Ask anybody to draw an American comedian, and they will draw Kevin James. The star of Mall Cop, The Zookeeper, Grown Ups, and underrated sitcom King of Queens, he is loud, boorish, fat, greedy, lazy and constantly making jokes about boobies and hot-dogs. But is that all there is to him? Or has he just been forever tarred by the close association that he has with the antichrist (also known by his Earth name, Adam Sandler)?
It’s difficult to imagine that he’d have carved out much of a career in comedy without being fat. His persona is that of a regular, straight-forward guy who doesn’t beat around the bush, or want anything more from life than what he’s got. His characters lead the life that advertisers imagine men want to lead – a life of gluttony and happy monotony, with an inexplicably attractive girlfriend or wife. It wouldn’t be difficult to imagine him playing the same roles as Greg Kinnear, if he lost a few pounds. He has the domestic, frustrated but ultimately caring and kind character nailed completely.
The point with Kevin James is that there is no edge. By being a genuine and honest guy, with a quick wit and spot-on comic timing, he is able to occupy the arena of ‘nice comedy’ in a way that avoids becoming insipid or cloying; something that Robin Williams has singularly failed to do. His performance as Doug Heffernan in King of Queens took the themes of domestic strife that he covered in his stand-up and applied them to a realistic setting, making him a star in the process. And yet, while the critics enjoyed King of Queens, critical acclaim for his movies has eluded James.
Paul Blart: Mall Cop (2009), the much (completely unfairly) maligned comedy in which James plays Paul Blart, the titular mall cop (security guard, in UK parlance), demonstrated even further James’s talent for slapstick comedy and even heartfelt emotion. The scene in which James emerges from the ball pool, still astride his Segway, remains hilarious however many times it’s viewed.
His association with Adam Sandler does nothing for him but James has shown time and again that, when allowed to play outside of Sandler’s shadow, he is a fantastically gifted comedic performer. Unfortunately, Sandler’s films make a lot of money from an audience that is profoundly disturbed. It’s exploitation in a way, and James is better than that, but if that’s where the money is then that is a true shame.
Just look at what has happened to Chris Rock, once the most popular and outrageously gifted comedian in America – reduced to starring in What To Expect When You’re Expecting. If Rock couldn’t stand the crap tractor beam of mediocrity, what chance did James have?
In the end, Kevin James should be viewed as someone with a lot of talent being pushed into a pool of cinematic quicksand by Adam Sandler. It’s up to the audience to save him, by lobbying hard for more adventurous comedy. James’s work on King of Queens was enough to prove his abilities, he just needs the right comedic vehicle, like Will Ferrell needed Anchorman. One day, hopefully, that day will come.