Let me start by saying that I am a D.L. Hughley fan. I find his stand up comedy to be extremely funny, insightful and usually entertaining. D.L. has always had a way of telling jokes about his personal experience as a black man in a way most can relate to and laugh at. He also usually has a way of discussing tough topics like politics and racism in a way that makes people laugh at themselves as much as they laugh at others.
With all that said I had high hopes for his new comedy special “D.L. Hughley: The Endangered List.” Unfortunately my high hopes were dashed after seeing the 1 hour special. Hughley blew this comedic opportunity, taking a serious topic and trivializing it to the point that it was decidedly unfunny and at times almost insulting.
"Endangered Species" was presented in a “mockumentary” format a la Michael Moore’s “Capitalism: A Love Story” where a serious topic is satirized in a documentary. People are interviewed and at times are made fun of without their knowledge. Every good mockumentary has a strong undercurrent of truth behind the shenanigans which makes you not only laugh but also learn about the real importance of the documentary subject. In this regard D.L. failed – miserably.
The show starts off with D.L. trying to get people to sign a petition to put black men on the EPA’s endangered species list. A silly premise to start with and one that immediately equates black men with endangered animals like the white rhino or extinct animals like the dodo bird. Treating black men like animals to be protected and “saved” by society is not the way to get people to think of black men as equals, and it is certainly not the way to get people to think about real African American issues in a serious way.
From this silly petition premise (which is always shown in close-ups with no signatures) the mockumentary just gets worse as D.L interviews people in an attempt to make his points about black issues while also trying to shine a light on the ignorance and stupidity of black and white people who covertly or overtly oppress people. The problem with these interviews and segments is that he too often conflates victims with oppressors and muddies up very clear issues.
In his discussion on the lack of black fathering of our youth he focuses on a bigoted black preacher (Jessie Lee Peterson) who is opposed to gay black men adopting black children. He tries to show how ludicrous this is by interviewing a responsible and loving gay black couple who has adopted black boys. Certainly he may make his point that gay people can be good parents, but if he thinks that the answer to black absentee fathers is gay black adoption he is clearly smoking something. He clearly ignores the MAJOR point that straight, black men are fathering children and abandoning them at an alarming rate. The other point ignored is that young black women are having too many children that they cannot afford to raise. In this one segment (that extends too long) he manages to completely ignore the large problem of bad parenting and abandonment to focus on a topic (gay black adoption) that at best addresses less than 1% of the black population.
You don’t save the black race from absentee fathering by demonizing the black church while giving young black fathers a free pass. If anything, the black church is one of the very few institutions trying to help black men. A focus on the small minority of black church leaders who do not support full adoption is misleading and completely irresponsible.
The theme is similar as he addresses two young black gangbangers. After a few absurd sound bite interviews he gives them each 1 share of stock in a prison corporation, signifying that they should reap the rewards of putting their own people (and potentially themselves in prison). 1 share of stock? Is this supposed to be funny?? Again, the very serious topic of over incarceration of black men was trivialized and mishandled to the point that it was neither funny nor enlightening. As a viewer, the points were completely lost on me as they were lost on the two black gang members in the skit.
Probably the worst portion of the show was when D.L. sits down with a white separatist. As he talks with the gentleman he somehow manages to make the white man a sympathetic character. He is a good looking young man who smiles a lot, makes his points clearly and doesn’t seem to have any real malice towards black people. How does D.L. manage to pick this guy as the representative of white separatism?!? As if picking this man was not bad enough, he decides to befriend him, hang out with him and enjoy a black and white cookie with him. If I was not a writer who had to write commentary on the show I would have turned it off right there. I kept watching however and wondered how many white and black people watching the show thought that white separatism was not so bad. How a comedian could miss the mark so badly I honestly do not know.
He ends the documentary with his plea before the EPA to get us on the endangered species list. His 5 minute case was weak and I am still not sure if it was supposed to be funny or serious. While I watched his pitch I felt like the plight of the black man was a joke and obviously the people at the EPA did too as he joked in his standup that he was unsuccessful in his attempt. This last scene summarized the problem of the whole show – he managed to take a serious topic and trivialize it. And after he failed he made a one-line joke about it as if to say “oh well, people don’t care. I tried (not really) so let’s move on – nothing else to see here”.
After the final credits rolled I found myself wondering what America would think of the black condition after watching this show. My first thought was that the people would misread the legitimate problems of Black America as some kind of trivial joke, not worthy of some real discussion but rather something to think about in passing between Tosh.o and the “real” news presented by John Stewart or Steven Colbert.
If done right people would have watched the Hughley mockumentary over and over again, getting a better understanding of the plight of urban black men and women; learning through humor as much of us do. “Endangered” was not worthy of a second viewing and thus a great opportunity was missed. It wasn’t funny enough, it wasn’t serious enough and it damn sure did not provoke enough emotional response to make anybody even care. Opportunities to educate America through comedy on a national, mainstream platform don’t come around too often. This opportunity was clearly wasted.
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