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.

Review: ‘Coffee & Kareem,’ starring Ed Helms, Terrence Little Gardenhigh and Taraji P. Henson

April 3, 2020

by Carla Hay

Ed Helms and Terrence Little Gardenhigh in “Coffee & Kareem” (Photo by Justina Mintz)

“Coffee & Kareem”

Directed by Michael Dowse

Culture Representation: Taking place in Detroit, the slapstick action comedy “Coffee & Kareem” has a racially diverse cast that includes representation of white people, African Americans and Asians in the middle class or criminal underworld.

Culture Clash: A white cop, who’s dating an African American single mother, has a hard time being accepted by her 12-year-old son, and somehow they all end up in a dangerous battle against drug-dealing, murderous gangsters.

Culture Audience: “Coffee & Kareem” will appeal mostly to people who like comedy to be as offensive and dumb as possible.

Taraji P. Henson, Terrence Little Gardenhigh and Ed Helms in “Coffee & Kareem” (Photo by Justina Mintz)

Before anyone is subjected to the toxic dump that is “Coffee & Kareem,” there should be plenty of warnings about how this loathsome movie has a perverted fixation on boys being sexualized. Every 10 minutes in this so-called “comedy,” there’s a joke about men having sex with boys, or the movie’s 12-year-old boy shouts to men, “Suck my dick!,” and other sexual commands that are much more explicit.

There is nothing new about films with underage actors saying very adult things in the name of comedy. (Two examples are 2010’s “Kick-Ass” and 2019’s “Good Boys.”) But those other movies about kids saying adult things weren’t about the constant repetition of pedophilia jokes. “Coffee & Kareem” takes this gimmick to such depraved and unfunny levels that it says a lot about the disgusting mindsets of screenwriter Shane Mack and director Michael Dowse and how creatively bankrupt they are to use pedophilia as a running joke in this trashy movie.

“Coffee & Kareem” is also filled with a lot of racist stereotypes and homophobic comments that are also supposed to pass as “jokes.” It’s a shame that Taraji P. Henson, who is capable of doing Oscar-caliber work and who talks a lot about empowering African Americans, seems to be flushing her career down the toilet by doing this pathetic, degrading excuse of a movie. “Coffee & Kareem” is an insult not just to African Americans but also to anyone who wants raunchy comedies to actually be funny. Whatever she got paid for making this garbage movie isn’t worth the credibility that she’s lost by attaching herself to this racist crap.

It should come as no surprise that there isn’t much of a plot to “Coffee & Kareem,” which seems to exist for the purpose of making a black boy look as ghetto, ignorant and nasty as possible. Terrence Little Gardenhigh is the foul-mouthed 12-year-old brat Kareem Manning, the son of single mother Vanessa Manning (played by Henson), who is under the delusion that Kareem is a lovable and nice kid.

They live in Detroit, where Vanessa is dating an awkward and nerdy cop named Jim Coffee (played by Ed Helms, in yet another of his long list of awkward and nerdy character roles). Not surprisingly, Kareem doesn’t approve of the relationship. In the beginning of the movie, after Kareem is dropped off at school, Coffee stops by Vanessa’s house so they can have a romantic tryst.

But, of course, since this movie is obsessed with sexualizing Kareem, he’s come back home to retrieve his phone, and he sees his mother and Coffee having sex. It’s an excuse for the filmmakers to make Kareem say angrily about Coffee having sex with Vanessa: “That fucking pig stuck his dick in the wrong blanket.” And that’s one of the tamer things that Kareem says in the movie.

Kareem is a wannabe rapper (how unoriginal) who, as it’s shown soon enough in the movie, is quick to accuse any male adult of trying to sexually molest him if they dare to try to discipline him when he’s breaking rules. Coffee is no exception to these hateful threats from Kareem. It’s a “joke” that gets old very quickly and it’s over-used to the point where you have to wonder why these filmmakers are so fixated on men performing sex acts on boys, because it’s mentioned so many times in this movie. Helms gets some of the blame here too, since he’s one of the film’s producers.

Coffee is not just disrespected by Kareem, but he also has problems getting respect in his workplace. One of Coffee’s fellow cops—an ambitious and aggressive detective named Watts (played by Betty Gilpin)—frequently ridicules him. Watts thinks that Coffee is a wimp, and she doesn’t hesitate to humiliate him in front of their co-workers, including taunting Coffee over the fact that his ex-wife cheated on him with numerous men and eventually left him.

