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'Kings of Comedy' Hold Court

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 18, 2000


    'The Original Kings of Comedy'
Bernie Mac, Cedric the Entertainer, D.L. Hughley and Steve Harvey crack wise – and cuss up a storm – in "The Original Kings of Comedy."
(Paramount Pictures)
Let's clear up one thing right off the bat: "The Original Kings of Comedy" is not – I repeat, not – a re-release of a dark and disturbing 1983 film by Martin Scorsese about a pair of dorky misfits obsessed with a talk-show host. For one thing, these Kings are a heck of a lot funnier – not to mention more profane – than Robert De Niro and Sandra Bernhard ever were.

In 1997, producer Walter Latham rounded up three fairly well-known-but-far-from-household stand-up comedy names (Steve Harvey, Cedric the Entertainer and Bernie Mac). Organizing a concert tour (joined a year later by funnyman D.L. Hughley), Latham billed the four as the "Kings of Comedy," and the quartet of self-described "old school" comedians soon began routinely selling out several-thousand-seat coliseums. This documentary, shot on digital video by director Spike Lee at a Charlotte, N.C., appearance, is his record of the tour for posterity.

All told, the "Kings" tour has grossed $37 million to date. Not bad for a handful of guys, none of whom is Eddie Murphy or Chris Rock, standing on a stage cracking jokes.

My only regret is that I can't repeat most of them.

Suffice it to say that all sacred cows (and a few sacred sheep) are butchered by these blisteringly hilarious and foul-mouthed comics: white folks, black folks, cops, criminals, rappers, R&B singers, men, women (naturally), gays, straights, old folks and babies. Not even Luther Vandross's "not quite right" hair is safe from mockery, courtesy of show-stopper Cedric the Entertainer. He's easily the best thing about "Kings," especially when the dapper and roly-poly clown launches into an inspired parody of break dancing or when he delivers one of his wry nuggets inspired by the flotsam of pop culture.

But God help the man who has the misfortune of sitting in the front row during one of emcee Harvey's riffs on audience members' hair, clothing, teeth and eyewear (some of the film's biggest laughs come as Lee cuts from the stage to shots of poor, unwitting concertgoers). Harvey, who's not exactly known as an insult comic, emcees the proceedings with quick-witted aplomb, a genial smile and a barbed tongue. He's at his best when mocking the crowd with the skilled brutality of a surgeon, particularly one hapless "computer technology student" who looks to his skeptical host more like a player than a programmer (yeah, right, says Harvey, "you can't even spell computer technology").

After drawing the comedian's withering attention by daring to walk out before intermission, the poor man undergoes further abuse when he returns to his seat to find the expensive jacket he's left on his seat has been incorporated into the act and is being held up to ridicule. The guy's reaction to being made to play the fool? Not anger, but praise for his tormentor. "You the man!," he tells Harvey. Talk about the Stockholm Syndrome.

If you only know these guys from broadcast TV – in addition to Cedric, who appears on Harvey's WB sitcom, Hughley has a show moving to UPN this fall after airing on ABC last year, while Mac has appeared on "Moesha" and "The Wayans Brothers" – you'll be startled by some of the foul language and disregard of societal taboos that are evident in the less censored environment of the concert stage. Fans of HBO's "Def Comedy Jam" and other no-holds-barred cable shows where some of these jokers have appeared won't even flinch, though, at such bits as Hughley's observations about dirty underwear (don't ask) or Mac's trademark, pop-eyed tirades about his own sexual inadequacy, not to mention his peroration on the many uses of the f-word.

Judging by the ages of the audience (many of whom appear to be in their forties and fifties) and the comics themselves (age 35 to 43), and by the fact that the youth of today bear the brunt of the onstage abuse, the term "old school" here has double meaning. Don't worry, though: There's nothing stodgy about these court jesters or their humor, even though their act is a decidedly grown-up affair.

THE ORIGINAL KINGS OF COMEDY (R, 100 minutes) – Contains a steady stream of blue humor.


© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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