Tag Archive: redd foxx


The Cosby Show, by almost any measure, was the definitive 80s sitcom.  Based on the real life and stand up routine of Bill Cosby, the show revolved around the Huxtable family.  Patriarch Dr. Cliff Huxtable, his lawyer wife Clair, and their five kids.  A show that really doesn’t need much of an introduction, on to the tale of the tape…

Relevance:  While comics like Richard Pryor and Redd Foxx made their name by telling jokes aimed square at the racial differences between us, Cosby’s humor was built more around being a father, a husband, and the ups and downs of family.  I make this point again to say that while we all saw the superficial element, The Cosby Show rarely, if ever, addressed race in a direct way.  The culture was always there from beginning to end, but with the success of the show wasn’t necessarily because of, nor in spite of the family being black.  They just…were.

Legacy:  Where to begin?  Well, the direct ‘legacy’ of course was A Different World, which was impactful enough to earn its own place on this countdown.  On the business side, The Cosby Show turned Thursday nights into “Must See Television”  (not Friends or Seinfeld, The Cosby Show came first.)  Speaking of Jerry Seinfeld, him and many, many other stand up comedians owe him a debt of gratitude for establishing the ‘stand up comedian turning his act into a sitcom’ genre.  There are literally too many to name at this point, but The Cosby Show proved how successful that could be.  Am I missing anything?  Oh yes, in terms of why it stands where it stands on this countdown, for the vast number of black (and white) kids who had never seen a black doctor OR a black lawyer in their lives, The Cosby Show planted the idea in their heads that yes, it’s possible to have a black family like this.  Can not be underestimated.

Craft:  Nobody was ‘looking’ for a show like this, to have the impact it had, when it came out.  Even in reruns and syndication, The Cosby Show holds up extremely well.  I personally will always have a soft spot for the scene where Cliff educates Theo about finances using Monopoly money, but you can look through every season and find all kinds of (clean) and funny segments.  If casting is 80 percent of the battle, then Phylicia Rashad, Lisa Bonet, Malcolm Jamal-Warner, Tempest Bledsoe, and Keisha Knight-Pulliam deserve all the credit in the world.

Crossover:  The undisputed number one show in the ratings for a good five or six years (until The Simpsons came along).  Winner of Emmys, Golden Globes, Image Awards.  Cliff Huxtable still wins polls as the best TV dad ever.  Not best black TV dad, best Dad.  Nuff said.

Apollo:  Come on now…

And on that note, I’m off to find me a woman and start my own Huxtable family.  The most important Black TV show of all time next month.

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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…

richard_pryor_live_on_sunset_strip

Richard Pryor is universally recognized as the black comedian who set the stage for the onslaught of African-American stand ups who followed him in the 80s, 90s, and present day.  An argument can be made that there are funnier stand up films by some of the comedians that came after him, but Richard Pryor Live on the Sunset Strip set the standard for almost every black comic stand up film that came after it.

On to the tale of the tape…

Relevance:  While he certainly wasn’t the ‘first’ (Redd Foxx also comes to mind as someone who made a dent in the mainstream), Richard Pryor is held in such high praise by comedians and entertainers alike that it’s hard to imagine someone hitting that level of reverence today, working mostly as a standup.    You don’t need to have an eagle eye to spot a young Jesse Jackson in the crowd during this show, so um, Rich was at the heart of the community to say the least…

Legacy:  Wow.  Where to begin?  On a superficial level, it’s probably not a coincidence that in his first big stand up film Delirious, Eddie Murphy rocks a bright red leather suit that mimics that bright red suit Rich wore in this film.  The way Rich prowls the stage when he delivers his jokes, it’s easy to see Chris Rock mimicing his movements.  Rich’s confession that he’ll stop using the N-word to tear down his people has echoes of the reason Chappelle said he quit his own mega popular show.  Rich’s comedic telling of his nearly life ending episode is definitely reminiscent of Martin talking about his notorious mental breakdown in his own stand up film.  And how about the whole going back to Africa bit that Jamie all but stole word for word for his best standup special from back in the day (though I’ll be the first to admit that bit is still hilarious)?  Safe to say, every black comedian worth his salt watched this film more than once…

Craft:  I make no claims to be a comedian, but watching this film you really appreciate how many different types of comedy Richard Pryor did really, really well.  There’s the straight silliness/the storyteller (the animals in the jungle), the black comedian (the bit about brothers in the pen), and the self-deprecating (the whole bit about lighting himself on fire).  Even the comedians of my generation can usually only master one or two of these skill sets.  Richard Pryor really was the Man.

Crossover:  It wasn’t just black people who loved Richard Pryor of course.  Sequences like his story about working for the Mafia illustrate how Rich’s comedy went well, well past being just a black thing.  He was just one really, really funny motherf—–.

Apollo:  

An all time classic comes in next at #9.  But now that we’re in the top 10 that wasn’t much of a hint was it?  Guess you’ll have to come back later to check it out…

 

sanford

 Sanford and Son was both a ratings success (credited with knocking the Brady Bunch off the air) and critically respected as a good sitcom.  If someone else were making this list, I’d wonder what 23 TV shows are considered ‘more important’ than Sanford and Son (that’s what we call a ‘tease’ in the Business folks!)  Anyway, let’s move on to the tale of the tape…

Relevance:  Already considered one of the greatest black stand up comedians of all time, Redd Foxx made the transition to television by starring in this show about a father and son junkyard business run out of Watts (Los Angeles).  Again this reflects a different time (sadly), but it was not uncommon to have a majority/all black cast headline a show on network television.  Very relevant.

Legacy: “Oh Lord!  Elizabeth, I’m coming honey!”  “Lamont, you big dummy!”  Those two we all know; not to mention another great TV theme song (which was composed by Quincy Jones, by the way).  References to Sanford and Son still pop up quite a bit in other parts of pop culture; if you grew up in my generation, it was just one of those shows that was constantly on in syndication even after its initial run.  One of my favorite writers (Bill Simmons) is always good to mention an out of shape athlete was ‘stumbling around the court looking like Fred Sanford’, which always gets a chuckle out of me.

Craft:  It’s not Shakespeare obviously, but this was/is one of the shows you put in a DVD of to show people what a good 70s sitcom was.  Knock on wood, but when Hollywood was full throttle remaking every 70s TV show into a big budget movie, they left Sanford and Son out of it.  Who would play Fred now?  No one immediately comes to mind, and there’s a lot of good black comedians out now.

Crossover: Besides the theme song which I think everyone 30 and up is familiar with, Sanford and Son was also nominated for several Golden Globes over its run.  Redd Foxx actually won Best TV Actor one year for his portrayal of Fred Sanford.  And as I mentioned earlier, it was a perennial top ten show during the 70s.

Apollo:  You know how Martin would always slam Pam as soon as she came through the door on Martin?  That move was originated by Fred Sanford insulting Aunt Esther as soon as she came through the door on Sanford and Son.  On top of that, the star of the show was Redd Foxx.  Good luck finding the clips now (the scenes have already been altered for cable syndication), but there were a few memorable scenes where Redd went ‘off script’ and threw out the ‘n’ word way before Dave Chappelle had us howling by having the nerve to say it on television.

So…2 down, 23 to go.  Film #24 goes up tomorrow; maybe if things go well TV show #23 goes up a little after MLK day…