Watts’ constant insults about Coffee’s sex life and manhood reach a point where Coffee has filed a sexual-harassment complaint against her, but their supervisor Captain Hill (played by David Alan Grier) doesn’t take the complaint seriously and dismisses it. The captain also doesn’t want to reprimand Watts, who is a star on the police force, since she’s led a recent high-profile drug bust that confiscated almost one ton of cocaine. The drug dealer responsible for this drug inventory is named Orlando Johnson (played by RonReaco Lee), and he was arrested as part of the drug bust.

But to add to Coffee’s further humiliation, while Orlando was being transported in the back of Coffee’s squad car, Orlando escaped and stole the car. And it was all caught on surveillance video, so the escape is shown on the news. (Apparently, the Detroit Police Department doesn’t want Coffee to have a cop partner, since he’s never seen with a partner.) Because of this major blunder of letting Orlando escape, Coffee gets all the blame and is demoted to traffic duty.

Meanwhile, even though he’s only 12 years old, Kareem has a plan to get a local gangster to “scare off” Coffee, so that Coffee will stop dating Kareem’s mother. And wouldn’t you know, out of all the criminals he wants to recruit to do this dirty deed, it’s Orlando. This movie is so dumb that it wants viewers to believe that even though Kareem doesn’t know Orlando, he can somehow find him in the big city of Detroit and pay piggy-bank-level money (literally a bag of coins) to do something bad to Coffee.

One day, Coffee picks Kareem up from school, and Kareem asks Coffee for a ride to a seedy part of town. Kareem goes to a boxing gym (which is really Orlando’s gangster hideout) with his bag of coins to pay Orlando to rough up Coffee. On the way to this destination, Coffee shows Kareem his police baton as a way to try to impress Kareem and perhaps form a friendly bond with him.

Kareem asks about the baton, “Ever wonder how far you can get that down your throat?” Coffee replies, “That’s not what it’s for.” Kareem responds, “Because it tastes like the ass of an innocent black man?” That’s what passes for humor in this movie. And that’s one of the least rude and crude things that Kareem says in “Coffee & Kareem.”

Before Kareem goes into the boxing-gym room to do the deal, he begins video recording on his phone so that he can upload it later on social media. When he gets in the room, Kareem sees Orlando with two of his thug cohorts—wannabe intellectual Rodney (played by Andrew Bachelor) and trigger-happy dimwit Dee (played by William “Big Sleeps” Stewart). They’ve tied up and tortured one of Coffee’s fellow police officers, Steve Choi (played by Terry Chen), for reasons that are revealed in the movie. (Not that anyone with a brain will care by then.)

Some chaos ensues, and Choi is shot and killed by Dee. Hearing the commotion, Coffee enters the room and tries to arrest the three criminals. It’s easy to predict how badly this goes. There’s a shootout, and soon Coffee and Kareem are running for their lives. But before they race off, Kareem accidentally drops his phone, which recorded the murder. And, of course, Orlando finds the phone and uses it to find out Kareem’s identity and where he lives.

Coffee becomes a wanted man by police because he unrealistically gets accused of murdering Choi. Coffee is also falsely accused of kidnapping of Kareem. Coffee’s fugitive status is all over the news media. And so, not only are Coffee and Kareem try to hide from the gangsters, they’re also on the run from the police. They go to Vanessa’s house to tell her what’s going on, and she too gets involved in this ridiculous mess.

“Coffee & Kareem” then devolves further into over-the-top shootouts, car chases, kidnappings and Kareem’s never-ending fixation on men performing sex acts on him. There’s a final insipid showdown involving massive explosions where one of the main characters is able to unrealistically walk out of a building that was completely destroyed by an explosion. Perhaps the only thing that can be described as entertaining in “Coffee & Kareem” is Gilpin’s totally unhinged performance (which is the best thing about this very bad film), but it’s not enough to overcome all of the stupid filth that’s in this movie.

Henson and Helms should get no praise at all for their acting in this film, since they’re just rehashing the same types of characters that they’ve played in pretty much every comedy that they do. Henson always plays someone quick-tempered and “sassy,” while Helms always plays a dork who gets caught up in situations that are way over his head. As for Gardenhigh, who plays the completely obnoxious Kareem, “Coffee & Kareem” is his first feature film. And based on the horrible impression that he leaves, it’ll probably be a while before he gets another starring role in a major feature-length movie.

“Coffee & Kareem” is so repulsive that everyone involved in making this trash should be ashamed to be associated with it. If “Coffee & Kareem” were available to buy or rent as a separate movie, instead of being a movie that’s exclusive to Netflix, then there would be and should be a whole lot of people demanding refunds.

Netflix premiered “Coffee and Kareem” on April 3, 2020.