Untitled Kanye West comedy project (partially found HBO pilot; 2007-2008)

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Kanyehbo1.jpg

Screenshot from the pilot.

Status: Partially Found

In January 2007, HBO announced the development of an untitled comedy series from Larry Charles, starring musician Kanye West. The project was said to focus on a day in the busy life of the artist, with events inspired by his actual experiences.[1][2] In 2008, the project was shelved indefinitely. A pilot was shot but not released, and despite an unofficial screening in 2013, only a few minutes of footage have surfaced online.

Content

West's tiger hoodie during the Make-A-Wish scene.
The pilot is commonly described as being similar to Curb Your Enthusiasm, with Kanye West referring to himself as “the black Larry David”.[3] It was shot with a single-camera setup, and was largely improvised - only an outline and key lines were written beforehand.[4][5] The majority of the episode featured Kanye surrounded by a posse of friends, including his cousin K.C. (Wyatt Cenac), his manager (J.B. Smoove), his bodyguard (Leonard Harris, a.k.a. GLC), and his mother (Kym Whitley).[6][5]

In one of the opening scenes of the pilot, Kanye becomes paranoid about having bad breath, and orders K.C. to get breath mints for him. He then has an awkward meeting with a child from the Make-A-Wish Foundation, whom he mistakes for being terminally ill.[7] Other scenes include a CD signing with an overzealous fan asking for a music audition, and a flashback scene where Kanye and K.C. watch a trailer for Mission: Impossible and meet Tom Cruise (played by a lookalike).[6][5]

Most of the comedy came from the members of Kanye’s entourage, with the rapper at the center as a foil to the action.[7][6] The original cut of the pilot was 60 minutes and was interweaved with serious interviews from figures like Nelson George, Professor Boyce Watkins, and Cornel West, regarding the artist’s impact. The final version was cut down to 30 minutes before it was returned to HBO.[7][8]

Production

The series was first announced in January 2007. Larry Charles, who had previously worked on shows and movies such as Seinfeld, Borat, and Entourage, was attached to the project as executive producer and director. Other executive producers included record producer Rick Rubin, West’s manager G. Roberson, and West himself.[1][2]

West had previously met with NBC to discuss the idea of creating a television series, though nothing came from it until HBO put him in contact with Charles.[5] To prepare for the series, West hired UCB co-founder Matt Besser to give him private lessons on improv comedy. However, according to Wyatt Cenac, he “knew he wasn’t a good improviser” and tried to make up for this by emulating Jerry Seinfeld’s philosophy of “surrounding himself with better talent”.[7][6]

HBO gave Larry Charles $400,000 to shoot the pilot over the course of 5 days.[5] Throughout July and August of 2008, the series was still in development, and the network was reportedly looking for a writer to move forward with it.[4][9] However, in an interview with Charles from September of that year, he stated that he believed the project had been shelved for being “too hardcore for HBO”.[3] At that time, an HBO representative also commented that she was unaware of the show’s status, and no further information has ever been released.[10]

Screening

Poster for Wyatt Cenac's stand-up show.

A 4-minute clip from the pilot was uploaded to YouTube in 2010 as part of Alison Quinn’s acting reel, but went unnoticed until it was picked up by Gawker and other news outlets in July 2013.[11] This media coverage led to the clip being removed from YouTube, though it has since been mirrored. On July 22, 2013, a mere week after it was rediscovered, Wyatt Cenac screened the full 30-minute cut of the pilot during his weekly stand-up show, Night Train, in Brooklyn, New York. The screening was unannounced, as Cenac did not have HBO’s permission to show it. Throughout the pilot, Cenac would interject with commentary to provide background information about the production.[12][7][6][8]

Audience reaction to the pilot was mixed. Gawker writer Sam Biddle, who was the first to describe the leaked clip as “probably the worst thing [West] has ever created”, retracted this after seeing the full pilot, which he called “one of the most batshit crazy, wonderful pieces of television you can't imagine”.[11][12] Writing for Vulture, Roger Cormier thought that although it was fascinating, “a lot of it lagged”. When Cenac asked the audience what they thought of it, half felt it was better than they expected, and the other half felt it was worse.[6]

Status

In addition to being “too hardcore”, Larry Charles originally cited HBO’s shifting management as a reason for the project being shelved, also claiming that HBO doesn’t have a good track record with black shows.[3] During the 2013 screening, Cenac stated that HBO was dissatisfied with West allowing his then-unknown co-stars to handle most of the pilot’s important moments, claiming that there was not enough Kanye in it.[7][8]

Whatever the reason, the series was not picked up, and given that HBO has not commented on the project since 2008, it is unlikely that either cut of the pilot will ever see an official release. The only footage that has surfaced is the aforementioned leaked clip of the “Make-A-Wish kid” scene, and a 17-second video taken at Cenac’s screening, during which a voice can be heard telling the cameraperson to stop recording.

The original clip that leaked in 2010.
Brief recording from the Wyatt Cenac screening.

References