Thursday, April 8, 2010

On Black Comedy

This will be another of those rants where my point will seem entirely invalid simply because I was unfortunate to enjoy a white-middle-class upbringing. Well screw that. As Binghamton alum Dustin Glick so concisely explained, this is an ad hominem attack of crappy logic.

My point is this:

I hate black comedy that relies on the audience being black to be funny.

To a lesser extent I also hate George Lopez and the few Hispanic comedians who awkwardly try to force diversity into their acts. And anyone from the Blue Collar tours.

But sadly for the black man, who as already suffered so much, he is forced to endure the likes of Martin Lawrence, Tracey Morgan and the train wreck that is the Wayans brothers, forever stigmatizing the differences between the ways white people and black people walk, drive and eventually have unsatisfying sex.

The problem is this: if you take anything that's moderately amusing and change a character's race, it doesn't make it funnier. Dumb people seem to think this is the case, though. Buddy Cop films were great when Danny Glover was just starting to get to old for that shit, because suddenly the black guy was the rational one and the white guy was insane. That was fine. For a couple movies. Like eight later? Not so much. There certainly wasn't a need for three Rush Hour movies. Even one 90-minute session of Chris Tucker is a bit much.

I should differentiate this kind of travesty from worthwhile race-based comedy. Certainly there's something to be said for the hilarity in awkward social interactions. Certainly there are funny aspects unique to African-American culture, and these should be explored. The problem is relying on shared ethnicity for the entirety of a bit's comedic content is dangerous, both as a stereotyping precedent and in gambling your whole stake on only one, low-brow form of joke.

Here's my argument in proof:

Death at a Funeral (2007) was a terrific "black comedy" in the original respect: it is funny but also serious, morbid and thought-provoking. However it was British, so most Americans never saw it and only about 80% of the ones that did understood the sounds coming out of the actors' mouths.

Now, Death at a Funeral (2010) is the exact same movie, except now it was made in America and everyone is black. And when I say it's "the exact same movie" I mean it's the same premise, same dialogue at points, and they even use the exact same dwarf actor in the exact same role. The only difference is that now every character is black and there's a whole bunch of lame nods to them being black. It is not incidental to the plot, it seriously changes much of the story as the cast is comprised of Zooey Saldana (the black "It Girl" since Avatar came out), Martin Lawrence (the skeevy, unscrupulous brother), Tracey Morgan (the possibly retarded black stereotype), Danny Glover (the ornery, old black uncle), and apparently Luke Wilson and James Marsden as the unobtrusive, pasty white characters.

The only saving grace I can see is Chris Rock, a staple of serious but also humorous racial discourse, portraying the protagonist, a more normal character appalled by the hideous behavior of everyone he's related to. Hopefully, this attitude will be reflected and anyone who sees this film will understand this is supposed to carry over into a critique of their behavior in general. (Hint: it will not.)

I can only hope that the zeitgeist forgets this Death at a Funeral as fast as it did the last one, then everyone can go back to listen to Chris Rock talking about the difference between black people and [a word I can't cay but they watch a lot of UPN which incidentally airs reruns of Chris Rock's show which is basically The Black Wonder Years but we won't blame him for that].

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