NEW YORK – From a comedy standpoint, David Alan Grier
is fine with whoever wins the election.
As the nation's first black president, Barack Obama could mean a wealth of material for "Chocolate News," Grier's fearless spoof of a black-oriented news magazine show.
"And if he loses," says Grier, chortling at how the pain of such a near miss could be salvaged for laughs, "it's material for the next 500 years!"
Either way, Grier is having a ball with "Chocolate News," which airs on Comedy Central on Wednesdays (10:30 p.m. EST). The show bills itself as "the only source for pure, uncircumcised realness from an Afro-centric perspective" (in the bombastic words of DAG, the host Grier portrays).
The new series made clear right away that nothing in the black experience would be spared from its lampooning. In a single half-hour on last month's premiere, it targeted hip-hop culture, the N-word and Maya Angelou (with the chameleonic Grier letter-perfect as this literary grande dame, just one of many impersonations he nails in the show's field reports).
In a later segment that took its cue from film characters like Tyler Perry's maternally domineering Madea, "Chocolate News" identified the Fat Black Momma Syndrome, a behavioral disorder afflicting African-American males who seek authority by dressing up like women.
The report had an update: "They just had the 'Million Black Men Who Don't Want to Dress Like Fat Black Mommas March' in Washington — but none of them dressed like fat black mommas, so no one listened."
Yet another report interviewed members of a Detroit street gang to find out how skyrocketing gas prices have crippled urban lawlessness.
"We can't even afford to do drive-bys," groused one thug. "What are we supposed to do — drive smart cars? Ride bikes?"
In many ways, "Chocolate News" is a latter-day version of "In Living Color," the innovative Fox series starring Keenen Ivory
Wayans where Grier first proved his skill in sketch comedy two decades ago.
By then he had already found success in his original pursuit, that of a dramatic actor, both in films and on Broadway.
After "In Living Color" ended in 1994, he continued his movie and stage work (including the Broadway revival of "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" and the New York Shakespeare Festival production of "Richard III").
He also came and went in no fewer than four short-lived sitcoms.
"I decided sitcoms weren't for me," the 52-year-old Grier says with wry understatement during a recent chat in Manhattan.
A couple of years ago, he began monitoring TV to see what was missing. He found a conspicuous absence of black comedy shows, so he started plotting how to fill the sketch-comedy void left by Dave Chappelle's abrupt exit from series TV in early 2006.
In packaging his own sketch show, Grier decided to parody a "Tony Brown or Tavis Smiley quote-unquote black show — unrepentantly black, and only for black people. I thought that was where the comedy would be: Regardless of the issue, even if it had nothing to do with black people, we would find the blackness in it!"
Then Grier inflated his own soft-voiced, affable manner into DAG's overbearing personality: a program host who's pompous and preachy, full of urgency and pique, yet "above-the-fray in his peach suit," says Grier, chuckling.
The show's for-blacks-only masquerade is only part of the comic cocktail, which is also spiked with racial caricatures and satire that, in less capable hands, might leave the audience wondering just whom the joke is on.
Grier leaves no doubt that the joke is on everybody, for everybody.
"America is grappling with cultural diversity," he says, "and I just want to put a show on that represents the world in which I live."
In its first weeks, "Chocolate News" has averaged a healthy 1.9 million viewers, and Grier has found Comedy Central to be "in synch with us creatively, and for the most part giving us free rein. This has been the experience I've always been in search of."
But he hastens to add that he didn't figure on the rise of Barack Obama.
"I think he may have just started running when we began planning the show," Grier says. "Never in a million years did I think that he would get this far. He was a freshman senator! He was running against Hillary!"
Though an unexpected bonus for "Chocolate News," the likelihood of an Obama administration disrupted the show's production schedule.
"We had planned to shoot all the shows before the election," says Grier. "But once it was clear he was going to be the nominee, we had to take a hiatus so we could respond to his candidacy."
Already, "Chocolate News" has expressed its doubts that Obama would be the ideal "brother in the White House."
For one thing, is he black enough?
"He's NOT black. He's HALF-black," argued DAG in a recent "commentary." Then he offered a tip "to the white folks who still can't bring themselves to pull that lever: Just vote for the white half."
Who knows what "Chocolate News" will have to say this week? Not even Grier, who will guarantee topicality by taping in-studio segments only hours before airtime Wednesday. No matter which candidate wins the election, Grier will be ready for him on Day One.