Fox 4's Shawn Edwards isn't just a blurb whore 

On a cold Saturday evening in late February, a line snakes out of the Gem Theater and onto 18th Street. People wait in anxious knots. The rumor, passed from way up front: There's no room left. Volunteers dash in and out of the packed theater, bringing word of open seats to the crew at the doors; they squeeze in two or three more people accordingly.

Inside, the party is equal parts community and showbiz. As preshow entertainment for the premiere of his film No Joke: The Fifty Funniest Black Movie Comedies Ever, Shawn Edwards, the nationally known film critic for Kansas City's Fox 4 News, has lined up a dancer and a marching band as well as quick testimonials from City Council reps, comedians, Fox 4 management and black entrepreneurs.

Several presenters mention that Edwards and his Fox 4 partner, Russ Simmons, were recently honored by the Los Angeles Press Club as "Best Critics" in the television category of its first National Entertainment Journalism Awards. This stirs applause from the mostly African-American crowd. But the real excitement comes when Edwards' biggest coup strides out onto the stage: Nick Cannon, star of Drumline and host for the evening. Riffing about doing stand-up at a white club down south, Cannon scores big laughs; when he mentions that he's proud to be wearing an Obama pin, he brings down the house.

Next up is Edwards' film. Throughout it, the Gem shakes with laughter. Between clips from Edwards' one-on-one interviews with celebrities such as Will Smith and Denzel Washington, scenes from Stir Crazy, Coming to America and Madea's Family Reunion have the crowd laughing, cheering and — especially in the case of the Tyler Perry movies — speaking the punch lines along with the characters.

Shawn Edwards is a film critic, but he prefers the term "reviewer." At a screening like this, he seems something else: a film celebrant, a champion of movies unchampioned. He's responsible for two documentaries: this and last year's The 100 Best Black Movies Ever (click play below for the trailer). They were inspired by those American Film Institute lists of American movies — lists Edwards considers exclusive. The AFI's comedy list particularly incenses him.

"Are you really telling me that this entire list doesn't have one representation from Richard Pryor or Eddie Murphy?" he asks. "They're arguably not only the most entertaining and popular but also the most influential comedians ever! Are you really trying to tell me that Friday couldn't make that list? Friday's universally loved!"

Edwards can get worked up talking about movies. "When Blockbuster stores were big, people would check out Friday and never bring it back. For that alone, it goes on the list — it's the most stolen DVD ever! It's the most never-brought-back DVD in the history of DVDs!"

This is Edwards, who often hears he might be a first. He tells The Pitch, "A lot of people are like, 'Oh, my God! He's the first black movie critic!' When I talk to older African-Americans, anyone 60-plus, it's like, 'We're so proud!'" He shakes his head, thinking: a black film critic. "When I was a kid, it was all Siskel and Ebert. I never even saw one, either."

A first. He chats with the stars, finds his name on full-page movie ads in The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times. He raises money for scholarships, inspires standing-room-only crowds to show up at 18th and Vine. Why in the world would anybody not like Shawn Edwards?

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