Ladies and gentlemen, today is the 10th Anniversary of the release of “Pootie Tang,” the big-screen adaptation of a character from the HBO series “The Chris Rock Show” created by Louis C.K. and portrayed by fellow show writer Lance Crouthers. The concept behind Pootie Tang was simple: he was a guy cool, confident, and assured that he could speak nothing but complete gibberish and everyone around him would either understand him or enthusiastically pretend to be able to. Although Rock himself was unsure of the character, Crouthers’ execution was flawless . The audience took to the character and it quickly became a regular feature on the show.
Pootie Tang even ran for Senate.
When adapted to film, the character was tweaked a bit to include elements of 1970s Blaxploitation films. The movie also featured Chris Rock in various roles along with Wanda Sykes as Biggie Shorty (who isn’t a prostitute just because she “likes to dress fancy and stand on street corners”), Andy Richter, Robert Vaughn, Wire alumnus J.D. Williams (Bodie!) and Reg E. Cathie, and pretty much every stand-up comic working at the time (and some that weren’t). The film was written and directed by Louis C.K., his first and only foray into directing a full-length theatrical film.
The film bombed. Critics derided it as stupid and poorly executed, with some going so far as to say that what was released seemed like the cut of a film that would have been left on the cutting room floor. A lot of the film’s problems were due to Louis C.K.’s inexperience as a director (which he discusses in an interview with The Onion’s AV Club) and Paramount’s re-cutting of the film to include narration that is, as C.K. notes, overly defensive and far too aware of the film’s own inherent quirkiness. So in that sense they were right, however I think much of the initial hesitancy and at times outright hostility towards the film comes from their frustration with not being able to understand some the character’s nuances and especially elements of the culture the film lampooned.
Still, warts and all, I love it.
I remember the first time I saw the film. I had come home from a bar late one night, pretty heavily tied on and dragging another embarrassing episode behind me. Not yet ready to retire for the night and a glutton for further punishment, I got another drink, turned on the television, and was greeted with this film on one of the HBO channels. I couldn’t even fathom what I was watching and had no idea it had even been made, let alone released in theaters. A few weeks later I viewed it with sober eyes and completely fell in love with the film.
There is, I strongly believe, such a thing as smart nonsense. It can be done and executed in a way that’s clever, different, or even just interesting. What worked in the movie is the same thing that worked in the original show, and much of that is due to the earnestness with which Crouthers approaches his portrayal of the character. Pootie Tang speaks gibberish, deflects bullets with his belt buckle, records three minutes of silence in a studio that becomes a hit record, and punishes bad guys by whooping on them with his belt. These aspects all seem ludicrous and ridiculous to everyone, but they aren’t to Pootie.
Most of all, though, I love that moment where you find someone else that loves this film. Perhaps not surprisingly, the first person who accidentally shared this secret with me was my brother, who made a Pootie exclamation in passing and sparked what was at least a ten minute conversation regarding our appreciation of the film. Since then there have been a handful of others with whom I have bonded over our shared love of this film. Ten years later, we still talk in a language that seems all our own but actually belongs to Lance Crouthers, Louis C.K., and the fictional Pootie. And just this morning I saw fellow Times Union (but paid) blogger C.J. Lais mark the milestone himself over at the Movies blog.
Most of the principal figures involved with the project obviously went on to bigger and better things despite the film’s derision amongst industry experts and critics. Crouthers, the film’s star, has spent his time since in writing rooms for television shows such as the 2007 season of “Real Time with Bill Maher,” the acclaimed but short-lived Wanda Sykes vehicle “Wanda Does It,” “Everybody Hates Chris,” and his current stint as a writer for “Lopez Tonight.” With the exception of acting as an occasional warm body in sketches for “Frank TV,” he never acted on-screen again.
And so on this, the 10th Anniversary of Pootie Tang, we hip our hays out loud and stack our dammies in punny town. Sa da tay, Pootie Tang, and ram that bitty on the runnie kind.
More videos and links after the jump.
The original unreleased trailer (fans will recognize the voice of the narrator as Louis C.K. himself):
One of my favorite moments from the film:
- Louis C.K. interview with The Onion AV Club on Pootie Tang (and more)
- The New Cult Canon: Pootie Tang (Scott Tobias for The Onion AV Club)
- Pootie Tang on IMDB.com
- Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye…
- Listen to me LIVE as guest co-host of Alternative to Sleeping tonight at 10pm!
- Realtors: “WAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH” George Hearst III: “NONONOO SSSSHHH IT’S OKAY, it’s okay…here. Here’s a pacifier.” Kristi: “#oops.”
- Open Mic web series premiere tonight @ Lark Tavern
- Trust Me, You’re Going to Want to See This