Def Comedy Jam Returns With All Def Comedy » VSB

Pop Culture, Race & Politics

Def Comedy Jam Returns With All Def Comedy

Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for BET


As a kid growing up in the 80s and 90s, my parents had a random but effective rubric for what I was and wasn’t allowed to watch with them. Ultra-violent and ultra-adult movies about the mafia and other crime sagas were cool. Movies with explicit sexual content or language that would frequently refer to explicit sexual acts was not. To wit, I was eight or nine when they allowed me to watch The Godfather with them; 10 when they bought me the book (which is even more violent and explicit), and 11 when they took me to see The Godfather III a day after Christmas. We’d also regularly cite lines and scenes and themes from Miller’s Crossing and Goodfellas; we’d debate whether Keyser Soze was more ruthless than Michael Corleone (he was, no contest); and we’d laugh at the dark comedy in Tarantino’s nihilistic pulp.

(Of course, there was also explicit sexual content and/or language in each of the Godfathers, every Scorcese movie, and every Tarantino movie, but who was I to question my parents’ arbitrarily inconsistent rule?)

Anyway, they didn’t forbid me from watching movies and shows that fell under the “Yeah…we can’t watch this shit with you in room” umbrella. I’d just have to watch them on my own. Which is how I discovered, became engaged with, and eventually obsessed with HBO’s Def Comedy Jam.

Some of the best skits are still etched into my memory. I don’t need Google’s assistance to write about Eddie Griffin’s hilarious and demonstrative bit that brought down the house with an impression of Michael Jackson. I remember an even then loudly-attired Steve Harvey riffing on Mitch “Blood” Green, the man who stupidly decided to get into a street fight with Mike Tyson and left with an eye so swollen that it basically became a whole entire second head. And of course I’ll never forget Bernie Mac’s iconic “I aint scared of you motherfuckas” set; each joke punctuated with a beat drop and Mac exclaiming “Kick Ass!”

But even more than the specific bits — genuinely explosive, frequently obscene, occasionally star-making, and consistently running the gamut from legitimately hilarious to “yeah…this dude should go to night school or something cause this comedy thing ain’t working for him” — Def Comedy Jam’s most resonate legacy to me was how it provided an unfettered look at a particular type of authentically Black dialogue and humor I’d never seen on TV before. Of course, I’d seen hour-long specials from Eddie and Pryor and Cosby and Redd and others before, but each of those comedians were already mainstream stars by the time I found them. Shit, Richard Pryor was in freakin Superman. I wouldn’t dare say that any of these icons pandered to — or, at the very least, actively solicited — the White gaze. But while watching them I never lost cognizance of the fact that White people were watching too.

Yet, although Def Comedy Jam undoubtedly had White fans (and even a White comedian or two), it didn’t seem very interested in or concerned with them. There was no explaining or needless exposition, no self-conscious code switching, and a complete and utter lack of fucks given about any notion of respectability. This wasn’t even barbershop or beauty salon or BBQ Blackness. Because sometimes at barbershops and beauty salons and BBQs, there are people there you’re cool with but not cool cool with and you give your jokes a bit more filter and a bit less punch. And sometimes you just gotta be professional and shit because there are customers or kids or someone’s grandmom around. This, however, was back porch Blackness. Basement house party Blackness. “Wait…how the hell did HBO even allow this on TV?” Blackness. And for a little and bit-too-curious and precocious Black kid still too young to understand all of the jokes but definitely old enough to sense the love for Black people coursing through them, it was aspirational. Not the comedy, per se, but the freedom. To be as Black as I gotdamn well wanted to be.

Def Comedy Jam returns this Saturday, in the form of the All Def Comedy special, hosted by Tony Rock and featuring Chris Powell, Zainab Johnson, Kevin Tate, Robert Powell, and Tony Roberts. Perhaps one of these comedians will be the next Ced the Entertainer or the next Sommore or the next Chappelle. We’ll see. And perhaps some little Black kid out there will sneak and watch the special while his parents aren’t around. And maybe he’ll laugh at the jokes he gets and the ones he doesn’t quite get yet. And maybe he’ll aspire to be that confident, to have that same command of language, to have that same ability to control a room, and to be that free to be as Black as he gotdamn wants to be.

I guess we’ll see.

Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB. He is also a columnist for And he's working on a book of essays to be published by Ecco (HarperCollins). Damon is busy. He lives in Pittsburgh, and he really likes pancakes. Reach him at Or don't. Whatever.

  • Kas

    Thanks for a non-political post.

    • Haleyjesposito

      Google is paying 97$ per hour! Work for few hours and have longer with friends & family! !hu80c:
      On tuesday I got a great new Land Rover Range Rover from having earned $8752 this last four weeks.. Its the most-financialy rewarding I’ve had.. It sounds unbelievable but you wont forgive yourself if you don’t check it
      ??;?? http://GoogleFinancialJobsCash370WebWikiGetPay$97Hour ?????????????????????????????????????????????????????::::::!hu80c:….,……

  • Val

    Oh thank goodness, no politics! Let the shenanigans begin!

    • Tam

      Even when there is politics there are some individuals here who manage to bring in the shenanigans.

      • Kas

        They be trip’n huh?

        • Tam

          Says one of the OGs.

          • Kas

            Speaking of which, I hope he’s doing ok.

            • Tam

              Yeah I hope the day turned out better for him.

