'Kings' spotlights black comedians

Among the few bright spots at the summer box office was the remarkable success of movies headlined by black actors. Audience favorites included "Scary Movie," "Nutty Professor II: The Klumps," "Big Momma's House," and "Shaft."

But the biggest surprise of all is "The Original Kings of Comedy," a documentary by director Spike Lee which follows a group of four black stand-up comedians as they perform in front of live audiences. Made for a mere $3 million, it's earned $28.8 million in just three weeks in theaters.

The mastermind behind the "Kings" tour is rising young promoter Walter Latham, who got the idea in 1997 and set up three shows. Now, "we've done 99," he told me in a recent phone chat.

When he went to pitch the idea of a movie based on the tour to studio executives, however, "Nobody in Hollywood knew who these guys [comedians Steve Harvey, Cedric the Entertainer, Bernie Mac, and D.L. Hughley] are." He was turned down by "about 10" studios before he got a "yes."

Mr. Latham says the film, and African-American humor in general, has a universal appeal. "Everyone can relate to it," he says. (Readers should be forewarned, however, that the movie contains an endless stream of profanity.)

It's drawing about 80 percent African-Americans, so there's a wider audience out there to be reached. He hopes the success of "Kings" "opens up the door for more black entertainers" onto the radar screens of white America.

What's next? Not yet 30 years old ("I'm younger than most promoters - and blacker") Latham has a commitment from NBC for a "Kings" variety show. And a new "Kings" tour (adding a couple of "Queens of comedy") starts Oct. 6.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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