'Chocolate News' Channels the Funny

David Alan Grier as Maya Angelou on his new Comedy Central show.
David Alan Grier as Maya Angelou on his new Comedy Central show. (By Ian White -- Comedy Central)
  Enlarge Photo    
By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Dave Chappelle left a Manhattan-size hole in Comedy Central's lineup when he curiously walked away from "Chappelle's Show" in 2005. But grieve no longer. The cable network might have found "Chappelle's" worthy replacement in "Chocolate News."

Blasphemy, perhaps, to the vast Cult of Chappelle. But judging by its first episode tonight, "Chocolate News" could fill that void. Key word: could.

"Chappelle" sustained its lacerating and hilarious take on race and culture over more than two seasons, so the torch isn't passed to "Chocolate News" just yet. Still, the comparison is apt.

Like "Chappelle," "Chocolate News" stars, and is co-written by, a comic of undeniable charm and supple skills, in the person of David Alan Grier. It also traffics in the same kind of social humor that made "Chappelle's Show" not just funny but also a shockingly honest commentary on racial mores. It's also just as foulmouthed, with censorious bleeps dotting the half-hour like little land mines.

Grier plays himself as the host of a "60 Minutes"-style newsmagazine show. With the trademark hyper-seriousness of such programs, Grier, or "DAG" to his on-air cronies, introduces a series of wittily produced "news reports."

Grier sets the tone up front, with a kind of Lou Dobbsean rant about the decline of rap ("When did Ice Cube go from 'Kill at Will,' " he asks in mock horror, "to 'Are We There Yet'?"). Although that is perhaps less edgy than it might have been a few years ago, it establishes the show's bona fides: "Chocolate News" will take on all comers.

Sure enough, Grier pops up in the next bit as Maya Angelou, pretentiously and presumptuously reciting the poem she has written for Barack Obama's hoped-for inauguration. The characterization of Angelou -- not the most parodied modern figure -- is alone worth the price of the sketch, but the punch line involving Angelou's proposed poem for a McCain inauguration provides the kind of extra kick you got from Chappelle's show.

One bit (one of the few not starring Grier) about white and black people meeting to negotiate an "N-Word Peace Treaty" seems derivative of Chappelle's classic "Racial Draft" routine. But the piece isn't without merit. In exchange for white people being allowed to use the N-word without guilt or fear of retribution, for example, the skit proposes that African Americans be permitted to invoke several "equivalent" insults for Caucasians, including "Winter Olympians."

The half-hour's crowning glory, however, is its "story" on Phat Man, an obese, track-suited, expletive-spitting rapper who has been signed by clueless federal bureaucrats to create public-service announcements promoting the No Child Left Behind law. Phat Man's wildly vulgar PSA is, of course, wholly inappropriate -- and riotously funny. Even more so are the mortified and mesmerized reactions of the grade-school kids, who are forced to watch this government propaganda gone gangsta.

Anyone who has ever been in a school assembly will appreciate the absurdity. Anyone who has ever seen a rap video will recognize the pandering.

Give us more, DAG. Give us more.

Chocolate News (30 minutes) premieres tonight at 10:30 on Comedy Central.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company