Comedian Paul Mooney opens his one-man legit bow, “Race,” by calling Bob Hope “a warmonger and a pimp,” then offers an anatomically impossible suggestion involving the beloved Hope and a golf club. The tone is set for the ensuing 90 minutes of rambling, more often funny, occasionally incisive and intermittently offensive stand-up.
Mooney sits on a bar stool throughout “Race,” his relaxed demeanor matching his understated, almost soothing vocal delivery.
Despite the show’s title and the performer’s concentration on matters of race , the production has no unifying thread or arc that would signify a legit production; rather, “Race” is a stand-up routine performed on a legit stage, as evidenced by the stream-of-consciousness, (seemingly) improvisational style.
The contrast between his mellifluous tones and the obscenity-strewn bite of his observations provides the defining element of his work.
That bite, however, is never quite as vicious or shocking as Mooney believes, or wants us to believe.
The comedian spends considerable stage time commenting on how white people in the audience won’t understand his jokes or will be offended or frightened or generally put off.
Maybe they would have been 20 years ago, when Richard Pryor pioneered the approach.
Mooney’s work is hardly tame, but there simply are no four-letter words or angry pronouncements on racial injustice that can stun today’s post-Ice T audience.
And while Mooney can sink to tastelessness just for the sake of it, he remains positively civilized compared to Andrew Dice Clay and other shockmeisters.
The Pryor comparisons are inevitable, especially given that Mooney co-wrote many of Pryor’s most renowned routines, including the albums “Live on Sunset” and “Is It Something I Said?”
With a resume like that, it’s no surprise that Mooney can be delightfully wicked, particularly when he turns his resentment toward icons (Michael Jackson, Oprah Winfrey), injustice (Hollywood’s treatment of women and African-Americans) or hypocrisy (“We Are the World”-style benefits).
Occasionally, though, Mooney simply spews venom, with little wit or any other type of humor.
Nor does Mooney display the unifying vision (other than a cranky, tell-it-like-he-sees-it manner) that would lift him from the ranks of good comedian to that of the astute social commentator to which he aspires.