In honor of Black History month, I have compiled series of top five lists highlighting the contributions of African Americans in comedy. This is one of them. A panel of leading experts consisting of the voices inside my head; Suge Knight, Eartha Kitt, and Steve Guttenburg; have spent countless hours debating, drinking and drugging to bring to you The GOAT…. Greatest of All Time…Its an Acronym.
The GOAT: African American Stand-Up Comedians
5. Chris Rock- Rock made his mainstream debut on SNL but most of his success is attributed to his raunchy yet socially aware stand-up. His distinctive voice made him a stand out on the comedy scene. Though some of his cross-over film roles have been… well kind of whack, Rock has maintained well deserved respect for his comedic styling and stand-up acts.
4. Bill Cosby- Before the pudding, before the Huxtables, this Philadelphia native had stand-up. Unlike many black comedians of the time, Cosby was able to relate to a wide range of audiences with his notoriously clean sets in a time when more politically active, socially charged, risqué subject matter was the norm. “A white person listens to my act and he laughs and he thinks, ‘Yeah, that’s the way I see it too.’ Okay. He’s white. I’m Negro. And we both see things the same way. That must mean that we are alike. Right? So I figure this way I’m doing as much for good race relations as the next guy”.
3. Redd Fox- Probably best known for his role as Fred Sanford in the 1970s television classic Sanford and Son, Foxx began doing stand-up comedy on the infamous “Chitlin’ Circuit” in the 1940s and 1950. Redd developed his style of blue humor to get a rise out of the audience. Redd’s style combined perfect timing, delivery and a conversational storytelling vibe to make clean material sound dirty and dirty material sound filthy. Many of today’s greatest comedians note Fox as an inspiration.
2. Eddie Murphy- Norbit and The Adventures of Pluto Nash aside, Eddie Murphy has to be considered one of the most successful comedians …ever. By the time he was 15, Murphy was working as a stand-up comic in New York. At the age of 19 he joined the cast of Saturday Night Live, where Murphy exercised his comedic abilities in impersonating African American figures and originating some of the show’s most memorable characters. His Eddie Murphy Raw concert film remained the most successful stand-up concert film until The Original Kings of Comedy was released. (eh) Not to mention, he’s the 2nd highest grossing actor in Hollywood.
1.Richard Pryor- If you ask any comedian who their biggest inspirations have been, Richard Pryor is bound to be included in about 99.3% of those responses. (a Me Fact) Highly influential and always controversial, Pryor drafted the blueprint for the progressive thinking of black comedians. With his monologues, he brought to life the entire range of the black American experience. He transcended the color barrier that inhibited Redd Fox in the 50s, while addressing the taboo topics Bill Cosby would not touch and essentially set the bar for the younger generation of comics such as Eddie Murphy and Chris Rock solidifying, to me, his spot at number 1.
Honorable Mentions: Bernie Mac, Kevin Hart, Dick Gregory, Dave Chapelle, Paul Mooney
The Panel: Suge Knight – the founder and CEO of Black Kapital Records and co-founder and former CEO of Death Row Records. Murderer of Tupac Shakur… probably.
Eartha Kitt- An American singer, actress, and cabaret star. Catwoman to Adam West’s Batman. Deceased.
Steve Guttenberg- An American actor and comedian. Would be bigger were it not for Tom Hanks. Nickename: The Gute.
James Hesky and Darryl Charles are two Philadelphia comedians and the founders of the deep, dark, dank cellar of the Podcast World – Cheapodcast. Darryl and James have tackled one of the biggest hot button questions of the 20th century… who are bigger assholes, Football players or Basketball players. Over the next three rounds, we’ll let them make opening statements, rebuttals, and concluding arguments. By the end, we should all be a little more enlightened:
Let the debate begin!
James Hesky: Basketball players are worse than Football players.
Being a bad person is to basketball as taking steroids is to baseball. Even the hero of the NBA, Michael Jordan, was a degenerate gambler and a philanderer who quit on his team and his sport to see if he could try another sport for another year. Hall of Famer Charles Barkley famously said “I am not a role model” and then backed it up by getting a DUI and used the excuse that he was rushing to go get a BJ. And these are the guys who are the face of the league.
Hey, remember that time all those football players got in a brawl with fans? Me neither. But it happened in the NBA because Ron Artest got a cup thrown at him.
