Phat Tuesdays Creator Guy Torry Reflects on the Magic of Black Audiences
If you don't know about Phat Tuesdays, it's time to get acquainted. Founder Guy Torry brought "the hood to Hollywood" every Tuesday night at The Comedy Store on Sunset Boulevard, where Black comedians could be unapologetically Black in front of a predominantly Black audience. The creation of Phat Tuesdays came on the heels of the 1992 LA Riots, providing a space for comedians to get political or use their comedy as a form of escape. Now, that moment of history is being documented on Amazon Prime Video with the series "Phat Tuesdays," featuring some of today's biggest comedians. POPSUGAR spoke to Torry, "Phat Tuesdays" director Reginald Hudlin, and guest comedians Kym Whitley and DeRay Davis about the cultural impact of Phat Tuesdays, how racial trauma affects how Black audiences receive comedy, and how the Tuesday-night show became the ultimate cosign.
"We were unapologetic in everything that we did, not just comedy, but in music and fashion and movies and TV."
"We were unapologetic in everything that we did, not just comedy, but in music and fashion and movies and TV. And I just think we all came together and just like we're going to tell our stories, no matter what," Torry says of the rise of Black people feeling comfortable to be unapologetically themselves. "At that time we felt safe because we had President [Bill] Clinton . . . he was with us. So, it allowed us to be that way and just tell our stories and be ourselves." Hudlin adds that in the '90s there was no more "watering down what we're doing," and that was reflected in music, comedy, politics, and more. "The difference is now more than ever the people who make the culture can also profit from it," Hudlin adds.
As shown in Amazon Prime's four-part docuseries, Black comedians were able to thrive in spaces like The Comedy Club. But that wasn't without some resistance. An episode delves into the concept that Black audiences are some of the harshest critics of comedians. Steve Harvey even notes that white audiences tend to give an A for effort, but once you lose a Black audience it's hard to recover. Hudlin piggybacks on the docuseries discussion, adding, "We're tough. We're like, 'Can you really sing? 'Cause I got somebody in my church that's really good. I got my cousin who's really funny.' So you really got to come correct, which is why winning us over means so much." He explains, "If you are that good that we respect you, we will ride and die for you. But you got to earn it." Whitley adds, "You got to be good. . . . It's going to make you better. Let's just say that."
"That's why I love Black audiences . . . Black people going to let you know if you're funny or not."
Torry explains that some clubs with predominately Black audiences across the US have built up the reputation that that's where comedians need to go to truly find out if their material is good. "That's why I love Black audiences . . . Black people going to let you know if you're funny or not. And there's a line in the documentary where I explained that. But even Roseanne Barr years ago went and played the Apollo, because she said, 'I want to know if I'm really funny,' and Black audiences are going to let you know if you're funny or not."
Black audiences aren't harsh critics just for the thrill of it. Our baseline for what's funny has been harshened by years of not being able to be carefree. "Black people, having had nothing for so long, are very hard to please," Davis says. "Even within ourselves, we're rarely fully satisfied unless we're getting something extra. Even when you pay for your food and get all your food, they throw some extra fries in there, you're a little bit more happy because you think, 'This is due for me.'"
He continues: "When you show up to the comedy club, you're like, 'You better make me laugh. I been through hell and high water. I didn't want to come here. I spent this money on these jeans, these clothes, these drinks expensive.' Now you better be funny because we feel like it's owed to us in a sense. If we had as much as a lot of other people, you don't feel that way. Unless we're doing extremely well, and sometimes when we're not, we still want to be really taken care of. So I think that those audiences bring that out. And once you find that rhythm, that sound, that music of comedy, the orchestra that the audience wants to hear, then now we're grooving."
Torry adds, "We need to [laugh] the most, and we go through the most stuff. So we come to laugh, but you got to earn that laugh from our Black audiences." After all, Phat Tuesdays are where comedians like Chris Tucker, Cedric the Entertainer, Tiffany Haddish, Bob Saget, and more fine-tuned their crafts. "Phat Tuesdays" debuts on Amazon Prime Video on Feb. 4.