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Black Dynamite Cast talks Taxes and Death or Get Him to the Sunset Strip, premiering July 29th on Adult Swim

Two episodes in, and Adult Swim's latest animated series Black Dynamite is proving to be one of the fastest, freshest, and funniest comedies on television. Created and produced by a mostly black crew of talented individuals, it is not afraid to go beyond the call of duty in calling it like it is. It certainly didn't handle Michael Jackson with kid gloves in its premiere episode, Jackson Five Across Yo' Eyes or Just Beat It, presenting Michael as a tyrannical alien from the deepest reaches of space. And it doesn't paint a pretty picture of icon Richard Pryor in this week's episode Taxes and Death or Get Him to The Sunset Strip.

As beloved as the actor is in the black community, Richard Pryor is presented as the drug-snorting firebomb many people remember from the tabloids. From the moment he steps off a plane to be greeted by Black Dynamite, who must get the troubled comedian to the Sunset Strip, Pryor is nothing but a handful of trouble, and no joke is left off the table. All of his demons are accounted for, which provides for a sometimes humorous, sometimes very sad portrait of the man. And it is somewhat shocking, if that word still has any meaning left in the American television landscape. The makers of Black Dynamite certainly aren't putting these beloved idols on a pedestal, and so far, none of it has rang false. Its quite literally exhilarating entertainment of the highest form.

This same type of celebrity treatment is also planned for O.J. Simpson and Elvis Presley. But the show isn't only going after these easy targets. It also has a lot to say about black culture in general, and serves as a response to Spike Lee's 2000 film Bamboozled by dissecting taboos with its razor sharp scalpel. Its one of the most layered, and thoughtful shows on TV at the moment, and could quite possibly soar over the heads of those most akin to watching Adult Swim.

We recently sat with four members of the Black Dynamite crew to talk about Taxes and Death or Get Him to The Sunset Strip, and the impact of the show in general. This episode was meant to kick off the series a few weeks back, but was swapped out with the Michael centric Jackson Five Across Yo' Eyes or Just Beat It. We think the episode may have been delayed by one scene in particular, which appeared to show a young child simulating fellatio on Richard Pryor. We can't confirm if this scene was changed for Sunday night's premiere or not. But we did talk with some of the creators about the scene, all of whom had a different take on it.

Here are our conversations with voice actress Kym Whitley, who plays Honeybee, writer, executive producer Byron Minns, who plays Bullhorn, writer, director, producer, and voice actor Carl Jones, as well as Black Dynamite himself, and co-creator of the series Michael Jai White.

Kym Whitley is Honeybee{5}

Do you think its fair that you have a monopoly on two of the sexiest animated characters currently on TV?

Kym Whitley: I do?

You know this, don't act so surprised!

Kym Whitley: Honeybee...And? Who else am I playing that is a sexy character on television? You think that Great Aunty Mama is sexy?

Yes!

Kym Whitley: You know what? I will accept that! I do have some very sexy characters! I just recorded something for Aunty Mama the other day. I will agree with that.

I think its cool. A lot of voice actors get their character, and it's a mutant slug, or a talking hamburger. You lucked out! Here, you actually get to bring a piece of yourself into the animation. You've already embodied this character in the live action film...

Kym Whitley: That's right! It's so nice. And Honeybee is so much skinnier than I am in real life. Her waistline is about five inches.

That's the way it goes in animation. The kids want that...

Kym Whitley: No! I think it's more for the adults. Because she is "so" sexy! Honeybee is something else. The college kids are watching...Because I am the only woman in the cast, I think they had to make her super sexy.

I like looking at it!

Kym Whitley: Well, thank you so very much!

What did you take from your original performance as Honeybee, and bring here, to this animated version of the character, and as well, what new aspects did you get to discover and bring to her personality?

Kym Whitley: Hmm. I would say that she still has a crush on Black Dynamite. That was the same in the movie. What is different is, in animation, you see a full, rounded character. In the movie, you only got to see Honeybee those few times. On TV, you get to see her from episode to episode. You get to see her caring heart. How she fights. How she loves Black Dynamite. How she takes care of the kids that live in the orphanage. She is definitely a more well-rounded character.

Even though this is a cartoon, is Honeybee going to be allowed to progress and grow as a person? Or is she going to be the same in every episode?