You know what I hate? How Peyton Manning always shows up for the season 30 pounds overweight and just decides he’ll play his way into shape during the season and be ready for the playoffs. Oh wait, that’s what Shaquille O’Neal did for the entire second half of his career.
Even after they retire, NBA players can’t stop being horrible human beings. As the GM of the Knicks, Isiah Thomas used his position of power to sexually harass one of his employees. The worst part is that people in the NBA don’t even think that the fact that he’s a sexual predator is the worst thing about him, he is still most infamous for simply being a terrible GM.
Darryl Charles: Football players are worse than basketball players:
Imagine you could build the perfect asshole (person, not body part). The person would have to be arrogant, rude, obnoxious and self-centered. This person would have to be fantastic at exploiting weakness for the joy of others, awesome at hurting those weaker than him. The person should have an imposing physique, making sure intimidation happened on sight. They should be rich and famous, allowing for mindless adoration and a group of hangers on that would only feed the ego of this asshole. In short, this person should be a football player.
Football is a tough sport. It is a sport where large men dress in pads and run into each other to establish dominance on the placement and movement of a small ball. It is a game in which pain is a weapon and avoiding it will most likely lead to a loss. Physically tormenting your opponent is only surpassed by psychologically tormenting your opponent to the point their concentration is shaken and their game is rendered inept. This is going to breed an asshole.
The list of current and former players is as deep as Tiki Barber’s bank accounts, before he got divorced from his wife after leaving her while pregnant for an 20 something intern at a broadcasting job he wasn’t good at and used to ridicule the team that let him rise to enough popularity to get said job: Ray Lewis (alleged murderer!), Lawrence Taylor, Dan Marino, Bill Romanowski, Ben Rothlisberger, Terrell Owens, Chad OchoCinco, Plaxico Burress, Joe Namath and even Bill Bellicheck. A list of the exploits of the aforementioned people is a thorough how-to on assholetry.
Murder, harassment, steroid abuse, finger biting, attempted rape, cheating (both in the game and in life), cockiness, erratic behavior, bullying and general assholy behavior are hallmarks of the NFL and it players and coaches.
Saturday Night Live is woven into the culture of America. People debate which were the best seasons or the funniest sketches and talk about the ups and downs over the years. For fourteen years, MADtv offered some company and competition to SNL in the late-night sketch comedy arena, producing some really amazing comedy that deserves to be recognized and remembered. The show changed and grew over the years and showcased some extremely talented cast members that need to be seen more.
MADtv had a golden age from 1999 to 2004, in my opinion. After starting as a TV version of the magazine of the same name, it found its identity and produced some stellar comedy before its eventual end.
Some really, really excellent work was produced before season 5 and after season 9, but I’ll highlight this era. The humor relates to when it was created, but stands the test of time. Here’s a list of 25 extraordinary sketches that provide clever ideas, fun characters, solid writing, and stupendous acting—at times daring to be experimental and boundary-pushing.
25. Man Up! Regional Championships
Sketch comedy has often struggled to write from different perspectives, and I think this sketch is a great example of African-American cast members creating something that doesn’t just fill a quota but stands out as great comedy.
24. Sick Wife
Michael McDonald and Stephnie Weir worked amazingly well together, and I dare say that this sketch says something about the human condition.
Recently, there’s been an influx unlike any for quite some time of stand-up, improv, and sketch performers. This isn’t a bad thing (as it can be perceived by some more established local comedians) — in fact, it’s actually great. That is, it’s great until performers who haven’t really established themselves or won over multiple crowds get way ahead of themselves and take out their sociopathic or negative feelings on everyone around them. They expect — rather then respect — laughs.
First off, by established comedians, I mean they’re pounding the pavement and consistently doing decent work. When I say respect laughs, I’m talking about the comedians who blame themselves when they have a bad show instead of the crowd or other comedians. Yes, we all bomb sometimes. Yes, we all have audiences from time to time that are not feeling what you’re doing. But these comedians say afterwards they could have done better. They should have delivered something differently or used different material for this crowd. In 98% of the cases when you go up on stage, this is true. I’m also not saying that there aren’t vetted comedians that need this advice as well.
