These days you can hardly pick up a magazine, a newspaper, or… um, a website without reading some cracka-ass cracka gush about HBO’s new season of the Wire. Ironically though, you’d hardly that know HBO also brought back Russell Simmons’ Def Comedy Jam, which happens to come on right after the Wire. You get the idea that not very many people are watching it, and I can hardly blame them.
Admittedly, I thought Def Comedy Jam was hilarious when it first came on, way the fuck back in 1992. I also happened to be 11 years old at the time. In retrospect, probably anything with a lot race and sex talk – as well as copious amounts of cursing – would have been amusing to me on a certain level.
That said, they did manage to provide a platform for a lot of up-and-coming comedians of that era. As I recall, Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, and Bernie Mac were all featured on the series at one point or another. Martin Lawrence, who’s been intermittently amusing over the course of the past 15 years or so, was the original host.
Also, there was hip-hop. Sort of. The show was, after all, produced by Russell Simmons, DJ’d by Kid Capri, and would feature “hip-hop dancing” during its credits.
Otherwise though, the show’s connection to hip-hop always struck me as fairly tenuous. With the exception of your occasional Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle, the bulk of the comedians featured on the series were rather long in the tooth to really be into hip-hop like that. And a few of them would even come off as being openly hostile to hip-hop despite being featured on what was ostensibly a hip-hop comedy series.
The original series gradually sort of died out in the mid ’90s once people realized that “black people are like this, but white people are like this” humor is the least funny shit evar. Some of the better comics featured on the series went on to be big stars, and I’m assuming the rest of them went back to playing the chitlin circuit and/or collecting welfare for a living.
Only thing is, shitty race humor has been on a monumental upswing as of late, as evidenced by the likes of Chappelle’s Show, which was intermittently (today’s word du jour) brilliant and Mind of Mencia, which is perhaps history’s greatest argument against multiculturalism. Even more so than the Black Eyed Peas.
HBO’s first attempt to capitalize was Diddy’s Bad Boys of Comedy – sort of like Def Comedy Jam, but with Doug E Fresh playing the Kid Capri role and a bunch of shitty comedians no one ever heard of supplying the, um, comedy. It somehow managed to be even shittier than the last few seasons of the original Def Jam. I don’t even know if it ran for a whole season before HBO yanked it off the air.
You hoped that HBO would just give up on a black comedy series altogether, but I guess part of their corporate strategy for ’07, rather than come up with a worthwhile replacement for the Sopranos, is to increase its subscriber base in America’s “urban” areas. Hence the new version of Russell Simmons’ Def Comedy Jam.
Kid Capri is back in the DJ booth, Russell Simmons is back “blessing” people at the end of the show, and even the set looks more or less like the old set from the mid ’90s. They also went and rounded up a bunch of comics who appeared on the series back in the day and haven’t exactly set the world on fire in the interim.
The results? Still kinda shitty. While I suppose it’s nice that HBO is providing an outlet for these people that doesn’t involve an EBT “debit” card, you really wish they would come up with a better representation of “hip-hop comedy.” Whatever that’s supposed to be.