37. Def Comedy Jam Premieres on HBO
Date: July 1, 1992
The Moment: Stand-up comedy—great, edgy, stand-up comedy—was still too hot for most televised broadcasts, let alone stand-up by black comedians, who had to overcome major networks' worries about audience pull and standards and practices troubles. Enter Def Jam founder and label head Russell Simmons, who found himself with a production deal at HBO, that cable channel you had to pay extra for, with all the movies, and a few of its own TV shows that you couldn't find anywhere else. Slapping his record label's name on a late-night stand-up hour on pay cable, Simmons found a place to infuse comedians' personas and performances with a hip-hop aesthetic, and create a home for unabated humor that was topical for a segment of the population that had long gone without one. In doing so, Def Comedy Jam was born.
The Impact: While protested by some for what was perceived as offensive content that reinforced negative black stereotypes, the show would go on to receive relatively high marks from TV critics.
The Upshot: Def Comedy Jam not only paved the way for edgy stand-up comedy on television, but cemented HBO's place in the media world as an outlet for edgier entertainment, period. It also furthered Russell Simmons' status as an entrepreneur of hip-hop outside of the realm of music, and gave rise to a host (Martin Lawrence) who went on to a wildly successful career of his own.