I have to admit up front that I walked out of Martin Lawrence Live: Runteldat. I did go back and check out the last 10 minutes, but these were, if anything, more repulsive than the first 30 or 40 minutes. And I have to admit that I have never found Lawrence funny or talented or much of anything else except annoying and full of himself. So I am clearly not the target audience for this movie. If you think a tasteless routine about sex and menstruation (Lawrence’s final bit) is the ne plus ultra of comic invention, then there’s a chance that this documentation of Lawrence’s stand-up show will appeal to you. Personally, I just found it distasteful, though distasteful in a different way than the preceding five reels of his racism, misogyny and nonstop foul language — all sins compounded by the fact that the material just isn’t funny. It’s not worth discussing the film’s cinematic quality, since it’s nothing more than an adequate record of a stage presentation. The camera does manage to keep up with Lawrence as he struts around the stage, and it does keep every drop of sweat in razor-sharp focus, but that’s about it as filmmaking. Stand-up comedy may not be a form that lends itself to film, but a great deal depends on the quality of the comedian and his material. The great stand-up comedians have been many and varied, but they all tend to have two things in common: a tendency to poke fun at themselves and to use their material to make some larger point. Their material — from that of Bob Hope to Mantan Moreland to Woody Allen to Bill Cosby to Richard Pryor to Whoopi Goldberg to Robin Williams to Eddie Murphy — has always tended to be about something, and about something universally recognizable as part of the human condition. Whoopi Goldberg’s Fontaine: Why Am I Straight? is still one of the most hysterical and poignant of all such shows. Martin Lawrence’s material is about something, too. But it’s about Martin Lawrence. It’s ALL about Martin Lawrence. It’s about how the media has hurt his career, his sexual conquests, etc. When he does wander out of that mold, it’s even worse. His big routine about the “coming together” of blacks and whites in the aftermath of Sept. 11 turns into a viciously racist tirade against Arabs and anyone who might be mistaken for an Arab. Presumably, it’s supposed to be funny when he talks about accidentally beating up an Indian (“I wanna see a dot on your head or something!”). But I found it more chilling than amusing. Lawrence wants to parade his personal problems for our inspection in such a way that it’s hard to escape concluding that he thinks he’s on a par with Richard Pryor after Pryor’s free-basing accident. Well, Lawrence is no Richard Pryor, regardless of how much he’d like to believe he is — or wants us to think he is. There’s an amazing contempt for women in most of the material and an offhand dismissal of anyone and anything that isn’t part of his culture. It’s worth comparing the diverse, multi-racial audiences you can see in the Richard Pryor concert films of nearly 30 years ago with the one seen here. Pryor used comedy to bridge the racial divide. Lawrence seems determined to do just the opposite — which is a sad comment on both that divide and what can pass for comedy these days.
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