'D.L. Hughley: Contrarian' review: Hughley tackles racial disparity, police brutality and other hot-button issues with panache
D.L. Hughley's latest Netflix special 'Contrarian' sees him tackle a plethora of controversial topics ranging from voting and immigration to poverty
D.L. Hughley may be best known as the original host of BET's 'ComicView' between 1992 and 1993 and as the eponymous character of ABC/UPN sitcom 'The Hughleys',' but the 55-year-old has carved for himself a niche in the stand-up comedy scene. His latest Netflix special, 'Contrarian' sees the star riff on hot-button political issues, celebrity scandals, racism, and a plethora of other subjects in his inimitable, rapid-fire style.
Taped at the Merriam Theater in Philadelphia, Hughley's eclectic sense of humor is on grand display in the show, showcasing why he earned a stint on 'The Jay Leno Show,' as well as his own news-show at CNN: 'D.L. Hughley Breaks the News'. The latter saw the multifaceted artist share his take on global happenings in politics, entertainment, sports, and popular culture. 'Contrarian' was more of the same, but with an added zest that had the Philly audience in splits all through.
While the trailer for the special promised Hughley's honest and sharp observations on why parents should avoid giving their children "urban or ethnic" names, the routine opens with his opinion on United Airlines. "United Airlines beat the s*** out of their passengers," he says. "They beat one so bad, he started speaking English." While the joke went well with the audience, a second extended bit on how he flew first class and wished they just stuffed the dog in the overhead cabin draws a few moans from the audience. Hughley wittily responds by suggesting, "If I'd have said baby, y'all wouldn't have moaned at all."
That practically sets the tone for the rest of the special, with Hughley addressing a broad spectrum of often controversial and touchy topics, ranging from the voting in Alabama and the Trump administration's immigration policies to racial disparity and poverty, and even the infamous Harambe shooting incident. The reaction he draws with his United Airlines observation is one of many, but like a true pro, Hughley plays the audience like a fiddle. On each occasion, the groans are greeted with a polished retaliation that expertly plays of his most-recent offending joke and diffuses the situation in double-quick time.
It also becomes quite evident that the 55-year-old is delivering his jokes in a pattern: after offering his remarks on some heavy affairs like gun violence and bigotry, Hughley almost immediately switches to something lighter for a bit of comic relief, be it his views on Stormy Daniels, Caitlyn Jenner, the uptick in those searching for their ancestry, or how the smartphone has taken over the world.
The stark contrast in the narrative drops the latter acts much like palate cleansers, allowing the audience to prepare for the comedian's next barrage. He also often arcs back to jokes he made previously, unfailingly getting guffaws out of the audience every time.
What's most impressive, however, is how Hughley manages to tackle and breakdown race, throwing in references to current, prevalent issues with a characteristic panache that leaves you with food for thought. He delivers punchlines on the recent 'Black Panther' craze, the ID requirement for voting aimed at singling and isolating black citizens, Kanye's comments on how slavery is a choice, police brutality, and the #TakeAKnee movement with zip and sass. His satirical and easily digestible takes on matters that otherwise occupy your 9'O Clock primetime news slot give you an appreciation of how well the comedian has honed his skills over the years.
In the more personal, latter part of the special, Hughley opens up about his childhood and parents. Those that know of his background will know he had a difficult upbringing. During his troubled teenage years, the comedian was a member of the Bloods gang and was expelled from high school before he eventually turned his back on the gang life, got his GED, and found employment with the Los Angeles Times.
That history makes some of his recollections a lot more poignant, giving you a glimpse into the dysfunction he grew up around. At various points, he casually drops a mention on his father having lung cancer, and how the relationship between his mother and sister is so damaged that they have restraining orders against each other. There's also a bit about his autistic son, who also happens to have Asperger's.
It's here that Hughley gets a little too dark with his humor, joking about how he would replace his son with another if he could, but of course, he sprinkles in anecdotes on how hardass black mothers are and the significance of the wig to ensure the subjects never get too downbeat.
Dressed eclectically, Hughley stalks the stage mic in hand, giving the audience his signature contemplative expression as he gets ready to drop his next punchline. And so they come, one after the other, each dosed with just the right amount of funny and sad to keep the audience on their toes, never knowing what to expect next. Maybe one could write more about 'Contrarian,' but it is enough to say, there's a reason he walks off with a standing ovation.
Watch the trailer for 'Contrarian' here:
D.L. Hughley: Contrarian streams on Netflix on September 18.