Two Drink Minimum is a comedy-based column by Vague Visages writer Jacob Oller.
Some people have hype men, Cedric the Entertainer has a hype drumline. In his new Netflix standup special, Cedric the Entertainer: Live from the Ville, one of Spike Lee’s Original Kings of Comedy stays solidly in the past no matter how much his material may focus on the here and now.
Cedric’s a showman, a song-and-dance man, whose arrival onstage accompanies a marching band fanfare and complex choreography. He embraces the crowd involvement and carnival of the Apollo Theatre or Def Comedy Jam, encouraging the audience to rise and join his movements. Cedric does crooning impressions of modern rappers, Rihanna and Mary J. Blige, and he closes with a national anthem dedicated to fried chicken. Cedric isn’t just formally living in the past, he’s milking it for his jokes.
Dressed in a three-piece suit with a pocketwatch’s chain hanging from the vest, Cedric’s fashion is as old-fashioned a signifier you could ask for before he even opens his mouth. When he starts lambasting young black men for dressing “gay,” it’s unsurprising. Skinny jeans lead to “gayer” clothing like longline t-shirts that have an androgynous sexuality that rubs Cedric the wrong way. His homophobic punchlines revolve around things straight black men should be doing (or not doing) to avoid being seen as gay. Times have changed and avoiding the stigma of homosexuality in the black community is even more difficult. “That’s gay now? Yeah, that’s gay now, we can’t do that shit no more.”
And it doesn’t stop with clothes. Music is also under Cedric’s traditionalist scrutiny. Modern rap music is too aggressive and its emphasis on sex too explicit. It’s more lyrics and pointing, impressions — what is ok and not ok to do for black men. Of course Beyoncé must be confusing for men because she’s both attractive and talented, and of course they’re not allowed to sing along with her because that would be feminine (“Y’all have to wait for Jay-Z like the rest of us”). The gags rarely land because they feel more like rules from a preacher than cleverness.
It’s comedy of fear, with Cedric being scared of the changing times. This is an old-fashioned act with old-fashioned jokes, some more old than old-fashioned. I wouldn’t be upset if I never heard another tired “at a barbeque” joke. Cedric’s entrenched inner crotchetiness becomes even more apparent when he switches topics to his children. His daughter’s poor grades at college and his son’s burgeoning muscularity are shoving him out of their lives, or forcing him into ancillary roles as their driver or hedge fund. His son’s dating life and non-black cussing are ruining his legacy as one of the preeminent black comedians. His existential struggle isn’t funny or new; children either open a comedian’s act to a new audience or doom it with selfishness.
Then Cedric moves on to what his set has been about the whole time: his age. He’s 51 and sees himself becoming the old man his friends wrote in screenplays but without a point-of-view. His aging jokes are those you’d find in grocery store birthday cards, all groaners about hating technology (apps and ringtones), sore backs and knees, and erectile dysfunction medicine.
His attempts at political humor involve an Allah-worshipping suicide bomber and comparing Donald Trump to a pregnant tomboy (“How did that happen?”) as he continues on to defend statements by Steve Harvey and Paula Deen. Playing like the voiceover before a thematic America’s Funniest Home Videos (just without the videos), a segment about angry zoo animals is the one thing that made me laugh in his set. For all Cedric’s struggling against modernity, I can’t help but think Harambe would’ve improved this bit.
From AAA TV to Z-movies, Chicago-based critic Jacob Oller (@JacobOller) would like to bring the world together through entertainment, writing about it for publications like The Guardian, the Oklahoma Gazette, and his own blog. He’s a decent impressionist, semi-decent karaoke participant, and terrible dancer, although you’ll have to get a few drinks in him first.