It’s a narrow needle to thread, making a modern Jesus equal parts irreverent, full of genuine compassion, and still believable, but somehow “Black Jesus” creators Aaron McGruder and Mike Clattenburg have managed to do it.
If you drop Jesus (Slink Johnson) in the middle of economically depressed southwest Compton, Calif., why wouldn’t he want to start a community garden where he could grow not just vegetables, but also his own weed — the impetus being that he’s smoked out all of his friends? This is a Jesus who turns water not into wine, but “wine-gnac.”
Maybe Jesus shouldn’t be drankin’, smokin’ and straight West coastin’ at all, but hey, at least he’s well-intentioned, right?
When it was first announced that the guys from “South Park” were composing a Broadway show centered around Mormonism, you couldn’t be blamed for thinking it would probably be a smirking, nihilistic paean to blasphemy. But it wasn’t — okay, not entirely anyway — and many Mormons walked away having enjoyed the show. The LDS church even went so far as to purchase ads in the Playbill for it.
Similarly, it was understandable Christians would have reservations about “Black Jesus,” fearing the show would approach the Messiah — and faith in general — with contempt. McGruder isn’t known for coddling his audiences so much as assaulting them with his worldview.
But rather than contempt, the show embraces Jesus’s teachings of unconditional love and compassion — especially for the poor — and even those who take him for granted. It just does it in McGruder’s signature expletive-packed manner.
“I still love your b—- a–! By default, fool!” Jesus tells John Witherspoon, who plays a cantankerous homeless man so in need of a shower that dust literally puffs off of him when Jesus embraces him wholeheartedly. Witherspoon’s character, however, is put out that Jesus won’t give him winning lottery numbers.
Perhaps most interesting, though many blacks and Latinos count themselves among the country’s most ardent Christians, McGruder bestows visibility to a group rarely in the spotlight: minority skeptics.
Jason, who can be loosely described as one of Jesus’s disciples, has a girlfriend, Dianne. Dianne is not only a police officer, she’s an atheist. And in the previews for next week’s show, Jesus encounters two Latinos who identify as agnostic.
The skepticism doesn’t end there. They may be believers and witnesses to his miracles, but Jesus’s posse is quick to call him on his martyr complex. Come on, he’s Jesus. It’s practically impossible for him not to have a martyr complex.
After Fish, Boonie and Jason admonish Jesus for smoking all the weed, he reminds them, “You know I died for your motherf—— sins, right?”
“Aw, that s— gettin’ old,” Jason declares with exasperation, as this is clearly a line he’s been fed before.
“Homie, that’s my life!” Jesus exclaims.
“Yeah, that was 2,014 years ago,” Boonie tells Jesus. When you’re a grown man anticipating his mother’s income tax refund, two weeks might as well be an eternity when it comes to making concrete plans. Two-thousand years is enough for anything to get stale.
Like his earthly counterparts, Black Jesus doesn’t have a perfect track record, but he gets the big concepts and leads by example. If anything, it seems McGruder is trying to tell his audience that if Jesus is just like us, maybe it’s not so much of a stretch for us to be just like him.
Black Jesus airs Thursdays at 11 p.m. on Adult Swim.