Even if you managed to catch the little-seen Budz House when it was released on DVD earlier this year, chances are you weren’t exactly begging for more. (At least not if you’re one of my esteemed colleagues.) The cast of the wannabe cult stoner comedy featured a handful of comedians, some of whom have reunited for this hybrid talk show/stand-up special. Although too many of the jokes rely on tired clichés, these live performers seemed infinitely more comfortable in their natural habitat.
The 67-minute special is hosted by actor/comedian Faizon Love, who played a character named (wait for it) Big Shitty in Budz House. We first see Love hanging out in a green room with some of his fellow Budz House actors talking about what they want to do next with their lives. Two female cast members say they want to be Avatars — one blue and one red — while another actor wants actress Danielle E. Hawkins to fart in his face. I realize the previous sentence sounds like something I made up just to see if you’re still paying attention, but I promise you this actually happened. After resisting the strong urge to turn this off after less than two minutes, Love reveals that he’s always wanted to host a talk show. And we’re off!
Love takes center stage and plays emcee in the lounge-inspired set while the rest of his non-comedian colleagues awkwardly hang out in the background. (More on this later.) You may recognize Love from Friday, his scene-stealing turn in Elf, or his close resemblance to former NFL star Warren Sapp. Here, he’s a jovial presence even though he laughs way too hard at jokes that just aren’t that funny. At least he’s having a good time and giving lesser-known comics their moment in the sun.
Gerald Kelly (who played One Punch in Budz House) is up first and delivers the most tired material out of anyone in the lineup, firing off dated jokes about Michael Jackson and how people overuse text messaging. Things get a little better when he starts talking about toddlers who are too old for strollers or to still be drinking out of bottles, but overall not a strong start. Up next is Scruncho (One Touch in Budz House), who noticeably raises the energy with his manic act about going “from hood to Hollywood.” Through his sheer force of personality, Scruncho even manages to sell jokes you’ve already heard about how men aren’t that masculine anymore.
At this point in the show, two of Love’s more famous friends drop by to liven things up. Comedian/talk show host Chris Spencer emerges from the audience and has a brief, genial chat with Love. Spencer is mostly there to promote a comedy special he’d taped for Showtime. Even though he’s only out there for a few minutes, you can see how much more polished he is than the two comics he just followed.
Spencer was good, but the show’s high point was the subsequent appearance by Kevin Hart, one of the most in-demand stand-up comics working today. Hart turns his allotted time into a mini-roast as he lays into Love, the awkward/useless Budz House actors who are just sitting there and the ridiculous set (with its stained glass windows and empty liquor bottles). Basically, I loved him for being the only one to notice and poke fun at these low-rent proceedings.
The show winds down with a set by the imposing Big Les — the six-foot-tall comedienne rails against pretty girls and wonders why white people won’t stop messing with wild animals — before Budz House matriarch Luenell closes things out with a flirty appearance. Luenell has also appeared in some big movies (most notably Borat), but here she’s mostly on hand to amusingly flirt with Love and Wesley Jonathan, who played her son in the film.
I actually think the idea behind Backstage is a really good one. Think of it this way: if the cast of Harlem Nights — including Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor, Redd Foxx and Arsenio Hall — had somehow been persuaded to reunite for a stand-up special where they hung out and shot the breeze, would you have watched that? Of course! It probably would’ve been better than the movie itself. In a related story, I suspect there are more laughs to be found in Backstage at Budz House than in the movie that inspired it.