“He ain’t heavy. He’s my brother.”
A line used by many, but one that has particular significance in the Black community.
A line, adopted by Black America, which spawned movements and was represented by posters and pictures during tough times for Black America.
This was extremely evident in Black Hollywood, where successful stars reached back to support the next generation.
We saw it with Richard Pryor, who opened doors for Eddie Murphy, who opened doors for Chris Rock and the Wayans brothers. You witnessed stars give young talents the chance they needed to start their own careers through minor, yet memorable roles, in their movies: Damon Wayans giving Eddie Murphy the banana in “Beverly Hills Cop” and Chris Rock as the parking valet in “Beverly Hills Cop II.”
These small roles helped give rise to new Black comedic talent, particularly in the 1990’s, where we witnessed a re-birth of Black entertainment in Hollywood.
We saw comedies like “The Cosby Show” continue the success of positive Black family-oriented shows like “The Jeffersons” and give rise to shows like “A Different World”, “The Parent Hood” and “Family Matters.”
But another trend was developing on television, one which saw Black comedians being given the opportunity to become lead characters in their own shows where they were able to incorporate their lives, personalities and stories into the scripts; and they were successful shows for the networks.
Robert Townsend had the aforementioned “The Parent Hood”, Martin Lawrence gave us “Martin” and in 1994, “Me and the Boys” introduced us to one of the biggest names in entertainment today, Steve Harvey.
Harvey has a long history of success in media and entertainment. He is an actor, comedian, author, television host and radio personality. His success and influence is undeniable. In 1996, he gave us “The Steve Harvey Show”, a long running series which gave people, especially Black people, a glimpse of something special which would arrive four years later, something that would be duplicated by others yet would stand alone as an original triumph.
On August 18th, 2000, the Spike Lee directed “The Original Kings of Comedy” would debut in theatres, a comedy film which still has us dying with laughter 15 years later. While it was a film, “The Original Kings of Comedy” was actually a comedy tour featuring four of the biggest names in comedy at the time.
Steve Harvey, Cedric The Entertainer, D.L. Hughley and Bernie Mac were all well known faces; we saw them on “Showtime at the Apollo”, “Comic View” and “Def Comedy Jam.” We knew Steve and Cedric from “The Steve Harvey Show” and watched D.L. on “The Hughley’s”, but Bernie Mac was different. He was more raw and didn’t have his own show like the others, but we knew him because all of his roles were memorable for the grit and humor he instilled in them. Uncle Flip from “Above the Rim”, Pastor Clever from “Friday”, Dollar Bill from “The Player’s Club” and then finally earning a role on television as Uncle Bernie, a recurring character on “Moesha.”
Recorded from the performances in Charlotte, NC in February of 2000, “The Original Kings of Comedy” gave fans a concert film that transported audiences back to 1987 and “Eddie Murphy: Raw.”
Steve, D.L., Cedric and Bernie used their interests, characters and families. They discovered how humor could be injected in to, and extracted from, their real life experiences and situations, resulting in those who would normally find their routines offensive dropping their guards and shedding tears of laughter. It was a formula successfully employed by Chris Rock in “Bring the Pain” and “Bigger and Blacker”, where he broke down reality through race and humor.
Steve Harvey showed us how old school music would make you feel things that new school artists couldn’t, and he made you stand up and sing in appreciation when Earth, Wind and Fire asked “Would you mind?”
He showed early on that he would be a source for relationship advice through the lyrics of Lenny Williams. He joked about Rae Carruth and made it funny. “Normally when you’re running from the law, you wanna’ get a passport. Go to Canada. Brazil. Mexico. Naw nah. Not Rae-Rae. Rae-Rae took his ass to Nashville!” He had us dying as he told us how Kool and the Gang would have been long gone if they were on the Titanic.
D.L. broke down the difference between firing a white person and a black person and explained how white people do things for excitement while Black people have enough excitement in their lives doing regular things. He touched on police brutality, mentioning trying to “take out my wallet without getting shot 41 times”, an example of how he would eventually become a voice speaking out on current events, and not just through comedy.
