“In Living Color”--that was a hell of a show, wasn’t it? The early FOX network sketch comedy series not only defined comedy in the ’90s, it launched the careers of Keenan Ivory Wayans (plus a dozen or so other Wayanses), Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Lopez (a founding “Fly Girl”) and ... oh, yeah, that Jim Carrey guy. Now series stalwart David Alan Grier returns to the format that spawned him with Comedy Central’s new sketch series “Chocolate News.”
Aiming for roughly the same niche that “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” have so successfully occupied, “Chocolate News” plays out like a flippant take on “60 Minutes.” Grier, trying out a more indignant, more politically incorrect version of himself, hosts this 30-minute dose of “Afrocentric realness.” Though the show concentrates exclusively on African-American personalities in the worlds of politics, entertainment and pop culture, Grier has as much criticism as praise in his ammo bag. A debut episode opening rant on the sad state of modern hip-hop castigates performers for their all-consuming obsession with sex. “When did ‘Fight the Power’ become ‘Wait ’Til You See My Dick’?” rails our host.
Instead of relying on actual news footage and real stories for comedic fodder, Grier sticks with what he knows best—sketch comedy. Various segments find Grier playing dress-up and tackling the roles of Maya Angelou composing an inaugural poem for Obama and a chubby rap star singing the inappropriately smutty praises of the “No Child Left Behind” program.
So far, Grier hasn’t established as vivid a personality as, say, Stephen Colbert’s right-wing blowhard on “The Colbert Report.” Maybe that’s because Grier doesn’t have as many cultural touchstones to draw upon (Tavis Smiley? Gwen Ifill?), or maybe he just needs a couple more weeks to settle into a comfortable on-screen persona. Given Grier’s extensive track record, I’ll go with the latter.
The frequent censorship “bleeps” heard on the show are a fair indication of how far Grier is trying to push the envelope. “Chocolate News” breaks far more taboos than “Saturday Night Live” has in the last decade or so. As a result, some of the humor may feel more uncomfortable than laugh-out-loud funny. But that seems to be what Grier and his staff are aiming for. A skit concerning the “N-Word Peace Treaty” is a perfect example. According to the bit, white people are now allowed to use the N-word with impunity. In exchange, Black people can employ one of six derogatory phrases toward white people. (My personal fave: “Winter Olympians.”)
As a magazine-show parody, “Chocolate News” isn’t nearly as polished as Comedy Central’s other faux news outlets. But it’s got potential. With the first African-American poised to enter the White House, Grier and his “Chocolate News” could be riding a major cultural wave for at least the next four years.