Men Swear


There is a particular cut of suit favored by black men of a certain age, girth, and means—a long, three-quarter-ish jacket paired with loose-fitting slacks that provide extra room for big asses. As young, small-framed, or unemployed African American men tend not to wear the Suit, it not only conveys a certain sartorial sensibility but confers a kind of survivor gravitas that middle age and prosperity bring to folks who are commonly expected to achieve neither. Everything a man wearing the Suit says is important, even when it isn’t. Don’t tell him he’s an aging overweight clown, though, because if The Original Kings of Comedy is any indication, he’ll threaten to get “ghetto-ish on your ass.”

In Kings, a concert film featuring the stand-up talents of Steve Harvey and Cedric the Entertainer (both of the WB’s The Steve Harvey Show), D.L. Hughley (UPN’s The Hughleys), and Bernie Mac (of countless bug-eyed supporting roles), the Suit is definitely in the house, prowling the stage while the men inside serve the standard Def Jam Comedy Hour riffs to the audience. The material hews to a familiar range of topics—”Whatever Happened to Big Mama?” “Why Kids Today So Crazy?” “My Mama Wore a Housecoat All Day,” “Funny Shit White Folks Do,” and of course, that great universal, “How I Ain’t Got No Pussy Since I Got Married.” Although this is ostensibly a Spike Lee Joint, the direction is unobtrusive and sparely functional, very unlike the Suits.

But the actual performances do feature small amounts of individuation, variations on the theme of being a pissed-off aging black man with money. Harvey wears his suit extra long and shiny, and has an older man’s penchant for complex tall tales involving church and a dislike of that hip-hop foolishness. Youngblood Hughley, clad in an agitated canary yellow, delivers similarly high-energy, staccato outbursts that suggest a man with too many jokes but too little time. Cedric the Entertainer takes the greatest risk with his suit—no arms!—and has the most technically proficient onstage persona (he’s the most accomplished physical comic of the bunch). As there can only be one king, the crown goes to Bernie Mac, a goggle-eyed marvel of old-school Chicago weirdness whose basic gimmick is drumming the audience into a frenzy about how it’s time to bring back “beatin’ our chillrun.” Just about every word out of his mouth is simultaneously hilarious and reprehensible, a situation Mac understands given his admissions that he’s only saying what “you think but are afraid to say.” Not really, but you don’t tell him that to his face unless you’re wearing a bigger and shinier suit.

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