It would be too easy to resent actor/game show host/all-around "entertainer" Nick Cannon's foray into stand-up comedy, Mr. Showbiz, because he's never been known as a comic. He's starred on Nickelodeon shows and MTV reality shows; he's acted in forgettable movies like Drumline and Underclassman; he's hosted America's Got Talent; he's done a morning radio show; he's married Mariah Carey. None of those things have required him to be very funny, much less write an entire act and perform it on stage. The fact that he's gone ahead and recorded and released a comedy album (and corresponding Showtime special) suggests that comedy is just another thing he's decided to try, the way someone takes up tennis or Sudoku. The casualness with which he enters the comedy scene -- and the fact that he possesses the celebrity to immediately get an album release -- spits in the face of the comics who have toiled away for years on the road and in clubs, just trying to improve their acts and catch the right break.
All of that is a little unfair. It's not entirely accurate -- and that's a feeling that presides over all of Mr. Showbiz (even the title is smacks of self-satisfied hubris) -- but a little unfair. In reality, Cannon has been performing stand-up on and off since he was a teenager. It's something he's only dabbled in, though, not something he's really worked at or perfected, and that comes across on his album.
On the basis of Mr. Showbiz, it would seem that Cannon's biggest comedy influence is Eddie Murphy -- and not the young, hungry Murphy who was just starting out. Cannon comes across as the Eddie Murphy of Raw: cocky, homophobic and impossible to relate to, since the majority of the material is about how rich he is and how he's married to Mariah Carey (a piece of his life that he's never able to make funny, because he hasn't figured out how to approach the subject the right way) and his biggest problem is being made fun of in rap songs by Eminem. Cannon tries to be "one of us" at times, making casual reference to his struggles growing up and the fact that he wasn't always, you know, rich and famous. Mostly, though, the album is a celebration of Cannon's awesomeness, wealth and success. It's as though he's playing comedian, and though much of Mr. Showbiz sounds like a real comedy album, there are hardly no good jokes. It's structured like an album and Cannon knows how to deliver a joke with energy (he's clearly been studying the delivery of Chris Rock) -- he is, after all, a "performer" by trade -- but the material feels soulless. It's like an approximation of a stand-up act being performed by a talented mimic.
When he's not talking about being married to Mariah Carey or seeking the audience's approval on how he handled some Eminem diss that managed to stay off my radar, Cannon sticks mostly to topics like the difference between white people and black people and the casual homophobia of the "hip hop community," of which he claims to be a part (it's a joke that he keeps coming back to for the duration of the record, lest we forget the bad taste it leaves for a few minutes). His observational comedy covers well-worn territory, and when he attempts to be more "edgy" (like in an extended bit on the "n-word"), it rings hollow because he hasn't really earned it. We're not willing to go to that place with him, and every time he uses words meant to push buttons all it does is make the listener cringe.
Perhaps I'm being too hard on Nick Cannon. I don't begrudge him the opportunity to record and release a comedy record. He's well within his rights to do so. My responsibility is, however, is to you the reader, who is no doubt interested in whether or not his album is worth listening to. I can't say that's the case. Nick Cannon seems believe that comedy is easy. Mr. Showbiz demonstrates that it isn't.
- Album Release Date: 5/31/11
- Label: New Wave Dynamics