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‘You Can’t Hold Us Back’: Guy Torry Explains How ‘Phat Tuesdays’ Opened the Doors for Black Comedians

Following the 1992 L.A. riots, comedian and actor Guy Torry launched “Phat Tuesdays,” a weekly all-Black comedy night at The Comedy Store on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles. Between 1995 and 2005, Prince, Shemar Moore, and the who’s who of entertainers would come to see Torry and laugh at rising Black comedians such as Steve Harvey and Kym Whitley

Atlanta Black Star spoke with Guy Torry about his influential platform and the new docu-series, which will explore an era of Black excellence, humor, and talent. 

Comedian and actor Guy Torry launched Phat Tuesdays, a weekly all-Black comedy night at The Comedy Store on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles. (Photo: @guytorry/Instagram.)

“Black people, we’re very resilient, and Black people are like air and water, we’re going to find a way in,” said Torry, who’s starred on series like “Martin,” and “Family Matters.”

“Phat Tuesdays: The Era of Hip Hop Comedy” will explore the rich history of Black comedians, including comedic duo Butterbeans and Susie and singer-comedian Dewey “Pigmeat” Markham. They regularly performed at Harlem’s Apollo Theater in the 1960s. And before the Richard Pryors and Eddie Murphys, it was a challenge for exceptional talent to break into the mainstream, said Reginald Hudlin, director of the three-part series.

He continued, ”What Guy Torry did was, he didn’t just get in the door. He kicked the door open and brought everybody in. And so he really fostered the revolution.”

Guy Torry filled a very much-needed and wanted void in Black comedy. Inspired by stand-up series like Russell Simmons’Def Comedy Jam” and BET’s “ComicView,” Phat Tuesdays provided a platform for Black comedians such as the late Robin Harris to be seen and heard for their talent. 

There was really no mainstream clubs doing an urban night, and when I ended it, I passed the torch to other comedians to continue that urban night in white clubs and mainstream clubs,” the 53-year-old explained. “So the improv changed, and The Funny Bone [Comedy Club] changed across the country, started doing urban nights.”

He added, “If you see an urban night in a mainstream club anywhere in the country, Phat Tuesdays was the granddaddy of it all.”

Torry and Hudlin both mentioned the inclusivity of Phat Tuesdays’ roster. Cedric the Entertainer, Leslie Jones, Martin Lawrence, and transgender comedian Flame Monroe were among the acts that perfected their jokes each week on stage. As the confines around Black comedy continue to expand, that same concept has transitioned into shows like Nick Cannon’s “Wild N’ Out.”

“There’s always evolution. There’s always people who are going to go, ‘Well, I don’t get what the new people …’ right? And the fact is, both are good. It’s not an either or,” said Hudlin. “That’s what we really tried to do in this show is to celebrate all the different styles of comedy. Whether you’re explicitly political, whether you’re not political at all, whether you’e clean, whether you’re filthy. You know what, it’s all good.”

Speaking on the progression of Black comedians, Torry added, “Slaves told jokes on the plantation to keep from getting beat from ‘massa.’ Now you have your Kevin Harts and Dave Chappelles. So you went from the cotton fields to concerts. Oh, you can’t hold us back.”

“Phat Tuesdays: The Era of Hip Hop Comedy” airs on Amazon Prime featuring footage from legendary comedy sets. It will also include exclusive interviews from industry vets like Luenell, Chris Tucker, Snoop Dogg, Tiffany Haddish, Regina King, and more.

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