Kanye West’s new single ‘Only One’ doesn’t just feature Paul McCartney on piano and lyrics penned, posthumously, by Kanye's mum (supposedly). The music video – basically a home movie of Kanye and his daughter, shot on handheld – is the fourth collaboration between the rapper and Spike Jonze. Even Charlie Kaufman is jealous.
Kanye’s interest in film, however, extends well beyond dialling up Spike Jonze for peculiar favours. The rapper co-produced Chris Rock’s Top Five, sampled Blades of Glory on his biggest radio hit, and has, well, a categorically abysmal acting career.
“I’m no Daniel Day-Lewis,” he once admitted, adding he’s on the level of Quentin Tarantino and Spike Lee cameoing in their own films. Which is probably not the best comparison when you consider that accent in Django Unchained.
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE (2005-present)
Although Kanye hasn’t hosted SNL, he’s been invited six times to sing and appear in the occasional skit. His first show reunited him with Mike Myers mere months after the “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” incident. “I haven’t seen you since the... uh...” remarks Myers, who carries the sketch. It’s Kanye’s best SNL role because he doesn’t have to act – he just stands still in sunglasses while Myers does the funny stuff.
Compare that with an embarrassing 2007 sketch that features him interrupting award shows (two years before the VMAs) and stumbling over lines because he’s staring too hard at the cue cards.
STATE PROPERTY 2: BLOOD ON THE STREETS (2005)
The few fans of the original State Property probably weren’t enticed by the prospect of a sequel helmed by Damon Dash, a guy known primarily as Jay-Z’s former business manager. The cast reads more like a mixtape: Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Mariah Carey, MOP, Cam’ron, and a bunch of other people who probably weren’t sure why they were there. Kanye plays a thug who buys pills and sticks a knife into the dealer.
Sports farce Semi-Pro came out in 2008, but Kanye auditioned in 2006 for the role that eventually went to André 3000. According to an industry insider, Kanye brought an afro wig for a wooden 16-minute test reading with Will Ferrell. It ended with the rapper claiming he did the lines better in his dining room. It’s probably for the best – not even Will Ferrell fans like Semi-Pro.
“How does Turtle know Kanye?” Jeremy Piven asks his obnoxious friends. They don’t know. I don’t know. Entourage makes no sense. The episode ends with the guys stranded at an airport, until they spot Kanye walking through and hitchhike on his private jet. “I guess we’re going to Cannes,” the MC articulates like a robot. He only comes alive on the plane itself when taking over the intercom, speaking into a microphone with natural diction. But then he’s out of the cockpit, statically reciting dialogue with awkward inflections. And that's where that episode ends. How is this a real TV show?
UNTITLED KANYE WEST HBO SITCOM (2008)
Kanye shares a few traits with Larry David: they’re multimillionaire artists regularly apologising for stubborn outbursts. But while Larry created Seinfeld, Kanye was turned down from a lousy Will Ferrell movie. That, however, did not deter the rapper from copying the Curb Your Enthusiasm model with his own HBO pilot: an improvised sitcom in which Kanye, playing himself, runs into awkward social situations. There’s even a crossover of cast (Jeff Garlin, JB Smoov) and crew (director Larry Charles).
The story could pass for an actual Curb outline. Kanye frets over bad breath, meets Tom Cruise, and visits a Make-A-Wish kid who prefers Lil Wayne. The same can’t be said of Kanye’s acting, which, as seen in leaked footage, is stiff and hampered by improvisation. He pauses too long before coming up with responses that aren’t that amusing anyway. HBO said no.
THE LOVE GURU (2008)
After rejection from Semi-Pro and HBO, Kanye snagged a cameo alongside Mike Myers in The Love Guru. Everyone hated it, including Myers – he forbid Marc Maron from mentioning it during a career retrospective WTF podcast. The only takeaway for Kanye is that he barely appears in it and thus absolvent from blame.
The seating recalls the Hurricane Katrina telecast incident, so it’s a shame Kanye didn’t break from script to comment on the film’s racist caricatures. For instance, he could have said, “Mike Myers doesn’t care about stereotyping Indian people.” Instead, he just screams, “I love hockey!”
WE WERE ONCE A FAIRYTALE (2009)
Spike Jonze’s short film, like the ‘Only One’ video, presents Kanye as a vulnerable human being – one misinterpreted by strangers who see superciliousness instead of an eagerness to please. The rap star is ignored by everyone in a club, and commences to maniacally laugh when hearing his song ‘See You in My Nightmares’. (He’s pretty persuasive as someone finding tremendous joy in hearing his own music.)
Kanye opens up even more – literally – when he heads to the bathroom to vomit rose petals. He carves a hole in his stomach to unleash more flowers – and out crawls a tiny creature that’s probably a leftover from the prop department of Where the Wild Things Are. It’s Jonze’s directorial genius: you don’t notice the incompetent acting when there’s a river of roses pouring from a celebrity’s body.
THE CLEVELAND SHOW (2010)
I’m not a fan of Seth MacFarlane’s output – live-action or animated – but I begrudgingly respect the voice acting. Kanye should in theory be a perfect guest performer on a cartoon: he’s at home with a mic in a recording studio. But from what I’ve seen, his line delivery is still flat and painfully unfunny – although that last part is personal bias against Seth MacFarlane.
THE BLACK MAMBA (2011)
The premise places Robert Rodriguez in a meeting with Kobe Bryant to pitch a blockbuster incorporating basketball, CGI explosions, and the same lack of imagination that went into Machete. They imagine Kobe disposing of Danny Trejo and Bruce Willis before facing the villain: Kanye West, perched in a sports field above the clouds.
Kanye plays along with the parody by laughing too hard and delivering purposefully cliched one-liners. Basically, the very expensive punchline is to acknowledge Kobe and Kanye shouldn’t be hired for major roles, but they’ve done it anyway. That’s the actual joke.
CRUEL SUMMER (2012)
Only Cannes attendees were able to catch Kanye’s 30-minute directorial short, given it never received a theatrical release. That’s partly down to the unique viewing requirements, consisting of seven screens elevated so that real oceans and mountains can be glimpsed in the gaps. (That sounds majorly distracting and something that’d ruin my living room layout.)
It hasn’t screened again, so I’ll give Kanye the benefit of the doubt. But it sounds terrible: Kid Cudi saves a girl from blindness by playing a Coldplay remix, while Kanye dons a mask and argues about pop culture. The unavailability is a warning sign.
ANCHORMAN 2: THE LEGEND CONTINUES (2013)
The final fight is basically the filmmakers showing off famous friends and contacts. Surprise cameos include comedy icons (Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Will Smith, Jim Carrey, Sacha Baron Cohen), respected actors (Marion Cotillard, Liam Neeson, Kirsten Dunst) and Kanye West. The rapper plays Wesley Jackson, an MTV newsreader whose smack talk is to invent a band called “Burgundy Sucking Chest Wound”. It’s even less funny spoken aloud.
I don’t want to fully blame Kanye for his poor comedic timing, wooden delivery, and inability to keep a straight face. After all, the dialogue’s not great, the film is so-so, and he’s surrounded by professionals. But Ferrell rejected Kanye from Semi-Pro. The rapper just accrued enough fame that his appearance is enough of a punchline to excuse a lack of dramatic finesse.
Follow Nick on Twitter: @halfacanyon