Currently on TV, there are three different regularly-televised showcases for black comedians. On HBO, Diddy’s Bad Boys of Comedy supposedly spotlights up-and-coming talent with an edgy twist. On Starz, Martin Lawrence’s 1st Amendment Stand Up does….roughly the same thing. And finally, and most embarrassingly, BET’s Comic View pretends to do the same, but in fact recycles footage of the worst black comedians imaginable shuffling and jiving to the extent that I tell people I’m Hispanic for a day or so after any given episode airs. But not only are these shows conceptually similar, but they’re pretty much Xeroxes of each other as far as content as well. If there’s any undone variations on the “white people do it like this/black people like thiiiiiiiis” school of comedy left, you’re sure to see it wash up on these shows. And when they finish pummeling that dead horse, they move on to obvious observational humor that’s pretty much on par with any conversation in a black barbershop. Is it actually impossible for black humor to evolve? Will we never have a Bill Hicks or Monty Python or Steven Wright of our own? Did Richard Pryor pretty much close the door on innovation in black comedy?
I refuse to believe that the answer to each of those questions must be yes, even though that is the current correct answer. But black culture is so insular and stubborn, it makes it mighty hard for something – anything – different to slip through the cracks. What’s even more depressing is that even the most talented black comedians get sucked into this conservative paradigm. I’d certainly consider Charlie Murphy to be amongst that “most talented” tier given his writing and performing on Dave Chappelle’s now-defunct TV show. And yet, when it comes to his own film work, his CV reads like an indictment against him for crimes against humanity. So, fresh off of his brother’s triumph that was Norbit and right after he gets done with the 34 other low-budget crap hood flicks he’ll star or cameo in this month, Murphy has now got a new film coming out through Lionsgate called Frankenhood (Variety calls it “Frakenhood,” but I heard of this a while back, and it is indeed Franken) about two desperate streetball players played by Murphy and fellow comedian DeRay Davis. They don’t have the skills to get a badly-needed win in a tourney, so they draw from their day jobs as morgue workers and, with the help of a scientist, re-animate a large corpse (played by real-life MMA fighter and Elektra tree-trunk catcher Bob Sapp) who will somehow make them winners. I gotta call bullshit on this as I’ve seen hack men from Bill Laimbeer to whatever 7-foot Eastern European phenom is the flavor-of-the-day, and these motherfuckers are not game changers. But I’m not writing the film.
It just makes me sad to see top-notch guys like Murphy doing work on par with low-rent “rap-tors” like E-40 or Snoop Dogg. I understand he has bills to pay, and that motivates 99 percent of his awful decisions. But there’s gotta be a floor somewhere where this stuff can’t get any worse. As awful as it sounds, I’m wishing for a large-scale collapse of this genre much like hip-hop is doing on the Billboard charts right now. I don’t think any of this gets any better until we tear it down, clear out the bullshit, and start fresh. Unfortunately for me, these films, including Frankenhood, are so utterly cheap that they’re guaranteed profitability no matter how bad they are, and thus they’ll likely survive any sort of reformation. That’s fine. Just stop dragging down truly talented people with ‘em.