By Jennie McNulty
Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 2/22/23 – The lights were up, and the stars were out in Hollywood for the 1st annual Humor Mill Comedy Awards. The award show honoring African American comedians was entertaining and fun from start to finish. Humor Mill founder, Frank Holder, in announcing the awards show noted that “with unique perspectives and experiences, urban comedians bring the power of healing, unity, upliftment and resilience to the art form of comedy generation after generation.” Comedy stars from those generations past as well as new comedy stars from social media all came together in a special night of laughter, community, and gratitude.
The awards have been a passion project of Holders since, 1998. “The Humor Mill was created because I wanted to recognize the little guys. I wanted to recognize those people who everybody seemed to be overlooking.”
“It’s overdue, it’s really overdue,” said Co-host of the ceremony, Comedian Tony Roberts. “He’s always had that dream of getting the magazine off the ground and always mentioned a comedy award show and here, 20-some years later, he did it! I’d do anything for him.”
Fellow Co-host Chris Spencer commented on the importance of comedy in general. “Comedy is a genre that’s in every other genre. You see a mystery movie, you see a thriller, you go to the Opera, there’s always somebody that’s going to be in there that’s funny. And it’s great that Frank Holder and his wife Bernadette have created a venue of us to be acknowledged and applauded.”
Visibility and appreciation were on the minds of the nominees, presenters and celebrities alike. Long-time stand-up comic and presenter, Shang Forbes, discussed the importance of the show given the experience of most black comedians. “They don’t show us in the same light. We don’t get a lot of awards. We don’t get a lot of shine at the Academy Awards. We’re mostly just getting smacked! And they act like, ‘Well, he’s a just a comic.’ But it’s hard to do comedy. So, I’m glad that I’ve been lucky, I’ve had a pretty good career and I’m hoping that they start noticing some of the big dogs a little more.”
Looking around the room overflowing with comedy celebrities, actor and presenter, Jasmine Burke said, “I feel like I’m in a candy store right now!” And, added, “I do love comedy because it stretches you so much. And it’s really hard so for everyone here to be recognized tonight, it’s amazing because they have to be really good at what they do.”
Glynn Turman, an actor and writer whose voluminous credits include everything from Broadway’s original production of Raisin in the Sun to “Cooley High” to the current, “80 for Brady,” reflected on comedians being “able to make us laugh as we address those issues, and the laughter is what keeps us in the game… George (Wallace) and I are old war dogs. We’ve been in the game a long time. There are all these young cats coming up and I’m proud of all of them.”
When asked about the influence of social media on the world of comedy Turman offered, “Well, look at the crowd! The word gets out. So many people have podcasts and things that they are doing that’s s inventive in terms of bringing news and commenting on what’s going on. So, in one way, it’s been a big help to our awareness. And it’s just a matter of being used correctly. It’s kind of a double-edged sword.”
There were, in fact, award categories specifically for the social media performers and many were out in support at the event. And, then again, there were the ubiquitous “@s” in the red-carpet intros of every performer there- young and old. And as one comic put it, comedy and social media are now forever linked. Former News and Sports Anchor, author and 10 – year stand up vet, Eunice Elliott added, it allows you to get fans who may have never attended a comedy show.” Although, some of the, shall we say, more experienced comedians did get quite a laugh from co-host Chris Spencer’s light touch of shade to the “Tic Tokers” out there who experienced the difficulties of going from a 45-second video to a 45-minute set.
In addition to presenting awards in categories from best comedy special, best acting in comedy films and TV, and best comedic social influencers, 2 pioneers in the industry, finally got their flowers. Stand up and actor, George Wallace, “Mr. Vegas,” was given a Lifetime Achievement award for his decades in comedy. Wallace, who got his start writing on The Redd Foxx Show, acted in TV and Film, and has headlined more shows in Las Vegas than any other African American comedian, reflected on the award before the show. “I’m just enjoying life. This is a part of my blessings. I feel good about it. We’re going to have some fun and a little laughter and for my peers to think of me, it’s just tremendous. It’s a blessing.”
Also honored was TV and Film Producer and Writer, Ralph Farquhar. Farquhar, whose career started as a writer for the sitcom “Happy Days,” and also includes creating the shows, “South Central,” “Moesha” and The Parkers” among countless other credits. So many of those in attendance remarked about the positive influence Ralph had on their careers. Brian J White who starred in “Stomp the Yard,” got his start on “Moesha” and credited Farquhar with being “a visionary” who sees the comedy in the everyday life experiences of the black community and brings that out in a unique and relatable way. In his acceptance speech, Farquhar spoke about how important it was to him to make sure that he reached his hand out and bring along others the way he was. “I may not be the most talented or best writer, but I knew I could get someone else in here.”
The show began with hosts Spencer and Roberts trading hilarious barbs at each other and whomever was running the teleprompter. Unfortunately for those onstage, the teleprompter was a bit of an issue throughout the evening. But, with comics at the helm, for those in the audience it was just another added level of laughter. Spencer who, in the beginning of the show, joked that he was the 3rd choice for host, then when on to improv, after every presenter, who it was they really wanted to get as presenter. But amidst the teasing, the love was palpable. Love that the comics had for each other, for the honorees, and for comedy.
When Holder, the Cohosts Spencer and Roberts and Red-Carpet social media Guru, Juhahn Jones all shared the stage to say goodnight, Holder started to mention the glitches, and was stopped by Chris Spencer who pointed out that a hiccup at a BET Awards was one of the funniest moments of that show and that those times can be magical.
Watching the evening from the Red Carpet to the end was like watching the joy at a long overdue family reunion (from a family that loves each other, of course). Joy at being together. Joy at being seen. Joy from past successes and the joy of future promise. Everyone in attendance seemed to agree that even if it wasn’t as Holder said, “what I expected it to be,” it sure was magical.