23 Trivia Tidbits About ‘The Original Kings of Comedy’ on Its 23rd Anniversary

Including how Bernie Mac was almost turned into a hologram
23 Trivia Tidbits About ‘The Original Kings of Comedy’ on Its 23rd Anniversary

Back in the late 1990s, almost no one believed in the potential box-office fortunes for a group stand-up tour film that didn’t involve big (read: white) names. But The Original Kings of Comedy — featuring the comedic foursome of Steve Harvey, D.L. Hughley (a later addition), Cedric the Entertainer and Bernie Mac as well as the directorial vision of Spike Lee — changed all that, spawning an entire industry of similar-themed comedy shows. 

On the 23rd anniversary of the film that helped craft the legends of four Black comedy icons, read on about the making of one of the most successful stand-up tours of all time...

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Roger Ebert Predicted Bernie Mac’s Career

In reviewing the HBO special and giving it the thumbs up, Ebert commented on Mac’s autobiographical performance — specifically his bit joking about raising his sister’s kids. Ebert concluded by saying, “I got the feeling that Bernie Mac, working open-ended, free to improvise, would end up in some strange and fraught places, some funny, some just true.” A year after the special, Mac would get his own show (The Bernie Mac Show) that would take his set about his sister’s three children and turn it into the show’s semi-autobiographical premise.

The Performers Didn’t Think They Needed a Seasoned Director

“We kind of took the attitude that anybody could shoot this, just go get any director out of film school,” Cedric the Entertainer once said. Lee, however, impressed them with his visionary approach: “He said, ‘I’m going to make it feel like everyone can relate to you guys.’”

It Was Lee’s Third Documentary

The Original Kings of Comedy was Lee’s third documentary and second concert film. Prior to it, he made the PBS documentary Spike Lee & Company: Do It a Cappella, and 1997’s heartbreaking 4 Little Girls. 

Mac Was Almost Brought Back as a Hologram

Cedric the Entertainer told HuffPost that there was a time the crew was trying to get everyone back together for a reunion tour. “We tried. We were very close,” he said. “We had a couple of scripted ideas, and then we had the idea of just getting back together to do a mini-tour. It was right around the time Bernie was ill. A lot of people didn’t know how ill he was. We thought we could squeeze it in, but unfortunately, the timing on that didn’t work out.”

Cedric revealed that, following Mac’s death in 2008, the remaining crew momentarily contemplated doing a reunion show complete with a hologram of the late comedian: “Nobody really wanted to do it without him. It was this weird thing: Do we replace Bernie with someone? Do we do it without him? Do we do him as a hologram, like at Coachella with Tupac? How weird do we want to go with this?” 

He concluded by saying that, in the end, Harvey was too busy hosting Family Feud and Little Big Shots, and that was the end of it.

Harvey’s Sets Were Riffs From His Other Running Gig

While most folks at the time knew Harvey from his sitcom, The Steve Harvey Show, his aggressive performance in The Original Kings of Comedy as the show’s emcee stemmed from his long-running gig on the series, It’s Showtime at the Apollo, where he would often harp on the audience.

The Special Needed Two Nights of Filming

The movie was filmed over the course of two nights in front of a live audience in Charlotte. Prior to the special, the troupe toured together for a while but hadn’t received much media coverage or publicity. Their stage shows, however, proved profitable. “Critics were saying it wasn’t going to last,” Mac once said, “it was too urban. (But) the numbers keep escalating.”

No One Thought Producer Walter Latham Could Pull It Off

Latham started his career by dropping out of college, borrowing $4,000 from his mom, and promoting his first rap show in North Carolina. He soon founded Latham Entertainment, which produced shows for everyone from Chris Tucker to Chris Rock. “Everyone I knew in the business said it wouldn’t work,” Latham remembers when he first got the idea of assembling some performers for big arena concerts. Latham, of course, proved every single doubter wrong.

