As Judge Neal Solon put it, he just might be too white to get this disc.
"I mean this from my heart. I'm serious. If you don't like what I say, just defend my right to say it."
Chances are, you are familiar with Paul Mooney's work. If you have had any significant exposure to Richard Pryor, Saturday Night Live, Redd Foxx, Eddie Murphy, In Living Color, or Chappelle's Show, then you have undoubtedly seen or heard his material, though you may not know him by name. He is undeniably funny, though often unabashedly vulgar. His comedy is not for everyone, but if you are interested, Paul Mooney's Analyzing White America is one of the only outlets for seeing him perform his own material in front of an audience.
Facts of the Case
Figuring that everyone else has been the butt of enough jokes, comedian Paul Mooney takes is upon himself to analyze white America. Along the way, he hits on topics such as 9/11, Jerry Springer, saying the "N" word, and how chubby white women always seem to end up with skinny black men. All this, and you get a ten-minute interview, too.
Paul Mooney's Analyzing White America opens in typical public access TV fashion, with the title of the film superimposed in clunky lettering over an American flag waving in the wind. What happens next, however, is anything but typical. Paul Mooney spends an hour talking frankly about his observations on race in America. The show begins with a brief vignette where Mooney is psychoanalyzing a white politician, who feels guilty for being a white male, and who is trying to understand why he must be politically correct, but who is hesitant to use the "N word." Mooney responds by asking whether using the "N word" is really any different from using a politically correct euphemism in its place. After all, they are both simply words to which we as humans ascribe meaning.
Next thing we know, we are out of the analyst's office and on stage, face to face with Mooney as he launches into his act and his opinions on race. He argues, first, that it took the events of September 11, 2001 for white America to admit that African-Americans are people too. He also quips that had the perpetrators of the attacks been black, the plot would never have gotten off the ground. Twelve black men attending flying school and not paying much attention to the information about landing the planes would have thrown up some immediate warning signals.
The act continues in a similar fashion, focusing almost exclusively on race. Mooney has some interesting thoughts, but few seem really funny. Nor do most live up to some of his more familiar material from Chappelle's Show and In Living Color. Some of the most insightful and humorous bits come in Mooney's discussion of the dreaded "N word." Through the whole of his act, Mooney uses the word liberally, but he is unashamed. He knows that this undoubtedly makes some white people uncomfortable, so he is quick to point out that if white folks didn't want black folks to use this word, they shouldn't have invented it.
Mooney is obviously quite intelligent, and many of the bits in his act are insightful. Others, however, paint white people with the same broad strokes that have historically been used to perpetuate stereotypes and prejudice against American minorities. Mooney clearly feels that turnabout is fair play. It is also true that humor is often based on kernels of truth buried within stereotypes. This doesn't, however, stop these broad strokes from undermining the more legitimate insights buried in Mooney's act.
Unfortunately, the broad strokes that Mooney uses often fail in their primary purpose: getting laughs. I sat through Paul Mooney's Analyzing White America a second time, after realizing that the first time was largely a passive experience. The performance film had just played before my eyes. I had watched it and listened to Mooney, but little had else happened. Only thinking about it later did it occur to me that I was supposed to laugh.
While that may sound facetious, it isn't intended as such. I sat down to watch the film once more, this time late at night, hoping I could discover what, if anything, I had missed. I often find things funnier late at night and thought that, perhaps, a different time of day and a second viewing would help Mooney. Sadly, my response to a second, viewing was more or less the same the first. Sure, there were a few extra, incidental laughs, but I was still left wondering 'Where is the humor here?'
To wrap up my second viewing, I put on the sole extra on this DVD, an interview with Mooney conducted by Tim Reid, best known for his work on WKRP in Cincinnati. The ten-minute piece was interesting and engaging, but not enough so to counter the shortcomings of the feature performance. Similarly, the audio and video here are solid (with the exception of the public access television graphics.), but solid graphics and audio just don't make this act any funnier.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Maybe I'm just too white to get it, but…
Paul Mooney's Analyzing White America falls flat. It failed to meet my expectations of a comedian that I know to be funny and incisive, if kind of a one-note wonder. Only Mooney's die-hard fans will have reason to seek this one out.
If you don't like what I say, just defend my right to say it. For the record, I say that this disc is guilty as charged and is sentenced to life in my house as a coaster.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
• Interview with Paul Mooney
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