Review: ‘2 Minutes of Fame,’ starring Jay Pharoah and Katt Williams

June 24, 2020

by Carla Hay

RonReaco Lee and Jay Pharoah in “2 Minutes of Fame” (Photo by Claudette Barius/Codeblack Films/Lionsgate Films)

“2 Minutes of Fame”

Directed by Leslie Small

Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles and Birmingham, Alabama, the comedy film “2 Minutes of Fame” has a predominantly African American cast (with a few white people and Latinos) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: An aspiring stand-up comedian has to decide between chasing his dreams or getting a “real job” to help support his family, and he gets entangled in a feud with a superstar comedian.

Culture Audience: “2 Minutes of Fame” will appeal primarily to people who like simple, predictable and often-raunchy comedies.

Keke Palmer, Jonny Berryman, Jay Pharoah and RonReaco Lee in “2 Minutes of Fame” (Photo by Claudette Barius/Codeblack Films/Lionsgate Films)

A lowbrow, low-budget comedy film like “2 Minutes of Fame” is usually so terrible that it’s there’s hardly anything funny about it. But “2 Minutes of Fame,” despite being very predictable, has an endearing sweetness at the core of its raunchy humor. The movie (directed by Leslie Small) works best when it focuses on the competitive world of stand-up comedy rather than the relationship/family problems of the protagonist.

In “2 Minutes of Fame,” Jay Pharoah portrays Deandre McDonald, an aspiring stand-up comedian who’s been struggling to make a living in Birmingham, Alabama. Even though Deandre has 1 million followers on social media (he has his own YouTube comedy channel), his live-in girlfriend Sky (played by Keke Palmer) is carrying the financial weight of being the main income earner for their household. In addition to working full-time at a hospital, Sky is a nursing student. Deandre and Sky have a son named Jaylin (played by Jonny Berryman), who’s about 9 or 10 years old.

The movie begins with Deandre making a YouTube video ridiculing a superstar comedian named Marques (played by Katt Williams) who used to be respected and edgy but Marques has currently been making horrible movies that have unflattering stereotypes of African Americans. How big of a star is Marques? He can command $20 million a movie, but he’s the very definition of a “sellout,” since his movies make him look like a complete buffoon.

On his YouTube channel, Deandre makes fun of the movie trailer for Marques’ latest garbage movie, which is called “Secret Service Man.” In the trailer, Marques plays a bumbling Secret Service agent who takes a non-fatal bullet for a U.S. president who’s an obvious parody of Donald Trump. (Darrell Hammond plays the president in a very brief cameo.) Deandre has this reaction to the trailer by commenting on Marques’ role in the film: “How can I make the most of money while selling out our people while still being terrible?”

Deandre’s video goes viral (116,000 views in on day), and Marques finds out about it. When a lackey asks Marques if they should get revenge on Deandre, Marques says Deandre isn’t worth the trouble because Deandre only has 1 million followers, while Marques has 30 million. But will Deandre and Marques cross paths in real life? Of course they will.

Before that happens, Deandre is miserable and bored in his day job working as a clerk at a supermarket that resembles Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s. He’d rather tell stand-up comedy jokes to customers than stock the shelves. When his manager Zena (played by Jess Hilarious) tries to get Deandre to go back to work, he and Zena get in a food fight where they throw fruit and vegetables at each other. Needless to say, Deandre gets fired.

The timing couldn’t be worse for Deandre to lose his job because he and Sky are running out of money. Their son Jaylin is taunted by his peers in his piano class for not having a piano at home. Deandre has been behind on a lot of payments, but he’s too proud to admit to anyone outside of his family that he’s nearly broke.

When Deandre picks Jaylin up from a piano class session, Jaylin’s piano teacher Ms. Ellyn (played by Valery Ortiz) tries to tactfully tell Deandre that Jaylin has fallen behind the rest of the students because Jaylin doesn’t have a piano at home to use for practice. Ms. Ellyn (whose hair is styled with huge bouffant bangs) could have been trying to be helpful, but she comes across as condescending, and Deandre is insulted.