Guy Torry Was Part of the Original Kings

When asked about the group’s origin and how Latham pulled them all together, Cedric the Entertainer explained that they were all managed separately until the producer got the idea for the tour. “The first year, it was me, Bernie, Steve and Guy Torry, who was our MC and opening act,” Cedric the Entertainer has explained. “Then the next year, we added D.L. Hughley, and Steve went to the MC spot.”

The Alleged Feud Between Harvey and Mac

Rumors were swirling at the time concerning an alleged feud between Harvey and Mac, and some folks have alluded to these allegations as to why the special never saw a sequel. Hughley himself confirmed the beef, saying that it had to do with the two comedians’ rise to fame. Cedric the Entertainer agreed, saying that it was a simple case of clashing personalities. “I mean, you know, they were the kind of guys that… they both alpha males,” he said. “You know, like, they both, they just saw it different — you know what I’m saying? But, at the end of the day, they was able to get through it.”

Mac himself fueled the fire when he reportedly told GQ in a 2003 interview that Harvey was both jealous of his success and trying to steal gigs from him. Harvey, in turn, explained that while the claims upset him, Mac supposedly told him that he didn’t say those things. “I had to take him at his word for it,” Harvey has said.

The Special Led to Mo’Nique Kickstarting Her Career

The Queens of Comedy was the first sequel, and it was the special that would gain Mo’Nique her mainstream recognition. Prior to the HBO special, she did stand-up on Showtime at the Apollo and Def Comedy Jam.

The Performers All Credited and Praised Their Biggest Influence — Richard Pryor

It was evident from the start that the performers leaned heavily on the fiery stand-up of Pryor. They did, however, refrain from comparing themselves to him. “There are no more Richard Pryors,” Harvey admitted. “There are no more Michael Jordans. There are no more (Muhammad) Alis. These people come along once in a lifetime. The greatest stand-up to ever pick up a microphone was Richard Pryor — hands down. All we are is mere images of him, and we show glimpses of him, but none of us is him. There will be no more him.”

It Was the Highest-Grossing Comedy Tour of All Time

During its time, the Kings of Comedy tour was the most successful of its kind, and when the movie was released, it broke the record for the best-ever per-screen average for an August release — earning $13,813 per screen in 847 theaters. The previous record was held by M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense, which came out the year prior.

The Producer Had to Fight for the Film to Be Screened in More Theaters

Latham co-produced the movie with MTV Films. Latham told Entertainment Weekly that he ended up “fighting with Paramount every day” to get the studio to screen the movie outside of urban areas. Lee accused the studio of trying to “ghetto-ize” the film because of their insistence on releasing the film in four test markets a month before the national release.

Torry Has Stated That He Voluntarily Left the Show

Torry has addressed rumors that he got fired from the tour, saying that he voluntarily left because he wanted to work the club circuit and get himself a proper act. He added that he also got an offer for a TV show and that the money was a thing he had to consider at the time. 

Harvey Was Homeless Before His Career Kicked Off

While trying to make it as a comedian, Harvey struggled and ended up homeless and living out of his car for three solid years. “It was crushing,” Harvey said, adding that he had to steal fuel from gas stations just to get to his gigs. “I realized, ‘You’re on your own. You have nothing or no one.’ All I knew was that I could make people laugh.” Things only started looking up when he got his first televised gig at the Apollo.

Katt Williams Accused Cedric the Entertainer of Joke Theft

The comedian has claimed that Cedric the Entertainer stole one of his jokes to close off his set in Kings of Comedy. The joke in question is the one about parking a large spaceship Cadillac. “It crushed me just because the comedian was already bigger and more famous than me, and he took my closing joke and made it his closing joke,” Williams has told The Morning Hustle. “The reason it hit so bad was that I was in the theater. I paid my money to go see Kings of Comedy, and to see my joke being there and not me was about as disrespectful as it gets in our craft, and I took it really personally with Cedric at that time. Now, since then, I’ve done enough work with 10 comedy specials. You either have to write your own jokes, or you’re telling a variation of my joke, whether you acknowledge it or not.”

Cedric denied it, saying it was his joke, that he never saw Williams do anything resembling it, and that he himself had been doing the bit for years prior to the comedy tour.

