photo by Cynthia Perello
By Darlene Donloe
It was standing room only Friday night, at The Rose in Pasadena, as veteran funnyman Sinbad took the stage to deliver his classic brand of comedy.
Before an appreciative and diverse, sold out crowd that included fans young and old, Sinbad, 59, who has been in the comedy game since he was 26, made it look easy.
From the time he took the stage, until he left nearly two hours later, he held the audience in the palm of his hands. A socially conscious comic, who knows how to add a comedic twist to real issues – Sinbad, who is applauded for not having to use expletives to make his shows funny, spoke about everything from raising children, marriage, health care, his health, his battle with ADHD, parenting, getting old and yes, even Donald Trump.
Donned in white tennis shoes, blue jeans, black and blue peace sign on his t-shirt, a gold cross around his neck, earrings in his ears and sporty, dark glasses and a black t-shirt, Sinbad, a Michigan native who hilariously thinks of himself as not being black or light skinned but ‘dark white,’ readies himself for a night of fun.
So do his long time fans, Cynthia and Ibarionex Perello, who were in the audience and excited about the prospect of seeing one of their favorite comics perform.
“Sinbad is the cleanest and funniest comedian out there, hands down,” said Cynthia Perello. “His show was so much fun. Sinbad didn't skip a beat after all these years. We've been fans for as long as we can remember. He resonated with his audience well without using any references of filth, vile references or cursing. He was just pure comedy. His material was sincere, natural and timely.”
Before his show, I sat down with Sinbad in the green room to talk about his career. In the midst of a nationwide tour, traveling about seven or eight months off and on, Sinbad, whose favorite comic vets include Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor, Jonathan Winters, Redd foxx and Robins Willias, was in rare form.
DD: You’ve been in the game for a while, how has comedy changed and how has your show changed?
S: My approach hasn’t changed. You adapt. The deal is to stay relevant. When my world changed, I didn’t go off and be a hermit. I changed just like technology changed. I changed like everybody else changed. If you didn’t, you got left behind. It’s hardest for younger comics to get into the game today. No big comedy clubs and they don’t pay them. They can’t make money. Now you’ve go to go viral and trend. Now you’re competing with people who aren’t even comedians. I saw where Nene Leakes working in a comedy club. NeNe Leakes is a comic now. She is headlining. NeNe Leakes. You know why? Because reality shows got so big. She’s loud. People think when you’re loud, you’re funny. Although that’s how comics become comics. There has to be some likability. I’m not saying she’s not likeable. She became likeable by the way she talks to people. But, I’m not saying she’s not funny. That’s just me talking. More power to you.
DD: Describe what happens the day you’re scheduled to perform. Walk me through it. How do you prepare.
S: Each day is different. I just flew in from Phoenix. Before that I was on the road. My son got married. I had five shows in Florida. Came here. Did a benefit in Phoenix. I landed here today in Burbank. Today I started taking bass lessons. Trying to learn a song. Did that for a while. I leave tomorrow. Going to Seattle, then I go to Nashville. I’m 60. I’m going to have heart attacks with all these 7a.m. flights. I’m doing more comedy clubs than I’ve ever done. I’m trying not to have back to back a.m. flights, though. I’m tired now. It’s combining family and job and everything.
DD: What is your life like during the year? How many shows a year?
S: I do about 150-200 shows a year. That’s what I do. When movies aren’t happening and TV is not happening, there is always comedy. Comedy is always number one. I have a job. Bill Cosby used to say, ‘ I’m a comedian – slash – everything else.’ That’s what sets us apart from other people.
DD: Do you write ALL of your own jokes? Describe that process.
S: No, I don’t write my jokes, it just comes. It’s like jazz. I know the keys, I know the notes. I just hear what I want to do. Every night I do something new. If I do two shows a night, I do two different shows. But, that’s not new. That’s what I’ve always done.
DD: You must have gotten some great material from this election year?
S: They just made it to easy. The hits just keep on coming. Everybody is jumping on stage. You can be president, especially if you talk dumb enough. Americans love dumb talk. We love dumbness. We love loudness. We love rudeness. We love hoes. Now we love everything we used to say no to.
