In the 1990s, comedy helped heal a ‘divided’ L.A. This new docuseries tells the story
The “Phat Tuesdays” comedy showcase was more than a laughing matter.
Started in the mid-1990s, the special night devoted to Black comics at the Comedy Store on the Sunset Strip helped launch the careers of future stars such as Steve Harvey, Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence and several others. But it was also a response to the racial tensions that continued to simmer around Los Angeles after the police beating of Rodney King and other charged incidents.
“L.A. needed to laugh again,” Guy Torry, who created and hosted the showcase, tells The Times. “The city was so divided, but Phat Tuesdays really brought people together. Folks came from everywhere. Plus, there needed to be a major venue where Black comedians could really get exposed and seen.”
The showcase and its impact on the comedy scene and the city are explored in the new docuseries “Phat Tuesdays: The Era of Hip Hop Comedy,” debuting Feb. 4 on Amazon Prime Video. (Watch the trailer below.) Harvey, Anthony Anderson, Regina King, Tiffany Haddish, Dave Chappelle, Cedric the Entertainer, Snoop Dogg, Lil Rel Howery, Chris Tucker and JB Smoove are among the celebrities featured in the series discussing their memories of the showcase.
Torry, who is an executive producer on the Amazon project, said he started the showcase as an experiment to help Black comics following the civil unrest that erupted in 1992 when LAPD officers were acquitted in the beating of King. In 1995, he set up the night at the Comedy Store, which was struggling at the time.
“Phat Tuesdays provided something for everybody,” Torry says. “It brought life and revenue to the Comedy Store, and it provided the comedians someplace to be seen.” Before long, audiences ranging from comedy fans to major stars started crowding into the club to see Black comedians tackling the issues of the day.
“I really think that the night helped bridge the gap of what was going on at that time,” Torry said. “I truly believe that laughter heals and purifies the air.”
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