First impression of David Alan Grier’s accounts about his life in “Barack Like Me: The Chocolate Covered Truth” when it landed across my desk — that it was nothing more than a lackluster, humorously dry disaster parallel to his short-lived satirical, fake news show, “Chocolate News.”
It’s cliché, but never judge a book by its cover or a comedian by their cancelled show.
The recently divorced father, whose most controversial appearance was on “Dancing with the Stars,” in an urgent response to remain in the spotlight after Comedy Central yanked his show last year, is unlike most comedians who depend on their life’s childhood tragedies, adulthood disappointments, drug habits and cursing to make their audiences relate and laugh.
Rather, Grier has had a good life peppered with ridiculous blunders and a few key generational stories that helped develop the man we affectionately know as D.A.G.
His career on the other hand, is a whole other topic.
While the Detroit native opens the gateway reiterating Ray Charles’s motto, “The secret to life is timing,” regrettably, he took a less than sensible approach with regard to some of his career choices, including almost missing out on an opportunity of a lifetime, repeatedly refusing to join the cast of “In Living Color” after completing his role in Keenan Ivory Wayans’ 1988 mock blaxploitation comedy, “I’m Gonna Get You Sucka.”
Imagine what life would have been like had there been no Antoine Merriweather (“Men On Film” “Men On Art,” etc.), one-half of the parody of Siskel & Ebert, or the ornery barber named Lewis, who was just inches away from cutting the fake hair attached to James Brown’s real hair before the King of Soul hilariously blurted out his line and ran off the set. Thankfully, Kim Wayans was persistent and blunt.
Comically relentless to crash and burn his career, Grier debuted his show, “Chocolate News,” two years after Dave Chapelle walked away from his groundbreaking self-titled sketch show. Reminiscent of “In Living Color” but certainly not racially risqué enough to follow in the footsteps of Chappelle’s show, it clearly didn’t fit the bill despite rave reviews from the Washington Post, Boston Globe and New York Post.
Meanwhile, during the height of his career, relying heavily on his satirical show to carry him to the next level of stardom, for a year he rejected “Dancing with the Stars” producers’ request for him to appear on the show. But after having gone from creator, executive producer, writer, performer and host in just two months, Grier called his manager and demanded that he beg the show’s producers to choose him as a contestant.
Documenting his rigorous dance rehearsals in a couple of chapters that resulted in him losing 26 pounds and consuming perhaps high, illegal levels of concoctions to get fit, he reveals the scripted truth and the lamented frustration behind “Dancing with the Stars” after he and his dance partner, Kym Johnson, were voted off the show in the fifth week. To say the least, his parting words on the family show were definitely in violation of the FCC code.
In danger of destroying his career, the Shakespearean trained, Yale graduate, Broadway veteran and “In Living Color” character conspirator quickly took a firm grip on his career.
Coauthoring “Barack Like Me” with Alan Eisenstock, the book provides a source of damage control as well as insight into the world of a guy with normal hang-ups like anyone else.
What keeps the book moving forward, however, are not just the tidbits about his life, including his walk with Martin Luther King Jr. or his depraved mescaline trip during a Black Sabbath concert. It’s not even the fact that he idolized Jimi Hendrix and was dead-set on becoming a Black Panther and later a famous rock star. There are also sporadic glimpses into other people’s lives, including that concealed confrontation between Keenan Ivory Wayans and Mike Tyson.
Expressively and cleverly, building momentum between his life’s stages, he eventually revisits one of the happiest moments of his life (besides the birth of his daughter, Luisa Danbi Grier Kim) — the inauguration of the first Black American president, Barack Obama.
Though a lot of unnecessary cursing is prevalent throughout the book (hopefully not in an attempt to garner laughter), Grier is definitely humorous in his delivery and more than what some may perceive as a washed up actor turned comedian turned author.
At the end of the day, he contends that the same triteness remains even after generations of blood, sweat and tears shed were finally acknowledged when America swore in its first Black president.
But there is always optimistic humor in everything.