Hood Adjacent with James Davis premiered Wednesday night on Comedy Central, and it’s already proven itself a worthy successor to the network’s groundbreaking Chappelle’s Show and award-winning Key and Peele.
Hood Adjacent sits somewhere between those two series both comedically and anthropologically. Just like its host.
“It’s my ode to how I grew up in Los Angeles, and grew up in general, as far as someone who grew up in South Central, but not the stereotypical South Central that you see in the movies,” Davis told me earlier this month at Clusterfest in San Francisco. “I have a joke where I’m like, I’m not from the Boyz N The Hood Menace II Society South Central Hunger Games, that’s not my district. But that’s the case. I grew up a block away from where it got really bad, so my perspective is I am very comfortable and I consider the worst parts of the hood my neighborhood, but I also went to a private middle school. I went to a liberal arts college. So areas of rich, wealth and white entitlement are my comfort zones, as well. I walk between two different worlds. Just like other shows that unpack topics, I’m unpacking topics that matter to both my friends in the hood and my friends in the mainstream. And I’m talking about these topics in a way where either the hood is learning about something that I’ve become an expert about in the mainstream world, or the mainstream is learning about something that I’m very familiar with having grown up around the world.”
The series premiere found Davis bringing two of his friends (one from North Carolina, one a white guy from New Jersey) back to his hood in South Central, asking for a hood pass. When their comedy sketch got interrupted by actual hood members, Davis immediately broke character to explain himself, and actually ask for a hood pass. Another segment found Davis reconnecting with one of his fellow former Boy Scouts, who’s also a former gang member turned private chef of a place called Trap Kitchen, where they debate the historical and edible value of chitlins (aka chitterlings). Davis also enlisted friends to record a Trap version of the National Anthem, and he encouraged viewers to likewise record trap versions of songs.
Davis doesn’t have the stand-up cred of Chappelle, nor the sketch cred of Key and Peele, but he has the social media skills to navigate how people consume comedy in 2017 — along with a charismatic touch to entertain any and all audiences. It allows him to serve as a comedic liaison between the so-called hood and the so-called mainstream.
And he’s probably the exception to the rule that you cannot translate social media success into mainstream success.
When I moderated a Comedy Central panel at Clusterfest that included Kyle Kinane, Natasha Leggero, Matt FX and Davis, Leggero joked: “Nobody wants to be on Snapchat.”
“I do,” Davis replied. “I own that Snapchat stuff. I literally would not be here if it wasn’t for Snapchat.”
It’s true. As Davis recounted: “So I had a live show at the NerdMelt in Hollywood called Urban Dictionary. Some friends at Comedy Central saw that and were like, how do we put this on Snapchat? We figured out a way. It was called Swagasaurus, where I was pretty much defining/explaining things from the urban zeitgeist to the mainstream. But in not a patronizing kind of way, but in an inclusive kind of way. It was one of their top performing Snapchat shows. And then they gave me a pilot. And then bip-bip-bip-BOOOOOOOOP!”
“That’s not the Snapchat I’m talking about,” Leggero said, clarifying she meant why would she watch someone try on shoes?
How do you know if you have a hit Snapchat show, though?
“They tell you,” Davis replied.
There are no Nielsen ratings.
“But it is kind of like regular television. They give you an order, and everybody’s Snapchat show doesn’t come back. And mine kept on coming back. Kept on coming back. And then people were hitting me up on my regular, like, boring Snapchat. ‘You’re great on Snapchat!’ Ah, you must be talking about the Comedy Central one, because my life is boring. But when I get on Comedy Central: Magic! It’s been really fun to use a platform that I, myself, had underestimated. I’m like Natasha. I don’t want to see damn near 10 seconds of my life, let alone someone else’s. But it’s crazy that you can actually use that short amount of time, and then the Discover channel, where it can maybe go to a minute, or a minute-and-a-half, and people are coming and watching that show just like one of their other regular favorite shows.”
As for Hood Adjacent, Davis hopes it becomes your favorite show by broadcasting scenes and cultures you rarely ever see.
“I have a golf episode. I have black-ass show. It’s black people playing golf. I’m showing you images of golf that you don’t get to see but I know it’s real. But you’re not going to see on CBS at 2 o’clock on Sunday the golf beef tournament that happens at Chester Washington Golf Course on Western and El Segundo. But you do at Hood Adjacent.”
Another episode, he said, spotlights gang members who aren’t remotely interested in committing crimes.
“You have to come from my perspective to even want to show that,” Davis told me. “I can talk about anything from that unique perspective, and Comedy Central has given me 22 minutes a week to have fun with that.”
With the extra time, future episodes also will feature a recurring segment called Between Two DeRays, where Davis takes the award-winning Zach Galifianakis talk show and replaces the ferns with comedian DeRay Davis and Black Lives Matter spokesman DeRay McKesson; “Woke Yo Car” in which Davis customizes a black teen’s ride so he won’t be killed by the police in a traffic stop; a “Token Friends” roundtable where Davis returns to Pomona College to find out how minority students feel now about being the token friend; and a segment in which Davis and a USC football star school each other on the NCAA rules for student athletes.
And to think, it all came out of a fun rap Davis recorded two years ago that inspired not only the Comedy Central series, but also this promotional video for it. Roll the clip!