- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 1, 2005

LOS ANGELES — Aaron McGruder has been called a “genius” and “the angriest black man in America” as he has skewered everything from the Bush White House to Black Entertainment Television.

Even Rosa Parks almost took a hit in the new TV version of Mr. McGruder’s popular comic strip, the Boondocks. After the civil rights icon died Oct. 24, Mr. McGruder deleted references to Mrs. Parks from a scene that showed her scuffling with fans of purported child pornographer R. Kelly.

However, the fact that Mrs. Parks was included in the first place demonstrates that Mr. McGruder’s show, which premieres Sunday at 11 p.m. on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, will retain the edge that periodically has gotten the strip pulled from newspapers.

“For me, it really first has to be a good story and be funny,” Mr. McGruder says. “If you’re doing sincere comedy, the edgy stuff kind of happens on its own.”

“The Boondocks” follows the adventures of junior revolutionary Huey Freeman and his hip-hop-obsessed younger brother, Riley (both voiced by actress Regina King), who live in a white, middle-class suburb with their cantankerous grandfather.

Though the series won’t tackle current events (the 15-episode order took 18 months to complete), it’s certainly not lacking in irreverence. In one show, Granddad starts dating a younger woman, oblivious to the fact that she’s a prostitute, which leads to a discussion between Huey and Riley on whether all women are “hoes.”

Another episode centers on the resurrection of Martin Luther King, whose nonviolent message is ridiculed in a post-September 11 world by media outlets such as Time Warner’s CNN and Time magazine. (Cartoon Network is a division of Time Warner.)

“Ultimately, I think everyone draws their own line of what’s shocking and what is inappropriate in different places,” Mr. McGruder says. “For you, some 10-year-old kids talking about ‘hoes’ may not [be] that big of a deal. But someone out there is gonna flip. There’s no way to know. So I just try to deliver an amusing and decent story and leave the shock and the awe to whatever people have in their own heads.”

Mr. McGruder began writing the strip in 1997 while attending the University of Maryland. It’s carried in about 350 newspapers, although some have moved it to the editorial page.

A few papers temporarily pulled the strip for its attacks against the war in Iraq in 2001. Earlier this year, several papers dropped it for a few days because of its use of the n-word — which, not coincidentally, is sprinkled throughout the TV series.

Bringing “The Boondocks” to television took several years. Fox made a pilot two years ago, but Mr. McGruder says the network’s plethora of “rigid creative rules” made the experience a nightmare.

Cartoon Network “is letting me do the show I want to do,” Mr. McGruder says. Network Senior Vice President Mike Lazzo also is making “The Boondocks” the centerpiece of the three-hour Adult Swim late-night block, which pulls in more of the coveted 18-to-34-year-old male demographic than Jay Leno, David Letterman or John Stewart.

A longtime fan of the Boondocks comic strip, Mr. Lazzo says he believes Mr. McGruder’s voice is vital to television — n-word and all.

“Aaron is working in an American tradition which is a vernacular [of] how he wants to represent this world,” Mr. Lazzo says. “[UPN’s] ‘Everybody Hates Chris’ has done this. People are expressing themselves creatively now in the manner you saw with ‘All in the Family,’ with social issues and racial identity issues addressed head-on.”

Audiences seem to be ready.

“People want to see good television where issues are being spoken about, even if it is in an animated series,” says Cedric Yarbrough, who voices the Freemans’ milquetoast neighbor, Tom DuBois. “I was just watching ‘All in the Family’ and was like: Wow, we could never talk about that on sitcoms now. It’s all about not being offended.”

“Through often well-meaning attempts to keep things comfortable, we in the media don’t always say things the way things are,” adds Jill Talley, the voice of the show’s only regular white character — Tom’s wife, Sarah. “Aaron’s saying smart, pointed things by using kids. In a kid’s world, you say what you think. Most people can identify with it because you feel the same way but would never dare say it.”

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