Hollywood Shuffle

tn_hollywoodshufflerookies-indieHOLLYWOOD SHUFFLE is the definition of a D.I.Y. movie. Comedian Robert Townsend got tired of fighting for the shitty roles that Hollywood had available to him as a black man, so he ran up his credit cards to produce and direct his own movie, casting himself as Bobby Taylor, an actor not quite yet tired of fighting for the shitty roles that Hollywood has available to him as a black man. But it’s also a sketch movie in kind of the way UHF was later. The main story tangents into parody TV shows and fantasy sequences and stuff where he gets to play different roles.

Bobby is auditioning for what seems at first like a bit part as a mugger or something, but I guess it’s supposed to be the title role in a movie called JIVE TIME JIMMY’S REVENGE. He earnestly practices his improperly ebonic dialogue with his little brother Stevie (Craigus R. Johnson), doing some kind of cartoonish pimp voice and strut that only get worse in front of the white casting directors, cast and filmmakers.

He just goes along with the bullshit like people in the real world do. He treats the #1 sitcom star – who wears a funny bat-shaped hat and mugs up a storm while being swatted at by white people – as a V.I.P. Even in a daydream about being personally boycotted by the NAACP for playing Jive Time Jimmy he’s asked if he makes “those faces” (minstrel show type mugging) in bed, and he answers innocently, “Uh, sometimes.” It works as satire because he doesn’t know any better. 

It’s not just about the unfairness of the Hollywood machine. It’s about the temptation to give in. When they tell him they want “an Eddie Murphy type” he just tries to imitate Eddie Murphy for them, when they tell him to act “more black” he does what he thinks that means to them. As much as it’s attacking racial stereotypes in the media it’s shaming himself and his colleagues for taking part in them. He is sympathetic, obviously, showing why actors would be willing to take any role than can get (and how the star trying to put his foot down offends and inconveniences the black actors in the supporting roles). But ultimately, of course, Townsend comes down on the side of saying no to this type of work, even if it means getting a job at the post office instead.

Interesting trivia for you here: the character Batty Boy, who represents selling out to play a racially demeaning character, is played by Brad Sanders, who played Big Lob in GI JOE: THE MOVIE:


Man, I gotta say, There’s a Bat In My House! is perfect fictional TV programming. It doesn’t parody a specific show as far as I’m aware, but it perfectly captures the inanity of senselessly popular sitcom phenomenons. I don’t think the characters even know why they think it’s funny. They just like his catch phrase “Batty batty batty!” They’re too busy repeating that to wonder about the subtext of a show about a white family not wanting to have to live with a black thing. I’ll buy that for a dollar.

mp_hollywoodshuffleIt takes Bobby a while to wise up. When he finally gets there Townsend lays it on a little too thick in my opinion. Did he really have to have his grandma (Helen Martin from 227) and little Stevie on set to witness him acting out the shameful stereotype? And how did that little boy know to frown disapprovingly? He’d already rehearsed the part with Bobby and didn’t seem offended then. While Bobby’s filming he looks over and sees Stevie hanging his head in shame, and that’s what makes him decide he can’t play this part. But wouldn’t it be more powerful if he looked over and saw him smiling proudly, and that’s what did it? Like, I can’t teach my little brother that this is cool?

But oh well. It was obviously pretty new at that time to be calling out these stereotypes using popular entertainment. This was 13 years before Spike Lee made BAMBOOZLED, and Townsend makes a more coherent (and entertaining) version of the same argument, from what I remember about that one.

Alot of the humor is pretty dated though. They work in parodies of Rambo, Dirty Harry, Amadeus, Indiana Jones (specifically TEMPLE OF DOOM) and cliche generic genres like “detective” or “’50s sci fi.” Usually the joke in the parodies is along the line of “what if it was a black guy?” Then he would be called Rambro, or the detective would narrate real seriously about “doing the nasty” in his case “Death of a Breakdancer.” Those types of jokes play pretty corny in the world this movie helped create, a world that has had years of black culture sketch comedy on In Living Color, Chapelle’s Show and Key & Peele. Then again, it wouldn’t be surprising to see worse jokes in a modern parody movie, sitcom or SNL sketch.