Mac’s Biggest Influence Was Red Skelton

“I was in love with Red Skelton,” Mac once told IGN. “I was in love with a lot of people because I was a student of the game of comedy — Carol Burnett, Jack Benny, Red Skelton, Jackie Gleason, Don Rickles, Redd Foxx, Moms Mabley, who gets no credit, Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby, George Kirby. I loved them all, and I used to just take a page out of all of them. Why I was so intrigued with Red Skelton was because he was able to make you cry and laugh at the same time. That was power. My mother used to always tell me, ‘Get back from the television, Bernie. It’ll mess up your eyes.’ I would get back. And he always made me cry at the end because he was so sincere. He was humble. He said, ‘Good night, everybody, and may God bless.’ You know? They don’t make them like that anymore. But that’s where my act comes from. That’s power — that’s genuine.”

How Creator Larry Wilmore Came Up With the Idea for ‘The Bernie Mac Show’

A year after The Original Kings of Comedy was released, Mac got his own sitcom. Wilmore explained how he got the idea for it in an oral history of the show: “I was watching this show called 1900 House, where they have cameras in the house, and people had to act like it was 1900. I thought it was fascinating. I wanted to do something different than the normal three-camera sitcom. I thought it might be interesting to do a show where it seemed like we were eavesdropping on the family rather than having the action pushed at us. Then I saw Kings of Comedy, and I was really struck by Bernie’s attitude and his jokes. I thought, ‘This would be an interesting story to put in this framework.’ It’s about this guy whose sister is on drugs, and he has to take care of her kids. I developed it a little bit and pitched it to Bernie. He loved it.”

The Feud Between a King and Queen

It seems that Mo’Nique and Hughley have no love lost between them, as a beef erupted following a contract dispute during a Detroit gig that they both performed at. The Queens of Comedy star was livid when Hughley turned out to be the headliner — “That’s what I signed the contract for” — and the two of them got into a back and forth on social media trying to prove whose contract was correct.

Mo’Nique later accused both Hughley and Harvey of telling lies about her during an interview. “The contract situation and the headliner situation, that was just the icing on the cake for D.L. Hughley and I,” she revealed during an Instagram Live. 

Cedric the Entertainer Thinks That Mac’s Jokes Wouldn’t Fly Today

Cedric once said that Mac’s risqué jokes in the special would probably not go down the same way today. He specifically referred to the joke Mac told about the child with the stutter, saying, “You can’t say none of that now. You can do no part of that joke. But these things was, at that time, considered funny. So if you start to ‘retro’ people for what they said and how they said what they said — here we go, charging them for the crime of what they said — that is, you know, that’s a hard thing to do to someone who’s supposedly speaking freely.”

Mac Never Dreamed of Being on Television

During an interview with Oprah, the late comedian said that he never much cared for television while growing up poor on the South Side of Chicago. “I never watched what somebody else does,” he explained. “It does not matter. Bernie Mac gotta do his thang.” He also revealed during the interview that he always clued his kids in on what he was doing during his comedy sets. “That was more important to me than jokes,” he said, referring to how he made sure they understood that he was doing a persona and not being serious. “There’s a time and place for everything.”

Cedric the Entertainer Wants to See a New ’Kings of Comedy’

The comedian said he’d be down to see some of the younger comedians today replicate what he, Mac, Harvey and Hughley did back at the turn of the millennium. “I think it would be hard to get this younger generation of comedians to do a tour like that,” he admitted, “but if we were to see a Kings of Comedy with a new crop of comedians, I’d want to see people like Kevin Hart and Katt Williams. I’d really be interested in seeing something where you have seasoned comedy vets bringing up comedians you’ve never heard of. You know, the diamond in the rough, pulling them out nowhere to give them a shot. It’d be like a great movie… or like The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh,” he joked.

The Spin-Offs

The movie inspired a string of spin-offs modeled around the OG, including The Queens of Comedy, The Original Latin Kings of Comedy, The Comedians of Comedy, The Killers of Comedy and The Kims of Comedy, starring everyone’s favorite comedy doctor, Ken Jeong


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