The 1980s were some weird, vexing years for The Godfather Of Soul. Then in his 50s, music legend James Brown saw his career overshadowed by a generation of hip-hop and R&B performers whose music he had profoundly influenced. When Brown was in the public eye back then, it was usually for legal, marital, and substance abuse problems rather than for his music. “Free James Brown” became a popular T-shirt slogan, and Brown’s own public behavior became increasingly erratic and bizarre. Now, in a new sketch filmed for Buh, a subsidiary of the comedy network Jash, Jordan Peele meticulously recreates what is either the apex or the nadir of Brown’s Reagan-era antics. In 1987, Brown was interviewed, live via satellite, by psychologist Dr. Sonya Friedman for a then-new CNN show called Sonya Live In L.A. He was ostensibly there to promote his South American tour, but his legal issues were dominating the headlines. Friedman gamely tried to ask him about these and other serious matters, but a distracted Brown seemed more intent on shouting out the titles of his own hit songs (including “Living In America” and “Sex Machine”) and making random references to CNN founder Ted Turner. There is little that Peele has to do with this material to turn it into comedy gold. He simply recreates the TV magic that Brown made 29 years ago.
For anyone thinking that this is an exaggeration, an examination of the original 1987 interview shows that it is entirely based in reality. Officially, the title of the sketch is “James Brown Drunk,” but there has been speculation that Brown’s behavior that day was fueled by PCP rather than alcohol. Whatever is his intoxicant of choice, Brown is certainly in a great mood here. Newly released on $15,000 bond after allegedly assaulting his wife with a lead pipe, Brown is bullish on his romantic future and dating options: “I’m single. I want to mingle.” And why do the ladies love him so much? “I look good. I smell good. I feel good,” he offers. “And you sing good,” Friedman offers, to which Brown replies, “And make love good.” This kind of material makes comedy writers unnecessary.