The first time I sat down and watched Paul Mooney: Analyzing White America, I must admit, I was a little disappointed. Unlike so many people who "discovered" Mooney through his appearances on Chappelle's Show as Negrodamus, I have been a fan dating back to the late 1980s. In fact, truth be told, I was a fan of Mooney's work even before I knew who he was. Growing up in the 1970s, Mooney was a writer on some of my favorite childhood shows, including Sanford & Son, Good Times, and Saturday Night Live. It wasn't until I saw him in Robert Townsend's Hollywood Shuffle, and then caught his performance in Townsend's first HBO special that I became aware of who he actually was. But from then on, I was a die-hard fan.
Originally produced in 2002, but not released on DVD until this year, Analyzing White America was something I had been anticipating for a very long time – Mooney allowed to do his thing in his own show. This promised to be no-holds-barred Mooney, going for the jugular as he expounded on matters both racial and political.
My initial problem with Analyzing White America was the obviously low budget production values. Shot on videotape, the camera work is fairly flat, the lighting is bad, and Mooney's performances is broken up with a series of unnecessary sketches that feature him as a therapist working with various white patients. All of this served as a distraction from the actual stand up performance (or, in this case, sit down performance) that Mooney gives. But when I watched Analyzing White America again, I saw past the technical problems and the lack of stylish flare, and found myself laughing out loud. Because when all is said and done, this is a very funny performance.
As fans of Mooney have come to expect, the comedian pulls no punches as he spouts off almost exclusively about racism. Mooney's rants are at once lucid and caustic as he rails against everything from Jerry Springer to the use of "n" word. His comments and observations about 9/11 can seem almost dated, especially since there is no reference to the Iraq War (which started after the show was recorded), but that does not change the poignancy of what he's saying.
Paul Mooney: Analyzing White America is not the best comedy concert of all time – it will never compare to Richard Pryor's concert films, or Chris Rock's Bring the Pain – but it is consistently funny. At the same time, Mooney is one of the funniest performers of this or any generation, mixing his unique sense of humor with brutally honest observation about the world. Mooney manages to not only evoke laughter, he also gets you thinking, which is what all great art should do.
Paul Mooney: Analyzing White America was shot on video and is presented full frame. The picture quality is fine, but it has the flat, cold look that can from video.
Paul Mooney: Analyzing White America is presented in mono.
There is a brief interview with Paul Mooney conducted by producer Tim Reid. The interview suffers from the same production short-comings as the actual concert. Still, Mooney has some interesting things to say, especially when Reid questions; him about what many perceived to be the anger in his comedy.
True fans of Mooney will be pleased. Don't go in expecting slick production values and you'll be fine. Those that only know Mooney as Negrodamus may be in for a bit of a surprise. But as the old saying goes, fuck 'em if they can't take a joke.
David Walker is the creator of BadAzz MoFo, a nationally published film critic, and the Writer/Director of Black Santa's Revenge with Ken Foree now on DVD [Buy it now]