In the promotional trailer for his new prime-time television show In the Flow with Affion Crockett (premiering Sunday Aug. 14 on FOX), 37 year-old comedian, actor, rapper, and dancer Affion Crockett is billed as the “next big star in comedy.”
He introduced the world to his brand of physical comedy and impressions in 1996 when he debuted on HBO’s Def Comedy Jam and has recently made name for himself by producing and starring in sketch comedy/parody videos on YouTube, a format his new show is primed to follow. Crockett joins a long line of comedians who have turned stand-up success and bit movie roles into the opportunity to showcase their talents as the headliner of their own prime-time vehicle. He is also stepping into uncertain territory.
Black comedians haven’t always fared well in sketch comedy arena. The last time FOX ventured into this realm was when it handed over the reigns to “original king of comedy” Cedric the Entertainer for the short-lived Cedric the Entertainer Presents. After only 18 shows that run from the fall of 2002 to spring 2003, the show was canceled as it failed to gain an audience or curry favor with critics.
Very little is notable or memorable about the show, except maybe how aggressively bad some of the sketches could be. In one of its more ridiculous moments, Cedric is dressed in a brown bear costume and instead of craving picnic baskets a la Yogi Bear, he possess a ravenous appetite for the beautiful models dressed in bikinis taking pictures in the park. It ends with Cedric attacking these women and his smaller black bear companion saying “I guess we’re just too horny for our own good.”
That’s not to say Crockett’s show is guaranteed to be a failure. From 1970-1974, The Flip Wilson Show was one of the most popular on television, garnering two Emmy awards (one for Outstanding Variety Series) and a Golden Globe for its star. Wilson created characters and coined phrases that became part of American pop culture, such as Reverend Leroy, pastor of the “Church of What’s Happening Now” and the insanely popular Geraldine Jones whose line “the devil made me do it” still has currency today.
Richard Pryor also helmed a sketch comedy show in the late 1970s, The Richard Pryor Show, but due to disputes with NBC over the content, he only agreed to the production of four shows. Black comedians found placement on NBC’s next foray into sketch comedy, the long-standing Lorne Michaels and Dick Ebersol helmed Saturday Night Live, most notably launching the career of superstar comedian/actor Eddie Murphy, but it wasn’t until the premiere of In Living Color on FOX in 1990 that another sketch comedy series with a largely black cast would hit national airwaves.
Created by Keenan Ivory and Damon Wayans, In Living Color has been heralded as groundbreaking, particularly for its willingness to address blackness in comedy at a time when The Cosby Show still commanded America’s attention with its aversion to race specific material. It introduced the country to many future stars, including megastar Jim Carrey (one of two white cast members) and Oscar-winner Jamie Foxx, who serves as an executive producer for Crockett’s show.
Crockett is now attempting to step into shoes vacated by one of comedy’s biggest stars of the new millennium, the enigmatic Dave Chappelle. Chappelle’s Show, which debuted on Comedy Central in January of 2003, was a supernova that broadened the comedian’s fanbase and led to him gracing the every magazine cover imaginable and being called “the funniest man in America.”
His brand of comedy was racial and political, a unique social commentary on the hot button topics of the day, mixed with juvenile gross out humor that somehow managed to be appreciated by fans across the spectrum of high-brow and low-brow comedy. The DVD sales of the show set records, and as a result Chappelle signed an unprecedented $55 million dollar deal for the production of a third and fourth season.
Then suddenly, Chappelle walked away from the show, in his now infamous trip to South Africa, as he was displeased with the direction the show had taken and the pressures that came with his newfound fame and Hollywood allure.
There hasn’t been a black comedic star on quite the same level since Chappelle chose to vacate his position. Chris Rock is a household name, of course, but he appears sporadically. For a time, Katt Williams seemed poised to take over the illustrious crown, but numerous run-ins with law enforcement have hindered his progress. The newest sensation is Philadelphia-native Kevin Hart, who has won the hearts of many through his self-deprecating sense of humor based largely around his diminutive stature, his riffs on male-female relationships, and his no-holds barred approach to celebrity roasting.
But as black comedians continue to turn away from the stage (Steve Harvey is a self-styled relationship guru now and Mo’Nique is more interested in dramatic roles like that of Oscar-winning turn in Precious, for example), the field is wide open for someone like Crockett to come in and be the next huge star of black comedy.
He is unique in that not many black comedians are noted for their physical humor, and his impressions are uncanny. What remains to be seen is if he has the chops to carry a series of his own, in prime-time, and add to the legacy of black sketch comedy rather than diminish it.