Program will focus on history of black comedy
The words “black comedy” or “black comedians” instantly bring to mind some of the comic geniuses of the genre: Richard Pryor. Eddie Murphy. Dick Gregory. Chris Rock. Flip Wilson.
Those names, though, scarcely touch the deep legacy of black comedy, as author and erstwhile comedian Darryl Littleton discovered when he wrote his groundbreaking book, “Black Comedians on Black Comedy: How African-Americans Taught Us To Laugh.”
Littleton, who performs comedy as D’Militant, will discuss and sign copies of his book Friday evening at the High Point Theatre, during a program jointly sponsored by the theater and the High Point Public Library.
“I had been a big fan of comedy since I was a kid,” Littleton said during a telephone interview, discussing his book. “I couldn’t find a book on the complete history of black comedy, so I wrote it myself.”
Littleton poured a ton of research into his book, but he says the real breakthrough came when he persuaded comedian Dick Gregory — known for using his comedy as a tool for social activism — to write the book’s introduction.
“Once I got him to write the introduction, I started getting lots of black comedians to talk to me — guys like Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, Sinbad and others of that nature,” Littleton said. “There’s no amount of research I could’ve done that would’ve given me all the information I got from the stories they told me.”
According to Littleton, he conducted some 125 interviews prior to writing the book.
During his presentation Friday, Littleton will talk about the early roots of black comedy, which can be traced all the way back to slavery. He’ll also discuss the minstrel era, which featured the likes of Billy Kersands, the most popular black comedian of the late 1800s.
According to Littleton, it was Gregory who became the first black comedian to gain mainstream acceptance in the early 1960s, paving the way for such stars as Pryor, Murphy, Bill Cosby, Redd Foxx and others.
Littleton, too, benefited from the inroads Gregory made. He began his comedy career writing sketches for “The Tom Joyner Morning Show” on CBS Radio. He began performing at The Comedy Store and attracted the attention of well-known comic D.L. Hughley, who chose Littleton to be his exclusive writer during his years as host of BET’s popular “Comic View.” He then became a writer/producer for the show and had the opportunity to write material for such up-and-coming comedians as Cedric the Entertainer and Don “D.C.” Curry.
Meanwhile, Littleton found work in front of the camera, too, appearing on such television programs as “The Parent Hood,” “The Apollo Comedy Hour,” “Def Comedy Jam” and “America’s Funniest People.”
He has also toured and shared the stage with the likes of Chris Rock, Steve Harvey, D.L. Hughley and Robert Townsend.
With Townsend, he produced his book as a full-length documentary titled “Why We Laugh,” which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2009 and on Showtime in 2010.
Littleton will screen part of his documentary during his presentation Friday.
“I’ll talk about some of the history, then screen the documentary, then have a Q&A time, and then do a live comedy show,” he said. “And it’s family-friendly — it’s all clean material.”
Littleton will sign copies of his book before and after the program.
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(hammerhed) Black comedy
(subhed) Noted author, performer discusses book on black comedians
Want to go?
Comedian and author Darryl Littleton will discuss his book, “Black Comedians on Black Comedy: How African-Americans Taught Us To Laugh,” at 7 p.m. Friday at the High Point Theatre, 220 E. Commerce Ave.
He will sign copies of his book from 6 to 6:45 p.m., then again following his presentation.
The event is a collaborative event between the High Point Public Library and the High Point Theatre.
Admission is $5.
Tickets can be purchased through the High Point Theatre box office (887-3001 or www.highpointtheatre.com) or at the door.
For more information about Littleton, visit his website at www.ccomedytime.com.