Posted by Redgrrrl26 on:
Question: What do you get when you take two MBAs, $100,000 borrowed from the mother of one of the MBAs, and a self professed Time Nazi?
Answer: All Jokes Aside, a comedy club which fostered rising black comedic talent in the 1990's, ba dum bump!
Okay, so both my set-up and the pay-off sucked, but that's only because they pale in comparison to all of the star-studded talent on display in the documentary Phunny Business: A Black Comedy. The film, directed by Jon Davies and produced by Mr. Davies and Raymond Lambert, takes as its subject Mr. Lambert and the comedy club he ran for nine glorious years on Chicago's south side.
As the story goes, once upon a time an MBA, Ray Lambert, was working for Chris Gardner (yes, that Chris Gardner, the The Pursuit of Happyness guy) but feeling unfulfilled by his work. Inspired by the once-a-week "Black Night" at other comedy clubs but frustrated that black performers were relegated to the margins of the comedy scene, he joined up with another MBA, James Alexander, and started a weekly comedy show at an art gallery. Their first performer was Jamie Foxx (yes, that Jamie Foxx, future Oscar winner), and that was just the beginning.
After finding great success with their weekly show, Mr. Lambert and Mr. Alexander decided to branch out and open up a full-fledged club. Bankrolled by Mr. Alexander's mom, the two enlisted another friend, Mary Lindsey, to handle the talent and keep shows running on time. They opened up All Jokes Aside in 1991 and quickly became the go-to place for black comedy talent. With an alumni roster that includes Dave Chappelle, Bernie Mac, Laura Hayes, Cedric the Entertainer, Mo'Nique, Adele Givens, and Steve Harvey (to name but a few), the club became an incubator for black comics looking to make a name for themselves.
Changing times, a changing business, Chicago politics, and matters of race (a black club run by a black person trying to move into a white neighborhood) ultimately led to the club's demise in 2000. But from the archival footage and interviews granted for this film by some of the biggest names in comedy, it is clear the club has a huge place in the hearts of many successful comics who found a home on the club's stage.
With all of those interviews and classic performance footage from back in the day, the documentary will have you laughing pretty much all the way through. But beyond that, you will also get a fascinating look at race and politics in Chicago, the segregation that occurred (and perhaps still does) in comedy, and the compelling story of Ray Lambert and All Jokes Aside. This well-made and damn funny documentary will play one more time before the end of the Festival. It would be a shame to miss it.
Phunny Business: A Black Comedy plays on Sunday, February 6th at 1:00pm at the Metro 4.