Light, goofy yet se­ri­ous

James Davis shows his du­al­ity in ‘Hood Ad­ja­cent,’ a mot­ley mix of jokes and skits.

Los Angeles Times - - CULTURE MONSTER - ROBERT LLOYD TELE­VI­SION CRITIC robert.lloyd@la­times.com Twit­ter: @LATimesTVLloyd

In his early 30s, James Davis has been a pres­ence on tele­vi­sion and things like tele­vi­sion for quite a while now — you may have seen him as a pan­elist on Com­edy Cen­tral’s “@mid­night” or act­ing in Kevin Hart’s “Real Hus­bands of Hol­ly­wood” or his Snapchat se­ries, also avail­able at com­e­dy­cen­tral .com, “Swag-a-Sau­rus with James Davis.” Or — Snackchat, what? — you may well have not.

Now Davis has a full­sized show of his own, also on Com­edy Cen­tral, “Hood Ad­ja­cent,” a mot­ley col­lec­tion of skits and jokes and inthe-street games and in­ter­views that plays off themes in his stand-up. Its mixed busi­ness is rather like the half-hour of a late-night talk show be­fore the celebrity guests ar­rive. (Davis wrote for James Cor­den’s “Late Late Show.”)

The host hails from South Cen­tral L.A., “but not that South Cen­tral,” as he says on his se­ries’ Wed­nes­day de­but. “I grew up in the neu­tral zone; when the ri­ots hap­pened, I could smell it, but I couldn’t see it.” He is, as it says right in the ti­tle, “hood ad­ja­cent.”

As in his “Swag-aSau­rus,” a se­ries of minute­long dis­courses on ur­ban slang, with side trips to other points of cul­tural in­ter­est, Davis of­fers him­self as an in­ter­preter, a guide — al­beit one some­times him­self in need of a guide, as when he trav­els into neigh­bor­hoods he wasn’t al­lowed to wan­der into as a kid or at­tempts to over­come his fear of chit­ter­lings.

Davis at­tended Santa Mon­ica’s Cross­roads School and spent “just un­der four years” at Pomona Col­lege, he re­calls in the an episode ti­tled “Col­lege,” “40 miles east of the near­est Magic John­son theater ... one of only a few black stu­dents at a pre­dom­i­nately white school I learned what it was like to be a fish out of wa­ter. I was a Tu­pac fan at a year­long Blink-182 con­cert … and look at me now, all com­fort­able around white peo­ple and [stuff].”

The host’s own du­al­ity is pro­jected into the re­cur­ring fea­ture “Be­tween Two DeRays.” A sort of par­ody of the Funny or Die se­ries “Be­tween Two Ferns” — a lit­tle niche, per­haps, but President Obama went on it — it sets ac­tivist DeRay Mckesson and co­me­dian DeRay Davis in a kind of “Cross­fire” se­quence where one per­son is never try­ing to be funny.

The se­ries has a se­ri­ous spine, but the tone is light, even goofy. A news­pa­per re­port that black males are twice as likely as whites to die in pedes­trian ac­ci­dents (“Cross­walks are so safe for white peo­ple, my homie James Cor­den films mu­si­cals in the mid­dle of them”) prompts a hid­den-cam­era rou­tine in which Davis, on a Hol­ly­wood cor­ner, of­fers ac­ces­sories (blond wigs, co­conut wa­ter, a small white dog, Jeb Bush T-shirts) to make cross­ing the street safer for African Amer­i­cans.

In an­other se­quence, Davis cus­tom­izes a 2005 Ford to make it even safer for a new young black male driver, with its own cam­eras, a ski rack, a see-through glove com­part­ment (“That is so clever,” says the driver’s mother), Mi­randa rights printed on the back seat and a DVD “bi­og­ra­phy of your life … just in case the me­dia tries to smear your im­age.”

Davis is a long-limbed, loose-limbed, en­er­getic and grace­ful per­former. (The Web-con­nected reader is di­rected to the “Baracka Flacka Flames” videos, in which he plays a hip-hop turn on Barack Obama, and a re­cent per­for­mance of Mon­tell Jor­dan’s “This Is How We Do It,” on Com­edy Cen­tral’s “The Com­edy Jam.”) One can see he’s still ac­quir­ing some teleprompter skills — that is, the abil­ity to read with­out look­ing like he’s read­ing — but you need a nightly not a weekly show to get good at that fast.

Is “Hood Ad­ja­cent” made for a black au­di­ence? Yes, of course — though, it should go with­out say­ing, not for ev­ery black au­di­ence. And not just for a black au­di­ence. (The stu­dio au­di­ence, which cheered ap­pre­cia­tively lo­cal ref­er­ences to Trap Kitchen and Slau­son Donuts, is young and many-col­ored.) It does look at the African Amer­i­can from the in­side and at white peo­ple — gen­er­ally speak­ing, but not with­out sympathy — as a cu­ri­ous species look­ing in. (“The hood is so hot right now if you Google the word ‘twerk’ on YouTube,” says Davis, “you’re go­ing to find mil­lions of videos of white girls do­ing it in­cor­rectly.”)

But good hu­mor tram­ples bor­ders. The jokes travel, and the at­mos­phere is friendly.

Com­edy Cen­tral

JAMES DAVIS shares views on the place where he grew up in “Hood Ad­ja­cent.”

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