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.
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?
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?
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...
Kym Whitley: 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."
I don't think there are any accidents in animation. What is the message you guys are trying to convey by having a five-year-old boy simulate fellatio on Richard Pryor?
Byron Minns: Where did you see that?
Its right at the beginning of the episode, when Richard visits the Whorephanage. I watched that scene a couple of times to make sure I was seeing what I was seeing. And that's very clearly what it looks like...
Byron Minns: No! You did not see that! You did not! No, no, no...We did not do that at all!
Have you seen the finished episode? It's there. You can't get away from it.
Byron Minns: Yeah. I've seen it.
I'm telling you, I wouldn't just hit you with that question if it wasn't there. I had to rewind and watch it two or three times. It's unmistakable. You have the kid's head right up against Pryor's crotch, and Pryor's gyrating back and forth. It's not a hidden subliminal image. I'm not looking for sex organs in the clouds. I know how animation works. This can't be a mistake...
Byron Minns: 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.
There are a bunch of five year old kids in the Whorephanage.
Byron Minns: No! No!
Look, I'm not trying to make you mad. I know what I saw. And personally, knowing Richard Pryor's reputation as someone kids really gravitated to back in the day, I thought it was some sort of commentary on that. I know Richard had his own Saturday morning kids' show. I didn't take it as sexual. That Pryor was a pedophile. It read more as, the kids are sucking this guy's dick, metaphorically speaking, and he's buying into that. That's what I took from it...
Byron Minns: No! What you saw was Richard Pryor moving in the way that Richard Pryor was known for moving.
But that doesn't explain away the strategic placement of the kid's head. It's right there at his crotch. And the kid is moving back and forth, too...
Byron Minns: 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.
I wish I could show you the episode, so you could see what I am talking about. I certainly don't want to come off as crazy.
Byron Minns: Look, if anyone had of been on the receiving end of that, it would have actually been him as a child.
Yes, see, knowing his background, that also plays into it...
Byron Minns: 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!
Watching the entire episode for what it is, I didn't feel hate for Richard Pryor. But I did feel that, whoever wrote this, was angry with him. Maybe angry with what happened to him in the Hollywood system. Am I off base on that too?
Byron Minns: 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.
I would agree with that. You guys certainly shove a lot of finite detail into this tightly packed twenty-one minutes. Is every episode going to be this heavily layered?
Byron Minns: 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.
This is on Adult Swim. Their known audience is college kids who might be a little bit drunk, or a little bit high on a Sunday night. The show seems to have a really strong message riding underneath the entertainment value of it. Don't you think that is going to fly right over a lot of heads? They might enjoy it for some of the reasons the show is rallying against.
Byron Minns: 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."
That's the thing about the show. You aren't treating anyone with kid gloves. That's a rare thing to see in black entertainment. When this episode stars, it's like, 'Awesome, I get to see Richard Pryor come back to life for twenty-minutes." Then you quickly realize, "Dang, these guys aren't going to cut him any slack. At all..." You're not holding anything back. Same with Michael Jackson, whom we saw in the first episode. Is this the general course the show has decided to take? Its open season on everyone and everything?
Byron Minns: 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.
You also delve into the rigorous process of being ground through the Hollywood scene. This particular episode also plays to what Dave Chappelle went through in his personal life as a performer. This seems like really heavy stuff to deal with in a cartoon.
Byron Minns: 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.
Animation is one of the few mediums that allows you to open up those truths in this way. I don't think you could pull of what you are doing here in live action.
Byron Minns: Not with these characters.
Not in twenty-one minutes...
Byron Minns: 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.
Are you bringing Arsenio Hall back?
Byron Minns: Yes! He is back. He appears in at least two or three episodes.
How do you feel about the fact that not many kids, across the spectrum of race, know who Richard Pryor is. Is that shocking to you? I'd think that they aren't going to get a great many of the jokes in this episode.
Byron Minns: 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?
I think there are a number of kids who will go that route and look into his work...
Byron Minns: 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.
I brought up a scene in the show while talking with Byron Minns, where it looks like a kid is performing fellatio on Richard Pryor. Byron insists up and down that this isn't in the episode. That a scene like that doesn't exist, at all. I didn't sit down to watch this episode searching for hidden imagery. I was excited to see Richard Pryor step off that airplane, and was expecting a good time. I was shocked by what I was looking at. Because that scene is there, and I believe there are no accidents in animation. Not like this. I had to rewind two or three times to make sure I wasn't seeing something that didn't exist...
