New film Dying Laughing has officially been released everywhere and looks to capture the true stories surrounding stand-up comedy. Comedy veteran Tommy Davidson who has ultimately done it all in comedy makes an appearance in the film to share his thoughts on comedy. Now in a talk with Comedy Hype; Tommy had some time to discuss his career, crazy story involving a highway and comedy club, and working with other greats like Martin Lawrence & Jamie Foxx.
CH: Dying Laughing is a pretty transparent story showing the journey of comedians and the stuff they go through. Is there story you might have on making a sacrifice or showed your early on deception to the craft?
TD: That is easy. I can. I have performed on a diving board in an empty swimming pool in South Central LA and ain’t get paid. Got stiffed. That’s how serious I am about stand-up…. I went to one club and the dude said ‘we’re having problems with the wall. The wall’s under construction. I’m like cool. I had a two-day gig and just started…. I took a cheap plane and everything. I get to the club and the wall is covered with glad trash bags. A whole lot of them (bags) are taped together and the thing is facing the highway. That’s the back of the stage, the wall behind the stage where I’m standing is glad trash bags taped together and behind me is the highway. So I’m performing and mac trucks are going by. Now what? Another time was when I went with Tim Allen all the way to Denver Colorado. I’m like, “okay, cool. I’m going to kill this.” It was a private show for white men about 70 years old. Allen does jokes about John Deer, lawn mowers and fixing things around the house. That’s how he got that show. So I go up there, ‘y’all know who Michael Jackson is. Ya know, this, this, that and that.” I got through the show but that was a tough show.
CH: In your opinion, who’s one of the most fearless comedians that you saw, and it can be yourself, but anyone you felt was the most fearless when it comes to stand-up?
TD: Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor… Chris Rock..
CH: What makes them fearless?
TD: They come up with an idea that they think is going to work and they do it anyway regardless of what you think. They believe in ideas so much they’re going to do it anyway. So if Eddie Murphy says “Im going to make a joke about Jackie Gleason from Honeymooners and it’s a joke about the dude getting fucked in the ass, [Eddie’s] gonna say it. “How bout you, fuck ME, in the ass!” Ya know what I mean? That’s pretty bold. To take one of the most iconic, white culturally, white Americana sitcoms and a black man say “how bout you fuck me in the ass.”…. That’s courage. But he’s just a reflection of his audience because there’s got to be somebody that laughed at it.
CH: You did a sketch with Tupac on Living Color. I heard he used to go to The Comedy Store in Los Angeles. Do you have any stories running into Pac on the comedy scene?
I really never ran into Pac on the comedy scene cause Pac blew up fast. He started branching off into acting which was natural for him to do our show because we were the hottest show. But I didn’t really know him that well until I met him on the show. I was really impressed by him because he was a lot like me. A little intellectual, really quiet, humble and respectful. So, the hip-hop persona, it presented that duality that African Americans deal with. We are part street survival and we’re another portion loving & spiritual individuals. How can we not be with our Grandmothers? We’re forced out in the street, you can be Bob Johnson a Billionaire just going to get a haircut around the way and get stuck up by your own. So, we have to have that sense about ourselves. He had both of them.
CH: Pac was definitely one of a kind as far as that genre of entertainment. We notice you do a lot of act outs on stage. There’s a lot of physicality that can go into your material. Did you start off that way or did it develop at one point?
TD: Yea, I meant to do that. I worked really hard on every innuendo of what I’m about doing. I think through my ideas. I work them until they work. I take them to their maximum. I take standup as seriously as Michael Jordan takes basketball or Tom Brady takes football or Belichick takes coaching or Louis Armstong takes jazz.
CH: If you weren’t doing comedy, what would it be?
TD: I’d probably be in the kitchen somewhere because that’s where my background was working. I‘d be doing a great job because I love cooking. I take my passion where it’s allowed to flourish or take it somewhere I can survive with it.
CH: Before you go on stage do you have to have a certain vibe? Is there any particular song or music that puts you in a great mood before you hit the stage?
I read it off the audience. I know music that well. I look at my audience and say “Ok, this look like the Doobie Brothers or Earth Wind And Fire crowd. This [crowd] looks like Frankie Beverly would do it or Drake would do it.
CH: Living Color, they tried to bring it back and it never came to fruition. Do you feel like maybe that was the right decision on that?
TD: It wasn’t my decision to make. The executive producer Kenan Waynes is a genius, period. So I trust him. He’s like Belichick, “let me run this play.” You know what I mean. In order to get to another level, you have to be humble enough to listen to a truth and not try to know it all.
CH: You worked with some big names in comedy, previous and of current today. Jamie Foxx, you’ve worked with him a couple times. What comedian do you think Jamie could pull off as a bio-pic.
TD: I think Jamie did his role. He did Ray, that was all him. Jamie from Texas, got soul, can play, can sing. Jamie got experience. That was a perfect role for him. I think Jamie did it. As far as Richard Pryor goes, I think Mike Epps is the dude.
CH: Why do you think Epps has it?
TD: He’s just got that thing that Pryor got where he can talk from the soul. Got that thing, Lauryn Hill was talking about.
CH: Let’s transition to one more person you worked with which was Martin Lawrence and you were Varnell Hill on Martin. When you worked with him. You know that scene, y’all talked about “flipping it, and lay it to the side”. That broke him up. What was the back story? Was that all improv?
All [improv] cause you know he had got a TV show and he was like ‘ I mean, I got a TV show and you don’t know how it is. But not only do I know how it is, I know the other flip side and I flipped it on him. [Laughs}
CH: So, he wasn’t ready for that?
TD: Like Cooper wasn’t ready for the dunk Doctor J put on him.
CH: So it broke him up?
TD: Yea, it looked like it was gone be a lay-up. Swung around and it was a dunk.
CH: After, when it had cut, what was Martin’s reaction?
TD: Respect. He was like “Aight man, you got it.”