Showtime at the Apollo!
When my friend Taylor came to visit a couple of months ago, I took him to our favorite vegan restaurant, Uptown Juice Bar on 125th St. (which, despite it's name, is actually a vegan soul food cafateria-style eatery). I thought it would give him a great oppurtunity to see the heart of Harlem and also all those funny hats black people wear to church. The food was incredible, as usual. There were a couple of Black Panthers eating in the back room with us, which I thought was a pretty unique Harlem experience.
When we left, I spotted the Apollo Theater a few blocks down and remembered that Taylor and I used to watch Showtime at the Apollo like it was our job. That show was seriously a staple of our development. Steve Harvey and his zoot suits and church jokes, and "The Sandman" (a Portsmouth, VA native) sweeping booed-off contestants off the stage. Taylor and I would stand and boo with the audiences, swaying our arms from side to side with our fingers pointed in "Get off the stage" style. We watched that show so much that we knew the fate of each contestant as soon as they stepped out onstage and rubbed that lucky tree stump. If they were doing an original song, especially a rap, they were gone before the 2nd line of the first verse. If they were singing "His Eye Is On the Sparrow" they were safe. And if they were a middle-aged, balding white guy doing a Louis Armstrong impersonation, surprisingly enough they were cheered for.
So you get the point that we love the Apollo. Well imagine our excitement then, when we walked to the Apollo and were given free tickets to a taping of "Showtime at the Apollo" that was to begin in an hour. They were taping a bunch of shows for the spring/summer, featuring a slew of guest hosts, such as Whoopi Goldberg, Sinbad, and even Rosie O'Donnell. Our guest host was Anthony Anderson, comedic actor and rapist extraordinaire. We waited in line for a little while, and were treated to the passionate rantings of Black Panthers members, some of the same ones who were at Uptown Juice Bar. They were speaking out against the media and it's glorification of skinny and white females. They spoke out against shows like "America's Next Top Model" for confusing the true beauty of the black woman. Their signs read "Respect the Black Woman" and "We Are Not Niggers".
On with the fun! So once we got into the Apollo and found some seats in the balcony, we realized how amazingly beautiful the theater is in person. I was so envious of the people who got to sit in the private box seats (booth seats?) on the side. One guy in the box closest to us was almost more fun to watch than the contestants themselves. He would stand-up for every contestant and sing every word along with them, from popular R&B songs of yesteryear to the most obscure gospel song. Singing is understating it. The veins in his neck looked like they were about to burst he was singing so hard. When a bunch of people in my section starting booing a pretty Hispanic girl in a tight dress he turned to us and ordered us to give her a chance. When my section continued booing he turned back to the singer and motioned for her to forget us and "Go on, girl." She wasn't paying attention to any of this, of course, but moral support never hurts.
Before the show some staffers tried to get the audience's hopes up by saying things like "Usher to the dressing room" and "R. Kelly to the dressing room". Unfortunately, our musical guest for the night was some guy named Noel Gourdin, a Frankie J-esque crooner who won over the females with his silky voice and pelvic thrusts to the mic stand. Anthony Anderson was alright, nothing special. He didn't do any stand-up, just did some off the cuff stuff about audience members and performers. His funniest moment came when he mocked this Japanese dancer who's won the dance portion of the show for something like 3 months in a row. He tried to duplicate some of the guy's moves and ended up doing a front flip and landing flat on his back with a loud thud. It looked pretty painful, but he played it off by doing the splits.
Since we were sitting in the balcony we thought we were safe from any terrible warm-up comics, but oh were we wrong. Some warm-up guy was asking the hispanic woman next to us about her black husband, then he spotted us and said "Oh, look, she brought her whole family." We made huge hand motions to signify that we were not, in fact, part of this family, but it didn't work. "There go Greg, Bobby, and Marcia Brady!". We played along out of kindness, then we held a press conference and he got fired from CBS Radio.
Anyway, if you're ever in Harlem and have this oppurtunity, take it! It was such an awesome experience. If you want to see the show in it's edited format (with shots of the audience laughing at nothing spliced into Anthony Anderson's lines), it's airing in NYC this Saturday night at 1 AM on NBC, right after Saturday Night Live (local listings may vary).
UPDATE: Taylor made it on the show!