Tivo'd Martin Lawrence's concert film, RUNTELDAT, and finally sat down to watch it during a bout of insomnia last night. I will confess I am a huge fan of his old show, MARTIN, and will defend it to the death to any comers.
However, that Martin is no longer with us. He's been gone a while, in fact. I have a theory, previously stated on this web site, about the relationship between black comics' careers and the first time they agree to appear in a televised special wearing a 100% leather suit. Eddie did it and then lost his shit. Martin did it already (remember the leather baseball jersey in You So Crazy?) and we know what happened to him. Chris Rock even did it on his second HBO hour, and I dare you to name any good Chris Rock movies since.
Now I feel obligated to amend that theory. If your act includes a very obvious Messianic Complex, you are probably not going to be funny and you've most certainly gone 100% nuts. If you are a black comic* and step to the stage surrounded by dry ice smoke as hip-hop music explodes on the PA, and pose with your head down, arms extended and hands gripped at the wrists, before finally descending a set of smoke-enveloped stairs to the stage, I promise you have reached the point of no return as a professional comedian.
In RUNTELDAT Martin Lawrence not only exhibits all of these warning signs, but he does so in an oversized leather shirt-pant combo emblazoned with a specially-made "runteldat" logo. Plus, before the concert film even begins, we are subjected to a long video recounting all the various ways his star shined too brightly, and how the media vipers have been biting at his ankles, trying to poison his blood and desecrate his once mighty name. (this is interspersed with clips of him praying in his dressing room and shooting three-pointers in a fat-suit on the set of Big Momma's House.)
At first I thought this video was made expressly for the film but, once Martin has completed descending his smoky stairs and demanding the audience holler, he asks them if they enjoyed the video they'd just seen - the same one I, at home, had just seen. Martin could have only made this worse by walking onstage escorted by two members of the Fruit of Islam.
But take all those other mitigating factors and none of them compare to one's decision to identify with the music and lyrics of DMX. DMX is like the hip-hop Ian Curtis. He's not just an MC; he's half self-made martyr and half neighborhood crackhead. His vocal style is nonlinear, angry, like the unpredictable head bobs of a rabid St. Bernard. And to look at the entire canon of hip-hop, past Tribe Called Quest and Nas and Biggie and even King Sun and say to yourself, "I think the tourettic tics and amplified snarls and barks of DMX really speaks most directly to me as a comedian and entertainer," is to laugh directly into the abyss, and discover even the abyss refuses to laugh back.
Now, after all of that - - the leather, the dry ice, the logos, the media clips, the retrospective, the prayer, the dogs barking - guess what Martin's first joke was about? Fucking a woman in her throat cancer neck-hole. And, for a brief, shining moment, I thought, "our little Marty's back!" I have never been so wrong in my entire life.
*there is a altnernate version of this theory for white comics, which involves wearing a black leather jacket onstage while AC/DC or some other ancient "bad boy" band explodes on the PA, and insisting on jamming with a live rock band of unknown session musicians as the "finale" of your stand-up comedy concert.