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IN SHORT: more than sufficient ha-has [Rated R for for language and sex related humor, 114 minutes]
It is a rare comedy concert flick that manages to break out beyond the fanbase of the particular comic on the stage. A great deal of it has to do with whether or not the humor within the flick is universal enough to spread great word of mouth beyond. So, based on the way the teevee and movie world has sliced and diced their audiences down into separate and far separated demographic groups, there must be some concern over at Paramount about The Original Kings of Comedy, 'cuz their press notes go to great lengths to emphasize that comedy is universal; that four African-American stars of The Original Kings of Comedy all deliver licks that will make everyone laugh.
Well, comedy is universal, if it's good. The great Richard Pryor and George Carlin work the same territory. On the other side of the topical coin, so do Bill Cosby and Jerry Seinfeld. Stand Up comedy, at its root, always emphasizes differences -- black/white, country/city, north/south, Jew/Christian, so seeing four African American faces on the poster shouldn't be enough to keep you away. D.L. Hughley, Cedric the Entertainer and Bernie Mac deliver full sets. Steve Harvey emcees the event, shot live in Charlotte NC by Spike Lee.
Despite teevee credits, I don't know any of the three "headliners" from a hole in the ground. Harvey I've been watching for years as host of It's Showtime At The Apollo, though I don't plant myself down for his teevee show, either. So Cranky sat down a virtual blank slate. Go ahead guys, make me laugh.
Because of the teevee credits, you should be warned that Original Kings of Comedy is not teevee friendly. The profuse use of an expletive beginning with the word "mother" may shock the heartland -- Cranky's a New Yorker, I've been hearing the lingo for years -- and an explanation for that profusion makes up one of the funniest parts of Bernie Mac's set. As with most expletive use, and we saw this in the South Park movie, the faster and furiouser it comes at you, the sooner it looses its sting.
Each of the principals spends a good hunk of time comparing how white folk do things as opposed to the African American way and it provides more than enough universal laughs, though more than once material is duplicated among the various sets. That minor negative is one of two I can offer up about the flick. Having worked many combo gigs like this in my days over in the rock 'n' roll world, the only thing missing from TOKOC is an onstage free for all jam. Lee attempts to make up for this with an off stage bit at the very end, but it doesn't have the same kind of impact. All very minor things to carp on.
D.L. Hughley kicks off the first set with riffs on bill collectors, Halloween, marital sex (or lack thereof) and goes the farthest to put his teevee roots behind. Cedric the Entertainer, from Harvey's sitcom, offers the most surprises. Lee, who put cameras in front of and backstage as well, catches Cedric's prep work which includes a very funny musical bit, which I won't spill. It is topped later as the man offers up an original reggae song called "Peanut Butter No Jam". Bernie Mac, who virtually begs for a teevee shot to the backstage camera, gets closer to the bone, with a routine about playing father figure to his addict sister's three single digit kidlets, five years after packing his own daughter out of the house. Among the A-A members of the screening audience, Mac was the only performer to get applause coming on and going off screen. It may be indicative of the color line as Mac's set was the one this dumb white kid from Brooklyn found less entertaining than the rest.
All three are trumped by emcee Steve Harvey, whose work is more consistent and flat out funnier, to my taste. Freed of teevee restrictions, his interaction with the audience is sharper and more pointed than on Apollo. Harvey delivers a scathing diss of hip hop, as opposed to the love songs prevalent when he graduated high school back in 1974 and good routines on growing up in Church and the misfortunes of a certain North Carolina professional football player.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Original Kings of Comedy, he would have paid...
dateflick level, though I suspect a lot of palefaces will wait and surreptitiously sneak into Blockbuster looking for a tape. We expected to laugh. We did. Yes, there was quite a bit of "cultural" material that we didn't understand at all. The universal stuff is more than sufficient to give a thumbs up and Harvey's running bits are more than enough to keep your attention level high.
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