Original Kings of Comedy
Since 1986 Spike Lee has given both black and white Americans a series of extraordinary gifts, gifts that all too rarely are received, at least by whites, with the gratitude they deserve. For black Americans he has given them the first motion picture mirrors in which they can see themselves reflected with honesty, wit, and accuracy. "She's Gotta Have It," "Do the Right Thing," "Malcolm X," and "He Got Game" all have the power of truth. For white Americans his films demolish the fantasies and lies that they have put up to hide from the realities of race bigotry and prejudice in this country. Moreover, with "Summer of Sam" he's even shown that he knows whites inside their own culture.
His latest film is a concert recording, made over two nights at the packed Charlotte, N.C., arena, where four black comics held the stage as part of their tour of (mostly) black venues across the country. The four, unknown to most whites, are Steve Harvey, D.L. Hughley, Cedric the Entertainer, and Bernie Mac. Most of their humor is related in one way or another to the black experience as a minority in a society dominated by WASP attitudes: "Black folk don't do bungee jumping. Too much like lynching."
Cedric riffs on how a black president would handle a press conference: "The national debt? Six trillion? Ask them if they'll take a post-dated check."
"Mr. President, tell us about Monica Lewinsky."
"What! You ask me that in front of my wife?"
And so on. Steve Harvey acts as emcee in addition to doing his own routines. He, Hughley and Cedric are the most polished, most assured of the group. They know how to work the audience and how to milk every line without straining for the laugh. They're remarkable physically too, using the stage for dance steps, running from imaginary (white) cops, and so on. Bernie Mac is problematic for me. His routine dealt with what could only be called raging hate within his family, and I found it more disturbing than witty.
In any case, as with almost every Spike Lee film, it behooves America to see it, respond to it, laugh with it, and think about it. And, as with almost every Spike Lee film, that won't happen.