Def_Comedy_Jam

Dating back to the days of Redd Foxx (and earlier), black stand up comedians would pay their dues on a different route than their white counterparts.  Affectionately known as the ‘chitlin’ circuit’, the black stand ups of the 80s and 90s would tour the country for years, decades even, performing blue material that catered directly to a specific audience.

Russell Simmons’ Def Comedy Jam essentially brought the chitlin circuit to the mainstream.  A staple of HBO in its pre-Soprano days, Def Comedy Jam in its heyday showcased more black talent in one episode than most broadcast network shows do in a season.

Enough prologue, on to the tale of the tape…

Relevance:  As described in the intro, Def Comedy Jam became an instant sensation with fans of black comedy.  Hosted by Martin Lawrence and DJ’ed by Kid Capri, the show ‘became’ the chitlin circuit I mentioned earlier.  With the freedom that HBO still provides to this day, no subject matter was taboo, and I’d love to reprint some of the jokes here, but sadly this is PG rated blog.

Legacy:  From a TV show point of view, BET’s Comic View was obviously the direct attempt to capitalize on this with a cleaner set of language.  When I think of legacy in terms of this show though, my first thought was ‘how many black comedians who went on to bigger things appeared on Def Comedy Jam?  A quick fact check made me realize the better question would have been, ‘Who DIDN’T appear on the show at some point?’  The only big name 90s black comedian who I think never came close to crossing that stage (for fairly obvious reasons when you think about it) was Sinbad.

Craft:  The first few years of the show, that comedy was superb.  And I don’t say this to put down some of the stand ups who appeared when the show started to lose steam, but everybody is not as funny as Martin Lawrence, Bernie Mac, Joe Torry or Dave Chappelle.  You throw in Comic View starting to dilute the talent pool and it was inevitable that the things would change.

Crossover:  It was known I think.  Chris Rock did a pretty funny parody of the show when he hosted SNL once.  Hip hop was in its Golden Age, so it’s not a stretch to think the white kids who were buying Public Enemy albums were also watching Def Comedy Jam. 

Apollo: 

The TV show countdown continues later with the making of a future movie star…