The Black Sitcom and The Talent Showcase
Why is it that almost every black sitcom has had at least one “talent showcase” episode, while such episodes on mainstream sitcoms have been few and far between? I’ve certainly never seen anyone seriously throwing on costumes to sing and dance on Friends or Seinfeld, and the “talent showcase” in black sitcoms certainly pre-dates reality shows like American Idol. Ever since I learned that “coonery” is one of the search terms that has brought people to WWTD, I’ve been thinking a lot about our tendency to cut a rug and start up some showtime just for its own sake. I believe that random talent showcasing on black sitcoms is due to two factors: first, black sitcoms have so many multi-talented performers that can do more than just act. Secondly, black folks DO coon it up, making any plot-twist requiring an impromptu jig absolutely realistic. Perhaps the stereotype of singin’ and dancin’ black folk has some merit, and if it ain’t broke, let’s not fix it!
Since I consider it a defining characteristic of black shows, I’ve put together a collection of such showtimes. Can you think of any favorites of yours that I left out? I know that I sing and dance with my family and friends at the drop of a hat – do you? Please let me know in the comments section.
Lord have mercy. That hair and those outfits! Rose, aka Alaina Reed Hall, is singing like she’s still waiting to be discovered in this clip of her, Jackee, and Marla Gibbs doing a number by the Pointer Sisters. As if things couldn’t get any more 80’s, Sherman Helmsley breaks in with his classic jig towards the end.
My favorite episode of Good Times is always changing. This month, “Rent Party” takes the cake. It contains what I consider the most cooneriffic moment in black sitcom history, which I’ve posted in the past, and Michael’s oh-so-sassy dance number. Take note of the hip-pops towards the end of this clip, the epitome of “good old-fashioned entertainment” unfettered by the burdens of male hyper-heterosexuality. What you may not know is that Ralph Carter, who played Michael, released this song as a single in 1975 and was dead serious with it, too.
And I can’t leave out Thelma, Flo, and Wilona’s attempt at a Supremes impression without simultaneously marveling at the contrast between the extraness of Bernadette Stanis and the old-lady cuteness of Esther Rolle.
A Different World
Speaking of female trios, doesn’t it seem a little over-the-top for three distant acquaintances to rent costumes and put together a dance number for you as you’re being deployed to the Iraq War? Blair Underwood is fine and all, but Kim, Whitley, and Jaleesa giving him this little salute was clearly written into the episode for showboating purposes. As usual, Whitley steals the comedic stage while Jaleesa tries her hardest to break it down.
Martin exemplified coonery left and right, but can we take a second to recognize how hard Gina and Pam are SANGIN’ in this clip? And can we also remember the fact that Yo-Yo, a Grammy-nominated rapper, graced this show with her fabulous presence in full-on Cross Colours gear? And can we also remember that singing any gospel song like you mean it will always save the day, even if you’re wearing a polyester pinstriped vest? R.I.P Lawanda Page.
Bonus: The Cosby Show
I know that if the word “coonery” and a Cosby Show video are in the same post I may get a letter in the mail threatening legal action, but how can I responsibly talk about black American singin’ and dancin’ and not include a Cosby family lip-syncing clip?