Can a comedian enjoy mainstream appeal while maintaining their edge? People like Larry David and Louis C.K. have enjoyed both to some degree. “White Famous,” Showtime’s newest show, wonders if this can happen for a black comedian. SNL star Jay Pharoah makes his move to Showtime with this Jamie Foxx produced comedy. The show offers the star an opportunity to let loose with his comedy on an unfiltered level. However, relieving oneself of a filter does not relieve them of criticism. The show lands quite a few jabs about the struggle to find roles for people of color in Hollywood that aren’t demeaning or stereotypical. However, one sharp insight does not negate a show that oozes toxic masculinity. Jay Pharaoh and producer/star Jamie Foxx’s charisma fail to mask the thornier elements of the show.
Comedian Floyd Mooney (Jay Pharoah) kills it at the comedy clubs on a daily basis. His strong, edgy style of humor lands him meetings with top producers. Much to the chagrin of his agent, Malcolm (Utkarsh Ambudkar), Floyd continually balks at the degrading roles offered to him based on his race. A chance encounter with a famous producer, Stu Beggs (Stephen Tobolosky), mistaking Floyd for a valet at a restaurant leads to a taped tirade of Floyd exposing Stu for his racial biases. Desperate to make amends, Stu offers Floyd a role in his new film opposite Jamie Foxx (as himself), which could make him a household name.
The essence of the show revolves around a locally famous comedian deciding whether to be “white famous.” “White Famous” refers to being broadly recognized on a national level, a la a Jamie Foxx or Will Smith. However, Floyd refuses to do this without giving up his edge and ethnicity. The balance between appealing to the masses and staying true to one’s self is an important topic. With Hollywood still struggling to recognize and put forth diverse stories, this choice affects many minority actors. Floyd’s persistence to not take on stereotypical “Eddie Murphy in a dress” type roles earns Jamie Foxx’s respect and leads to more success for him. It’s a heartening message that hopefully more shows will take.
For all its focus on highlighting racial inequalities in Hollywood in regards to representation, the show stumbles profusely in its treatment of women. It’s one thing for the show to wallow in lowbrow jokes involving predictable hyper-masculinity. One loses count on how many times the same dick joke gets told. However, it’s more troubling how the show fails to notice how this hyper-masculinity bleeds into the poor writing of its female characters.
In the first two episodes alone, all women are either referred to or treated as sex objects. One scene, in particular, involving an actress instructed to tempt our protagonist into sex in order to get him “into the role,” reeks of details similar to many of the countless stories women have spoken up about regarding their experiences in Hollywood. The show treats this as a laugh. However, scenarios such as this are all too common and damaging for women in the industry. Even in the pilot episode, our lead even attempts to minimize the rape allegations against Bill Cosby. Moments like these are never coded as bad or symptomatic of systemic problems in Hollywood. They are explicitly called “edgy,” with people offended by it deemed the “PC police.” Casual sexism is treated as a badge of honor, reinforcing how cool it is to be in the “bro club” of Hollywood.
This problem doesn’t just occur in one or two questionable moments in the name of comedy. It extends even towards the show’s leading female character. Floyd’s ex-girlfriend and “Baby Mama” (as she’s referred to multiple times), Sadie (Cleopatra Coleman), never exists outside of being a mother or object of desire. All of Floyd’s friends constantly refer to how attractive she is. Floyd even sneaks into her room to catch her naked, against her consent. Upon dropping off his kid, Floyd asks if he can sleep with Sadie. She tells him no, multiple times. Floyd proceeds to tell her that “she has one confusing vagina” and tells her he doesn’t understand how she can sleep with him one night and tell him no the next. The idea of consent is brazenly shrugged off multiple times by both the character and the show’s tone.
It’s been some time since “Entourage” exemplified bro-culture on HBO. “White Famous” continues that show’s heralding of the uber-masculine with even less panache or subtlety. “White Famous” voices complaints of the degrading roles African American actors have had to take in Hollywood. However, it creates many degrading roles for women so we have more times for the same, tired dick jokes. It’s a shame the show couldn’t be more clever or insightful across the board. Instead, each episode feels like a missed opportunity that only accentuates how many things are wrong with Hollywood today.