The Power Of One

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In 1998, if you recall, Chris Rock made the cover of Vanity Fair magazine. He was dressed as a clown and the coverline read “To Be Young, Gifted and the Funniest Man in America.” I think Rock was and is hilarious, but being hailed as the funniest man in America is a lot of pressure for anyone, especially a brother. Rock had nowhere to go but down after getting that label, and I’m beginning to think that was by design.

Let’s be clear. As Rock pointed out on Hart’s Real Husbands of Hollywood, there’s a big difference in being popular with black audiences and popular with mainstream audiences.

The Kings of Comedy’s (Steve Harvey, Cedric the Entertainer, Bernie Mac and D.L. Hughley) success doesn’t compare with kind of money and access to projects that comedians like Rock, Whoopi Goldberg, Eddie Murphy and Bill Cosby commanded at one time. The Cosby Show was TV’s biggest hit of the 80s and its said to have revived the sitcom genre.

Could it be that after Cosby’s success took him into a whole new stratosphere, it became important for mainstream America to have just one Black Super (funny) Man at a time?

Sinbad, Chris Tucker, Katt Williams, D.L.Hughley and Dave Chappelle have each had their shots. But when Hollywood was done with them, they were forced to go back home to the Black audiences that supported them from the start. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but explains the bitterness some comedians have expressed over the years.

Are Black comedians waiting for Hart’s star to dim so that they can get their shot? Probably so. Is that fair to Kevin? Probably not. To his credit, he’s put a lot of black people to work and seems like he may be trying to beat mainstream Hollywood at its own game. Only time will tell if he succeeds.

It doesn’t seem to matter how many openings for network late-night hosts become available if there’s room for just one… and that’s if we’re lucky. Cable is wide open for a diverse crop of Black comedians, male and female, but ABC, NBC and CBS have a type they’re not willing to change.

Knowing what I know about the hundreds of black comedians that will never be considered, I can only say it’s mainstream America’s loss.

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