The new Netflix film Dolemite Is My Name is a tribute to one of comedy's most unheralded stars of the past — Rudy Ray Moore (played by Eddie Murphy), who became an underground sensation for his proudly raunchy standup record releases and then launched a career in blaxploitation cinema.
But the film also arrives at a time when comedians are facing newfound scrutiny for edgy and offensive material. Kevin Hart lost a gig hosting the Oscars for homophobic comments from his past. Joker director Todd Phillips (whose past credits include Old School and The Hangover) said he's shifted away from comedy because of "woke culture." And Shane Gillis was fired before he even began as a new cast member on Saturday Night Live when footage of him making racist statements about Asian people surfaced.
Even Murphy has recently expressed regret over some of the content in his famous 1987 standup film Raw. But the iconic actor, who's drawing early Oscar buzz for Dolemite, isn't concerned about standup losing its edge.
"I think the artform is soaring higher than it's ever soared," Murphy told Yahoo Entertainment after admitting he hasn't "read a newspaper in 20 years" and couldn’t directly address the controversy at his old SNL stomping grounds regarding Gillis (watch above). "When I started doing standup comedy, it was like being a magician or a ventriloquist. And now you can be like the main event. There are standup comics who never made a movie and never had a TV show that can sell [Madison Square Garden] out three nights and make millions and millions of dollars. … Every now and then somebody might say something that ruffles somebody's feathers or steps on somebody's toes or whatever, but for the most part it's bigger and more global and more diverse than it's ever been."
Murphy's Dolemite costars, though, are more conscious of the shifting comedy landscape.
"I think it's going to force comedians to talk about different things and broaden their horizons," said Craig Robinson. "But also force them to keep their edge in some kind of way."
Explained Keegan-Michael Key: "Sometimes we're offended, but other times, are you offended, or are you afraid to hear something that maybe needs to be said?"
Tituss Burgess (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) is not worried about edgy comedy going extinct, and offers a more blunt take on so-called “cancel culture.”
"It's not going away. When you've got people like Dave Chappelle who offends the f*** out of me, but it's funny, and I laugh. I think about what he said, it offends me, but what he said is funny. So f*** cancel culture."
Dolemite Is My Name is now in theaters and arrives Oct. 25 on Netflix. Watch the trailer:
— Reporting by Kylie Mar.
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