SPIT TAKE: Spot-on in his parodies, Grier also delivers the kind of shocker that so much other comedy merely promises.
When David Alan Grier promises that he’s “filling TV’s black hole” with his chocolate flavor, you know it’s gonna be good. Or at least provocative. Comedy Central’s Chocolate News (Wednesdays at 10 pm, debuting October 15), which features Grier (a former In Living Color cast member and perennial TV presence) as the host of a mock news-magazine series, aims to bring an African-American perspective to the media satire game, using a combination of prose, bro’s, and ho’s.
The show is part sketch comedy, part socio-political commentary, part awkward racial stereotyping, all served up in Grier’s signature crisp, theatrical delivery, as a series of archetypal character parodies that are unabashedly on point. For the debut episode, Grier offers thespian diatribes about current events and pop culture, asking, of the state of hip-hop, “When did ‘Fight the power’ become ‘Wait till you see my dick’?”
Of course, one can’t help but balance rhetoric like that with a series of hip-hop video pastiches. The sketch-comedy world doesn’t lack for these: thuggish rappers, ejaculating champagne bottles, juicy-assed B-girls in tiny skirts. Chocolate News energizes the tired concept with a series of over-the-top PSAs starring Grier as “Phat Man” — a grill-baring, Building-19-tracksuit-sporting, poor man’s Biggie Smalls who spits dirty rhymes about No Child Left Behind and suicide prevention. These segments are visual orgies with a message. A message that you shouldn’t leave the “mothafuckin’, ass-droppin’, booty-poppin’ child. The child. Don’tcha leave that child behind.”
Grier also reprises his spot-on Maya Angelou impression, as seen in 1997 on Saturday Night Live, with a resplendent Grier-as-Angelou hawking Butterfinger candy bars, Fruit Loops, and Pennzoil. Here, the “former poet laureate” delivers radiant spoken-word verse that illuminates Barack Obama (“You have a mocha choke hold on the American dream!”) and gives John McCain a well-deserved kick in his wooden Chiclet teeth.
The first episode even gives us what many “cutting-edge” comedy-related TV shows, films, and books only promise: shock. In the very last sketch, white people are negotiating the right to use “the N-word.” A sharply square Willie Garson (most recognizable from his Sex and the City stint as Stanford Blatch, the token gay dangling from Carrie Bradshaw’s social charm bracelet) punctuates the otherwise hoky and predictable sketch by calling the gentleman with whom he’s negotiating, well, a nigger. Without hatred, without irony, just affably naive, self-entitled, post-negotiated-agreement. I can’t recall the last time I did a legitimate spit take watching a TV-comedy bit.
The rest of the show doesn’t rise to that same level of shock — the level of “Holy shit, I can’t believe that just happened. And that it was funny.” But producing even one such moment these days is laudable. And rather than making the rest of the show seem tame, somehow that shock of the effortless and giddy delivery of a racial slur propels Chocolate News to comedic heights. In retrospect, every chocolate punch line leading up to that final sketch — no matter how comparatively tame — seems imbued with latent social commentary.
True, Chocolate News is no Daily Show, but who the hell wants it to be? As Grier puts it, “If it’s chocolate, we gonna bring it to ya.’ ” It’s about time somebody did.