At this point, most of the comedians in our city have ambition that exceeds their current talent. In fact, that’s how it should be. Our ambition is what makes us sign up at Helium, get on stage at the Raven, try our sketches at Bedtime Stories or go to an Improv Incubator. Ambition also drives us to hone our jokes, expand them, tighten them or do whatever we need to do to make ourselves better, faster, and stronger at our calling. What worries me is when I see comedians who seem to think showing up is enough ambition, and any hiccup in their performances are always the fault of something other than themselves. Continue reading OPINION: WE’RE GONNA START THIS SET WITH A POSITIVE JAM by Rob Baniewicz
You like being a stand-up comedian. You enjoy the lifestyle. You get to hang out in bars, hear great jokes and spend time with funny people. There’s only one problem: You suck. No one likes you or your stupid act. Your joke about phone booths makes no sense. When was the last time you saw a phone booth, dummy?
So now you feel bad about yourself. But what can you about it? Well, you can work hard to improve but that sounds like a lot of hard work. And let’s face it; you probably won’t improve much anyway. So now what?
Have you ever thought about making fun of a comedian who’s worse than you?
Well, why not? Critizing others is a great way to feel better about yourself! It’s fun! It’s easy! But most of all … okay, I can’t think of a third thing. But fun and easy should be enough. Plus, it’s a great way to build confidence and self-esteem. And research has shown, probably, that pointing out the flaws of others helps draw attention away from our own flaws. Rolling your eyes, for example, is not only a great way to express yourself; it’s also good for your eyes!
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about heckling. You don’t want to look like a jerk.
I’m talking about quiet heckling. Snide comments made just loud enough for your friends at the table to hear. Things like, “That joke was funny when the three wise men told it to baby Jesus.”
“That guy totally killed! …My love of comedy!”
“I have a spot on my lung that’s funnier than him.”
Now who’s getting laughs? Not the guy on stage, that’s for sure!
I went to a Catholic high school — a cheap one at that. This meant no sound system in a theater that held well over 200 people. I mean, there was a microphone… maybe two … but no body mics, nor any sort of system to pick up the sounds of a group or a chorus. And unfortunately, my high school felt the only financially viable shows were musicals, which, on the one hand, were guaranteed to bring in at least twice the crowd of 16-year-olds performing Stoppard but on the other hand, would elicit awkward cries of “What did he say?” when Caiaphas, in a deep, deep baritone sang, “Jesus must, Jesus must, Jesus must die.” I learned early on in my high school career that our lousy sound system could not be depended on to support the actors. This is what prompted me to connect with my voice and is something necessary for any sketch performer.
Let me start with a disclaimer — in my experience, I have found that a lot of improv folks come from a theater background. Consequently, in an improv show, I tend to hear most everything regardless if I want to or not. On the other hand, I’ve sat through dozens of self-obsessed sketches that are barely audible, the performers completely ignorant to the fact that there’s an audience in front of them. So forgive me if this seems like a no-brainer, but it needs to be said: people are paying to hear you, and even if they’re not listening, YOU WANT THEM TO.
To get started with some basics, let’s talk about remembering there is an audience and giving them the theater they deserve. My desire to project during a performance stemmed from the fact that I wanted my half-deaf father to hear me warble “Let’s Misbehave” during Anything Goes. Sure, my actions clued the audience in to the slinky sexual awkwardness that characterized my high school drama productions, but without my voice, I was merely a mime on a cruise ship. Continue reading OPINION: ALL YOU GOTTA DO IS ACT THEATRICALLY by Rob Baniewicz
Master Conrad Roth Tsu say, “He who go to bed with skanky waitress, wake up with itchy peepee, and shitty room.”
Believe it or not, gang, that is the first rule of a good open mic. You can’t fuck the waitresses, especially if you blow them off afterwards. It will slowly eat away at the room and your relationship with the establishment will die. Other than that, it is pretty straight forward. Wait, you know what? No, that is bullshit. Let’s take this back to a couple days ago. I get an e-mail from WitOut asking me to add my half a cent about running an open mic. I thought very hard about it. Here you go:
Running a good open mic is something you literally have to slave over. It is a brutal, thankless job — that is, if you want it done right. I mean any jerkoff could run a show, just ask Mike Casey, whose open mic ran up against one of our rooms — and that lasted about a week, and we were doing our show out of a gay bar. What does that tell you? It tells you that I just wanted to put Mike Casey’s name in this article so I could break his balls because I love to do that, that is true, but it is also a comment on the intensity that must go into a room to make it a success, and not even all of our rooms have been successes. We got fired from the gay bar a couple months later over politics, and by politics I mean someone said an anti-gay slur during their set, and the owners freaked out. (Thanks Mykal). Also, a couple of us tried to bang the manager, which takes us back to the first rule. Anyway … music is also a key factor. You have got to have music between the acts. Otherwise it is so depressing to watch comedian after comedian banging away at a half empty, half asleep crowd and you’re so depressed that you get all tweeked upon vodka Redbull and Vicodin and start wondering why Steve Miller-Milller‘s ass looks so good in those cowboy jeans. It’s bad — a bad open mic is like a funeral, a funeral for a dog nobody liked.
