This Day In Comedy: The Ethnic Encyclopedia Of Laughter, by Darryl Littleton and Frank Holder (Trineday, Walterville. Oregon, 2019, 491 pages).
Book Review by Dennis Moore
“The elixir of life is a bubbling stream of laughter.”
- Richelle E. Goodrich, Slaying Dragons
December 7, 2019 (San Diego)-Darryl Littleton and Frank Holder, two aficionados of humor and comedy, has written the quintessential book on comedy; This Day in Comedy: The Ethnic Encyclopedia of Laughter. They actually set the framework for this groundbreaking and insightful book in the preface, as they state: “I’ve always wanted to see comedy argued in a barber shop the same as sports is discussed.” After reading this informative and iconic book, they just may get their wish.
Marsha Warfield, a noted comedian in her own right, and who actually wrote the foreword in This Day in Comedy, sets the tone and framework of the story of this book by stating: “When I started doing stand-up back in the early days of black pride, black power and blaxploitation, I would have loved to have an actual encyclopedia to consult for answers to questions I didn’t even know I had and to find context for those answers, but no such thing existed.” Now she does!
Darryl Littleton is a comedian, Emmy nominated writer and former producer of BET’s Comic View. Under the stage persona, D’Militant, he’s appeared on Def Comedy Jam, Loco Comedy, Jam, and America’s Funniest People where he was the Grand Prize Winner. Darryl has entertained US troops overseas, released two comedy CDs, was an NPR commentator and his first book, which this writer and book reviewer had the honor and pleasure to review in our East County Magazine, Black Comedians on Black Comedy, was adapted for the Showtime documentary, Why We Laugh. He’s a Comedy Hall of Fame curator and following a two-year bout with cancer was made VP of Talent for Humor Mill-TV. Typical of the humor by Littleton and in this book is evidenced in the attached link.
Frank Holder is the founder and publisher of Humor Mill Magazine, an urban comedy and entertainment digital magazine distributed to more than 1.3 million people and a publication known for introducing emerging comedians to the general public. Since its inception, they have produced thousands of previously unknown comedians, while sharing in-depth interviews and exclusives for their audience.
The collaboration between these two lovers of comedy makes this book rich in history and ethnic humor. As a matter of fact, noted comedian Redd Foxx who is also profiled in this book, is referenced and states: “Music played a large role in the survival of the black people in America – that and a sense of humor that just couldn’t be enslaved.” (The Redd Foxx Encyclopedia of Humor).
I dare say, that there has never been a book like this, that captures the history of comedy and ethnic humor demonstrated in this book in the manner described. This, coming from an author and book reviewer that has written more than 350 book reviews of every conceivable genre.
This Day in Comedy profiles the iconic comedy show Good Times created by writer Eric Monte (Cooley High), and starring Esther Rolle and John Amos. There is an interesting and ironic aspect to this movie, the fact that many years after the end of this TV show, John Amos has been nominated for an NAACP Image Award (Best Children's Literature) for his book A World Without Color, with the award ceremony being telecast live from Pasadena on February 20, 2020. The irony is that Darryl Littleton and Frank Holder has also been nominated for an NAACP Image Award for their book, and expects to be at the award ceremony also.
I marvel at the research and documentation put into This Day in Comedy by these two men, and the numerous comedians profiled in this book owes a debt of gratitude for immortalizing their craft, as well as myself and readers of the book.
I am sure that everyone has their favorite comedian, just as I do, which in my case it is Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence, along with the late Richard Pryor. Whomever those of others might be, they are bound to be covered in this book, along with some candid comments about the comedians.
The authors point out in This Day in Comedy that the aforementioned and iconic Eddie Murphy's writing skills started around the age of 15, and the skills came in handy in 1980 when he landed a featured player spot on Saturday Night Live during the show's bleak period. It was Murphy's infusion of signature characters (Buckwheat, Gumby, Mr. Robinson, and James Brown) that admittedly kept the show afloat while the era creator/producer, Lorne Michaels was absent.
