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THE ORIGINAL KINGS OF COMEDY

Background

It almost didn't work out this way. While still working the phones at American Express, pro ducer Walter Latham thought of becoming a rapper. That did not last. His days as a hip hop promoter were equally short-lived. "I had a club sold out and the main artist didn't show up," Latham recalls. His next venture was to focus on bringing comedy to the people.

After five years of successfully promoting individual acts across the country, Latham decided to take comedy to larger venues. "Comedy is tradi tionally done in theaters, and comedy clubs. I had the idea to package three or four of the best come dians in the country and put them in an arena in the hope that perhaps people would pay more money to see them and see them in bigger numbers." Latham's instinct was right.

At the time, the biggest names on the stand- up comedy circuit were Steve Harvey, Cedric The Entertainer and Bernie Mac.

"They were the cream of the crop of the working comedians. Chris Rock and Chris Tucker are great, but they had already crossed over and were working in film and television," recalls Lath am.

With his handpicked troop of performers "The Kings of Comedy" tour started in 1997. In 1998, Latham added D.L. Hughley to the line-up to make the tour bigger. The rest is history. In its first year, the concert tour grossed $19 million on 58 shows and in 1998, it grossed $18 million on 40 shows.

The idea for the film began in 1998 when Latham realized, "the tour was so expensive that I could only take it to the major markets. I wanted to take it to all of America, but I couldn't afford to. I felt that if we documented it, put it on film, I could take it to Jackson, Mississippi, Montgomery, Alabama, places that I couldn't normally take the tour."

His initial efforts to spark interest in Hollywood were unsuccessful. No one had heard of the tour. That changed when executives from MTV Films came to see the show and saw the potential for the film.

Producer David Gale recalls, "I saw the live show twice, to sold out crowds in huge arenas, and the audiences were literally doubled over in laugh ter. The comedy of these comedians transcends age, race and gender and is original in every way.

With MTV on board, it was time to find a director for the project.

According to Latham, "We came up with a wish list of directors that we wanted to interview for the project. Spike Lee was at the top of my list. For my generation, he is one of the greatest film makers of our time."

"Spike had done a comedy special with John Leguizamo that I thought was great. When we spoke, he had some really good ideas about how to take the tour from the stage to the screen," contin ues Latham.

"Keeping the thrill of the live show was a critical part in translating the Kings to film. Spike's expertise as a filmmaker and his love for stand-up made him the perfect director for the project. He brought the surround feel of the live show from backstage, the audience and the comedians' point of view to the process making it a true [concert] film experience," states executive producer Van Tof

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