“You need help with those bangs in front of your face,” he angrily tells Ms. Ellyn. While he storms out he also calls her a “broke-ass Rosie Perez” and a “Puerto Rican version of Janelle Monáe.” But getting Jaylin a piano is not going to happen at the moment because Deandre and Sky have bigger bills to pay. Not surprisingly, Sky is furious when she finds out that Deandre lost his job at the supermarket.

However, there’s a sliver of hope for Deandre to make money doing what he loves. His wisecracking best friend Eddie (played by RonReaco Lee) has surprised Deandre by telling him that he entered Deandre into a talent contest for aspiring stand-up comedians called Laugh Out Loud Comedy Showcase. The winner of the grand prize will get to go on a Laugh Out Loud world comedy tour with established comedians. The contest takes place in Los Angeles at the Laugh Out Loud nightclub, which will pay the travel/hotel expenses of the contestants from outside the Los Angeles area.

When Deandre finds out he’s been selected as one of the contestants, Sky is skeptical that Deandre can win the contest. She wants him to stay home and find another job instead. Deandre wants to go to Los Angeles and pursue his dream. Sky and Deandre get into a big argument about it. She gives Deandrea an ultimatum by saying that if he goes to Los Angeles, their relationship will probably be over when he gets back.

Deandre and Eddie go to L.A., but of course they face some major obstacles. Eddie (who’s been acting as Deandre’s manager) is horrified and embarrassed to find out that Deandre sold their first-class hotel accommodations, so they end up having to sleep in the vehicle that was provided for them on the trip. Next, they find out that Deandre’s got really stiff competition.

Luckily, he’s met someone who can help. Her name is Taylor (played by Andy Allo), who works as a hostess at the Laugh Out Loud comedy club where the contest is taking place. Taylor scores Deandre a last-minute late-night spot at another comedy club called the Comedy Basement, where he can try out his material before the contest.

Taylor and Deandre are immediately attracted to each another. He doesn’t tell her that he has a live-in girlfriend and son at home. All he’ll say about his relationship status is that “it’s complicated.” Will this cause problems later in the story? Of course it will.

The best parts of “2 Minutes of Fame” are the scenes involving the contest. The stand-up comedy scenes are realistic and the comedians are very funny. It’s obvious that the movie got real stand-up comedians (including Pharoah) instead of actors portraying stand-up comedians. That authenticity goes a long way.

Aside from jokes told on stage, “2 Minutes of Fame” also realistically addresses the generation gap between comedians who started their careers before social media existed and comedians who started their careers after social media existed. There’s a hilarious L.A. nightclub table conversation with Sinbad, Lunell and George Wallace (all playing themselves) talking with Marques about how many young comedians today think they can make it big just by being on YouTube instead of paying their dues in front of live audiences.

Sinbad comments on the days when he was a young comedian: “You know what a ‘follow’ used to be? Someone was going to kill you or [it meant] a sexual predator.” And in another scene, Taylor (who’s close to Deandre’s age) also agrees that the “old school” way is the better way to become a famous comedian, when she tells Deandre: “Y’all YouTubers don’t understand what an art stand-up is.”

The movie also does a good and sometimes hilarious job of addressing the racial and cultural issues that African American stand-up comedians face when they have to represent for their communities but not compromise their credibility by doing anything that would be considered “sell-out” or “race traitor” material. The movie also touches a little bit (but not enough) on the sexism that women experience in the male-dominated world of stand-up comedy. However, since the screenplay (written by Devon Shepard and Yamara Taylor) has a male protagonist and most of the cast members are men, it’s a pretty accurate reflection of today’s typical demographics for stand-up comedy.

All of the cast members do a good job with their roles. Pharoah’s Deandre character is kind of an irresponsible screw-up, but Pharoah makes him likable enough that his immaturity doesn’t become too grating. Williams is not everyone’s cup of tea, especially since some people find his speaking voice to be very annoying, but he’s believable as a jaded celebrity. Palmer does just fine in a somewhat typical role as an exasperated love partner.

“2 Minutes of Fame” is definitely not for very young children or people who are easily offended by cursing and vulgar humor. But for people who are mature enough and don’t mind this type of raunchiness, the movie gives a better-than-expected look at stand-up comedy on the nightclub level and has some genuine laugh-out-loud moments that will keep viewers reasonably entertained.

Lionsgate released “2 Minutes of Fame” on DVD, digital and VOD on June 16, 2020.