The music is a little fusiony but kinda good. It’s by Udi Harpaz, who also did such important works as NINJA III: THE DOMINATION and the cartoons Mister T and Chuck Norris Karate Kommandos. Cinematographer Peter Deming had done one movie previously: EVIL DEAD 2. He went on to be a go-to cinematographer not just for Sam Raimi but also David Lynch.

Townsend peppered his cast with friends from the comedy scene, including John Witherspoon, Paul Mooney, Damon Wayans, Dom Irrera, Franklyn Ajaye, and Rusty Cundieff, who six years later would do his own starring/directing/parody vehicle, FEAR OF A BLACK HAT. Keenan Ivory Wayans, who also worked with Townsend on Eddie Murphy’s RAW and his HBO special Robert Townsend and His Partners in Crime, co-wrote the screenplay. His directing/starring/parody vehicle I’M GONNA GIT YOU SUCKA was the next year. He’s also in my opinion the MVP of the movie for playing the part of Jerry Curl, a character in a black and white mystery show who completely breaks down when Townsend’s detective character steals his jheri curl applicator and threatens to dump it out if he won’t talk.


A million other people were dressing up like Rambo as a joke but nobody else would’ve come up with the Jerry Curl scene, and that’s why it’s beautiful. It’s specific to the time and to black culture and it’s a really good acting performance that sells it. It’s too bad, we all kind of turn our nose up to the Wayans family because of the broad, dumb comedy they’ve become associated with over the years. But there was a time when Keenen and Damon especially were young and hungry, when they broke through and rode the wave for a while and they were pretty great.

You know what else is noteworthy about that section of the movie? Steve James. There’s a part where Townsend gets in a fight with a bunch of roughnecks, and one of them is the one and only AMERICAN NINJA sidekick. He was fight coordinator for the scene, and he gets to kick Townsend onto his ass. While wearing a skirt. (Wayans gave him a much bigger role in I’M GONNA GIT YOU SUCKA as the Jim Kelly-like Kung Fu Joe.)



It’s worth considering James’s career before this and what type of typecasting he faced. He’d already been in co-starring roles in AMERICAN NINJA, AVENGING FORCE, DELTA FORCE and William Friedkin’s C.A.T. SQUAD, but earlier he may have been auditioning for stupid roles. In the TV movie MUGGABLE MARY, STREET COP he played the part of “Park Slasher – Rapist.” In Times Square he played “Dude.” He was a Baseball Fury! But he played more bit parts as cops and soldiers than as criminals. In his bigger roles he was able to play handsome heroic guys, but unfortunately often relegated to the sidekick of a white protagonist.

You know what I learned about Townsend? He was a Baseball Fury too. At least that’s what IMDb says. I guess anybody could say they were a Baseball Fury under that makeup. It would be hard to disprove. And in a sense we are all Baseball Furies anyway. But my point is, apparently the answer was no, he could not dig it. So he went and made HOLLYWOOD SHUFFLE. We need more people with initiative like that.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, March 24th, 2015 at 12:17 pm and is filed under Comedy/Laffs, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

9 Responses to “Hollywood Shuffle”

  1. Well, I’m more than happy to post. So glad Shuffle still holds up. This film was first and foremost funny. But even as a kid, I recall the legend of Townsend making it independently on his credit cards. And he is every bit the low budget pioneer that Carpenter or Waters were. I wish his career had led to other noteworthy projects (I still recall liking Five Heartbeats) but I think as a multi talented guy he certainly earned his rep. And I always smile when he shows up. The fact that his indie film was about the black actor experience in Hollywood (and sadly, still rings true) and got out to a major audience pre-Sundance gets little to no respect. My brother worked with Keenan years later and when someone asked what to get for lunch…my brother said “What about Winky Dinky Dog?” Keenan smiled. Both those guys really forged a career for themselves. And in doing so, left something of a legacy that filmmakers can look to for inspiration. But again, damn thing was funny. Sneaking In The Movies 4eva!

