Cedric the Entertainer on Spike Lee, Prince … and trying not to embarrass the President
by Jason Webber
After you talk to Cedric the Entertainer, you just wanna hug the guy. What you see onstage is what you get when you’re just chatting with him—he’s laid-back, jovial, friendly, and very, very funny. The Artist Formerly Known as Cedric Antonio Kyles will be yukking it up at the Dayton Funny Bone on Friday, January 20 and Saturday, January 21. Dayton City Paper caught up with the Entertainer to discuss his comedic influences, his turn on Broadway, and how to avoid dissing the president to his face.
Dayton City Paper: So where’d you get the name Cedric The Entertainer?
Cedric the Entertainer: Well, comedy is mostly booked by time increments. You work for 30 minutes, you get this kind of money, you work an hour, you get this kind of money. And when I was starting out, I wanted the 30-minute money. But the problem was I didn’t have 30 minutes worth of jokes, so I would sing, I would dance, I would do funny poems, I would do anything I could to fill up my 30 minutes. When a guy was introducing me one night, I told him “Don’t call me a comedian; I only have five minutes worth of jokes.” So he was like “this is Cedric the Entertainer.” I took the stage, did my routine and it was really well received and after I got off, he called me Cedric the Entertainer again. And that was it. That was my name.
Who were the standup comics who inspired you to go into comedy?
Richard Pryor was the first. As a kid I’d have to sneak in and listen to Richard Pryor’s albums without my parents finding out. I loved Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, the late Robin Harris; “Bebe’s Kids” was one of my favorite influences because (Harris) came across like he was your uncle or your cousin and that’s the kind of attitude I took onstage. And, of course, the great Eddie Murphy. [CE]
My first big exposure to your comedy was your appearance in Spike Lee’s documentary “The Original Kings of Comedy.” What are some of your other favorite Spike Lee joints?
“Mo’ Better Blues” and “Malcolm X.” I thought (Spike) really captured the essence and message of Malcolm X in that movie and “Mo’ Better Blues” was just cool because of the music and the style of the film and Robin Harris was in it. Really cool movie. [CE]
You were good friends with the late, great Bernie Mac. What was your favorite memory of working with Bernie?
Oh man, my favorite memory of Bernie was when we were on the first tour of The Original Kings of Comedy. I wasn’t married at the time but Bernie and Steve were. At the time, after the show, I would pack my (dressing) room with all of the stars and all the girls — it was packed. I remember Bernie came offstage one night and went into my dressing room and did another 15-minute routine just for my guests. He killed and then just walked out, like “Bernie Mac out!” Every applauded. It was just so smooth and cool. I miss him. [CE]
You performed at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner during the Bush administration. What’s the weirdest thing about performing comedy in front of the president?
Well, the biggest thing is, you know you have to watch your language. But then the other question is, how hard do you go on the President? The thing about it was, Bush was getting beaten up on really badly at that point, but luckily I had a lot more jokes where I could talk about Dick Cheney or Condoleezza Rice, so I kinda did Bush a favor. Especially since his wife had gone on right before me and had beaten him up with jokes pretty badly. [CE]
You recently starred on Broadway in a production of David Mamet’s “American Buffalo.” Did you ever get stage fright?
The first couple of times, yeah. It’s such a trapeze act. It’s so totally different from standup because you’re obligated to know the words of the playwright. You don’t get the freedom to improvise or jump off the page. When you’re doing Broadway, it’s the Flying Willowski Brothers up there—everybody’s on this rope doing splits for the audience and you’ve gotta stay on pace and on time. But after the first few times, I got into a rhythm and I really enjoyed it quite a bit. [CE]
How do you create new standup material? Do you actually sit down and write or do you just find a comedy club or an open mic on an off night and go in there and work out material in front of a crowd?
I write a few times out of the week. I just sit down and let the ideas come out of my head. I’m touring with some really funny young guys and we have sessions where we’ll sit down in my room and just start firing off jokes. I love to do standup and I get really restless if I’m just sitting at home, so that’s why I really love touring. [CE]
You once wrestled on WWE’s “Raw.” Did you get hurt?
No, man. I was putting it down. I tagged out pretty quickly though, because I didn’t want to embarrass them on their own TV show. So I just went ahead and let John Cena do his thing so he wouldn’t feel bad. [CE]
Final question: What’s your favorite Prince album?
I’m gonna go with “1999.” The one with “D.M.S.R.” and “Lady Cab Driver.” I was in college when that came out, and that was my jam, man. [CE]
Reach DCP freelance writer Jason Webber at JasonWebber@DaytonCityPaper.com