Tag Archive: russell simmons


At the midpoint of Ramadan, time for a little reflection.

Russell Simmons is one of the more famous faces who has lent his name to the cause:

When I started my own series of essays on the subject, I will say it was refreshing to know of the many non-Muslim Americans who rejected the idea of scapegoating an entire community based on the actions of a few.  If you’ve read Volumes I and II of this series, you’re aware of how important I feel it is to build alliances based on our common goals.

That being said…

One of the first things every boy learns on the playground is you want respect, you have to stand up for yourself.  It’s good for your reputation to have other people vouch for you, but sooner or later, the spotlight will be on you whether you want it or not.  You put your fists up, and then?

One of the ‘second’ things every boy learns on the playground is you’re just not going to win every fight.  Sometimes you’re outnumbered, you just cover your face and take your beatdown like a man.  Sometimes you’re outmatched, and as they say, if you have to go down, you go down swinging.  Not having to win every fight is part of the Game, especially when you enter the world of adult relationships.

Again, that being said…

What if the fight is a fight for survival?  What if you feel a core part of your identity is being threatened?  What if the person you’re fighting wants you not just to go down, but to stay down and never get back up?

There’s an analogy I picked up in film school; it actually works quite well on a larger scale as well so I’ll share it here.  Think of the Game as if it were a war, with two fairly equal sides fighting for power.  History teaches us that in every war, both sides will have their moments. (A one sided war of course, is a massacre.)  Strategically, you have to gain the ability to look at the big picture, gauge where the momentum is going, and ‘pick your spots’.  We’ve already covered the foolishness of trying to win every fight; but knowing ahead of time the 2 or 3 things that you won’t compromise makes it easier to idenify what you’re willing to negotiate on, and what you will gladly sacrifice if someone really wants to fight you for it.

I’ve covered some (but not all) of the reasons I metaphorically put my fists up a couple weeks ago.  As I stated, I appreciate the efforts of Mr. Simmons, but what really strengthens my resolve is other members from within the community who like myself have reached their ‘Enough’ point, and who use their own platforms, whether it be as artists or bloggers or politicians or just ‘Average Joe’ citizens, and do what they can to paint the community in a more diverse light.  Everyone isn’t meant to stand on the frontlines of a battlefield, but as the saying goes, ‘All the world’s a stage’.  Like others, I am playing one of my many parts.


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. 


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