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Comedy Sun Sep 16 2012
From impressions to physical comedy to acting, Tommy Davidson is one of the funniest stand-up comedians in the business. Known for playing a host of hilarious characters on the iconic 90s sketch comedy series "In Living Color," and for making special guest appearances on hit comedies like "Martin," "The Bernie Mac Show" and "Everybody Hates Chris," Davidson has been bringing the laughs for a long time. Currently amid a national stand-up tour, I caught up with the comedian backstage after one of his shows at UP Comedy Club to talk about show business, his upcoming projects and his strong ties to some of Chicago's comedy legends.
You've been all over town during your time here--I even saw a picture online of you dancing with the Rockettes during their Chicago visit--how has the Windy City been treating you?
I love it. Chicago is always good--like my roots in DC--where people come out and I can give them the real stuff.
Through your movies, TV and stand-up comedy specials, you've been in the business for a long time--what would you say is different about the business now versus those early days?
There are not a lot of opportunities in movies and TVs like it used to be for [African-Americans]. Back in the 90s, if you had a good idea, you had a good chance of having a TV show; now, it's just a lot more different to get a movie deal without them putting you in a DVD deal. With that, they're able to still make money off you, but you can't make money and you can't further your star status because you can't get on the big screen. Since they control it, they just go, "Well, our choice is to make money off you in the DVD--why put you in the theater?" And your contention is, "Well, if I'm in the theater, then I can go to my next movie and I might be able to make some more money for me." And their thing is, "We're gonna make out and we don't care." And I think that's the deal now--at least that's how it's been going.
A lot of your stand-up--and your work in general--involves singing and music in some sort of way. If you didn't take the comedy route, would there be an album somewhere?
There's gonna be.
Really? You're planning to do music?
Yes! Jamie [Foxx] was just first--which I'm glad, because he broke it open for me. Now it's time for me to do my thing. It'll come when it's supposed to...
Speaking of singing, you do a mean impression of both Al Jarreau and Sammy Davis Jr., are those two among your favorites?
Sammy--yes... I wanted to do him this weekend, but I've got a cold...so my voice isn't as good as it's been. I'll get back to it, though.
You also do a pretty good impersonation of our President--was he difficult to master?
No--not at all. Actually, it's just one of those things that when an impression comes to me, I can do it. If it's too hard, I just don't, but the ones that come to me, I do well. And those are the only ones that count.
Your career also includes lots of voice animation, having voiced Oscar Proud on Disney's "The Proud Family," and currently, we hear you as Cream Corn on Adult Swim's "Black Dynamite"--what do you like best about voicing animated characters?
I like that I don't have to worry about how I look on camera. I can just express myself and make whatever sounds and voices I need to make and not worry about how I look.
You also have a dramatic side, but the last time we really saw you in a non-comedic role was in Spike Lee's Bamboozled. Is there any more dramatic acting on the horizon for you?
It'll come. I'm working on Sammy Davis [story] and whatever else is next. Ain't nothing standing in my way.
Of course, no conversation with Tommy Davidson would be complete without talking about "In Living Color," which is, as you know, beloved by many people from both an entertainment and social standpoint. Why do you think the show resonated with everybody?
Because it was really funny--it was genuinely funny. It was one of the funniest things ever that will stand the test of time because it was just pure.
There is talk of a new version of "In Living Color;" however, in some ways, die-hard fans, caught up in the nostalgia of it all, are seemingly split about a new version hitting the air. What are your thoughts on that?
Knowing Keenen [Ivory Wayans], it's gonna be different. And it'll work because he's a genius. I trust him explicitly when it comes to comedy; I've never been around anybody as good as him.
You're here in Chicago for a four-day run at UP Comedy Club, but you're no stranger to the Chicago comedy scene, having worked with filmmaker/director Robert Townsend, fellow "In Living Color" alum T'Keyah Crystal Keymah and of course, late comedians Robin Harris and Bernie Mac. Can you talk about your ties to them?
T'Keyah, Robin and Bernie are the three I have an affinity for. And George [Willborn], too. It's just that I have known them since the very beginning before anybody had a TV or movie career, when we were all stand-ups in the same pot. We were all out here in the same pool of talent kicking everyone's asses. And Robert Townsend is one of the people who gave me my first break, so I owe Chicago a lot.
With your stand-up, what do people get from a Tommy Davidson show?
Mine are always funky and nice. I'm just blessed. I can go out on the weekend and work at these comedy clubs when nothing else is happening--it's like the one thing that's always been there for me. It's the one thing nobody can touch--it's all mine.
Speaking of stand-up, every now and then, you hear stories of comedians "retiring" from standup--how would you respond to that?
I don't ever believe that, though. Stand-up is too easy to do; I mean, whenever one of them decides they want to do a standup special, they can. It's really one of the easiest things to do--and I love it.
Catch Tommy Davidson's last Chicago show at UP Comedy Club, 230 W. North Ave., tonight at 8pm. Tickets are $20; for more information, call 312-662-4562.
Photo courtesy of: tommydavidson.net