What does it mean to be black in America?
I cannot pretend to truly know myself, but I can turn to my friends with empathy and listen to them, put myself in their shoes.
A full generation before Black Lives Matter, Russell Simmons and Stan Lathan were making sure black comedians mattered by giving them their own TV showcase on HBO, Def Comedy Jam. Twenty-five years later, many of them reunited for one night only in Hollywood for a tribute and celebration filmed exclusively for Netflix: Def Comedy Jam 25.
Just how influential was Def Comedy Jam? Look at who turned up for the 25th anniversary celebration, filmed earlier this month in Los Angeles. From an opening monologue delivered by Steve Harvey, Sheryl Underwood, Cedric the Entertainer and Dave Chappelle, to appearances, presentations and performances by Martin Lawrence, Tracy Morgan, Katt Williams, Tiffany Haddish, JB Smoove, Bill Bellamy, Adele Givens, Tony Rock, Eddie Griffin, Joe Torry and Mike Epps.
“It’s good to see so many funny people together in one room, all wondering the same thing, Is Katt Williams going to show up?” Chappelle joked during the monologue, before realizing Williams already was sitting in the audience.
The best moments, though, began late in the proceedings, when Chappelle went completely off script.