              • -h.h.h.-

                i dunno, he’s a falcon fan…he’s probably just waiting for the other shoe to drop

                *whistles* #CantLetHimBeGreat #SithMode

            • Other_guy13

              I am well sir…thanks. Still got this $ and a dream

  • Brass Tacks

    “I’m doing 300 miles an hour in a Volkswagon. yellin out da window, Fcuk da police! Fcuk all you badge carrying muthfcukas. Come over here, whoop my a s s give me my cash!”


    Also, Goodfellas is the best mob movie ever #fightme

    • Ille Jay

      Sir, I politely refute that and replace it with Casino. The story of the Mob in America vs. A Great Gangster tale w/historical reference and accurate bits …Goodfellas is systemic, graphic…a good movie. Casino is brilliant, surreal, fantastic.

      • miss t-lee

        I love Casino too…Nicky has madd quotables.

      • Brass Tacks

        Hmm.. Casino to me plays like part two of Goodfellas. The Mob in Vegas setting was cool, but something about the characters themselves throws me off.

        Its definitley up there but I would place it fourth behind Goodfellas, The Departed, and The Godfather.

        • tsforever

          Stop lying to yourselves. Everyone knows the best movie is Coming to America, with Boomerang as a close second.

          • Brass Tacks

            Mafia movies, fam.

            That being said I definitely respect your choices because thems are my movies!

    • miss t-lee

      As much as I love Goodfellas, that’s a no.
      It’s Godfather Part II.

      • Ille Jay

        Pt. II was the best of the bunch.

        • Cheech

          I’ve seen it 145 times and I’m still not sure I understand it.

          • miss t-lee

            Watch it again.

        • miss t-lee

          Indeed it was.

  • Brooklyn_Bruin

    Btwn this and the Tribe album…

    • Val

      And they’re going to be on SNL this weekend, right?

      • Brooklyn_Bruin

        Yup. There is that old chestnut that hip hop is better under republicans…

        I reject that pain = good art theory though

        • 90s > 80s hip hop though

          • Brooklyn_Bruin

            I’d put 88-92 (Bush Sr) against 93-97 (Clinton I). It’d be close.

            Past 98, I’ll let y’all decide

        • cyanic

          I think people are more productive when they’re happy. But people relate to the angry and sad stuff because most of the time people aren’t where they want to be or happy with what has transpired.

          • Brooklyn_Bruin

            *Explained my Radiohead addiction*

            • cyanic

              I like them too. How do you feel about Ocean’s Blond? Not sure if I remember you having an opinion on him or his work?

              • Brooklyn_Bruin

                I’ll peruse youtube and let you know

  • Brooklyn_Bruin

    BET needs to do a where are they now/behind the laughter with these folks

  • Val

    I was a fan of Def Comedy Jam but I was crazy about Def Poetry Jam. That was my ish! I still watch it on youtube. And it was just as and maybe even more unapologetic than def Comedy in terms of speaking to issues without being concerned about the White gaze.

  • Not to be that guy , but I am Malik so it’s expected; I’m embittered about the influence of Def Comedy because it really homogenized a generation of black comedians and type of humor (even when brilliant).

    To paraphrase The Simpsons: Black people talk like THIS, white people talk like this

    • cyanic

      You’re so intellectual. Are you in a four year college?

      • Mary

        Cyanic, behave!

  • miss t-lee

    Bernie Mac’s pumpkin pie joke.
    Adele Givens and the tic tacs.
    Chris Tucker’s robbery joke.

    Loved some Def Comedy Jam. Seriously it was required watching on Friday nights. Right after Arsenio Hall.Then, of course on Monday at school we recited all the jokes, snaps, etc.
    Good times.

    I’m not sure if I’ll be checking for the new version though.

    • First person I ever saw live was Chris Tucker. Black knit ski hat, black tee, jeans and Chucks. He came a looonnng way since then.

      • miss t-lee

        A VERY long way…lol

    • RaeRae

      Man!!!! I was sitting with my mom and auntie when the Bernie Mac episode was on. I was in 10th grade and almost ruined my insides trying to hold in my laughter. I tried to pretend I didn’t get the joke, but it was a lost cause because after a few seconds I howled. That boy said he was blessed and if he pulled it out the whole room would get dark. KICK IT!!!!!!!!!

      • miss t-lee

        KICK IT!!!!!
        That whole bit was really the best. I laughed until I cried.

  • Funniest I’ve ever seen:
    Nephew Tommy. (Trust me.)
    Paul Mooney (but after time 3, ‘he sucked)

    Worst ever: Guy Torre (did almost 3 hrs, read half his jokes off his cellphone, and tried to act like someone kept calling him.)
    Tommy Davidson (after he ran out of material, he did a half hour on this guys sweater – it was like 80° outside.

    • Negro Libre

      Paul Mooney’s comedy is great when there’s majority white people in the audience. Outside of that, not so much.

      • They (white people ) got up and left, just like he figured. I think I had enough when the material didn’t change by show 3.
        He’s better at reminiscing about old stories and friends.

        • cyanic

          YT is the material. Their BS is comedic gold because it’s rooted in hypocrisy. And that’s the truth. I love him. So queer without declaring himself so.

    • Nik White

      Paul Mooney on the special that one of those Wayans did – too funny. He’s a brilliant writer.

  • R.I.P. Rasheed.
    “Papi No Snitch”

    • Damon Young

      dude was extremely talented

    • Negro Libre

      Saw him live, I think one chick threw panties on stage that night.

More Like This