Comedian Mike Epps has been on the scene for over a decade doing standup and playing bit parts in movies like the Friday and Resident Evil series; he’s currently starring in Starz’s Survivor’s Remorse. Comedy specials like 2005’s Inappropriate Behavior more or less capture Epps’ aptitude for dark comedy. He invokes Iraq as a comparison to the situation black people face here in America, which has been a mantle taken up by quite a few rappers and comedians since. Epps earns laughs by not shying away from the meat of racial humor.
AOL’s new web series That’s Racist with Mike Epps sounds like it would be the perfect fit for the comic, as the show tackles racist stereotypes with episodes like “Asian’s Can’t Drive” and “White Men Can’t Jump”. Channeling Epps’ charisma and visceral sense of humor should make this show a hit, right? It should, but unfortunately Epps picked a lousy time to start pulling his punches.
The episode starts off with the stereotype to be addressed in the form of a joke, in this case “Black People Love Fried Chicken”. Epps guides us through a couple different scenarios from on-the-street interviews to a panel full of comedians and then to a one-on-one interview, yielding one or two funny exchanges. That’s Racist intends to cut to the heart of American race relations by investigating the framework that led to the fried chicken and watermelon munching pickaninny stereotype and, more importantly, how much of that is still around today, but the humor doesn’t rise to the biting level required for this kind of content.
Epps brings the stereotype question to his panel who bandy about jokes, although only half of the comedians even speak, which beckons the question if he could have consolidated and invested in fewer comedians with more barbs. The one comedian who stands out, however, is Helen Hong who is the most vocal of the comics and lands the most cutting joke of the episode in response to the question “why do black people love fried chicken” with “fried chicken tastes good with oppression.” Even the other comedians at the table felt the weight of that joke, and it prompted a good ol’ gut laugh from me because it finally felt honest.
The street interviews should be where Epps shines by channeling some of that comedian confidence into asking pointed questions. Unfortunately, the only funny response is from a black man who says he loves fried chicken… but doesn’t get the whole watermelon thing. Otherwise the responses are pretty blasé. It would probably be good to mention here that the show isn’t bad. In fact, it’s perfectly fine for its seven minutes running time, but far below the kind of execution needed by a show with such a confronting premise.
Even the production style feels sort of lazy with a black and white title card that could have been hastily rendered for an eHow video. A boom microphone even slips into frame during a restaurant scene, which feels sloppy. The best part of the show might be the scholars explaining the historical context of the stereotype at hand, which included some snazzy infographics explaining how fried chicken came to be associated with black people due to its perceived lower quality than steak. Frankly, I would watch a show of scholars just explaining the history of stereotypes. The fact that talking heads explaining history is the highlight of this comedy show is somewhat problematic.
The lowest point was Epps biting into a piece of fried chicken in slow motion to a knockoff of the most tired of tired “Chariots of Fire” song (that was reused in a later episode). Basically, the show feels neutered, which is almost inexcusable for the online platform which should have more leeway to make challenging material. The basics are here, i.e. a cool idea and a talented comedian host, but the writers of the show need to dig deeper into the material in order to get something really worth watching.