‘Right to Offend’ explores role of black comics – The Union Leader

PRODUCED AND introduced by Kevin Hart, the four-hour, two-night special “Right to Offend: The Black Comedy Revolution” (9 p.m., A&E, TV-MA) explores the underestimated role of laughter in changing attitudes.

An impressive collection of contemporary comics pays homage to pioneers who paved the way, often under rough circumstances. They include, in the first hour, Redd Foxx, Moms Mabley and Dick Gregory, who entered people’s homes through the medium of talk-show television and record albums at a time when most Black people were denied even the service entrance in many white households.

The introduction also explores the origins of Black comedy in vaudeville, blackface and how some stars emerged from a generally demeaning artform.

Much of the first hour is dedicated to Gregory, who long straddled the line between activist and entertainer before leaving showbiz to work for social change full time. His appearance on “The Tonight Show” with Jack Paar broke boundaries, not just because he had a national platform to make comments about Kennedy and Khrushchev, but because he insisted on chatting on the couch with Paar after his set.

It may sound remarkable now, but the fact that Gregory simply discussed the humdrum details of his children and family life was a revelation to Paar’s White viewers, who flooded the show’s telephone switchboards to gush that they had never heard a “negro” talk that way.

Gregory had done nothing less than humanize an entire group of people set apart by a media caste system that relegated them to the role of members of a frightening underclass, shiftless clowns or elite athletes and entertainers, encouraged to perform but never allowed to speak their minds. Recent attempts to muzzle outspoken athletes, or Laura Ingraham’s advice to LeBron James (“Shut up and dribble”) demonstrate the audacity of Gregory’s approach, 60 years ago.

Over its four hours, “Offend” moves on with the times, showing how comics from Bill Cosby to Richard Pryor, Whoopi Goldberg and Dave Chappelle and others found new audiences and avenues of expression.

If I have to quibble, it’s the series’ singular focus on Black comics within a Black culture. I would like to hear more about the kinds of cultural cross-pollination that changed American humor. Dick Gregory emerged as a topical monologist at a time when Mort Sahl, Bob Newhart and Lenny Bruce were performing in a similar mode in nightclubs, on TV shows and on LP records. Did they influence Gregory, or was it the other way around?

Other highlights

• Long COVID and short tempers on “Chicago Med” (8 p.m., NBC, r, TV-14).

• A fire erupts at a disturbed woman’s home on “Chicago Fire” (9 p.m., NBC, r, TV-14).

• Teamwork on the season finale of “The Flash” (8 p.m., CW, TV-PG).

• Off-duty heroism on “Chicago P.D.” (10 p.m., NBC, r, TV-14).

• Tool time never ends. Tim Allen, Richard Karn and April Wilkerson host “More Power” (10 p.m., History), a 10-part history of tools.

Cult choice

Killer bees target Texas in the 1978 disaster movie thriller “The Swarm” (1 p.m., TCM, TV-14), featuring a star-studded ensemble including Michael Caine, Katharine Ross, Richard Widmark, Richard Chamberlain, Olivia de Havilland, Ben Johnson, Lee Grant, Jose Ferrer, Patty Duke, Slim Pickens, Bradford Dillman, Henry Fonda and Fred MacMurray. The “My Three Sons” star quit acting after this film, long considered one of the worst movies ever made.

Series notes

“The Price Is Right at Night” (8 p.m. and 9 p.m., CBS, r, TV-PG) … “MasterChef” (8 p.m., Fox, TV-14) … Darlene’s heartache on “The Conners” (8 p.m., ABC, r, TV-PG) … A football fumble on “The Goldbergs” (8:30 p.m., ABC, r, TV-PG).

“So You Think You Can Dance” (9 p.m., Fox, TV-14) … Unkind words on “Abbott Elementary” (9 p.m., ABC, r, TV-PG) … On two episodes of “Wellington Paranormal” (CW, TV-14): Nightmares (9 p.m.); noise (9:30 p.m., r) … Halloween logistics on “Home Economics” (9:30 p.m., ABC, r, TV-PG) … A ticking time bomb on “S.W.A.T.” (10 p.m., CBS, r, TV-PG) … “Press Your Luck” (10 p.m., ABC, r, TV-PG).

Late night

Rep. Adam Kinzinger and Karl Urban are booked on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” (11:35 p.m., CBS) … Jimmy Fallon welcomes Gaten Matarazzo and Lauren Spencer-Smith on “The Tonight Show” (11:35 p.m., NBC) … Steve Carell, Machine Gun Kelly, Ingrid Andress and Jonathan Ulman visit “Late Night With Seth Meyers” (12:35 a.m., NBC) … John Boyega, Sam Smith, Minnie Driver, Lior Suchard and Cat Burns are scheduled to appear on “The Late Late Show With James Corden” (12:35 a.m., CBS).

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