Sundance Film Festival

Festival Updates Interview : WHY WE LAUGH

Faith Salie interviews WHY WE LAUGH director Robert Townsend and executive producer Jeff Clanagan in the Sundance Channel Studio. Presented by Honda, The Power of Dreams.

WHY WE LAUGH: BLACK COMEDIANS ON BLACK COMEDY
DIRECTORS: Robert Townsend
SCREENWRITERS: Quincy Newell, John Long,
based on Black Comedians on Black Comedy by Darryl Littleton
U.S.A., 2008, 95 min., color

Timely, insightful, and downright funny, WHY WE LAUGH: BLACK COMEDIANS ON BLACK COMEDY is a sweeping account of the evolution of black comedy in America. Inspired by comedian Darryl Littleton’s book, directors Robert Townsend and Quincy Newell have crafted a no-holds-barred documentary that is both an insider’s take and a critical examination of the cultural influence of black comedy.

Townsend and Newell enrich this hilarious and spectacularly archived film by including interviews with prominent scholars, politicians, cultural critics, and a host of notable comics, including Bill Cosby, Chris Rock, Keenan Ivory Wayans, and Eddie Griffin. WHY WE LAUGH tracks the way black comedy has evolved from Stepin Fetchit and minstrels in blackface to the politically tinged humor of Dick Gregory, and from the television success of Good Times and The Jeffersons to the big-screen accomplishments of stars like Eddie Murphy and Whoopi Goldberg.

Townsend and Newell turn a perceptive eye on the controversial career of Dave Chapelle and the implications of corporate efforts to capitalize on the massive successes of Russell Simmons’s Def Comedy Jam and Spike Lee’s THE ORIGINAL KINGS OF COMEDY. A major historical contribution to American culture—and a hoot to watch—WHY WE LAUGH is a tribute to the way individuals can change history, as well as a cautionary tale about how tenuous that change can be. —SHARI FRILOT

ExP: Jeff Clanagan, Richard Foos Pr: Quincy Newell, Robert Townsend, Darryl Littleton, Angela Northington Ci: Johnny Simmons Ed: Skip Robinson,
Agusta Einarsdottir