What might make the docu-series work is that it is, in a sense, an underdog story- the story of how a marginalised community makes its mark. For fans of the art form, it’s an interesting watch.
In the mid-90s, a comedian called Guy Torry started curating a show in the smallest room of The Comedy Store, The Belly Room. The room fit about 90 people (officially). This show was a curated line-up of African-American comics, who didn’t usually get to perform at The Comedy Store, considered the Mecca of stand-up comedy. They performed these shows on Tuesdays (not a day conducive for great business), and Torry named the show Phat Tuesdays.
These shows changed the history of The Comedy Store and the comics who performed there.
Phat Tuesdays: The Era of Hip-Hop Comedy, on Amazon Prime, is a three-episode docu-series about Phat Tuesdays’ history and impact. With insights from leading comedians- Guy and Joe Torry, Dave Chappelle, Tiffany Haddish, Steve Harvey all make appearances- the series attempts to trace the history of a niche yet relevant movement in the history of stand-up comedy. The series starts by placing the show in the context of what was happening with African-American comedians in the 80s and 90s. It moves to how they began performing at The Comedy Store, the development of “hip-hop comedy”, the sexism faced by comedians on stage and while getting spots, and finally, the impact of social media on comedy and how that’s changed the game entirely in recent times.
n the 80s, The Comedy Store was primarily for white comics and white audiences. African-American comedians got such few spots that they were forced to set up and perform in their own space: The Comedy Act Theatre. Here, they were heard and seen but not by mainstream audiences or agents or casting directors, who still frequented more popular and known venues (that is, The Comedy Store). In the mid-90s, Guy Torry was allowed to showcase a line-up every Tuesday at The Comedy Store. No one expected it to do brilliantly. Certainly, no one expected it to become popular. Yet, in just a few months, they moved the show from the smallest to the largest room in the venue, the queues were so long that they could be seen blocks away, and Phat Tuesdays significantly changed the cultural landscape of the city and of stand-up comedy.