Is ‘Chocolate News’ New Chocolate?

Black sketch comedy is grappling with the post-racial headspace.

When it comes to Comedy Central’s new show, Chocolate News, I have an uneasy feeling.  It’s a feeling that comes from seeing a show that I assumed was meant to balance The Daily Show and Colbert Report, but that mysteriously has no news on it.  It’s a feeling that comes from watching sketches I’ve seen before on In Living Color and the Cappelle Show and wondering how DAG and his cohorts on Chocolate News will be able to expand and improve on those, which were pretty damn good.  It’s a feeling that comes from wanting people to laugh about race, but realizing that theatrical sketches about black stereotypes might not be the best way anymore.  It’s the feeling that comes from worrying that something you’ve loved might be going extinct.

Chocolate News is bringing classic black sketch comedy to Comedy Central in 2008.  It’s on every Wednesday at 10:30, right before John Stewart and Colbert.  From keeping tabs on the ad campaign and watching the pilot episode last Wednesday, I gather that the show aims to bring a distinctly black perspective to Comedy Central.  And the first episode did.  But the format of the show is so different from Stewart and Colbert.  Will that difference hilariously point out the disconnect between white and black headspaces, or will it just flop, misunderstood and misplaced?

The show airs as Barack Obama inches closer and closer to the presidency, and that’s definitely a factor.  Obama is a black man who’s not steeped in the tried and true cultural narrative of black oppression and resistance, and that changes the way black spokespeople, including comedy writers, can operate.  Chocolate News has to reckon with the changing landscape of black progress.  Is there still a place for black righteousness in Barack’s “post-racial” America?  Yes, but I argue that Obama’s lack of black anger changes the way blacks as a group are received by other audiences, and certainly by the Colbert/Stewart set.  My main question about Chocolate News is if it’s comfortable in the America of the black socio-political machine, or if it’s ready and willing to take old forms and update them, acknowledging that the country has changed, if only cosmetically.  Funny that David Allen Grier’s host character, DAG, reminds me a little of Tavis Smiley

The ad campaign gave me high hopes: “We don’t just filter the news, we filter it with menthol.”  It really is a service to society for David Allen Grier and Comedy Central to show an audience full of hip white people what’s going on inside the heads of the other people in their edgy, gentrified neighborhoods.  But I’m worried that white people will be turned off, sensing stagnancy, when they tune in only to see another post-“Hustle and Flow” gangsta rap parody.  Once Terrance Howard cries about something and Barack Obama is president, there’s no going back to the good old days when a gangsta rap parody was always an option.  Now you gotta pick your spots.

Chocolate News also has promise as a comment on the inherent bias of news sources.  “It’s only racist if you are,” another of the show’s catch phrases, challenges viewers to actively consider their perspective on the information presented.  That’s a lesson that all party partisans in this country should learn: whether you’re watching Fox News or reading the NY Times, it’s on you to consider the source.  It is ignorant to lazily accept the information fed to you by your chosen outlet.

Just like Modern Jackass Mag.  We’re only stupid if you are.  Good luck, Chocolate News.

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4 Responses to Is ‘Chocolate News’ New Chocolate?

  1. If it’s only racist if you are, then how do you unpack this phrase:

    “It really is a service to society for David Allen Grier and Comedy Central to show an audience full of hip white people what’s going on inside the heads of the other people in their edgy, gentrified neighborhoods. But I’m worried that white people will be turned off, sensing stagnancy, when they tune in only to see another post-“Hustle and Flow” gangsta rap parody.”

    Chocolate News must be forward thinking on the realm of not necessarily race but sketch comedy in order to keep the attention of a hip, edgy white audience that already owns all the Chappelle DVDs? Are DAG’s and Tavis Smiley’s raciial consciousness suspect in an Obaman post-racial world, or just the comedy they use to convey that?

    It really is a fascinating question. Is Chocolate News for white people? Black people? Both? Is that even possible? And are the two audiences mutually exclusive? The success of Chappelle show would say no. But I don’t know if past performance indicates DAG has the audacity to be as balls out as one has to in order to make race as ridiculous as it is. Unless his only goal is to lampoon the media for its tacit racial biases.

    Chocolate News, it’s only smart if you are. If so then we’re all screwed.

  2. I saw Grier on Tavis Smiley last night. Dude is still hilarious. He’s very cognizant that Chappelle redefined black sketch comedy and that In Living Color is as relevant today as it was 12 years ago. His aspirations are completely on point, to be the black, high concept, satirical voice that has been absent since Chappelle’s cancellation. The problem is the show is less Daily Show or Chappelle than a weird amalgamation of the two. Perhaps if he used “real” people for the “news” segments instead of actors the commentary would be more biting.

  3. Honey Dip says:

    I like DL Hughley on CNN better… its less transparent

  4. My dad called me about that last night. Apparently DL’s got the Old Midwestern Indian Male demographic on lock.

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