Kym Whitley: She does have an arc. She grows. She does different things. It's so much different than the movie. From the final episode leading back to the pilot episode, you will have a full understanding of who Honeybee is.

Have you seen the first full finished episode?

Kym Whitley: No. But I have read the scripts. Obviously, since I performed them. I have gotten to see different things that they've shown me.

I've only seen Taxes and Death, the Richard Pryor episode. What is your take on that episode, and what do you feel it is saying?

Kym Whitley: I would say that the Richard Pryor episode is just saying that Black Dynamite is a super hero in the hood. He is going to help whoever he is going to help. He is a hustler. I just believe it is funny and fun, and it's great to be able to see Richard Pryor come back. Because he is not with us anymore, someone else had to do his voice. But, you get to see how he would have been back in the day. You get to see what would have really happened. Its almost like the story of The Wizard of Oz. You saw the movie, but you didn't get to see what happened before she went down the Yellow Brick road.

Did you feel any anger pointed towards Richard Pryor in this episode? I felt like, whoever wrote that script, was really mad at Richard Pryor. The humor seems to be coming from a dark place.

Kym Whitley: Black Dynamite is always angry! Have you seen the movie?

No...

Kym Whitley: One of the greatest lines in the movie is where Black Dynamite is standing there. And he is not smiling. This woman walks up to him and says, "Why aren't you smiling?" And Black Dynamite says, "I am smiling!" Ahhh! That is the best! I believe that is his character, and it's going to bleed through the episodes. He is angry.

So we should look at the commentary of the story through Black Dynamite's eyes only? You don't think the writers had any grievances that they were trying to excise through the medium of animation?

Kym Whitley: No!

The show itself seems like it has a lot to say. Are we going to see such a heavy social commentary in every episode?

Kym Whitley: No! I have read all of the episodes. It's not a serious cartoon. It's just a cartoon. It goes all over the place. They might take it to space. They can do things that, if this were a live-action movie, they could never do. They can't bring Richard Pryor back. They can't go jump on the moon. They can't go do all of these crazy things...So, I think as far as that episode...I think it is just about laughing at Black Dynamite, really. The anguish of being him. I am trying to think back on it...

The end of the show eludes back to Dave Chappelle, and his struggles, and his exile to Africa...It just seems to me that the show has a lot to say about black culture in Hollywood. It is making fun of Blaxplotation films, yet it's aping the aesthetic of those films in such a way that it seems to be celebrating them while at the same time, taking the whole culture to task. The show airs on Adult Swim, which is aimed at college kids who are blazed out of their minds. Don't you think a lot of what is in the show is just going to soar right over a lot of their heads?

Kym Whitley: You might be right about that. Some of this stuff, you do have to catch it. You have to ask, what does it mean? Some of these things are under the radar. There might be things in there just for the writers. Or some people will catch it. Maybe someone like Dave Chappelle. He'll be watching, and he'll think, "Oh, my god!" I don't think it's going to teach the college kids anything. I think its just there to entertain.

I talk to college kids all the time. The sad thing is, most of them have no idea who Richard Pryor is. It's a little shocking. They know Richard Pryor as the guy on Jonah Hill's Superbad shirt...

Kym Whitley: Wow! That is very sad.

They will watch this episode, and they won't know who this is. They aren't going to get any of the jokes.

Kym Whitley: That is pretty deep. That is very shocking to me. I did not know this. Richard Pryor is an icon. How could you not know who he is. I think this is what it's going to take. Maybe people will see this episode, and they will be compelled to see his old movies. Once they start watching him, maybe they will get excited about him. There is no way to bring him back to life! Maybe if you watch Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip, you know? People don't know who Redd Foxx is. There you go, they need to watch Sanford and Son. I just heard the other day that someone didn't know who Abraham Lincoln is...

(Laughs) Who doesn't know who Abraham Lincoln is?

Kym Whitley: You just ask some of these kids! They don't know! No!

Throughout the course of this first season, do you guys bring any other former celebrities back to life? Is this going to be a showcase for people we wish we could still see in real life?

Kym Whitley: Oh, yeah! I don't know if I can tell you...Who else comes back? I think we might see a little Michael Jackson.

Oh, really! It will be interesting to see where they go with that. In terms of Pryor, they certainly didn't wear kid gloves in bringing him back to life. No joke was off the table or too harsh at his expense. This Michael Jackson episode has to be rough...

