“The great comics,” Paul Mooney said in his 2009 memoir Black is the New White, “always have the greatest laughs.”
After almost a half-century of stand-up, script work (Saturday Night Live, Sanford and Son, In Living Color), and general envelope-pushing, the 70 year-old has no shortage of enthusiasts to champion his place among the great comedic minds. “Paul Mooney is a genius, brilliant, a legend, and a force to be reckoned with,” wrote Dave Chapelle, the person most responsible for introducing Mooney to younger audiences through Chapelle’s Show‘s Negrodamus and Ask a Black Dude segments. Sandra Bernhard, who worked with Mooney on The Richard Pryor Show, put it slightly more assertively: “I think if anyone’s afraid of Paul Mooney, good. Stay afraid. Because it means you’re shut down and fucked up and closed off and you have no soul. I wouldn’t try to coerce anyone into loving Paul Mooney.”
Soulless or not, plenty have bristled at the unmitigated candor that Mooney brings to his social criticism and the discussion of race in America. He is a performer who relishes making his audiences uncomfortable and that bomb-hurling tendency has occasionally landed him in hot water. In 2006, he was pulled off stage midway through a recording of “Showtime at the Apollo” for cracks about the Bush twins (who he dubbed “Gin and Juice”) and their grandmother Barbara (who he said “looks like the man on the oatmeal box”). In 2005, BET edited the majority of his “Nigga Wake Up Call Awards” from a special when the celebrity-skewing bit upset some high-profile attendees. And from time to time, he’ll find his name splashed across news outlets for some incendiary quip, like calling Oprah “Aunt Jemima with a degree,” or being the only one to praise Kanye for crashing Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech.
For anyone on the fence, mulling whether he belongs among comedy’s legends, consider one thing undeniably in his favor: Paul Mooney has a hell of a laugh.
It’s drunken and booming. Midway through, it stutters and elevates to a higher pitched cackle. It’s deeply felt, and something that’s hard to picture a person unleashing without his eyelids involuntarily clenching shut, and so it made sense that after one fit, Mooney would pull to the side of the highway he was driving down to continue his conversation with me. Where he was headed at that moment and why he was in no apparent hurry were questions left unanswered, but we do know that this Friday and Saturday he’ll be holding court at the Howard Theater.
It was my informing him of this that triggered his pronounced laughter. Mooney had been fishing for details on the upcoming shows, trying to play off that he might not remember when he was going to be in DC, but he couldn’t help finding humor in learning that they would be in just few days. He gathered himself and made an admission: “You know more about it than me.”
Then Mooney told me what I imagine he hears inside his head each time he walks onto a stage: “Go ahead. Talk.”
Tickets for the Saturday’s performance are still available, but Friday is sold out. Both nights are produced in association with Jill Newman Productions and PM7 Entertainment.
BYT: When I was researching what you’ve been up to lately, I noticed you don’t have a Twitter account like a lot of comedians now do, or even a website . Is there a reason you’ve avoided an online presence?
That information is out there. You just haven’t looked up the right stuff. They got it on there. I’m all over the place. I’m all over that thing. Everyone has something on me. I don’t have to do it. They all have it. It’s on there 24-7. It’s same thing with television. I’m all over the place. You just have to look for it. You just have to download it. It’s everywhere.
BYT: But is there a reason why you don’t have a direct channel online?
I don’t do all that because I’m not into all of that. I’m not in that white man’s – what do you call it? Big Brother? That he wants to know where you are and what you’re doing. I wouldn’t have a cell phone if it wasn’t for my mother. If my mother wasn’t alive, I wouldn’t have a cell phone. All that stuff is to know what you’re doing and where you’re at and who you’re doing it with. I avoid it to secure my privacy. That goes for you too. You do know that? That’s why I don’t do it. They all do it for me.
Also, the minute you get fame, forget it. They’re all piggybacking and tweaking and “my best friend” and all this other crap. It’s all just nuts. And now the religious people are out there working it. Now they’re putting it together. Who would have thought that would ever happen? That “Dates for God” crap. [Laughs] What are you snickering about? It’s the truth!
