It was like a class reunion for comedy legends as they shared one stage — for some, not in many years — at the Netflix taping of “Russell Simmons’ Def Comedy Jam 25” special. Hollywood heavy hitters like Martin Lawrence, Tracy Morgan, and D.L. Hughley took selfies and gave long hugs with their comedic colleagues on the carpet inside of the Beverly Hilton Hotel.
“Congratulations. I’m so happy for you,” Neal Brennan said to Tiffany Haddish as they embraced. The “Girls Trip” star was on cloud nine looking around the room to some of her biggest influences — especially Lawrence, who hosted the first season of “Russell Simmons’ Def Comedy Jam.”
As for one of Haddish’s favorite moments watching the HBO comedy series, she recalled, “When Martin Lawrence killed Flavor Flav and said to him, ‘Hey Flav, I bet when roaches see you, they be like, ‘Hey, Dad!’”
The day was nostalgic for Lawrence as well. “When I look back on it, I was a young kid and I was fearless,” he remembered. “I just wanted to seize the moment and every chance I got to get on stage, I tried my best to have fun and make it the biggest as possible.”
The raw humor, profanity and all, made “Def Comedy Jam” the biggest stage in the world for an urban comic, according to Hughley.
“I don’t know anybody who was on ‘Def Jam’ who isn’t working right now, unless they are dead or don’t want to,” he said. “From theaters to corporate venues to comedy clubs, if you look at who is putting a–es in the seats, it’s all alumni of ‘Def Jam.’”
“I think we have more stars out of this than out of ‘Saturday Night Live,’” noted Sandy Wernick, Adam Sandler’s longtime manager who also produced the Netflix special.
Series creator Russell Simmons expressed that he was excited to add to his list of acts who turned into millionaires. He also told Variety that they will be shooting the stand-up performances for six new episodes on HBO in a few weeks.
“These are voices that Hollywood would have never given a break to, and there’s a whole s— load of voices still locked up, and for the last God knows how many years they’ve picked the most accessible mainstream people to digest and say that that’s black comedy,” Simmons said. “But there’s a lot of talented people who need a break again.”
While the “Def Comedy Jam” left its original home on premium cable for the anniversary event, Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos shared why the comedy special was a perfect match for the streaming service.
“What Russell has done is epic and historic,” Sarandos shared. “It’s kind of shaped television and film history and with the talent that has emerged out of ‘Def Comedy Jam,’ I think it holds a very special place in comedy and premium television. I feel like we’re trying to blaze our path there, so I’m glad we can make this a part of our history, too.”
Sarandos also noted that Netflix nabbed specials with comedy giants like Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld, and Tracy Morgan. “Russell Simmons’ Def Comedy Jam 25” streams on Netflix this fall.
By Mannie Holmes