|The Original Kings of
review by Dan Lybarger, 1 September 2000
Spike Lee may have a reputation
as a militant filmmaker, but in many ways he’s a chameleon.
Switching from Nike commercials, to music videos, to documentaries,
to his feature films, Lee seems willing to try anything. His latest
movie is a live comedy club flick similar to Bill
Cosby: Himself and Richard
Pryor: Here and Now. Lee imbues his new flick The
Original Kings of Comedy with little of his trademark rage or
technical trickery. There are no extreme close ups of reflections of
people in eyeballs here. Lee and his crew shot this one on video,
and the sound sometimes seems muddy. But to be fair, Lee’s
unusually hands-off approach may have been the one to take. Lee
seems well aware that the reason to catch the flick is to catch the
The "Kings of Comedy"
tour drew legions of fans and reportedly outgrossed a tour by teen
idols The Backstreet Boys. From the evening captured in the film,
the appeal is obvious. Steve Harvey, D.L. Hughley, Cedric the
Entertainer and Bernie Mac are a quartet of able comics.
Furthermore, their act is remarkably interactive for the large
arenas where they play (in this case, The Charlotte Coliseum in
Charlotte, North Carolina). Harvey and Hughley, in particular, play
well off the crowd and frequently work them into the act.
Hughley’s routine is intermittently inspired but becomes
hysterical when he randomly starts teasing the crowd. Lee constantly
cuts to the spectators and gives movie audiences a sense of the fun
that crowd must have had.
As with just about any comedy
special that runs on HBO or Showtime, the monologues are intricately
laced with expletives and deal with sex and other body functions.
These guys can get away with it, but their strongest moments come
when they poke fun at other subjects. Harvey has a field day
demonstrating why old school tunes are preferable to rap. After
whining about how rappers place too many instructions on their fans,
he adds, “I just paid you $38.50. I don’t want to help you
out!” Similarly, Hughley digs into xenophobic baseball player John
Rocker. “If you can count the number of black people you’ve had
over at your house, you’re still a racist,” he quips.
If Harvey’s low key charm and
Hughley’s spontaneous outbursts get them a lot of mileage, Cedric
seems to get his ideas from everywhere. During one of the backstage
sequences, he hears an echo in the bathroom and instantly breaks
into a Gregorian chant. His topics range from reggae (he performs a
tune about the agony of having no jam for his peanut butter) to golf
announcers. Sporting a fedora and speaking in an almost scholarly
tone, Cedric is the most creative and distinctive comic in the
quartet. His portly frame belies a remarkable agility. In a rare
technical flourish, Lee offers some Matrix-style
slow motion shots to augment some of Cedric’s karate moves.
Bernie Mac’s set, which concludes
the film, is disappointing. His material is uninspired and often
redundant. He repeatedly harps on keeping bratty kids in their
place, and his only memorable sequence is one where he demonstrates
all of the conceivable uses for a popular synonym for incest.
Mac’s verbal skills pale next to the other members of the quartet,
but his body language is a riot. Bristling with a nervous anger, Mac
paces across the stage so quickly that Lee’s camera crew has to
hustle to keep half a step behind him. Mac’s bug-eyed stare is
worth the price of admission. At times, the comic seems so frantic
that his eyes appear to leap from his skull.
All four of these comics have had
TV and movie gigs (Hughley has the dubious distinction of providing
the voice of the talking car in Inspector
Gadget), but The Original
Kings of Comedy provides a better showcase for their talents.
Lee does not offer anything earth shattering, but it’s unfair to
dismiss The Original Kings of
Comedy because there are plenty of sturdy laughs. The
photography and jokes may be crude, but, for the most part, each
tends to play off the other to good effect.
Cedric the Entertainer