I'm wondering how white audiences will react to all of that," an African-American journalist said after a screening of "The Original Kings of Comedy." He referred to the voluminous amount of time the concert film's four rising-star comics devote to discussing the behavioral differences between blacks and whites. "Will they be offended by it?" he pondered. It's doubtful anyone will be offended or made to feel even slightly uncomfortable by the documentary, whose performances and backstage scenes are directed mostly unobtrusively by Spike Lee. And that's its biggest flaw.
This material, unlike that of Richard Pryor, Redd Foxx or Lee in his early days ("Do the Right Thing," "Jungle Fever"), isn't really edgier than what we might hear from "family members at a reunion," as Steve Harvey has described this show, the top-grossing comedy tour ever.
Captured in Charlotte, N.C., the four men offer some laugh-out-loud observations. Many come from the star of "The Steve Harvey Show," who riffs on the mysterious appeal of "Titanic" and appeals to baby boomers by goofing on the swagger and often-impenetrable speech of rappers.
D.L. Hughley, star of the UPN network's "The Hughleys," reminisces about old days in the 'hood, when he and his siblings combined store-bought superhero masks with homemade capes for Halloween. Hughley jibes at extreme sports -- "Black people don't never bungee jump. That's too much like a lynching" -- and talks about his version of thrill-seeking pastimes, like driving slowly past the police station or filling out a loan application.
Cedric The Entertainer, Harvey's TV co-star, ruminates on the idea of a black president ("We got Clinton. He's close"), jokes about his old gang of breakdancers, and predicts changes at golf courses in the wake of Tiger Woods' success (on-course barbecues?).
Bernie Mac, known for his big-screen work in "Life" and "Booty Call," takes the most aggressive approach. "I'm just saying what you can't say," he taunts, then discusses the rigors of 40-something sex, his frustrations with toddlers and his affection for a certain profanity.
None of this is exactly radical stuff, Nevertheless, the film might add its part to a trend that's indeed breaking barriers. After all, "Scary Movie" was the first film by a black director to make more than $100 million. It's a development that's long overdue.