The Creators of the Phat Tuesdays Docuseries Dig Into the Hidden History of Black Comedy

Snoop Dogg and Tiffany Haddish are some of the comedians and industry folk who are interviewed and highlighted in Prime Video's 'Phat Tuesdays: The Era of Hip Hop Comedy.' Image: courtesy of Prime Video.

Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, comedian Guy Torry’s Phat Tuesdays was a weekly game-changer for Black comedy in Los Angeles and beyond. Held at the legendary Comedy Store on Hollywood’s famed Sunset Boulevard, Phat Tuesdays was, for many, a rare opportunity to routinely experience Black comedians in a mainstream space. Phat Tuesdays coincided with hip-hop’s meteoric rise with many of its comedians bringing that same energy and edge to the comedy stage. As Phat Tuesdays’ popularity grew, industry movers and shakers began to come out too, pushing many folks from that stage to the big and small screen. Phat Tuesdays: The Era of Hip Hop Comedy on Prime Video chronicles this important Black history moment in comedy. 

Before getting into the meat of Phat Tuesdays, the docuseries reaches back to the Comedy Act Theater and fabled comedian Robin Harris, Pop from House Party known for his classic “Bébé’s Kids” routine. “I had to lay the groundwork. Let you know why that was important. And what paved the way for Phat Tuesdays,” explains Torry, who never personally knew Harris, who died in his sleep in 1990 at age 36 just when his career was about to explode.

Others in Phat Tuesdays, including Torry’s brother Joe from Poetic Justice fame, did know Harris so there’s a huge personal connection there and throughout Phat Tuesdays. It’s like a cool family reunion where your favorite relatives swap various stories about each other. Only these relatives are a who’s who of Black entertainment that include Dave Chappelle, Tommy Davidson, Steve Harvey, Cedric The Entertainer, Tiffany Haddish, Snoop Dogg, Nick Cannon, Anthony Anderson, JB Smoove, Jay Pharoah, Affion Crockett, Kevin Hart, Kim Whitley, Chris Tucker, and Regina King. Those who worked Phat Tuesdays also chime in. Plus the impact of Bernie Mac, as well as Def Comedy Jam overall, is also highlighted. It’s a history lesson that keeps you in stitches. That familiarity Torry says is what multihyphenate Reggie Hudlin brought to the table. 

“[This untold history] is why it was important to have Reggie Hudlin direct this and somebody Black direct this because somebody else wouldn’t have gotten why are we talking about Robin Harris, why are we talking about the Comedy Act Theater,” stresses Torry. “But Reggie got it. Reggie understood it. Reggie had a personal relationship with Robin Harris, and we were on the same page with that. And that’s why it’s so important for these pieces to be done by someone who knows the culture.”

Hudlin agrees. “The beauty of these kinds of documentaries is so much of our history is untold,” he says. “So, if you do the job right, you don’t just tell our story; you get to tell a whole moment. As Guy said, you can’t tell the story of Phat Tuesdays without telling the story of the Comedy Act. And, for me to revisit Robin Harris, who was such an integral part of House Party, to the point where my next movie was going to be Bébé’s Kids starring Robin, and he passed away before that happened and I did the animated movie as a tribute to Robin, . . . [made this] really right for every reason.”

And Phat Tuesdays gets deep, especially as it paints a picture of the landscape of that time, acknowledging the impact of the L.A. Riots and how Black comedy and Black people kept The Comedy Store open. Torry even exposes the rift in his relationship with Joe, with both brothers sharing their perspectives. Capturing all of this truth in sharing the history of Phat Tuesdays was essential to Torry.

“This whole project, I had to take my personal feelings out of it and look at it from a storyteller’s point of view. And if you’re going to tell the story, you tell the whole story, you tell the truth. That’s what comedians do. Comedy is truth and pain,” he explains. 

It’s one Hudlin, who began his filmmaking career with his brother Warrington, feels helps ground Phat Tuesdays. “They were willing to expose themselves and tell a story that a lot of people can relate to,” says Hudlin. “Every family has drama in it, and fame, success, that doesn’t change those fundamental emotional conflicts.”

Phat Tuesdays also touches on the unique challenges Black women comedians faced, with Tiffany Haddish, Kym Whitley, and others candidly discussing the sexual exploitation they experienced in the Black comedy space outside of playing Phat Tuesdays. “So many show promoters had a quid pro quo [policy] where a woman had to sleep with them to get stage time or the promoter tried to come into the hotel room after their show,” Torry explains. “I have three sisters, I have a mom and now I have nieces and I wouldn’t want anyone to treat the women in my family like that. . . Black women comedians have a harder fight than the male comedian.”

The inclusion of transgender comedian Flame Monroe may surprise some, but Torry was never conflicted about giving stage time to anyone deserving. The late Bob Saget and other white comedians even performed at Phat Tuesdays.  “Funny is funny,” says Torry. But that, as seen in Phat Tuesdays, was just not the philosophy of all.  

“A lot of people think all the breakthroughs happened in 1963,” says Hudlin. “It’s mind-blowing to think that in the 1990s all these comics, who we think of as superstars because they are superstars, couldn’t get stage time on Sunset Boulevard. I mean that seems crazy that that can be in our lifetime, which is why it’s important to document these kinds of stories. Everyone needs to understand [that] the battle always continues. There’s always a new boundary that we have to cross to prove that we’re just as good or better than anybody in the game, whatever that game may be. So, this is my opportunity to give tribute to all my brilliant comedian friends and tell their story.”

All three parts of Phat Tuesdays is currently streaming on Prime Video.

Ronda Racha Penrice is the author of Black American History For Dummies, available now, and the editor of Cracking The Wire During Black Lives Matter, about the iconic TV show, dropping January 25.

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