During and after his tenure at SNL, Murphy stretched his stand-up muscles. He released his first album, Eddie Murphy in 1982, Delirious in 1983 and Raw in 1987. However, Murphy virtually abandoned stand-up when his film career took off, starting with 1982's 48 HRS, co-starring, Nick Nolte. And who can forget Murphy's Coming to America,
Being from Chicago, and while reading this book, I proceeded to determine who and how many of the comedians profiled in this book were actually from Chicago. It turns out that Bernie Mac, Robert Townsend, Milton “Lil Rey” Howery, Marsha Warfield, Rodney Perry, Aries Spears, Deon Cole, Brad Sanders, Craig Robinson, Muhammad Usman, James Hannah, George Kirby, Corey Holcomb, Robin Harris, Sherri Shepherd, Michael Colyar and Hannibal Buress are all from Chicago, along with the late iconic figure, Richard Pryor, actually born in Peoria, Illinois, just south of Chicago. Perhaps with this stellar lineup of comedians Chicago was the epicenter of the ethnic humor and laughter that Littleton and Holder projects in this incisive and informative book. And, the breeding ground for all this talent was the All Jokes Aside Comedy Club on the southside of Chicago that made it so. Although not from Chicago, Bill Bellamy, Carlos Mencia and Steve Harvey, whom the authors referenced in this book, performed at this iconic club.
The aforementioned Richard Pryor, born on December 1, 1940, was actually raised in his grandmother Marie’s brothel. I am sure that he acquired quite a few anecdotes from that type of environment. His Richard Pryor in Concert movie that I viewed at a theatre in Chicago at the height of his career, had me laughing so uncontrollably, that I threw up on myself right there in the movie theatre. The only other comedian that came close to getting that type of response from me was Eddie Murphy. That is really what This Day in Comedy is all about!
An interesting profile of the comedian Arsenio Hall is made in This Day in Comedy. Hall has the distinction of having two separate late-night shows named after him (not that he even tried to find another title. Notable is the fact that Hall had 1992 presidential hopeful Bill Clinton on his show, who, in a single moment of cool, broke out his saxophone and jammed with Hall’s house band known as his “Posse.” It should be further noted that The Arsenio Hall Show won two NAACP Image Awards for Best Series (1993 & 1995).
Another poignant profile in this book, that actually has historic implications, is that of Chris Spencer, as he is pictured here with President Barack Obama, Ray Allen and Alonzo Mourning. The authors made this writer aware of achievements by Spencer that surprised me, and I am sure surprised others. Spencer produced projects for Will Smith, Tiffany Haddish, Anthony Anderson, Cedric the Entertainer, Steve Harvey, Taraji P Henson and Jamie Foxx, as well as lending his penmanship to the Emmys, BET Awards, MTV Awards and Image Awards.
The authors give an interesting profile of Cedric Anderson Kyles (Cedric the Entertainer), born in Jefferson City, Missouri. They indicate that Cedric walked through the comedy door with an established work ethic. He’d been a claims adjustor for State farm and a substitute teacher. Among Cedric’s role on the TV show Neighbors, he had a cameo appearance in the attached YouTube video “Boblo Boat” produced by rap and hip hop artist J. Cole, which my son Julien Moore also starred in. To view and listen to click on the attached.
Cedric the Entertainer would later co-star with Bernie Mac, D L Harvey and Steve Harvey in the acclaimed The Original Kings of Comedy, released by Paramount. Directed by Spike Lee, this game changing concert film became an instant hit. In This Day in Comedy it was pointed out that after the premiere of this concert film, all the parties were millionaires, stars and had TV shows.
Another interesting aspect of this informative and well-documented book, is Frank Holder’s Humor Mill’s “Top 100 Comedy Movies Of All-Time”, in which Uptown Saturday Night is listed as number one and Coming to America is listed as number two.
Coincidentally, just last night while watching a movie on Showtime another comedian profiled in This Day in Comedy, Wanda Sykes, had a cameo role in A Bad Mom’s Christmas. Littleton shared the attached picture of he and Sykes, which he had recently run into in the Los Angeles area, and shared with her this outstanding book. Sykes, born and raised in the Washington, DC area, was an NSA (National Security Agency) contracting specialist before getting into comedy.
Littleton believes that the use of internet links in the book, which opens up to videos and/or more information about the individual comedians or entertainers is an innovation, which I agree. The authors have also provided a corresponding calendar for this book.
This Day in Comedy is a tremendous book, especially for all those that like a good laugh, and the historical aspect of the numerous comedians makes this essential reading for everyone. On a more human and personal note, the fact that both Darryl Littleton and myself are cancer survivors gives me pride and a special reason to share this book with the readers. The irony is undeniable! The attached video says it all here.
Dennis Moore has been the Associate Editor of the East County Magazine in San Diego and the book review editor for SDWriteway, an online news magazine in San Diego that has partnered with the East County Magazine, along with having been a freelance contributor to EURweb based out of Los Angeles. Mr. Moore is also the author of a book about Chicago politics; “The City That Works: Power, Politics, and Corruption in Chicago.” He can be contacted at email@example.com or you can follow him on Twitter at: @DennisMoore8.