Corrections or additions?
This article by Kevin L. Carter was prepared for the November 13, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Comics’ Royal Gathering
You’ve probably heard of the Original Kings of Comedy,
and the Queens of Comedy, and if you guess they’re related to "The
Royalties of Comedy," a show coming to the Sovereign Bank Arena
Friday, November 15, you guess right.
The show is headlined by D.L. Hughley, part of the ground-breaking
and lucrative Kings of Comedy tour in 1999 and stare of his prime-time
sitcom, "The Hughleys." He shares the throne with comedienne
Sommore, a Trenton native and headliner for the "Queens of Comedy"
tour in 2000, winner of the Richard Pryor Comic of the Year award
in 1995. Also featured is "royal" comic and impressionist
"The Royalties of Comedy" represents the latest installment
in a continuum of African-American comedy that stretches back to the
turn of the last century. It also represents the latest offering from
wunderkind comedy impresario Walter Latham, a 31-year-old former college
basketball star who parlayed a $4,000 loan from his family into a
multi-million-dollar entertainment empire.
Stand-up comedy, which by the early 1990s had become a medium limited
largely to cable television and the few stalwart comedy clubs offering
two or three shows a week, got a huge infusion of interest from tours
such as the Kings and Queens of Comedy. In many ways, "The Royalties,
"as well as the Kings and Queens of Comedy, is an innovative way
of taking an old-style art form and making it connect — and making
it lucrative — in the new millennium.
Using a marketing strategy specific to his constituency — African
Americans with disposable income living in small and medium-sized
cities — Latham’s "Kings of Comedy" tour, which starred
Steve Harvey, Cedric "The Entertainer" Kyles, and Bernie Mac,
in addition to Hughley, grossed $37 million in 1999, second among
American concert tours only to Ozzfest. Like true royalty, each of
these "Kings of Comedy" took home more than $50,000 a night
for their work.
The manner in which Latham promoted his first tours — having his
comics appear on black radio, concentrating on cities usually overlooked
by entertainment tours, and moving quickly from town to town —
recalled the old-style "chitlin’ circuit." The term refers
to the Jim Crow era practice of musicians and comics, working itinerantly
in halls big and small — but always to black audiences — building
constituencies almost totally unknown to white audiences.
"You know what chitlins are," Hughley once said. "Someone
would slaughter a pig and say, `Take all this [junk] and make something
out of it.’ And they took what nobody else wanted, and made it a delicacy."
That delicacy could be described as a type of black vaudeville. Today
another type of chitlin’ circuit artistry endures in the popular touring
black melodramas that stop regularly at the Patriots Theater at the
Trenton War Memorial. Even today, these performances are outside the
experience of most white theatergoers.
Now that comedy rules, the Kings all have their own television shows
— Bernie Mac’s being the most popular at the moment. They were
also featured in Spike Lee’s concert film, "The Original Kings
of Comedy," a hit that generated even more revenue after it was
released on video for home viewing.
So the esthetic and ambience of the chitlin’ circuit lives on. If
the ambiance of the "Kings of Comedy" tour is any indication,
you can expect to see a full house at the "Royalties of Comedy"
show at the Sovereign Bank Arena. It will be packed with middle- and
upper-class African Americans, predominantly female, all dressed
to see and be seen, and ready to laugh uproariously at the three featured comics.
All three acts draw heavily on a longstanding African-American comedy
tradition that has influenced such performers as Bill Cosby and Chris
Rock, but also aims at the down-home roots of African Americans.
Despite their television background — Sommore was
host of BET’s "Comic View" for some time — the comics
all have the ability to relate to their audiences on a basic, countrified
level. They don’t shy away from raw, often sexual material — Sommore,
who is flaunting her newly-streamlined figure, often comes off as
an aggressive man-eater — but they’re not nearly as raw as early
Eddie Murphy, any good Richard Pryor or more contemporary hip-hop
influenced comics such as Martin Lawrence.
It is, for sure, pointedly racial humor, and the references are almost
always aimed straight at black people. But white people need not be
worried. (Although some brave late-arriving white folk at a St. Louis
show I attended became material for an extended riff by "Kings
of Comedy" comedian Steve Harvey.)
D.L. Hughley, a native of Charlotte, North Carolina, who moved to
the gritty Los Angeles suburb of Compton as a child, was both a creator
and beneficiary of this latest wave of popular comedy.
Hughley worked as a salesman for the Los Angeles Times and moonlighted
at the famous Comedy Act Theater, which was presided over by the late,
great comic Robin Harris. Hughley was one of many comics, including
Keenen and Damon Wayans, Mark Curry, Lawrence, Guy and Joe Torry,
Chris Tucker, and Jamie Foxx, who spent time at the Comedy Act in
the early ’90s. Later, he and others (including Sommore) got breaks
on Russell Simmons’ "Def Comedy Jam" and other HBO productions,
as well as the exploitative but influential BET "Comic View."
Today’s black comedy, Hughley has said, is popular among African Americans
because it draws upon a shared culture. Although blacks in America
may come from different national backgrounds and experiences, everyday
oppression is something they can all relate to. It’s also a truism
that most cultural stereotypes — be they Italian, Irish, or Jewish
— are readily transferred between cultures.
Hughley confirms that all ethnic groups can ultimately relate to each
"Every group has its idiosyncrasies, but at a certain point we
all are human," he says. "We all have the same aspirations
and vision: We all want to keep our cable on. We all want our kids
The best compliment Hughley has received? "My comedy is very `relatable’
— that’s one of the greatest things I’ve ever been told."
— Kevin L. Carter
South Broad Street, Trenton, 609-520-8383. $25, $35, $50. Friday,
November 15, 7:30 p.m.
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