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Weekend Reviews : Comedy : Fear Not a Problem at Universal's 'Jam'

August 02, 1993|DAVID KRONKE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Fear of minorities is apparently not a problem everywhere at the Universal Studios entertainment complex. A week after the Universal City Cineplex Odeon movie theater delayed premiering John Singleton's "Poetic Justice" to protect its predominantly white clientele from whatever dangers multicultural filmgoers might represent, the Universal Amphitheatre brought in Russell Simmons' "Def Comedy Jam" tour.

Such irony was certainly not lost on Joe Torry, who hosted Saturday night's showcase and co-stars in Singleton's film as Chicago, the self-absorbed, self-styled ladies' man. He commented bitingly on the Cineplex Odeon decision and introduced the crowd to Singleton and rapper Tupac Shakur, one of the film's stars, who watched the show from the wings of the stage.

Otherwise, the evening played out like an episode of the popular Home Box Office series, without host Martin Lawrence or Simmons himself, but with plenty of raw, raucous humor and ubiquitous usage of everyone's favorite four-syllable pejorative referring to a particular practitioner of incest.

Throughout the evening, Torry served as a virulent, occasionally amusing counterpoint to the other comics on the bill (DJ Kid Capri offered musical introductions). With attitude to spare, he taunted the fans in the first row, and delivered choice barbs aimed at both the young and the elderly, gleefully aware that neither was in attendance to defend themselves.

On the other hand, when Torry produced a handgun and went into a riff singing the praises of a well-armed America (when protecting one's property, he reasoned, " 'Pow! Pow!' sounds better than, 'Hey, put that back' "), it was more disquieting than amusing.

*

Other comics on the bill, however, were more able to blend the tragic realities of life with darkly ribald observations. Reggie McFadden delivered the evening's funniest, edgiest set, painting hilarious scenarios of a harsh society more than rattling off one-liners. He mocked drug dealers who don't know how to use their beepers, racists who are frustrated because they can't tell blacks what they think of them to their faces and policemen who delight a bit too much in wielding authority.

McFadden even found macabre humor in living in high-crime areas, re-enacting a scene in which he dropped off a woman at her house and was incapable of helping her when someone began menacing her. "I roll down my car window and say, 'Hey! Stop that!' Then he turned toward me and"--and with that, McFadden imitated his car peeling off. "I keep driving around the block--'Hey! Stop that!' " And again, McFadden's imaginary auto would be propelling him to safety, leaving his poor date to fend for herself.

Tony Brown explored life's trials with self-help underpinnings. "If you're ugly, it's not your fault," he said. "It might be your purpose in life to scare the hell out of people."

Brown's material was also highlighted by social commentary. He decried parents who don't properly rear their children ("Hey, junior, dammit, raise yourself"), sympathized with teachers afraid to turn their backs on their classes (it makes writing on the chalkboard a rather difficult task) and recalled contending with government-issue foodstuffs as a child ("The box didn't say 'corn flakes,' it just said 'flakes' ").

However, Brown committed a grievous sin in the world of stand-up--he repeatedly ignored cues to wrap up his routine, performing a good 10 minutes longer than he was allotted. Luckily, his material remained strong, but that's not exactly the type of behavior that will endear a comic to his peers over the long haul--invariably, the time comes out of someone else's act.

Also on the bill was Royale Watkins, whose first joke was his best--he noted a report that Dionne Warwick had been hit in the head by a brick, then observed, "With all her psychic friends, you figure someone would've called her up and warned her."

Adele Givens and Ricky Harris rounded out the evening with sets filled with the usual scatological, sexual and drug references.

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