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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Stand-up Mon Feb 11 2013

Still Standing: An Interview with Comedian Sinbad

sinbad.pngFor a great example of longevity in the world of entertainment, look no further than the legendary Sinbad; the veteran comedian, named one of "Comedy Central's 100 Greatest Stand-Ups of All Time," has enjoyed a solid, decades-long career that includes movies, television, stand-up specials and more. Whether he's talking about politics or pop culture, relationships or reality shows, Sinbad's "straight, no chaser" style has kept audiences laughing for years. I spoke with him in advance of his show this Friday night at The Chicago Theatre, as he discussed his career's early days, his love of funk music and why he rejects the "clean comedian" label.

On how he "stumbled" into the world of stand-up comedy:

It just happened — there was no specific pattern. I just knew as a kid that I wanted to be famous or that I was gonna play basketball or play music. I didn't even know about stand-up; I mean, I knew I was funny, but I figured I'd make movies and just do that. Back then, there was no HBO or anything — there was no way for me to even know how a comedian even became a comedian, other than to watch them on TV. I didn't know how that worked.

Setting the tone for his career:

The first time I walked on stage, I had no style. I was in the Air Force and there was a talent show and there was a comedy category and an emcee category. I was the only one in the comedy category and I lost because I was trying to do this routine I wrote and it didn't work. When I got ready to emcee, there was a keyboard player from Nashville who asked to see my jokes. I gave them to him and he threw them in the trash and said, "Man, just be you — whatever you are and that thing that you do." And that became my style — just talking and winging it.

How the industry has changed since his career began:

What's different now is that you don't have to be talented. You don't have to dance, sing, be funny — nothing. Sly Stone said something once; he said, "The audience is on stage, and the stage is in the audience." There was a time when if you wanted to be a comedian or a singer, or in a band, you would say to yourself, "I've gotta learn how to sing," or "I've gotta take some acting lessons"; now, you just act stupid.

The reality show formula and the Kardashians:

You go on a show, throw a drink in somebody's face, be loud or just be...nothing. I mean, look at Kim Kardashian — she's probably making more money than anybody out there and she's everything you told your daughter not to do. And her mom considers herself to be a great publicist, but I'm just gonna say it: She pimps her children. And if that's what's called being a "great publicist," then more power to her. It obviously worked. Your Chicago homeboy Kanye fell for it, too...

Music as his first love:

I haven't played music in 30 years but I bought a drum kit and I got addicted. My first love was music and that's why I always did those funk festivals and things like that. And I've got my little funk band called Memphis Red and the Stank Nasty Band. "Memphis" is nothing like me; he is crazy. I'm gonna bring the band to Chicago, too.

Being labeled a "clean" comedian:

I hate that label. I was dirty when I started but I cleaned it up; I really can do it any way I choose to do it. I'll go at anybody — I don't care what language you use, I'll take you out. I'm just as controversial, even more so, than a man who curses. I talk about every subject and I'm not scared of any subject. When Richard Pryor and Lenny Bruce were being dirty they paid a price — they got arrested and were taken off shows. And that was bold; nowadays, how bold are you when you get rewarded for it? How controversial are you when everybody wants that?

On whether Walter Oakes, his character from"A Different World,"would be popular among black youth today:

I don't even think it would work — I don't even know if people want to see that any more. I don't know if black kids will watch another "A Different World." If there was another "Walter Oakes," I think you'd have to make him a little more edgy and keep up with the times, but he can't be stupid.

On performing the day after Valentine's Day:

Valentine's Day don't mean nothing. It's a pressure day for men — all they can do is just survive it. It's a "made up" holiday that they put too close after Christmas. And for the men trying to figure out when to break up, make that break in the first two weeks of the year, around January 14; otherwise, you just look cold-blooded.

Future projects:

Right now, I've got some things I've got some things I want to do: I've got movies I want to write and I want to write music. I want to write a song, too; I've never done that. But we're gonna make that happen.


Catch Sinbad at The Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State St., Friday, Feb. 15 at 8pm; tickets are $29.50-$49.50 and are available online, at the box office or by phone, 1-800-745-3000.

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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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