Cedric the Entertainer followed and let it be known that Black people run (“Get Lisa!”) and aren’t going to be left behind. “Y’all moving to the moon, dammit we coming to the moon. We be right behind you in space shuttles with Cadillac grills!”
His memorable explanation of the differences in creed will always be repeated because of its hilarious truth- “White people hope things don’t go wrong. Black people, we don’t live by the hope creed. Black people got a totally different creed we live by. It’s more confrontational. It’s the wish factor. Black people don’t hope, we wish. We wish a mutha’ f****r would be in our seat!”
He went on to joke about the pitfalls facing a Black president (in regards to the national debt, “Tell ‘em I ain’t got it. But I could put something on it.”), Black people in sports (downhill skiing in church shoes and a brother skating in hockey with no stick) and my personal favorite, being a "grown ass man."
Bernie was a talent we lost way too soon. He was someone who you could tell would always be himself no matter the forum. He never compromised his character or blunt personality and fans loved him for it. He was the man who proclaimed that he says what you want to say, but can’t.
Who else could we visualize talking about beating up bad ass kids and making us laugh about it? This is the man who said “If you’re grown enough to talk back, you’re grown enough to get f**ked up!”
We loved his story about how he took in his sister’s kids because she was on drugs, a story that ended up being the premise for his 2001 show “The Bernie Mac Show”, which had a successful six- year run. “Him downstairs” and the two-year old “ringleader” looking at him “like he was short” were absolutely hysterical.
“The Original Kings of Comedy” appears to be the launching pad by which these men elevated their careers to the next level. Steve Harvey has gone on to become one of the busiest and most successful men in entertainment today; he hosts two television shows and one radio show, authored two successful books, executive produced the movie “Think Like a Man” which was based upon one of his books and has won multiple Emmy Awards and NAACP Image Awards. He also continues to expand his mentoring program through the Steve and Marjorie Harvey Foundation, proving that he is committed to giving back.
D.L. Hughley has gone on to host the nationally syndicated “D.L. Hughley Show”, wrote a book, hosted the CNN show “D.L. Hughley Breaks the News” and starred in a number of successful television comedy specials.
Cedric the Entertainer has hosted “Who Wants to be a Millionaire”, starred in the “Barbershop” movies, created his widely acclaimed “Cedric The Entertainer: Taking You Higher” comedy special, appeared in dozens of movies and is now in the fourth season of his show “The Soul Man” on TV Land.
Bernie Mac appeared in all three of the “Oceans” movie series with George Clooney and played his trademark self in many other movies before sadly passing away on August 9th, 2008, in his hometown of Chicago.
“The Original Kings of Comedy” was a monetary success. Produced on a budget of $3 million, it earned $11 million opening weekend and grossed over $36 million overall; and that doesn’t include the revenues from the tour itself.
But it was more than just a comedic film. It was an original idea that spawned spin-off projects including “The Queens of Comedy”, “Original Latin Kings of Comedy” and the “Blue Collar Comedy Tour.”
It was a project that incorporated the concept of six degrees, as all of the comedians had overt connections to other comedians, both past and present. And it was a manifestation of the concept “He ain’t heavy. He’s my brother” as they brought each other up while bringing up those who followed after them, something which they still practice today.
I was fortunate enough to see them live when they came to NYC that year (and I bought my tickets on my card Ced, seats 4 and 5) and fifteen years later I still laugh at those same jokes. That’s how you know that it was special. When you repeat something from the film, others acknowledge it because they know where it’s from. Say “grown ass man, dawg” or “there’s going to be some furniture moving!” and you’ll most likely receive a laugh, a laugh which brings you together with the person who understands its derivation.
Bernie Mac said it best with “We’re the same, but we do things different.”
For “The Original Kings of Comedy” that’s just what they did and they did it their way. Never compromising their character or opinion for the green.
And for that, we’re all laughing as thanks.