Chris Rock in "Why We Laugh"

*“Why We Laugh: Black Comedians on Black Comedy,” a film examining the history and cultural influence of American black comedy, premiere’s tomorrow (Feb. 4) on Showtime at 8 p.m.

Directed by actor-producer-director Robert Townsend, the documentary, which screened last year at Sundance, features interviews with prominent scholars, politicians, cultural critics, and a host of notable comics, including Bill Cosby, Chris Rock, Keenan Ivory Wayans, Steve Harvey, and Katt Williams. [Watch clip below.]

“Why We Laugh” tracks the evolution of black comedy from the character of Stepin Fetchit and minstrels in blackface to the politically tinged humor of Dick Gregory, and from the television success of “Good Times” and “The Jeffersons” to the big-screen accomplishments of stars such as Eddie Murphy and Whoopi Goldberg.

Katt Williams in "Why We Laugh"

The film, executive produced by Codeblack Entertianment, also turns a perceptive eye on the controversial career decision of Dave Chappelle and the implications of corporate efforts to capitalize on the massive success of Russell Simmons’s “Def Comedy Jam” and Spike Lee’s “The Original Kings of Comedy.”

“’Why We Laugh’ is a major historical contribution to American culture,” said Codeblack executive vice-president Quincy Newell. “This film is a tribute to the way one courageous person with a microphone can change history.”

• Codeblack Entertainment also produces the All Star Comedy Jam franchise. The DVD of “Shaquille O’Neal Presents: All Star Comedy Jam – Live from South Beach” is available now, and a third installment of the franchise will be filmed at the 2010 NBA All-Star Game in Dallas with an airdate on Showtime later in the year.