Paul Mooney talks about doing stand up comedy in 2014
Paul Mooney talks about doing stand up comedy in 2014

The Okayplayer Interview: Comic Genius Paul Mooney Talks About Doing Stand Up In 2014

Lenny Kravitz, Grace Jones, Lauryn Hill, Lion Babe, Thundercat, SZA & More Rock The Afropunk Festival 2015 in Brooklyn, NY.Paul Mooney talks about doing stand up comedy in 2014

In case you didn't get the memo, comedy wizard Paul Mooney is on the road again, playing a rare series of bicoastal stand up dates. The Okayplayer generation may know Mr. Mooney best as Negrodamus and the archetypal 'black dude' of the "Ask A Black Dude" sketches on Chappelle's Show. But those (brilliant, hilarious) moments are just the tip of an iceberg of comic genius which extends far below the placid surface of Mr. Mooney's mercurial smile. His career began, in fact, with the fairy tale beginning (literally true in this case) of running away to join the circus--The Charles Grody Circus, to be exact--famously becoming the first African-American ringmaster in U.S. history. He hit the heights of comedy fame as Richard Pryor's writing partner, providing material for Pryor's SNL appearance, the groundbreaking  Live On Sunset Strip album as well the biographical film Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling. Mooney was also head writer for The Richard Pryor Show and In Living Color, in which roles he gave talents such as Robin Williams, Sandra Bernhard, John Witherspoon and Jim Carey (among many others) their first breaks.

More recently, he co-starred with Damon Wayans (not to mention Mos Def and The Roots!) in Spike Lee's film Bamboozled and is currently working with Showtime on his appropriately named live taping The Godfather of Comedy. If you're in Oakland, CA you can catch him tonight or tomorrow (Fri April 18 @ 8pm & 10:30pm and Sat April 19 @ 8pm & 10:30pm) at Yoshi's Jazz Club and then he touches down in New York for a Mother's Day Weekend appearance at B.B. Kings on Saturday, May 10th. Okayplayer could not pass up the opportunity to pick Mr. Mooney's multimillion dollar brain on how doing stand up in 2014 compares with comedy eras past, how the current political scene informs his new material and whether he's ever met an Obama clone. Speaking by phone from his home in Los Angeles, Mooney is as thought-provoking in conversation as he is in his comedy and commentary, and gave us a glimpse of the restless--often subversive--intelligence that drives his humor, as likely to question the assumptions behind your question as give you a straight answer. Hit the links below for ticket info and read on to get Mr. Mooney's answers--and even better--his counter-questions.

>>>Get Tickets For Paul Mooney At Yoshi's (Oakland, CA) Tonight & Tomorrow

>>>Get Tickets for Paul Mooney at BB Kings (NYC) Saturday, May 10

Okayplayer: I'm curious to know whether you find that the material you're taking out on the road now is similar to what people have known you for in previous tours. Do you find that it's evolving--is it still of a very political nature?

Paul Mooney: It's of the nature of honesty, that's what the nature of it is! Someone had asked me the other day about what were the best times for me. The best times for me is now. It's what I do, it's not yesterday. Yesterday is the past. And it's never tomorrow, it's always today. Tomorrow never comes. It's always today. It's what goes on today, and it's wonderful today because it's so exciting. It's exciting, everything's exciting! I love the times now, I love it.

OKP: When you say you're excited about what’s happening now, does that extend to the political landscape and the changes we're living through?

PM: Well there are no changes. Everything's still the same. Nothing's changed politically or racially but the weather. Everything is still the same. We're still on planet Earth, aren't we?

OKP: Think so.

PM: Yeah, so it's still the same. It's just done in a different form now. That's all.

OKP: As someone who's equally famous for your own voice as a stand-up comedian and commentator on the one hand and also as a writer for others, do you find that you have a preference between the two? Is one more satisfying for you? 

PM: No, I wear different hats and every hat that I wear, I wear well. It's just what I do. It's all I'm excited about. I've been on both sides of the area so that's why I'm very aware of what goes on.

OKP: It’s a very different climate for comedy these days--do you find that the audiences you're meeting when you go out on the road are different than previous eras?

Lenny Kravitz, Grace Jones, Lauryn Hill, Lion Babe, Thundercat, SZA & More Rock The Afropunk Festival 2015 in Brooklyn, NY.Paul Mooney talks about doing stand up comedy in 2014 (Bamboozled still)

Paul Mooney in his role as Junebug in Spike Lee's 2000 film Bamboozled.

PM: No. An audience doesn't change. An audience is like a pack of wolves. They don't change--but they can become one.

And also, people put plants in the audience. Comedians do that all the time, they'll put plants in the audience, or they'll bring their own audience. They're all good at doing that.

OKP: You said that nothing's changed but the weather, politically speaking. I wonder what your thoughts are on some of the big questions of our day. The clash between Obama and Putin, for instance…a lot of people are saying that Vladimir Putin's invasion of Crimea is embarrassing Obama, that it makes him look weak.

