Judge Ryan Keefer thinks that so many people like Wayne Brady because they want to get wet and eat a sandwich with him too.
"The Bible says Jesus is black. It describes him, 'hair of wool,' 'skin of bronze'. So he had to be black. The sun was closest to the Earth then, so everybody was black. And it makes it more fun for Jesus to be black."
Like many other people, my knowledge of Paul Mooney was limited to his time spent on Dave Chappelle's Comedy Central show. He was Negrodamus in season two, not to mention the generic "black dude" that people asked questions of back in season one. Little did I know that Mooney's place in comedy was heralded yet relatively anonymous.
Mooney spent most of his time as Richard Pryor's writer during the '70s and made valuable contributions to many of the comedian's groundbreaking albums of the time. He was the head writer on Pryor's short-lived television show in the '70s, which features contributions from other writers like Robin Williams (Good Will Hunting), Tim Reid (WKRP in Cincinnati) and Marsha Warfield (Night Court). In the '80s, Mooney served as writer on another groundbreaking show, In Living Color. Aside from creating the hilarious Homie the Clown character, he was responsible for bringing a hyperactive and very flexible Canadian comic named Jim Carrey into the fold of the Wayans brothers show, and the rest that is history.
Like other comics, such as Charlie Murphy, Mooney parlayed his celebrity status from Chappelle's Show into bigger and better audiences in stand up clubs, and in Know Your History, he performs at Hollywood's Laugh Factory. Combined with the performance are interviews with many of Mooney's peers, including Sandra Bernhard (The King of Comedy), David Alan Grier (In Living Color) and…Tank Girl's Lori Petty? Aside from that particularly baffling connection, Mooney spends his time discussing recent events in America, including the recent illegal immigration debate, the fallout from Katrina, and a hilarious bit equating George Bush to the new incarnation of the devil himself. Spell out Bush's first, middle and last name (Bush Jr.), and the point seems to be made. However, the forefront of Mooney's material has been and is race in America. He is very aware of the thievery that white people have done through the years to people like Michael Jackson and James Brown, but he does say that Brown looked like an old Asian woman in a pretty funny joke. He also peppers his act with quick hit jokes that also discuss the oppression that white folks put on blacks, and the subconscious envy of things like music and genitalia.
I'd love to share some of the jokes that Mooney tells with you, but the simple fact of the matter is that much of what is said just can't be quoted here. That's not to say it's not funny, but because it's irreverent in the material and the race problems America has. He doesn't hesitate to not call himself black, rather he considers himself "stolen property." Jokes like that cover most of Mooney's hour and change on stage, and the jokes are well-received and usually hit all the right marks with a crowd that is very pro-Mooney. And as a couple of people walk out during the show, Mooney wears those walkouts like a badge of honor, telling the crowd that "I'm from the neighborhood, not Hollywood." There are some moments when it seems like Mooney is a little bit gassed and comes off more as preachy than anything, but maybe that's just my cracker ass talking.
The funny thing about this disc is that Mooney's comedy, at least in light of recent stand-up events over the last several months, may be dated now. Mooney's performance was on the same stage where Seinfeld's Michael Richards made a fool out of himself by using the "N word" and went on the image recovery/civil rights leader press tour in late 2006. As of this review, Mooney has sworn off using the word, and is attempting to use it as sparingly as possible.
Overall, Know Your History is a good introduction to the humor and comic sensibilities of Paul Mooney. Discount the lingering question of what Lori Petty is doing on this disc and prepare to laugh your posterior off, because whatever your color is, Mooney brings the funny that this viewer hasn't seen in a few years. Now that he's got a little more exposure, hopefully more people will recognize the humor he brings to the stage every night.
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