Carl Jones: That's interesting that you bring that up. Now, you make me want to go back and watch it. (Laughs)
Byron swore up and down, telling me, "No!" But I swear, you need to go back and see it for yourself...
Carl Jones: 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...
The show is heavy with underlying metaphors and messages, I thought maybe it was a commentary on Richard Pryor's popularity with kids back in the 70s and 80s. There is some heavy stuff in this episode...
Carl Jones: 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.
I felt there was some anger pointed at Richard in this episode. But I was told by one of the other guys working on the show that I need to see this through Black Dynamite's perspective. I understand that angle, but some of his perspective, as he is an animated character, must be coming from the writer's own perspective. Does that make sense?
Carl Jones: 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.
Who is doing Richard's voice?
Carl Jones: That is Eddie Griffin. Yeah. He played Richard Pryor, and it was me playing Paul Mooney...
Paul Mooney is still alive...Am I wrong?
Carl Jones: Yes! He was originally cast as himself. The script had to go through some changes, and we had to re-record. Because of some budget limitations and the economy of the show, we couldn't bring him back in. I ended up having to do him.
It's a great impersonation.
Carl Jones: Thank you.
Eddie does a great job as Richard. What I liked was that some of Pryor's cadence was there, and at other times it sounded slightly foreign. It made Pryor become his own character within the confines of the show, I thought...
Carl Jones: That sounds like a good thing. Eddie Griffin is amazing. He spent a lot of time with Richard Pryor. He was like a father figure. He spent over 14 years with Richard before he died. So he captured a lot of the nuances of Richard Pryor. It was great.
You had Michael Jackson in the first episode. Who else are you bringing back from the dead?
Carl Jones: Don Cornelius. We actually wrote him into the show before he passed away. That was really sad. We will also have Elvis Presley. We also have a lot of people who are alive, that are iconic. Personalities of the 70s. O.J. Simpson, we have a whole episode about him...Its young O.J., when people still loved O.J. That's the great thing about hindsight being twenty-twenty. We can tell these stories about how they became who they are. I don't want to give too much away. But it's an interesting show. It will be Black Dynamite and O.J.
You don't hold anything back in the Michael Jackson or Richard Pryor episodes. I can't image you are going to approach these other celebrities with kid gloves.
Carl Jones: We go all out, man. We are trying to be as funny as we possibly can. Fortunately, we have a lot of funny cast members. Byron Minns, Kym Whitley, Tommy Davidson, these guys are insanely brilliant when it comes to comedy. It's easier for me to write because their characters' personalities lend so much. It's like, which comes first? The chicken or the egg? I'm inspired when I write a script, because I'm thinking, "What would Kym say?" Not, "What would Honeybee say?" So much of Honeybee is Kym...
This being on Adult Swim, do you think a lot of the material will go over the audience's head?
Carl Jones: I don't know. I will say, there are so many layers to the show, and there are jokes stacked on jokes, it has a lot of replay value. You might have to watch it five or six times before you get certain things. I try not to worry about whether or not it will resonate with people, or if it will jump over their heads. I just try to do what comes naturally to me. And I want to keep the show honest. I think the show is silly enough that if you are high, you will still laugh. It's a pretty insane show. Black Dynamite goes to the moon and fights Amazon Moon Bitches with a Russian Cosmonaut monkey. That is the type of silly that we do. And you have to realize that each episode is kind of its own being. It exists with a consistency, but none of the episodes are related in anyway. You have Black Dynamite flying to the moon. You also have him fight a giant Albino gorilla. It is very silly in nature, yet we go to so many places in these episodes. The plotlines are limitless.
What about Werner Herzog? Is he going to come back?
Carl Jones: Hilarious. I would love to work with him again. Yeah, we worked with him on The Boondocks. I wish we could work with him again. I love his voice. He is so great. I don't know if he will come back or not.
MICHAEL JAI WHITE
This being an animated show, when will we see Spawn and Black Dynamite going at it?
Michael Jai White: I don't know! That's an infringement type of thing. Man, I don't know about Black Dynamite and Spawn, though. That would be interesting, doing the two voices. That sounds like a sore throat by the end of the day. (Laughs)
I love that you bring back Richard Pryor, and from what I understand, you are going to continue doing that throughout the series...