PM: Why would it make Obama look weak? I don't understand that. Obama's a politician isn't he?

OKP: Definitely.

PM: And isn't the man you just mentioned a politician?

OKP: That's true, although not in the same sense, I guess. He's not somebody who needs to court popularity in the same way that Obama does.

PM: No, they're all in cahoots. Don't you ever kid yourself.

OKP: You think it's all agreed upon?

 PM: If you go right now and jump on Obama and beat him up, that other man will jump on you and beat you up.

OKP: So it's a club, in a sense?

PM: Yeah, of course. Go try it and see what happens to you.

OKP: I'm definitely not gonna try that.

PM: I'm sure you're not! (laughs) –‘cause you'll get your butt whooped. Listen, those politicians in that White House, you think they call it the White House by mistake?

OKP: No… 

PM: You go there and you mess with them and you see what they do. Listen, after they all finish, they sit around and rehearse their lines for the next day. They're all in cahoots.

OKP: Do you think Hillary Clinton will take that spot in 2016--or does it matter?

PM: It doesn't matter. Hillary, everybody's a part of it. They're all a part of it. They're all a part of it. Have you ever noticed the way Hillary dances?

OKP: I can't say I have, no.

PM: Check it out sometime.

OKP: It does make a difference, though ,don't you think? Isn't there a difference between an Obama and a George W. Bush, even if it's just a good cop-bad cop difference?

PM: No, there is no difference between any of them. They're all actors. They're all very good at what they do. There's no good [politicians] and there's no bad…and half of them are clones anyway so it doesn't matter. I'm not kidding, you do know they have doubles?

OKP: Well, we know Saddam Hussein did, so it makes sense that others do. Have you ever met a double? 

PM: Oh yeah.

OKP: Interesting!

PM: You could have met one, too. You just wouldn't know it. Just watch all of them when you see them on TV. You can tell the doubles--the fakes from the reals.

OKP: You say that you're excited about what's going on now, but if you feel that the political landscape is as oppressive as it's ever been comedy hasn't changed…what is it that you're excited about?

PM: I'm excited about life. We're above ground, all of us, so we should be excited. People who aren't above ground aren't excited. They're not here any more. You have to be excited, you're still living. You're still a part of this...illusion.

OKP: What about the world of music--as opposed to comedy or politics? Is there new music that excites or inspires you?

PM: Music is great, music's wonderful. Music's always been great. Music is great as long as you sing the songs that make white people happy...(laughter) What are you laughing at? What makes you laugh, because you know it's true?

OKP: I guess it's just not the kind of criteria I was expecting…

PM: As long as you sing the songs that make white people happy, everybody's happy. You know? As long as you don't say "black and white" together, everything's gonna be okay. Everyone that we know that said "black and white" together, didn't they have problems?

OKP: Well, probably. But a lot of the rest had problems too, wouldn't you say?

PM: Mmmhm. The Beatles? "Black and white together"--problems. Those girls? "Black and white together"--problems. No, when you say "black and white" together, there's problems.

OKP: Sly & the Family Stone I guess I would fall in that category also.

PM: Everybody. The minute you say that, I don't care who you are--an opera singer!--if you say that there's gonna be a problem.

OKP: But are there people that made you happy...that maybe don't get that mainstream, pop culture attention in the world of music?

PM: Well everyone that makes me happy is really world famous…I don't know any unknown singers. And I've always liked my white people white. I've always been that way.

OKP: I see. Not the crossovers, or the reverse crossovers?

PM: No. Look, what's the word you used? Crossover? Isn't that a trip, crossover?

OKP: Or "blue-eyed soul" is another term.

PM: Crossover, what a word..."2-4-6-8 we don't want to integrate." You keep singing that and you'll always be famous. Hello?

OKP: I'm still here!

PM: I thought you were gone after I said that. I thought you fainted or something.

OKP: Not gone, just speechless.

PM: Right. The minute you start talking about black and white together, a hush comes over Jerusalem. That's the way it is, you can hear a rat pissin' on cotton in Georgia.

OKP: I don't think I can think of a better kicker than "a hush comes over Jerusalem" ! --and honestly, we've already talked for more time than we have…

PM: No problem, I appreciate it too, but listen. Just try to be honest, and give people a hug and pass it on. That's worth more than anything else. 

OKP: I'll take that to heart.

PM: Just give somebody a hug and tell them to pass it on…and watch how they look at you. They'll think you're up to something, they'll think you're some kind of freak. Go out and try it right now.

OKP: I might just do that.

>>>Get Tickets For Paul Mooney At Yoshi's (Oakland, CA) Tonight & Tomorrow

>>>Get Tickets for Paul Mooney at BB Kings (NYC) Saturday, May 10

Paul Mooney talks about doing stand up comedy in 2014 (Yoshi's in Oakland, CA)