BY ZIM EZUMAH
In 2015, Black people had enough. Hashtag after hashtag left us numb and aching for reprieves from the depressing progresssion of current events. In response came the influx of TV and movie dramas with Black leads. Scandal continued to give Kerry Washington a platform to slay every week. Viola Davis became the first Black woman to win the Emmy for Best Actress in a Drama in the history of the awards. Empire became a ratings juggernaut, one of the rare times the top performing program on TV starred Black actors. Even more impressively several top performing movies of 2015 featured black leads, such as Creed and Straight Outta Compton. The world was finally exposed to the range of Black performers and shook up the drama world.
In 2016, things were a bit different. Numerous passings of beloved entertainers and the sobering election cycle left us all with a need to escape. 2016 might’ve been trash in many aspects but we can all agree on one thing: it’s rightfully returned Black comedy to the spotlight of American television. It’s been some time since Black comedians, series’, and performers have seen this level of manstream accolade and attention. Twitter watch parties switched from Cookie and Luscious to Lawrence and Issa. Black-ish became an award season darling, landing the first simultaneous nominations in years for Best Actor and Best Actress in a Comedy for Black actors. Black comedians continued to rule the box office and broke records for stand-up tours. It’s safe to say that this was a banner year for those who make us laugh.
Here are the reasons why 2016 was the year of the Black Comedy Renaissance.
The Rookies Of The Year – Never before have two comedy debut series in my lifetime caused as much of a splash as Atlanta and Insecure. Dazzling the mainstream with their nuances take on young black millennial life, it filled a gaping void in the tv landscape for respeenstation that we didn’t we needed. Donald Glover went from 30 Rock and Community second fiddle to a star in his own right, finally reaffirming his position in Black pop culture. Atlanta on FX spoke to Black millennials in an unprecedented way – being relatable without being predictable and confidently offbeat without being condescending. Insecure continued the Black millennial magic in October, providing a fantastic continuation of the Awkward Black Girl series. Not since Girlfriends have black women allowed to be the stars of their own stories – not plot devices for male costars. The series boasted breakout performances by Issa Rae and Yvonne Orji (finally some representation for black female comedians!) and a sharp, relatable story line. Hollywood took notice too, since Issa Rae and Donald Glover both got nominated for Golden Globes. There’s finally diversity in comedy for the under 35 set, and it’s long overdue. Speaking of great Black millennial talent, while we wait for the next season of the shows, do yourself a favor and tune into NBC’s wildly underrated Carmichael Show. Sharp, funny writing, great talent, and the best topical matter on tv.
The Beauty of Black-ish – Black-ish is the best sitcom on network tv. Don’t believe me? How many sitcoms on today can tackle police brutality in a classy, poingant manner? With the episode “Hope” in Season 2, it rocketed past its overrated neighbor Modern Family to the shining star of ABC’s comedy lineup. Black ish delivers consistent laughs and it’s being noticed for it. It’s been nominated for best Comedy since it’s first season and has already nabbed a Peabody award. It’s been years since a black sitcom has been lauded by the mainstream media, and for good reason – the show gets better with every season, as Tracee Ellis Ross, Jenifer Lewis. Marsai Martin and Anthony Anderson continue to give some of the best comedic performances on TV. The success of Black-ish has led to other black sitcoms being greenlit and slated for mid season premieres- Marlon Wayans’ Marlon will debut in 2017. Take advantage of that other TV show on Wednesday nights being on hiatus until March-check out Black-ish.
Stand-Up Sells – 2016 reminded us that Black stand up comedy is still very much in demand. Chris Rock demonstrated his mastery of the skill set hosting the Oscars during the intense #OscarsSoWhite boycott and still managed to be funny and refreshing. Kevin Hart debuted his third stand up film in theaters to a $12M opening weekend. Dave Chappelle’s return to TV saw SNL’s highest ratings in 4 years. A slew of young and established comedians dropped long awaited specials this year (Pete Davidson, Michael Che, Cedric the Entertainer, Martin Lawrence) and several stand ups can be seen in new projects. Further proving the dominance of Black stand up, both Rock and Chappelle set records, with Rock receiving $40 million for 2 specials and Chappelle taking $60 million for 3. After the absence of programs such as Def Comedy Jam and Comic View, it seemed as though urban stand-up comedy had faded from public consciousness. However 2016 proved there’s still a massive audience for the art of urban stand up, and as online entities (All Def Digital, the Russell Simmons helmed comedy platform, debuted their first HBO Special All Def Comedy this year, along with their Comedy Roast specials on Fusion) move into the programming realm, there’s even more mainstream representation for our live comedy.
BY ZIM EZUMAH