  2. I’ve been to a degree pretty fascinated by Robert Townsend’s directing career, which even includes a Disney Channel Original Movie, CARMEN: A HIP HOPERA and the not-as-bad-as-its-reputation-although-definitely-no-misunderstood-masterpiece-or-something-like-that METEOR MAN. He definitely has one of the more interesting IMDB profiles.

  3. Like most kids my age, I was super into “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka”, and I rented this one soon after hoping for more of the same. I remember being slightly disappointed at the more serious tone but also thought the more infrequent funny parts were actually funnier than IGGYS, so much that I actually pissed my pants at one point. Not sure if this movie would hold up today for me but I’d love to revisit it.

    Btw, I think like alot of people, I thought The Mighty Quinn was going to be alot funnier than it was, simply by the presence of Townsend. I miss that guy and hope he makes more movies.

  4. I’ve always liked Robert Townsend, from seeing his HBO special as a kid (Partners in Crime) and The Mighty Quinn.

  5. Is Keenan Ivory Wayans the Melvin Van Peebles of the movie? Does that mean that a Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song/Baadasssss! tandem review is in the works?

  6. caruso_stalker217

    March 26th, 2015 at 1:09 am

    I’d never heard of this before, but wife tells me I need to watch it. She didn’t steer me wrong with DON’T BE A MENACE TO SOUTH CENTRAL WHILE DRINKING YOUR JUICE IN THE HOOD, so I think she knows her shit.

  7. I recently thought about DON’T BE A MENACE. I always held it up as one of the better non-ZAZ spoofs and also maybe the best Wayans Brothers movie, but I haven’t seen it in a long time. I also think it’s the only theatrical directing job of Paris Barclay, one of TV’s most respected directors at the moment.

  8. caruso_stalker217

    March 26th, 2015 at 2:36 am

    I can’t stop quoting the Bernie Mac scene.

    I hate black PEPPUH.

  9. That bat sitcom is surreal. It doesn’t come across like a sitcom that would ever really exist. Granted, IRL there have been some outrageous sitcom premises about robots and aliens and ghosts, so in theory it should be possible, but in practice it just seems too insane. Could be an exaggeration for comedic effect, I guess. Like, what if you took SMALL WONDER or ALF and ran them through the comedy-of-reduction filter.

    In the context of HOLLYWOOD SHUFFLE, though, I still enjoy it. I like that the star of a bad low-budget sitcom is still a hero to Robert because he’s a struggling actor and the star has made it. This man is Sidney Poitier or Morgan Freeman to him.

    Every so often I still think of the scene where the star comes to the hot dog stand and Robert asks him “How do you know if it’s a good script?” and the star says “Does your character…DIE…in the script?” Robert says no. “Then it’s a good script.” Adding to the layers is that out of character, the star has a very cultured, elegant accent, like he’s a classically-trained actor but he’s found his destiny doing the bat sitcom.

    Cool that there’s a connection between this and GI JOE: THE MOVIE!

    It’s true that the parodies are both dated and not too hilarious. The framing device of “Sneaking in the Movies” is pretty strong though, and anything that allows multiple parodies at least keeps the ball in the air and adds density. And the pimp horror movie is a great use of the pimp walk, using exaggeration to make it like a zombie walk.

    Comedian Dom Irerra plays the director who auditions the actors for the part Robert wants to get, giving directions like, “Bug your eyes out more, you know, like they do,” but then becoming more enlightened at the end and doing a rap apologising and explaining it’s because he only knows about black people from TV and movies. As that character, he kind of reminds me of Barry Gordon.

    As you mention this film was a nexus for various minds from the 1980s black comedy scene, like Rusty Cundieff and the Wayans brothers. It was also the last collaboration before writing partners Robert Townsend and Keenan Ivory Wayans had their feud, which IIRC was over who created the characters in the B&W detective parody. (Townsend later re-used the detective, somewhat retooled into the suave “Nigel Spider,” in his own mid-1990s sketch-comedy series, which reopened the wound.) That was 30 years ago, though, and for all I know they’re friends again. I hope so.

    Steve James was great.

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