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[whitespace] 'The Original Kings of Comedy'
A Royal Flush: Cedric the Entertainer, Bernie Mac, director Spike Lee, Steve Harvey and D.L. Hughley play all the right cards in their stand-up film.

Court Jesters

Four comedians earn their crowns as 'The Original Kings of Comedy'

By Richard von Busack

SPIKE LEE DIRECTED this often uproarious concert tour of four well-known comedians. The lineup: Bernie Mac, who is kind of what you'd get if Samuel L. Jackson turned to stand-up comedy--a smooth-faced rager; Cedric the Entertainer, a plump ex-rapper built like Bo Diddley; D.L. Hughley, the cool, lean one in a five-button suit; the warmest one, Steve Harvey, who seems like the natural successor to Richard Pryor's irreplaceable leery comedy.

The material overlaps, in subjects ranging from the way people handle workplace stress, to the powerful but extinct figure of Big Momma (grandma), to the trouble with sex. The highlights: Harvey's inspired rant about how much he hates "stink-ass" hip-hop compared to old-school R&B. He's bugged at the call-and-response part of a hip-hop show ("Too many instructions! I just paid $38.50--YOU do something") and he hates the violence ("I don't want my shirt to get wet with blood --I want my shirt to get wet 'cause I've been making love!") To prove his point, Harvey hauls out several obscure R&B tunes, pantomiming the great passions, the longing, the tears, in 1970s sweet soul music, until the audience is in a cheering frenzy.

Hughley tells off John Rocker and describes the etiquette of handling collection agents ("When can I set a date for payment?! You set a date! That way, if you get paid, we both be surprised!") And Cedric has something unique--an original theory of why science fiction is popular with white people. ("They want to leave our asses here on Earth, but if they go to the moon, we're gonna follow 'em.")

Lee picked Bernie Mac as the closer, and he chose well. Mac has a hard, zombie stare, as if he'd been snake-bitten, and he has little scar next to the left eyeball as if someone had tried to pry out one of those impressive peepers with a knife. By the end of his 20-minute routine, we know a little something about his life: he's adopted the three children (ages 2, 4 and 6) of his sister who has a drug problem. Originally, Mac's brother said he'd help, but he's cut out of the picture and hasn't been seen since. The oldest kid, the 6-year-old, doesn't speak, because he used to do the drugs with his mom. Does Mac play this sad story for pathos? "I ain't no psychologist!" he spits out, drawing out a fanciful picture of disciplining the brats with hammers if they get out of line. "Old enough to talk back--old enough to get fucked up! I'm gonna open a day care center!") Mac, looking about as frivolous as Yaphet Kotto on a rampage, doesn't undermine his raw, tough material with a sop to the audience. And he retells an old joke--the spastic kid and the school bus driver (I used to make the gang at Eagle Rock Elementary spit milk through their noses with that one) with such hideous, scary force that it works after all these years.

The Original Kings of Comedy is padded with backstage moments and audience reaction shots. While I was pleased to hear Cedric's remarkable singing voice, the concert film probably would have had more power unedited. Mac's routine seems most powerful because it's uninterrupted. This is the most impressive stand-up movie since Pryor retired.

The Original Kings of Comedy (R; 117 min.) directed by Spike Lee and starring Cedric the Entertainer, Steve Harvey, D.L. Hughley and Bernie Mac, opens at selected theaters valleywide.

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From the August 17-23, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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