to step on anyone to get to the next level? Whether it is true or not, nothing is said to speak otherwise. While these were created to show their brotherhood, it felt more like filler delaying the inevitable consequence that we were going to go back to a sub-par routine. It was like a tease that hurt.
Overall, I was not impressed. I have seen some comedians take an opportunity like this and blow it out of the ballpark, but what I saw with this documentary were four men (possibly five if you count Spike) that just wanted the opportunity to showcase their talent. They were not interested in the audience, or in trying to actually be funny, but instead just be on television. Notice that most of them are doing well now after the release of this film, which means that something worked. I just wish that they had put the same excitement behind their work in this film. From utter confusion to just downright profanity (without a joke), these guys felt as if they were "winging it" instead of demonstrating to us the power of their trade. I was embarrassed for everyone involved, even the people in the audience, but hope that others will see this review and take heed The Original Kings of Comedy is not worth the time or effort that you are going to put into it. If they are not willing to work to make me laugh than why should I laugh?
Grade: ** out of *****
For those of you who only saw racism in the jokes, then you really weren't paying attention to what was being said, and knowing the attention span of the average American, that's not hard to believe. Did anyone notice that the WHITE people in the audience were laughing just as hard as the black? I think that it's because most of us white folks can take a joke, and understand that the comic is really playing around, without doing a "my god, that's a racist remark" defense that many people here seem to be doing. What these men were doing with comparing black and white is NO DIFFERENT than when Jeff Foxworthy compares and contrasts rednecks and sophisticated people.
Now, the fact that the comics were using stereotypes...hmmm. How do I say this? Folks, I have collected comedians for years, and my collection spans from CD's, DVD and VHS tapes. I have comedians that few people have heard of. My collection spans over both genders, different nationalities and ethnic groups, and I must say that every comedian needs to joke about something that the audience can and will understand, and stereotypes are the key thing to do just that, because everyone understands stereotypes. And besides, some comedians will even take a common stereotype and make it their act...Tim Allen used the stereotype of the man's man; Roseanne Barr used the disgruntled housewife, and Jeff Foxworthy used the redneck angle. Now, a comedian can go without stereotypes, but he/she runs the risk of losing the audience. And besides, it's not the stereotype that makes the joke, it's the exaggeration behind the joke.
And as far as the comedians in the movie here, they really strive for a good show. Steve Harvey did great jokes, and even did things, that while not really funny, were great entertainment, like when he was playing samples of different songs for the audience. Hughley was funny as well, especially when he was interacting with the audience. The other two comics I have never sen before, but I have no complaints, as they round out the show nicely. Each comic owned the stage when they were on it, and they would be hard to top. And folks, I like Chris Rock, but he wasn't as funny as these guys are, simply because he tries waaay too hard, and these guys are just here having fun.
A great performance by some great comics, and I would recommend this to anyone. A+++++
Each comedian does about a half-hour of material, but you'll wish they each got an hour at least. The soundtrack is excellent as well. Well, it's not technically a soundtrack, but the songs played in the stadium at the show were a great mix of old-school love songs and funk.
"The Original Kings of Comedy" is not a movie. It is a concert-comedy piece with elements of a documentary. After a lack-luster summer of gross-out comedy flicks, it was very nice to see genuinely talented and witty word-slingers come together with a consistently pleasing director in certainly the funniest movie of the summer. Maybe ever.
It is funny, but to paraphrase Ralph Wiggum, not ha ha funny. It seems most of the jokes revolved around race, drugs, sex, homosexuality and child abuse. You know, the typical amateur hour fare with African-American comedians far less talented than the insightful and intelligent Chris Rock. (I miss the Chris Rock show)The behind the scenes footage is interesting though. You do not often get to see that part of a comedy show. Like all Spike Lee "joints", it is interesting enough to watch once, although, the target demographic appears to be African-Americans. And also, turn on closed-captioning during the Bernie Mac routine. He is about as incomprehensible as Boomhauer of TV's "King of the Hill" fame. I couldn't understand a word he was saying sometimes.
**1/2 out of *****
A long segment making fun of a supposed homosexual child nephew and beating children with the frequent use of the "MF" swear was particularly disturbing. Not a one of these guys is funny and Spike Lee...I am laughing at you for spending time with this dreck!
Bernie Mac was a bit of a cipher, in that I couldn't make head or tails of half of what he was garbling about and then he has an aggression (one of the jokes I think was about having a gay 6 year old nephew) but it seems to come from a good-natured bedrock so I couldn't tell if he was being off-putting or not. It's obvious with Harvey where similar jokes seem to come with a streak of nasty dismissal.
It was Cedric out of these 4 that stole the show for me. He's cool, an Isaac Hayes whereas everyone else were manic James Browns. All the others focus on how other people annoy, he surrounds common folly. Two of the best jokes in the whole show were his, black people running if they see someone else doing it, and black people cruising in space cars to the moon after white people if they tried to sneak out the planet.
But my favorite performance here was the whole as a give and take with this audience, the whole room as the show. It makes a world of difference that they are before an audience of their own people, the audience no less a part of what's being performed. It simply wouldn't be the same in Wyoming. It's the difference between Sam Cooke's show at the Copacabana as polite Sinatra surrogate and his Harlem appearance where all this spontaneous energy is circling the room.
People swoon and holler, dance and spontaneously get up from their seats, entered by the spirit of what's going on. There's nothing quite like being able to enter a world as it is of its own self, filling the room with itself. And there's nothing quite like seeing people enjoy themselves either - those delighted looking women in particular. There's a certain loving-kindness here that goes beyond what's being said in words. Something moving about a whole room erupting into applause when asked about god, swooning over love songs and laughing without compunctions at life.
The film's best routine is arguably delivered by Bernie Mac, who spends 25 minutes essentially advocating that we all cave in to the Id, to do and say as we please, to speak our mind, to not bow to social convention. Gradually, however and the audience is giggling too hard to notice this Mac's jokes stray into abusive, twisted and violent territory, before he tells a joke about a misunderstanding between a child, a bus driver and a mother. The audience cackles at this joke, not realising that it's revoking and calling you to re-evaluate everything that went on before.
Visually the film is conventional, though Lee does places a larger emphasis on audience members than is typical of such concert features. His cameras stay close to the crowds, and he uses an abundance of audience reaction shots to heighten the levels of intimacy between performer and public. Ironically, "The Original Kings of Comedy" bolsters the kinds of African American stereotypes Lee's films tent to critique and destabilise.
7.9/10 Worth one viewing.
The crowd was small, about 60, and with 3 exceptions, white like me. There were 20, I counted them, walk outs.
I had no intention of leaving. I have seen tons of stand-up and this left me breathless.
The only thing for me, a white Canuck very far out of the loop of urban US black culture was the fact that I did not get a lot of the stuff. But, even with that said, I got enough that I will go back, I will buy the movie, and I will watch it on a regular basis until my dying day.
Dan Shields, Ottawa.
I suggest you stay at home and watch the Chris Rock Show on HBO if you want brilliance and insight and laughs.