The best thing about HOUSE PARTY was missing from HOUSE PARTY 2, that was Robin Harris. Of course they probly would’ve worked him in somehow if he was available, but he died of a heart attack in his sleep shortly after the release of the first one.
Harris seemed like he was on the verge of much bigger fame, at least according to two DVDs about him: ROBIN HARRIS LIVE FROM THE COMEDY ACT THEATER and WE DON’T DIE, WE MULTIPLY: THE ROBIN HARRIS STORY.
IMDB says Reginald Hudlin directed the one about the Comedy Act Theater, but I don’t think that’s what the credits said. If so I’m surprised he would make something so amateurish and cheesy. It seems like one of those deals made by people who think having a suit, a hat and a production company logo is more important than hiring somebody who knows how to edit or make professional looking credits. But I was still glad I watched the movie because it’s an interesting story.
The Comedy Act Theater, it turns out, was a pioneering L.A. comedy club that was black-owned and featured black comedians. The owner (also producer of the documentary, of course) says that he went to places like the Improv and watched all the white comedians and would wait all night for a black comedian and then they wouldn’t be very funny anyway. He decided to start his own place, which turned out to be very successful, largely because of the legendary hosting abilities of Robin Harris.
In between interviews about Harris and the history of the theater we see alot of grainy but often really funny footage of Harris, who was known for his insults of people in the crowd. They talk alot about what a mistake it was to get up to go to the bathroom or something when he was on stage, because he would single you out. Comedians talk about incidents where people tried to heckle him and were comedically cut to bits and eaten by dogs. Harris also does skits with other comedians, often in drag, but they’re not nearly as funny as what comes off the top of his head when he’s looking at people in the crowd.
They make a strong case for the importance of this club. The casting agent Jacki Reed cast all kinds of comedians in movies after seeing them there. Hudlin and Spike Lee found out about Harris by seeing him there. Russell Simmons found out about various comedians there, the Def Comedy Jam apparently was inspired by that place and was meant to be hosted by Harris.
THE ROBIN HARRIS STORY could also use some better editing (do we really need montages of traffic, cheesy music and titles for each chapter?) but seems more thorough and polished than the other one. They talk to his relatives, bring his widow and sons to what used to be the Comedy Act Theater, they interview comedians like Bernie Mac, D.L. Hughley, Martin Lawrence and Cedric the Entertainer. Of course it’s extra sad to hear the late Bernie Mac talking about Harris dying too young, but he’s probly the best interview. He seems very sincere and insightful about what made Harris great and seeing him talk about it you notice obvious parallels between their styles of comedy.
They mention his work in movies (I’M GONNA GIT YOU SUCKA, DO THE RIGHT THING and HOUSE PARTY) and how you couldn’t really script him, you just had to put him in a situation and let him go. Knowing that makes me understand the magic of DO THE RIGHT THING a little bit more. No wonder he’s so good as Sweet Dick Willy. “What you oughta do is boycott that god damn barber that fucked up your head!”
This one has a ton of great clips from throughout his career. One of my favorites is when he cracks on a guy in the audience with jheri curls. Considering the place and time that he performed I’m sure in his head he had to have had an Encyclopedia Brittanica’s worth of jheri curl insults. You could argue it’s a cheap subject, but that doesn’t make the jokes not funny. At one point he apologizes and shakes the guy’s hand, but then complains that his hand is slippery and goes right back into it.
This one also includes the “Bebe’s Kids” routine, his story about being roped into taking somebody else’s little asshole kids to Disneyland. It’s a hilarious story that somehow ended up being adapted into a not very funny PG-13 rated, theatrically released cartoon in 1992.
Kid ‘n Play do not appear in this cartoon, they were busy in one of their own:
but I don’t think BEBE’S KIDS could’ve existed without the success of HOUSE PARTY, so I’m including it in the retrospective. From what I understand, HOUSE PARTY director Reginald Hudlin had planned a live action BEBE’S KIDS starring Harris, which was a pretty good idea I think. It would’ve had to’ve been a better movie for Harris than THE TOY was for Richard Pryor. And of course with him starring he would’ve brought all kinds of funny shit that was not in Hudlin’s script.
Unfortunately, that couldn’t happen, but they made the project as a cartoon with Faizon Love (Big Worm from FRIDAY) doing the voice of Robin. It’s PG-13 because it starts with Robin in a bar, and I think he uses the N-word once, but mostly it looks and feels like some mediocre TV cartoon for kids.
The movie does work in alot of Harris’s jokes. He meets his date (the friend of Bebe) at a funeral for a dude he hates, and he talks shit about him. There are lots of your mama jokes worked in. (“Your mama’s so dumb they told her it was chilly outside, she went and got a bowl.”) Like in HOUSE PARTY he recommends for kids to watch DOLEMITE (says it teaches them to appreciate poetry) and then goes into a rendition of “Signifyin’ Monkey.” And he says “ya test tube baby!” which is kind of like his version of Don Rickles saying “you hockey puck!” And lots of lines like “I feel sorry for trouble if it runs into them kids.”
