There are a lot of people who, regrettably, don’t give a damn about the black experience or the problems of racial strife in America, but few with any dim degree of consciousness can pretend not to know about it. In that light, “A Laugh, a Tear,” subtitled “A star-studded tribute to Black America,” is almost indescribably disappointing.
The program, which airs at 8 tonight on KCOP Channel 13, is hosted by Whoopi Goldberg and includes sketches, bits and film clips dating from Man Tan Moreland and Stepin Fetchit on to Sinbad, Keenen Ivory Wayans and Paul Mooney, with brief stops on sketches by Bill Cosby, Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor.
The format of the program consists of half a minute or less from a comedian’s routine, followed by commentary on the obvious: Blacks have had a rough time of it. Stafford U. Bailey, Robert Dockery, Shirley Neal and Beverly Todd are credited as producers, but no one is credited with writing the dreary self-promotional and empty rhetorical commentary that serves as a thick prophylactic over anything that might pass as a genuinely comedic impulse.
Black comedy doesn’t need to be as tediously respectable and aggrieved as this program would plump it up to be; all it needs is the freedom to be as infectious and brilliant as, at its best, it’s always been, without benefit of anybody’s backstage exposition.