On top of that you got new comedians breaking your balls every two minutes wanting to know when they are getting on. New comedians think because they have brought three people they know that they have got the right to torture you, and when they do get on stage, surprise, they suck, and you can’t give them the light. God forbid, after seven minutes of hell, you hear the phrase everybody loves: “Is that the light?” Fucking kill me. Come to think of it, why would I give the secrets to a great open mic away? So two other jerkoffs can go start up a room, and now I am waiting at the back of the line to go on, fuck that, I’m keeping the secret formula to myself.
I’m sorry, that was the mustache talking. Apologies aside, I am still not going to tell, but I will do you one better, I will show you. The comedic talent in this city is boiling over right now and there are open mics five days a week and they are all done right. Conveniently enough, WitOut does such a great job with this website that they are all listed for you, so I encourage you to go out and enjoy one. For those of us who want more from an open mic besides getting too drunk and leaving in the middle of the set, if you’d like to start an open mic, call me at (917)699-9806 and we can talk, but regardless, remember what I said about the waitresses.
H. Foley is a stand-up comedian and is one part of Center City Comedy, which hosts an open mic from The Raven Lounge every Thursday at 9:00. His opinions are his own.
I am a bad human being at heart. More often than not, when a friend sends me a Facebook invitation to an event for a comedy show, the first thing my mind goes to “Why’d they book him on the show? I should be on this show. Why not me?” I feel like I’m not alone in my bitter jealousy in this regard among comedians. The fact is that I have not been doing comedy long enough nor have I reached any sort of level of success to justify bitterness or a negative attitude. Not even a little.
I’ve been doing comedy just under four years now. My position in the Philadelphia comedy scene or lack of one is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter what I’ve done to this point. No matter how much it pains me to admit it or how much I dislike confronting the fact, I am still in the position where I have to prove myself to people. The existence of my ego is poisonous to myself as a person and to my continued success in comedy I’m on the lowest end of the lowest totem pole, I have no right to believe I deserve anything in comedy in this point. No one owes me anything. I might sound like I’m beating myself up, but I feel like admitting this is a healthy first step. I have to remove the arrogant negativity and replace it with something positive.
When I’m not booked on a show, there could be a lot of reasons for it. I might not be right for the line-up or the audience. The audience might not like the style of comedy that I do. I might have booked on that show already in a previous month. The host might be keeping me in mind for a future show. The host might have had a very specific line-up for the show when getting the idea for it. There are a hundred things I consider when I book a show myself that I should probably understand these things. There is also another possibility, and here’s the big one — there is a good chance that if I’m not getting booked as much as I would like, I should probably work harder on getting better so people would want to book me more often and pay me money. The easy thing is finding someone or something else to blame for my failures. The hard thing is taking ownership and making a point of getting better.
Nobody is going to hand me anything. Nobody should hand me anything. The magic answer to every problem I have is “work harder, get better.” That’s all I or anyone can do. Instead of poisoning my mind and the comedy scene in general with my envy and negativity, I need to keep my head down and do the work. The sad fact that there are thousands and thousands of comedians across the country and the world who are equally as or more successful than I am at comedy. How far will I get by being lazy and negative and complaining?
If you put the work in, you’ll create your own opportunities, just by the virtue of people that will see you more often. And you will only get better at your craft by working harder. It’s hard to admit to yourself that any lack of success or problems you might have are probably your own fault. Sure, I might not be the most mainstream comic in the world and that might eliminate some mainstream club and suburban opportunities. But that only means I have to work that much harder at getting better, exploring other opportunities, and creating other opportunities myself. I need to work on getting so good that I can’t be ignored. And until that point, I have no right to whine. Am I good enough right now not to be ignored by people who matter? No. So what right to I have to be negative? Continue reading OPINION: Why Not Me? (or: Getting Off Your Ass and Doing It Yourself)