Michael Jai White: Oh, absolutely.
Tell me a little bit about Black Dynamite's relationship with Elvis Presley...
Michael Jai White: You have a character like Black Dynamite, and hopefully you will identify with him. It's easy to become invested in him and his dynamic with another iconic figure. You know? You want these two giants together. You want to see how they work off each other. The Elvis episode deals with some of The King's habits. Things that were not necessarily positive. That is kind of a zany episode. It is kind of a road movie with Elvis. It's a fun thing. Elvis meant so much to the black community.
The Richard Pryor episode jumps around the era quite a bit in twenty-one minutes, touching on his life in both the late 70s and early 80s. So Elvis could go either way here. Are we getting fat Elvis or skinny Elvis?
Michael Jai White: Look, we use the 70s as its own universe. It is its own little world. There are references that happen in the late 70s and the early 70s. We do take liberties with that. It's within that type of world where we set everything. The 70s were such a wonderful time and place. Its sexy, its fun. The wardrobe, all that. This is set in a place that, to me, is the most interesting decade...
And you jump quite a bit into the 80s with Richard Pryor...
Michael Jai White: It does jump into the 80s. We take Richard Pryor, and he had a younger audience in that time period. There are certain elements that may bleed over. Pretty much, we try to stay in that 70s era.
You talk about Pryor's younger generation that grew up in the 80s. They are all old now. Does it surprise you that most kids today, spanning all races, aren't really familiar with Richard Pryor?
Michael Jai White: You know, even the college age kids nowadays aren't going to know very much. Unless a few of them are comedians. They may know him. They may have studied him. But this is why its fun to bring him back, especially for the adults. College crowds? We are crafting storylines that are interesting to them, even if they deal with people they might not know. Richard Pryor's story flies so close to Dave Chappelle's, its not funny. There are parallels to Dave Chappelle that are very close to Richard Pryor. Having to deal with all of a sudden being this megastar, and no one will take you serious...When you are a serious man, and you are trying to deal with this huge fame, it drives you to dark places, where it drove Richard Pryor, and then it drove Dave Chappelle as well.
Some of the folks I talked to earlier, working on the show, did not see those parallels when I brought them up. But I thought it was very clear that you were talking specifically about Chappelle at the end of this episode...
Michael Jai White: Well, you are very insightful. A lot of people aren't going to get that. This story is not uncommon. There is that line, "Are they laughing with you? Or are they laughing at you?" You know? Richard Pryor was a very serious person underneath. He was evolving. He eventually dropped the N word from his act, when he was the guy that used it more than anyone else. He became conscious. There were things happening with Richard Pryor throughout his life, where he was becoming more conscious. He really wanted to start a studio to make serious movies. This episode is really drubbing it to how he was deep down. Also, it is dealing with some of the issues he had as well. There are things that a lot of people didn't know. He had a drug problem. You know how hard that is to overcome? So we are showing this person who is dealing with these stresses. This whole world knows who you are, but they don't care who you really are.
That's sort of the voice of this episode. Black Dynamite doesn't care who Richard Pryor is...
Michael Jai White: Yeah, but Black Dynamite starts to see him as this struggling person that is trying to come out. This person who is trying to be taken seriously at times. Black Dynamite starts to recognize this.
How does that notion play into dealing with a figure like O.J. Simpson, especially when you have people who very firmly believe he did kill Nicole Brown, and those who believe he didn't...
Michael Jai White: You just turn back the clock, and you look at how revered O.J. Simpson was in society. That is funny enough. You almost don't have to do anything. O.J. Simpson was the black guy that white people loved back in the day. And he was held up as such a hero and a pillar. It's funny to look at it, because he was the good guy. When you have an O.J. Simpson, and you have a Black Dynamite...Unilaterally, there was one guy back in the 70s that you thought of as the threat. The other one you looked at as the guy who was the good guy, who was the model black man. What we do with that is quite funny.
Have you at all been inspired by Richard Pryor in your career?
Michael Jai White: I was inspired by what I knew of him. I was inspired by the fact that he dropped the N word. Especially the fact that he used the word more than anyone else. I was inspired by what was going on with Richard Pryor as a person. Not necessarily Richard Pryor the actor. It's a lonely thing, when everyone knows you but no one sees who you are. I think that is profoundly more interesting. There are quite a few jokes about him dropping an F bomb and the N word. We are hiding some substance underneath the comedy.