Comedian, writer, actor, author, and social critic Paul Mooney’s impact on contemporary stand-up comedy and sketch television cannot be overstated. Mooney’s singular point of view, his groundbreaking originality, utter fearlessness, and manifest funniness continues to directly influence generations of comics— many of whom became household names like Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, and Dave Chappelle, which is not to mention the many names who’ve outright cribbed Mooney’s act. Yet, Paul Mooney is the perfect example for fame not being the harbinger of artistic greatness.
For many people, Mooney first landed on their radar in the Aughts from his “Negrodamus” and “Ask a Black Dude” segments on Comedy Central’s Chappelle’s Show. However, as Richard Pryor’s writer, collaborator, and best friend, Paul Mooney was the man behind the man, the brilliance behind brilliance, but always an esteemed stand-up in his own right. Mooney has said he’s “too black for Hollywood,” but comedy-wise he’s the most relevant septuagenarian. So it is understandable, gentle reader, if you have yet to become familiar with Mooney’s distinguished body of work— he did perform in Austin for the first time in the summer of ‘09 but it is essentially Comedy Moontower heresy to miss a rare opportunity to catch Paul Mooney live.
Mooney’s unvarnished commentary on race, politics, history, and popular culture can prove challenging for a small segment of Caucasians. For sure, his aim is to make everyone think and laugh and Mooney certainly doesn’t hold back on black-on-black criticism, however his insight still has the power to make some white folks get utterly batshit infuriated. Being able to witness Mooney perform (usually closing) the Comedy Store on a near-nightly basis for over two years is one of my great joys, along with telling the (mostly Orange County) walkouts “No Refunds.” These were people (with “the complexion for protection”) who never ever once considered why white nostalgia doesn’t truck with African-Americans (especially those who lived under Jim Crow laws). How dare Mooney not revel in the beloved Back to the Future movie and not think that the ‘50s were anything but neat-o? Can you imagine why The Help could seem, at best, quaint, in the 21st Century? Part of Mooney’s genius is riffing on current events, one of the reasons comedians always stuck around or came for his set, and I’ll never forget the night Mooney had the Store’s OR room absolutely howling by mercilessly mocking Disney’s just-released “The Adventures of Huck Finn.” This is not to say Mooney has no respect for Mark Twain (he calls Pryor “Dark Twain”), but he took great umbrage with the Disney-ification of slavery. I couldn’t possibly do his routine justice but let’s just say Mooney envisioned Jim as not being particularly fond of Huck, whom Mooney imagined falling off the raft and drowning… to Jim’s great delight. Just Jim’s feigned rescue attempt with the sunny-side line, “But I got his shoe, boss,” still makes me beam. Mooney tells jokes and trades in satire. No one with a modicum of purity in his or her heart should feel “attacked” during a Paul Mooney performance. Continue reading