“Why Should We Settle for 10 Minutes in Another Documentary?”: ‘THR Presents’ Q&A With the Creators of ‘Phat Tuesdays’
Reginald Hudlin, Guy Torry, Finesse Mitchell and Luenell discuss their three-part Prime Video documentary series, focusing on the Comedy Store showcase for Black talent launched in 1995.
Starting in 1995, The Comedy Store in Hollywood turned over a small room on a struggling night to Guy Torry and let him program many of the Black comedians who, for whatever reason, weren’t getting space on the club’s main stage on its busiest nights. The weekly event, dubbed Phat Tuesdays, helped reinvigorate midweek at The Comedy Store and launched countless careers.
Phat Tuesdays lasted for a decade and was essential to bridging a difficult time for The Comedy Store, but a recent five-hour premium cable documentary about the venue didn’t even mention the showcase.
“Honestly, it was a blessing, because why should we settle for 10 minutes in another documentary? We had three hours, easy, of story to tell. So let us tell our story in full,” says Reginald Hudlin, executive producer and director of Prime Video’s new three-part docuseries Phat Tuesdays, which makes up for that previous absence.
Hudlin, series creator Torry and comics Finesse Mitchell and Luenell sat down for a THR Presents panel, powered by Vision Media, about Phat Tuesdays, noting how important it is to tell stories like this one.
“It’s very easy to underrate the importance of what I call ‘near-history.’ Right?” Hudlin said. “We’re not going back to the 1940s or 1970s. These are things that happened in our lifetime, in our prime. We were there. We were part of that whole movement, but for those of us talking to younger people, talking to our kids, who don’t know how things happened? Very often we don’t know how things happened because we were too busy doing it.”
It’s a time the comics remember vividly.
Of being asked to participate in the series, Luenell said, “I couldn’t have been more pleased, because those Phat Tuesday days and that era were some of the happiest times that we had in comedy. Not to say that other times were any less happy, but there was a real community in Los Angeles. … It was star-studded and electric and fire.”
Added Mitchell, “We were fans of each other. We were really rooting for anybody to get something and if you couldn’t get on-stage, Phat Tuesday was definitely the place you wanted to be, even if just to network and hang out and be around people that you knew were going through a similar struggle. I think a lot of us were struggling back then and doing shows for pennies. We could at least go to that one spot on Tuesday, all feel like kings and queens, whether we were gonna crush it that night or root for somebody to crush it that night or — I’ll keep it 100 — want somebody to bomb so that they won’t be in your way next week.”
The series walks a difficult line with The Comedy Store, which gave Phat Tuesdays room to exist, but also, in failing to champion a wide swath of Black comics, created the system that made Phat Tuesdays necessary.
Hudlin noted, “I really respect an institution that honestly admits, ‘Hey, there’s this thing we did in the past. It wasn’t cool. We acknowledge it to everybody and we’re OK with acknowledging it, because we have evolved beyond it.’ That’s a stance that takes courage and I respect it.”