Review of “The Right to Offend: The Black Comedy Revolution”

The first half is perhaps inevitably a trip down memory lane, dealing with the pioneers of the stand-up circuit, foremost among them Gregory, who essentially gave up playing to throw himself into the civil rights movement. It also reluctantly gives Cosby quite a bit of time (“There’s no Barack Obama without Bill Cosby,” says DL Hughley), before moving on to Richard Pryor, whom many interviewees cite as the voice most influential of all and, as author Mark Anthony Neal notes, “the role model for all who come after”.

The second half, on the other hand, veers heavily from stage to film and TV influence, from Fox’s “In Living Color” to Eddie Murphy – first on “Saturday Night Live” and then as a star. mainstream in films like “48 Hours” – to the marriage of hip-hop sensibility and comedy via TV shows like “Def Comedy Jam”.

These hours also focus on two comics that have been making headlines lately, Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle, portraying Pryor’s most prominent heirs, with the two discussing how they view their role as provocateurs.

Asked about making fun of black people in front of racially diverse audiences, Rock admits the practice has made some people uncomfortable, but he said: “I like the audience to be slightly appalled from time to time. .”

Perhaps most importantly, “Right to Offend” continually returns to the importance of comedy as a tool to address and highlight issues where the temptation is often to look away, such as public displays of racism. and overt white supremacy seen under the Trump administration and its aftermath.

In these troubled and troubling times, comedian W. Kamau Bell says, “As a black comedian, you want to be the person who says, ‘Let me help you figure out what’s going on.'”

Produced by Kevin Hart, the subject matter is frankly too broad to be fully comprehensive even in a four-hour format, though he does an admirable job of casting a wide net and carefully curating his clips, from trailblazers like Redd Foxx to Moms Mabley passing by Pryor’s. Short-lived variety show and historic word association sketch with Chevy Chase on “SNL.”

Kevin Hart produced "Right to Offend: Black Comedy Revolution."

Directors Mario Diaz and Jessica Sherif also personalize the presentation by interviewing the children of some of the former comedians featured, such as Pryor’s daughters Elizabeth and Rain.

In hindsight, the only problem might be the title, because a frequent point is that black comics don’t just have a right to offend, but a need, or even an obligation, to make audiences uncomfortable. in order to expose larger truths.

Such material also tends to make Hollywood nervous, though, as several performers note, success tends to overcome such apprehensions, which doesn’t mean they don’t come with risks. As Rock says, when Gregory spoke about racism in a way that risked alienating white audiences, it was “very bold then. It still is.”

“Right to Offend: The Black Comedy Revolution” airs June 29-30 at 9 p.m. ET on A&E.