- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 17, 2000

Black comedians taking their stage act to the large screen is nothing new. The raunchy heyday of Richard Pryor dates back to the '70s, and Eddie Murphy followed in his footsteps a decade ago. Since then, cable television has taken over the role of showcasing black stand-ups.

Director Spike Lee now attempts to resurrect the dormant comedy-in-concert genre with "The Original Kings of Comedy," starring Steve Harvey, D.L. Hughley, Bernie Mac and Cedric The Entertainer. The film is a culmination of a two-year tour under the same banner.

Mr. Lee is no stranger to either comedy or documentary, but this is his first major movie that combines both. The 43-year-old filmmaker resides in New York with his wife and two children, but he discussed his latest work at the House of Blues in Los Angeles.

Q: Why did you make this film?

A: I was a big fan of all of those guys, and I never turn down a chance to work with great talent. I heard about the phenomenon of this tour. But when this tour came to New York, I was usually working. The first time I saw it was when we were shooting.

Q: That must have presented challenges. Did you have to learn their routines for the film?

A: It wasn't hard. I had done John Leguizamo's 'Freak' for HBO. He had a one-man Broadway show. I shot that on the last two nights of his run, so that prepared me for this.

Q: How do you capture a live performance?

A: The challenge is that you don't want to get in the way of your stars. You want to hold them up and not detract from their performance.

Q: You shot "The Original Kings of Comedy" on digital video and your new film, "Bamboozled," as well.

A: I shot "Bamboozled" first. I shot it on a small Sony camera. But I'd like to say that I am not giving up using film. We did that because we had to move quickly and the subject of the movie was television, so it seemed to fit. And the experience was so enjoyable that I thought I would use it again on "Kings of Comedy." We didn't have a big budget, and the cost of filming would have been prohibitive. I don't think the movie-going masses are going to be able to tell this wasn't shot on film.

Q: What will be the impact of these new, smaller, cheaper cameras?

A: There's going to be some democracy. Money will not be the overriding factor in what gets made. I'm not saying there will be better films, but more films will get made.

Q: There are things that are said in "Kings of Comedy" that might sound racist coming from white comedians. Do you agree?

A: I don't think that's an issue. Jewish comedians are allowed to say stuff that non-Jews can't say. You get a lot of slack if you belong to certain groups.

Q: Is this a film that's aimed at black audiences? Would you mind if white audiences did not see this movie?

A: I would mind. This film is being marketed to young, white, movie-going audiences. Look at the history of comedy. Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor were blasphemous.

Q: How did you decide what you would leave out?

A: There was an abundance of good material. But we have the added luxury of the DVD, so people will be able to see what was edited out.

Q: You break up the film with little vignettes with the comedians among themselves. Why?

A: We shot the comedians backstage, at radio stations and on a basketball court. It was a change of pace that gives the audience a chance to regroup itself. Otherwise, it's just too strenuous to have nonstop stand-up for the whole show.

Q: So tell us about your upcoming October release, "Bamboozled."

A: It stars Damon Wayans and Jada Pinkett Smith. There's also Michael Rapaport, Tommy Davidson [and] Savion Glover. It's a satire of television. We make fun of "Amos and Andy" and "Birth of a Nation." Too bad "The Patriot" wasn't out before we made it. (laughs heartily)

Q: You've been outspoken in your dislike of "The Patriot." Why?

A: There's a difference between dramatic license and rewriting history. That's not one and the same. The blacks in this film were extras, like the trees and the grass.

Q: You've had some real battles within this industry. Has that diminished your love of movies?

A: It will never diminish my love. I've done 15 films in 15 years. I pray every night, because most people go to their grave having done a job they hate all of their lives. I'm very, very lucky to make a great living doing what I love most, and that's making movies.

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