Kym Whitley: I will tell you, it's going to be funny! It all depends on where your sense of humor is. I think when they bring people back, it's a good thing. Because you do get to see these people once again. The jokes are things people know about. Its not like it's a newsflash. Richard Pryor being on fire. Everyone, except their children, knew that. Even Richard laughed about that. With Michael, you may not know, but you'll have to guess at some of the things they say. But, um...I think, instead of looking it as a negative, I think they are paying homage to these people. That's how I feel.

I felt there was an obvious love for Richard in that episode. I also felt that there was anger. That the overall voice looming over the series was mad at, maybe not him, but what became of him in the Hollywood system.

Kym Whitley: Really?

They left no stone unturned. They pack so much detail into this one half-hour show. It blew my mind to watch it...

{50}: I love that you can see that as a viewer, and a writer. That you can take the time to see the genius that went into these. A lot of people are not going to take the time to see too deeply into what they are watching. You understand? You are extremely intelligent to see that. I think a lot of people will miss the commentary. Also, I think that this show will go down in history, and when people watch it on DVD, or whatever it is, later, it might be on space disc...I think people will sit there and watch it, and go, "That is some smart writing."

Byron Minns is Bullhorn{51}

{52}

{53}: Where did you see that?

{54}

{55}: No! You did not see that! You did not! No, no, no...We did not do that at all!

{56}

{57}: Yeah. I've seen it.

{58}

{59}: No! You did not see that! You definitely did not see that. I don't know what you are taking about. There was no five-year-old kid.

{60}

{61}: No! No!

{62}

{63}: No! What you saw was Richard Pryor moving in the way that Richard Pryor was known for moving.

{64}

{65}: No! That is something you are looking at too close. You read something into it that wasn't there. Richard Pryor was talking to a group of kids. Because of the way kids sit, and the way they are drawn, they are just shorter than he is. Part of them were blocking his view, in the way that they placed these characters there, you know? It was noted to the animators that Richard should move in a certain way. So, to construe this as some sexual overtone is completely off base. That is not what was intended. That was never discussed. No one has ever even mentioned it.

{66}

{67}: Look, if anyone had of been on the receiving end of that, it would have actually been him as a child.

{68}

{69}: But that wasn't the intention at all. I think what you saw was the weird placement of the characters at that exact moment. But no!

{70}

{71}: Yes. Absolutely. That wasn't the approach to it. It wasn't about being angry at Richard Pryor. It was about looking at Richard Pryor as a comedian, but at the same time, had things he was struggling with. I think we made an attempt at showing him as having some dimensions.

{72}

{73}: Definitely, the shows are layered. Of course, when you are doing a show about a character most people know, or some people know, you are going to have some things that are a little more detailed. So yeah, that is the push of the show. We're always going to have something that is deeper than the surface, and then we will have things that are right at the surface. That is just the nature of these shows.

{74}

{75}: The audience is a lot smarter than people give them credit for. They recognize humanity when they feel it. You know? When they see it...You can be half-baked if you want...But at the end of the day, if you are strong with yourself, you know truth when you see it. With our show, we are not trying to make any political statements. We are examining the truth from our perspective. We comment on it, or we actually show it. We show it in a humorous way. At least we think it's humorous. If you catch it, you catch it. If you don't, you don't. Hopefully people will be laughing and having a good time. I think most of the time. I haven't had anyone who has seen the show, and even the film, not say, "As much as I laughed, I did see a little bit of truth in there that made me think."

{76}

{77}: It's our examination of the truth from our perspective. We thought it was interesting. We actually have a tremendous amount of love and respect for Richard Pryor. For what he brought to comedy. As a comedian, he was phenomenal. And he was a phenomenal actor. What is also interesting is that, as talented as this man was, he was also tortured. We chose to shine light on that as well.

{78}

{79}: I'm glad that you see it as some sort of courageous step. But for us, it's just an examination of the truth. Honestly. Anyone who knew Richard Pryor, as talented as he was, he still had issues. A lot of it didn't happen. Some of this stuff is just what people carry in their lives. That's what is so universal about what we examine. There isn't a person on the planet that doesn't have issues. Some of this stuff he had. Hollywood didn't give him all those issues. Of course, it became magnified, and it possibly made him more self-destructive. Because more things are offered to you. But the bottom line is that he came with a lot of those problems. His background...The thing to me about art is, it allows the opportunity to explore and look at all of us. And tell the truth.

