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Comedy Fri Jun 01 2012

Interview with Comedian Gary Owen: Shaquille O'Neal Presents: All Star Comedy Jam

GARY O.jpg

When it comes to comedy, Ohio native Gary Owen has brought it in every way; from hosting BET's "Comic View" to sold-out national comedy tours to television ("Tyler Perry's House of Payne" and "True Story") and movies (Think Like A Man), he definitely keeps audiences laughing. Here, the affable comedian and actor, who is coming to town this month as host of "Shaquille O'Neal Presents: All Star Comedy Jam," talks about his comedy, family and why we can expect to see him at a game for a certain Chicago sports team.

You were in the Navy and in your routines, you've often talked about that time, specifically, how and when you knew you weren't really cut out for the military. Tell us about that experience.

It sounds crazy, but I didn't join the military to serve my country or be some "proud American"; I just lived in a trailer park and wanted to get out. The recruiter came to our trailer and said he could get me out, so I was like, "Cool..." I didn't know where I wanted to go--I just knew where I didn't want to be. So, while I was in the Navy, I always wanted to be a stand-up but I didn't know how you did it--I was under the assumption you had to go to L.A.--I didn't know you could start in any hometown or any city. My whole thing was, "How can I get to L.A.?" And when I got a chance to get stationed in San Diego, I said, "Well, that's close; now I can get to L.A. and start telling jokes." And that's how it happened.

You are known for your ability to connect with black audiences in a way that is very genuine and that isn't contrived--is that something that is just innate or is it all attributable to the fact that your wife, in-laws, etc., are black?

I can't really explain it. All I do is get on stage and talk about my life and it resonates with black people. And I've never told stereotypical "black" jokes--I never wrote a joke about having roaches, or [having] bad credit or [how] black people are [always] late. I've said stuff that I've experienced with my wife's family and the black people I know. And I think it's smarter than what most people would expect to come out of my mouth; it's not the typical "a white guy who's talking about black people." I am a fish out of water, but I'm very comfortable in the water that I'm in.

Speaking of being comfortable; at the risk of being a cliché, when I think of you, the late Teena Marie comes to mind, meaning, you simply are who you are when it comes to your art and your audience. Have you heard that comparison before?

I've heard Teena Marie was who she was, but what I've also heard from black comics and black people is that I don't pander to black audiences. I'm the same guy off stage that I am on--I'm not a character on stage. I'm me--somewhat more animated--but at the same time, 90% of my stories are true. Sure, I add a little bit to spice it up and make it funny, but they are true. I'm not making it up.

There are people who thought you make up all those stories?

A lot of people thought I was making it up about being married to a black lady and I'd go, "Why would I make that up?" That just blows my mind when people think I'm making stuff up--I wouldn't make that up!

Since I brought up your wife and family, your "black church service is too long" bit is simply beyond hilarious; by the way, I'll admit--I agree with you...

That's really that one joke that just hit--I didn't see it coming. And even people that don't know my name, they know that joke. I've had people tell me that joke's been played at church services. You just never know what will resonate with people and that one did.

You're a comedian that has made the "the natural progression"; i.e., stand-up to television to the big screen. How has that all been going?

Things are going well. When I did Held Up a long time ago with Jamie Foxx--wait--did you like how I just name-dropped? [Laughs]. He said that entertainment is nothing but a big "temp" job and that stuck with me. He said, "There's no job security in this business."

A "temp job" is a very interesting way to look at it...

Yes, and this year, things are going well; I'm going to be on the Shaq tour, I've got my hour-long [Showtime] special out there, Think Like A Man just did crazy numbers and I'm the new host of the new Shaq All-Star Jam that's not even out yet. I'm not gonna lie--it's a good feeling to have something out right now and then have something already done that's not even out yet. I've never had that before; usually, I've done something and it comes out and then I have to wait for something else--it's like, what's next? But hey, a year from now? I don't know. You just never know. I don't rest on "Oh, things are going good--and it's gonna stay that way." I've actually got to audition for stuff--it's not like they're calling me or knocking down my door saying, "Oh, we've gotta have Gary Owen." I still audition like everybody else.

You had a supporting role in Think Like A Man, which opened to huge box office numbers--$33.6 million--during its opening weekend; recently though, the movie made headlines for a different reason: It was among the discussions of movies with predominately black casts or black leads not performing well overseas. What are your thoughts?

They should've put me on the poster for the movie--front and center! [Laughs]. Well, you want the movie to play well everywhere. I was just so ecstatic it did the numbers it did here in the States. We did those kinds of numbers on fewer screens than a lot of movies--we were on 2,000 screens--The Lucky One came out the same week and it was on a 1,000 more screens. Our per screen average was ridiculous the first weekend; it basically meant that 90% of the theaters were sold out for us to get numbers like that.

"True Story," your stand-up comedy special, debuted on Showtime last month--will you be doing any more specials like that?

[NBA] All-Star Weekend, I hosted the new Shaq All Star Comedy Jam, which is the fourth one in the series; the first one was hosted by Cedric [the Entertainer], the second by DL Hughley and the third one by Mo'Nique. It was big that they made me host of the fourth one because I think when you host something like this, as far as the public goes, it puts you in the mind frame of, "Oh, he's with Mo'Nique, DL and Cedric right now." I think that's great for me because it's coming off the heels of both "True Story" and Think Like A Man.

How would you say yours will compare with the first three in the Shaq comedy series?

I'm not just saying this because I'm in it, but I think this one will stack up against the first one. To me, the first one with Cedric was the best one--I don't know why--not to say the others weren't good; but this one, people will be talking about it.

You were just in Chicago in late April at the new UP Comedy Club--what was that like to help break that club in?

I was there opening weekend when Think Like A Man came out. I double-dipped; I was hittin' theaters all over Chicago and thanking people and surprising them as they came out. That was cool because I'd never done anything like that before. When I did '"UP," I just wanted to be in a major city when the movie got released and that date came about so quickly; literally, on three weeks notice they said, "Do you want to do 'UP'? It's a new comedy club in Chicago that's a more mainstream room but they think you can do well with both sides." And I did--we packed it all weekend. It was just good to be in a big city and see the reaction that the movie got.

Do you have any favorite Chicago haunts you visit when you're in town?

Honestly, when I'm on the road, I'm kind of a hermit. Usually either the promoter or the comedy club people will take me to a restaurant, but I can never remember the name of them--I'm terrible at that stuff. But I'll tell you what, I'm such a sports fan that if it's basketball or football season, that's what I'm trying to get to--either a Bears game--or the Cubs or the Bulls. But now, my buddy [Brandon Marshall] got traded to the Bears, so I definitely gotta come to a couple of games this year. Yes--you'll definitely see me at a Bears game.


See Gary Owen, along with comedians Tony Roberts, Capone, Michael Blackson and special guest, DJ Spinderella, in "Shaquille O'Neal Presents: All Star Comedy Jam," at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress, Friday, June 15. Show time is 8pm; tickets are $42.50-$53 and are on sale online or by phone at 800-982-2787. For more information, visit the website.

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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »


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