BYT: I know – my girlfriend is Jewish and I’m not, so whenever one of the those Christian Mingle commercials comes on, I joke that I’m going to join and find myself a good Christian girl.
That’s so funny. It’s true.
BYT: Has this year meant a lot of touring for you?
Dick Gregory and I are getting ready to go international. We’re going to leave country, and we’ve just been in America rehearsing, practicing, getting ready to take the “Wake Up” tour international. Dick Gregory and myself have been down South and back East. We’ve been hitting a few places in the Bay area. You know, Little Europe: Oakland, Berkley, San Francisco.
BYT: Do you enjoy life on the road?
Yeah. It’s fun. I love traveling. But I also love my audience. I love the one-on-one with the audience.
BYT: Do you find time to go out and wander around when you’re visiting a city?
I do that all the time. I’m Neighborhood, not Hollywood. I catch a bus. I ride the train. I do it all the time. I have to put myself on the pulse of the people. I have to know what’s going on. If you don’t get out there and you’re not out there with them, then you’re not going to know. You can only vicariously think if you don’t get out there, but if you actually know then you know.
BYT: Who needs the internet when you can talk to people?
Right. The Internet is not people.
BYT: How would your describe your relationship with DC over the years then?
I love DC. I love the climate. I love the White House. I love all that. I love all of it, especially America and our black president. I love the phoniness of everything. You know, “God bless America,” “in God we trust” – all that phoniness. I love the singing – what is it, “the home of the brave?”
BYT: Land of the free, home of the brave.
Yeah, the home of the slaves. [Laughs] It’s just the best.
BYT: What are your thoughts on Obama’s time in office?
Obama is living proof that all black people don’t look alike. No one’s ever told me, “Good morning, Mr. President,” so I know that we all don’t look alike. They can stop that bullshit. He’s the best. A black president is the best. It’s just the best.
BYT: Do you think he’s been an effective leader? Do you think he’s gotten a harder time because of his race?
Do you know what Obama had to do to become president? Do you think a black man can get in that office without paying a lot of dues? Obama had to go through hell to get in there. It just didn’t happen over night. That doesn’t happen. I mean, for a black man to get a job anywhere is hard. It’s not easy. That’s not an easy thing, to be the president. Try walking in those shoes for one day. You’ll see. It’s crazy.
But it’s the best that it can happen in America. I love it. And it happens in families. Listen, most human beings are selfish. They’re not givers. Even your children are selfish. I don’t know if you have children, and if you don’t ,you’ll see when you do. Even your children are a trip, especially now that black is the new white. Black kids are trying to act like white kids and killing themselves and killing their parents. They’re a victim of their environment. My son told me he was going to kill himself. I couldn’t believe it. It was like something out of “Leave it to Beaver”. I said, “You’re going to kill yourself? You’ve done and watched too much white TV. What’s wrong with you?” You know how they get: “I don’t want to live.” I said, “Really? Ok, but before you go ahead and kill yourself, let me take out a huge policy on you.” Then he changed: “You’re not going to get rich off of me! I’m going to live!” See? I said, “Well, when you thought I was broke, you wanted to kill yourself, but now that you think I’m getting money, you want to live forever.” It’s selfishness: “You’re not going to get rich off me.”
BYT: Do you think Obama will win another term?
Obama will be president. As sure as we are talking, he will be president of the United States. It’s a done deal.
BYT: Why is that?
Because it just is. Because there are a lot of problems. White people are habit creatures. They’re used to blaming a black person. As long as it’s screwed up out there, they’re not going to put some white man in there to clean up that crap. Even when they had a crazy in there, they didn’t blame Bush. So, you know, they’re habit creatures. “See? We have a black president. See what he did? See?” Everything is Obama’s fault. You know: “My foot hurts. My butt hurts. It’s Obama’s fault.”
BYT: But wouldn’t that be the argument for not reelecting him?
No. Why? Is that the argument when they say, “All black people steal or go to jail”? You think that’s an argument? C’mon, that’s what they believe. It’s what they think. They’re victims of their environment. Obama will be president. There will never be another white president again. Once you vote black, you never go back. It’s a done deal. That white man thing is over with. The world has gotten wise to him. That John Wayne thing is dead. It used to be a different world.
