Darryl Littleton grew up watching comedians like Richard Pryor and Redd Foxx. He knew he wanted to make people laugh, too. With dreams of becoming a stand-up comic, he stepped up to the mic in college.
“The first time I did great, the second time I was all right, and the third time I bombed,” Littleton says. “I realized I didn’t have enough to talk about. I needed to live more.”
Littleton went on to gain plenty of experience with an impressive comedy career as a writer, producer, actor and stand-up comedian. He has written for comedian D.L. Hughley and worked with Chris Rock, Steve Harvey, Reynaldo Rey and Cedric the Entertainer. His TV appearances include BET’s “Comic View,” HBO’s “Def Comedy Jam” and Comedy Central’s “Make Me Laugh.”
In 2008, Littleton published his first book, “Black Comedians on Black Comedy,” which looks at the history of black comedy with interviews from 125 of the industry’s most famous comedians. The book inspired director Robert Townsend to have Littleton co-produce the documentary “Why We Laugh,” which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2009.
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Littleton will bring his extensive knowledge of black comedy as well as the humor that’s made him famous to the Kansas African American Museum on Saturday evening. He will host “Black Comedians on Black Comedy,” a lecture and comedy show including an exclusive screening of “Why We Laugh.” He’ll also save time for questions, and possibly some jokes.
“If we have time, I may do some stand-up, which I never mind doing,” he says.
Littleton says black comedy was the first form of comedy that originated in America. Other ethnicities came here with a strong understanding of their background and their home country. They brought stories and influences that were distinctively part of their native culture, and their humor didn’t come from the feeling of abandonment that many slaves who were brought to America felt, Littleton says. This feeling of being removed from one’s roots and influences provided what Littleton says is black comedy’s defining quality — originating from a place of pain, often addressing serious themes in a comedic way.
“It’s definitely about making lemonade out of lemons,” Littleton says.
Mark McCormick, executive director of the Kansas African American Museum, is excited to add an event that highlights an important part of black history.
What we laugh about is often what we really care about. Sometimes the things that are hard to say, we need to say through humor.
Mark McCormick, executive director of the Kansas African American Museum
“What we laugh about is often what we really care about,” McCormick says. “Sometimes the things that are hard to say, we need to say through humor.”
Littleton hopes the evening will also change people’s perception of history. While writing his book, he realized many people had a negative reaction to history because they focus on the fact-based details they learned in school, rather than hearing and appreciating the human experiences that put the “story” in history.
“That’s what I love about history,” he says. “It’s the human drama and understanding that everybody came from somebody. No one’s an original.”
Littleton says the younger generation knows very little about black comedy, and how far back it really goes – tracing back to Thomas Rice, an entertainer known for his performances in blackface, in the minstrel era of the 1820s. Throughout the evening, Littleton will highlight many of the influential black comedians who made an impact on American society and culture. Overall, he hopes the audience leaves with a greater appreciation of all types of history.
“It’s just a vessel to have them understand history is just the stories around them,” Littleton says.
‘Black Comedians on Black Comedy’
What: Darryl Littleton hosts a lecture and comedy show with a screening of “Why We Laugh”
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: The Kansas African American Museum, 601 N. Water
Admission: $40 individual, $60 couples
Information: www.tkaamuseum.net, 316-262-7651