Light, goofy yet serious
James Davis shows his duality in ‘Hood Adjacent,’ a motley mix of jokes and skits.
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.
JAMES DAVIS shares views on the place where he grew up in “Hood Adjacent.”