There’s a pretty good one where he’s trying to hit on her, and as she walks by a bus stop he asks her if she needs a ride home, she says “No, I have a car” and he says, “Oh, could I get one then?”
Love does a pretty good Harris impression, and they do try to animate his bulging eyes and everything, but of course it’s just not the same. The medium and the execution and everything about it just takes away all the edge. He seems like Robin Harris, but not quite as mean. The girl is drawn as a pretty, thin, light-skinned lady like Jamie Foxx or somebody would date in a romantic comedy – honestly, she’s a drawing but she seems too hot to date this dude she met at a funeral and too smart be tricked into taking care of these kids all the time. There’s something true to life about the story when you picture it in your head, but in these cartoon drawings it’s got nothing to do with true life.
The diaper-shitting baby is called Pee-Wee (just like one of the bullies in HOUSE PARTY) and voiced by Tone Loc. That’s a semi-funny idea to give a baby that gravelly voice, but then he doesn’t do that good a job with Harris’s original joke about talking while shitting. Mostly they just draw swarms of flies around his ass.
One big problem with the movie, obviously they can’t draw it at Disneyland, so they make up a “Fun World” and it has no basis in reality, just every lazy cartoon idea of what a theme park is like. Instead of creepy animatronic dummies of the presidents there are actual sentient metal robots of them. And they capture the kids and put them on trial and the nice kid who does not belong to Bebe saves them by performing a rap song called “Freedom,” complete with an impassioned Gospel type chorus singing “Freedoooom! Fredoooooom!” So it’s a cartoonist’s idea of a kid’s idea of a rapper’s idea of the concept of freedom, being explained to a court presided over by robotic Lincoln and Nixon.
That’s another way it’s like HOUSE PARTY, it is a rap musical. One is performed in character by Love, the others by kids (and Tone Loc). Weirdly, some of them are produced by Bill Stephney (and Eric Sadler?) of The Bomb Squad. But you’re not gonna want to put these songs on your iPod, unless you’re one of those guys who collects novelties like WWF albums, the Ninja Turtle Rap and the Super Bowl Shuffle. And it’s not even bad enough to be funny like those, it’s just not good.
But more importantly, they seem to miss the whole point of the joke by making the kids not really that much of a terror. They’re not nearly as bad as described by Harris – they don’t go around slapping white people, for example. Before Bebe’s kids have really had a chance to live up to their reputation they’re already getting harassed by white Men In Black type security guards. So the movie wants you to side with the kids, which I don’t think was Harris’s point. I do like at the end though when he goes to their shitty, parentless apartment and feels bad for them.
I mean, there are probly some positive things I can say about the movie, and I’m a positive individual, so I’ll give it a shot. It’s kind of cool seeing Jet Magazine in a cartoon, and it’s nice that the woman criticizes Robin for pointing his finger only at Bebe and not the father who abandoned the kids. Which reminds me, I used to know a dude who loved this movie because he said the kids all had different skin tones, meaning they all had different fathers, and he thought that was hilarious. But it looks to me like two of them are the same shade. And there’s only 3 of them by the way, not 4 like in the joke.
I laughed when Robin threw a bunch of insults at his ex-wife and her friend says sincerely, “You know what that was all about, right? He still loves you.”
It’s kind of weird, but there’s a phenomenon of cartoons based on comedians. This one is kind of like FAT ALBERT, it comes out of the characters and stories from Harris’s standup, like FAT ALBERT was based on Bill Cosby’s. I wonder why they haven’t done one from Dolemite’s routines?
Anyway in this case don’t bother with the cartoon, just watch the routine:
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appendix: KID ‘N PLAY/HOUSE PARTY CROSSOVER:
written by Reginald Hudlin (writer/director, HOUSE PARTY)
John Witherspoon (“Mr. Strickland,” HOUSE PARTY) plays “Card Player #1”
Chino “Fats” Williams (“Fats,” HOUSE PARTY) plays “Card Player #2”
Reynaldo Rey (“Veda’s Dad,” HOUSE PARTY 3) plays “Lush”
Bebe Drake-Massey (“Mrs. Strickland,” HOUSE PARTY) plays “Barfly”
Immature (HOUSE PARTY 3-4) perform the song “Tear It Up (On Our Worst Behavior)” for the soundtrack
VERN has a new action-horror novel out called WORM ON A HOOK! He has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the film criticism books Seagalogy: A Study of the Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal and Yippee Ki-Yay Moviegoer!: Writings on Bruce Willis, Badass Cinema and Other Important Topics as well as the crime novel Niketown.