DD: How do you know when something is funny?
S: It’s like music. You know what works. You trust it. You get older and you just trust it.
DD: Are you encouraged or discouraged by your industry, and why?
S: It has never embraced me. Me and my brother, Mark, we busted our butts. We did our own shows. We did our own stuff. We did it ourselves. They thought because I was clean, I wasn’t funny. It was almost like I was non-black. I’m the most militant brother I know. To them - cursing is blackness. When we’re not cursing we’re not being funny. When we’re cussing, we’re black. So I guess Robin Williams is black. Lenny Bruce is black. Everybody is black now. They put you in a box in Hollywood. There was a time at first when you think you’re killin it. You think they are about to grab me up. Then, it doesn’t happen. They pass you up for someone else. You get a chip on your shoulder. When you think you’ve earned something – that’s when you’ve taken your eyes off the prize. You can suck and work. It gives me hope. You can suck….and work. Well, just wait until you see me.
DD: Who is killin it in the comedy game right now, – besides you, of course? Who makes you laugh and why?
S: Most of the same cats who have been killin it forever, are the ones that make me laugh. Kevin Hart is killin it career wise. Trevor Noah is very funny. Y’all need to pay attention to him. People keep asking for Jon Stewart to come back. But, Trevor is killing it. He’s funny and intelligent.
DD: Lets talk about the personal side of Sinbad. Describe yourself.
S: I love music. I’m a nerd, particularly a tech nerd. It changes. I have ADHD. I’m not going to stay in it– I’m going to change the game. When I get tired, I move on. When the game changes it does bother me, but we have to change with the game. Our success from the 70s used to be called creativity.
DD: What issues are dear to you?
S: Education, equality. Health care. Racism. This country is still dealing with racism. Donald Trump has showed us he can act a straight up fool and people will still believe in him. He said once that he could shoot someone they would still follow him. He was right, people would still follow him. It got to the point that David Dukes , an open Klan member can run for president. He says, ‘looks like people are ok with it.’ It’s now safe for Klan members. A lot of people are thinking, ‘I can put my robe back on, yep, I can put my robe back on.’
DD: What really angers you?
S: Ignorance. People who believe in that entitlement. Believing you’re entitled to something. Believing this is your country. Believing the military belongs to you, God belongs to you. They believe they are the only ones who care about America.
DD: You have a serious side. Do people always expect you to be on?
S: Some people do. People who know you adjust to you. Young comics are always on. After you’ve been out there a while you understand that you don’t have to prove it.
DD: Tell me something that your fans don’t know – and might surprise them.
S: I tell everything. When I’m on stage, I tell everything. If you haven’t see me you might be shocked to know that I cuss. They don’t think I cuss. I mean I really cuss.
DD: Do you remember your first professional laugh. If so, tell me about it.
S: I don’t know. I guess it was when I was in the Air Force talent show. It was a joke a dude gave me. I didn’t know how to tell jokes. I said something about a base commander. First time I knew I could get a laugh I was in the eighth grade. I tried to make people laugh. Some of it backfired. I got punched in the face.
DD: What is there left to do? Maybe to do the White House correspondent’s dinner.
S: I did that. I did it for the first President Bush.
I was the comedian for the correspondent’s dinner. They begged me to do it. The year I did it Mayor Pratt was in trouble in D.C. because she said she spaned her kids. When I was on stage I turned around and asked Mrs. Bush is she spanks her kids. She said, ‘yes.’ I said, ‘uh-huh.’ That was it. The trouble was over for Mayor Pratt. Someone said I ended the controversy right then. It wasn’t televised. She was in trouble. I’m that dude. I’m the bull in the china shop.
DD: I get the feeling people think you’re just nice all the time.
S: Oh, yeah. Sometimes white executives will say something disrespectful. I just look at them and say, ‘You must can fight.’ I’m respecting you. You respect me. Sometimes you have to ask for respect . And when you do that, now I’m the one who is hard to work with. Now I’m hard to deal with. I’m still a nerd. I’m that guy that teaches his children that if it’s in a book, it can be learned.