Although it contains a few snippets of stand up (mostly as bumpers around commercial breaks), D.L. Hughley’s The Endangered List isn’t a stand-up special. Most of the time, it’s not even a comedy special; it’s a political documentary with a satirical edge, in the vein of Michael Moore or Morgan Spurlock, and it takes a silly premise (getting the black man on the endangered species list) and mines some surprisingly insightful political points from it, while never forgetting to be light and funny. The Endangered List is rarely hilarious, but Hughley never loses sight of the fact that he’s a comedian, and just when things seem to be getting too serious, he pulls back and does something goofy.
At first it seems like goofy is all he has to offer, as the special opens with nature documentary-style narration about “the ’hood,” and Hughley’s first stop on his quest is to meet with a scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. But what starts out seeming like a second-rate segment from The Daily Show soon gets more serious, as Hughley takes what he learns from the scientific expert and attempts to apply it to social issues out in the real world. He manages to use the criteria for a species being put on the endangered list as an effective template for exploring genuine challenges facing African-Americans.
The most effective segment in the show comes when Hughley introduces Reverend Jesse Lee Peterson, a pastor who advocates for paternal responsibility within the black community. At first it seems like Hughley is setting Peterson up as a positive example, someone who is fighting back against the black man becoming endangered. Armed with Peterson’s advocacy of responsible black fathers, Hughley then visits an old high school friend of his who has adopted four at-risk children, the kind of person that Peterson should be celebrating. Except that Hughley’s friend is gay and raising his adopted children with his husband, and when Hughley tells Peterson about this, Peterson turns nasty, denouncing homosexuality and asserting that children would be better off in foster care or with an emotionally abusive single mother than raised by gay men.
It’s a powerful and complex moment that Hughley handles with humor and persistence, demonstrating how thorny the issues he raises are even within the black community itself. Not every interaction is as powerful or as pointed; the segment featuring Hughley hanging out with a white supremacist and taking the guy out on little excursions is overly cutesy, as is the device of “white D.L.,” an uptight white guy who offers the white perspective when Hughley can’t wrap his head around a certain issue. Even the less successful bits have moments of strong humor, however, and when Hughley talks to a pair of teenage gang members about how they are both victims and perpetrators of the same problem (black-on-black violence), he’s able to use his easygoing manner and disarming jokes to get to the heart of an issue in a way few political commentators or comedians ever could.