The discussion started with a screening of a 1967 TV special called A Time for Laughter, which was produced by Harry Belafonte and hosted by Sidney Poitier. It was an hour of sketches that was a showcase of black humor, satire, and self-parody, and was amazing to watch. The show features a great cast of legendary comedians like Redd Foxx, Moms Mabley, Richard Pryor, and Dick Gregory, and other names I didn't know like George Kirby, Pigmeat Markham, and Godfrey Cambridge.
The sketches were really ballsy and risky for their day, featuring a sketch with blackface (a white guy learns song & dance from a black man and performs in blackface); a suburban black couple pretend to be white and piss off their black maid (Mabley), a civil rights marcher (Gregory) cracks jokes about the police and racism while in jail with a lot of his fellow marchers; a nervous undertaker (Pryor) has to deliver the eulogy at a funeral when the priest doesn't show up; and a pool hustler (Foxx) talking about poverty and civil rights. I was amazed at how the show got away with showing blackface in a social commentary way, the n-word being said a lot, and a lot of risk-taking in being very blunt about racism and civil rights, while still presenting black humor not neutered for white folks.
I especially enjoyed Pryor's hilarious performance and his impeccable comic timing and nervous energy in the character; Redd Foxx for playing to the camera like it was someone's POV, being totally at ease as the camera moves with him around the pool table, and being an excellent storyteller; Dick Gregory bringing this down-to-earth realism as he was talking about Black Power; and Moms Mabley's comedic body language as she mocks her wannabe "white" black employers.
The panel discussion was fascinating, with a variety of mostly Black comedians (and one Indian man and one Dominican man) speaking about their history in comedy, facing racial setback, being inspired by their heroes and peers, and using comedy to both bring awareness to social issues as well as celebrating a variety of Black experiences.
I did ask a question, more because one of the sketches in the show seemed like an inspiration to Eddie Murphy (the barbershop scene in Coming to America with Murphy and Arsenio Hall as multiple characters), and they said Murphy was likely more inspired by Pryor from Any Which Way But Loose (Pryor played multiple characters in a scene), but that Pryor likely got his inspiration from George Kirby's barbershop scene, as well as his own storytelling style of talking about people he knew growing up in a brothel.
It was really great to see, and I liked just listening and learning a lot from hearing about their experiences and seeing the TV special of legendary comedians (which also included vintage commercials for Pepto-Bismol, cigarettes, aspirin, and Welch's grape juice).