{80}

{81}: Not with these characters.

{82}

{83}: You know what? You are right. You can't. It's interesting that you say that, because that is a challenge we've taken on from the very beginning. We knew that you only have twenty minutes of what is considered a thirty-minute show. We have to use that to tell a full story. We literally set out to make mini-movies. The rest of the upcoming episodes...They are all mini-movies. Yes, they are. And we hope it continues past one season, because we have one hundred ideas.

{84}

{85}: Yes! He is back. He appears in at least two or three episodes.

{86}

{87}: Do you think you need to know Richard Pryor to get the jokes? Or do you watch this, and become curious as to who Richard Pryor is?

{88}

{89}: I think that is a good thing. Its sad that they don't know who Richard Pryor is, but it happens in every generation. As much as Richard Pryor is someone to laugh with, he also had some very serious thoughts about what was going on. And that is what is going on here.

Carl Jones writes and directs Black Dynamite{90}

{91}

{92}: That's interesting that you bring that up. Now, you make me want to go back and watch it. (Laughs)

{93}

{94}: We definitely didn't do that on purpose. But I will go back and look at that. We might have to slide Richard over. I don't know...

{95}

{96}: Well, thank you for noticing that. It is a good thing. I mean, having that scene you mention wasn't intentional. With every script, I feel there is a need to say something. Not say what people already know. We want to take a truth or reality and heighten it. With a guy like Richard, we felt everyone was already aware of his crazy lifestyle, with drugs and women. All this kind of stuff. I don't think there was ever a light shined on him personally. There was a story told to me personally, that Richard Pryor and Jim Brown had a plan to create a black Hollywood. Richard threw this party, and at this party he announced that he had some money people. He had this whole thing he wanted to do. He wanted to kick off this black Hollywood movement. And everyone just laughed at him. No matter how many times he said he was serious, they would always laugh. I always thought that was such a sad story for a guy like that. He is indicative of a lot of people in the same situation. Like Dave Chappelle. Dave Chappelle was faced with a lot of oppressions from Hollywood, and he started to slip into a very dark place. The point I'm trying to get to is, with every script, I feel a necessity to say something that hasn't been said before. To put people's minds into a place that might be a little uncomfortable. But it also opens up the dialogue. Whether you agree or disagree, its good to see things from a different perspective, or another point of view. If there is any method or formula, that is what we try to stay consistent with in the show.

{97}

{98}: Yeah, yeah...I think it depends on the episode. Some of these episodes are driven by Black Dynamite's point of view. But then you have some episodes where they are not. There is definitely no anger towards Richard Pryor. The thing about Black Dynamite is, he is the supreme alpha male. Everything about him, he is the embodiment of testosterone. So, he doesn't have a sense of humor. He is black ops. But you need someone like that in the black community when so many things are plaguing the black community. So he has all these strong morals, and ethics, and codes. And he always has them at the ready. Yet, at the same time, the dichotomy comes in when you see him running this orphanage. You know? The way I look at it, in this era, the hustler or the pimp was the first liberation of the black man. Even though people will have different ideas about it morally, this was them taking destiny in their own hands. They were creating their own business. So, Black Dynamite is a businessman. But you never see that side of it. You never see Black Dynamite pimping. Right? What I'm saying is, you have a character like that, he has a very unique point of view. Which makes him such a great character. So, then you have a story like the one that takes place with Richard Pryor. Its interesting to see how someone like Black Dynamite reacts to this other guy, who is so funny, and he is sort of no holds barred. When you put these two guys together, it's like the odd couple. The story pretty much wrote itself. Once we put them together, the comedy just came out. Like you saw, Black Dynamite obviously would not understand why this guy is such a big star. Black Dynamite doesn't understand what comedy means. At the same time, Richard would like to be heard the way Black Dynamite is heard. Because Black Dynamite has no problem getting his point across. Richard, on the other hand, does, because he is never taken seriously. There was something they each had to learn from each other. By the end of the episode, Black Dynamite learned to laugh. Whether it was for the right things, that is debatable. But Richard learned something from Black Dynamite as well.

B. Alan Orange at TVweb
B. Alan Orange