BYT: You’re saying that things have changed, so do you think America has made strides in terms of racial prejudices?
Hell no. America is made up of race. They live on it. They worship it. That’s their idol.
BYT: As means of reinforcing class?
Just period. They love it. It comes from that old Europe stuff. That’s why they try to hang onto that Queen Elizabeth crap and royalty and all that. They’re trying to hang on to the old ways to make them feel comfortable.
BYT: So you weren’t tuning into the Diamond Jubilation?
No. I don’t think so. [Laughs] It’s just the way it is. Let me tell you something: You said you lived with a Jewish woman, right? I call them the fake white people. You think white people don’t feel the same way about Jews that they did years ago? You think things have changed? I’m not a Jew and I hear them talk. It’s deep. And when you tell a Jew about it, they really don’t want to hear it. They’re in denial, like a lot of blacks are. Who wants to be bottom on the totem pole? You know what I’m saying?
BYT: Who is on the bottom of the totem pole?
I think, now and always, the Indians. That’s why they’re on reservations. They hate the Indians, because the Indians are a reminder of what they’ve done in this country and what they’ve done to them. And you can’t make an Indian a slave. They never got over that. [Laughs] You know they never got over that. You can’t make one a slave.
That brainwashing, that psychological brainwashing and that hypnotic suggestion stuff, that Coca-Cola crap: All that stuff is real. The white man is real good at that. That comes from Europe. They real good at that. It’s like with that Precious crap, that pedophile crap – it all comes from England and marrying each other and cousins and their blood and all that crap. That’s where it all comes from. That’s why they’re all so ugly. It’s from marrying their cousins and their sisters and their brothers. It’s very scary.
BYT: You certainly see historically the effect that inbreeding had on nobility in terms of susceptibility to diseases.
Yeah! It’s where that all comes from. The white man spreads diseases – that’s why those rats followed them from Europe. You think those rats were going to let him get away? [Laughs] Those rats turned into acrobats on the ship ropes. When did rats learn to walk on ropes? They were following that white man. They weren’t going to just let that disease get away from them.
BYT: When you’re performing, is there anything off limits?
Yes – not being funny. That’s off limits. Funny is funny. Everyone has a thing where they’re like, “Ooh, I don’t talk about this. I won’t talk about the Holocaust. I won’t talk about that.” Everything has some humor to it. That’s God’s work. Whether you believe it or not, everything has a humor to it. A smile is a frown turned upside down, and vice versa, ok? Whether you want to believe it or not, or don’t like it, we all have our rules. We all make our rules. “Oh I don’t like that. I don’t make fun of that and don’t do this.” I say: If you are a Jew, make fun of Jews. If you’re black, make fun of blacks. But if you’re not, now you’re going to have to pull it off. And thank God I’m in America. And thank God for slavery – my blood is mixed, so I can make fun of everyone. I’m everybody’s grandfather.
BYT: Of all the bits you performed, what do you think has gotten the most virulent response?
When I talked about Bush. When Bush was in office, I talked about Bush and they all went crazy. I said a black women was his girlfriend and everyone went nuts.
BYT: When you talked about his relationship with Condoleezza Rice?
Yes. But you notice that it’s okay to talk about Obama.
BYT: I was surprised when you dove into the Rihiana and Chris Brown altercation. People get very touchy about domestic abuse jokes.
But it was very funny and very true. That girl did beat him up. He bit her – you don’t bite people when you beat them up. You bite people when you’re afraid. That goes for you, me, and everyone else. What did Mike Tyson do when he got scared? He bit Holyfield! You don’t bite someone when you’re beating their ass. A bite will get somebody off of you.
BYT: What’s next for you aside from the European tour? Do you have any other projects in the works?
Oh yeah. I have a lot of things, but I don’t want to talk about it. Some movie things are coming up, but I’ll just wait until they’re real. Because they’re all fake, they’re all hearsay until I get that check in my account. Then it’s real.
BYT: Are these projects you’re writing or are you appearing in them?
All of it. I have several hats that I wear. I’m an artist. I’m directing and I’m writing and I’m acting. I’m an artist and I’m happy. And I’m most happy when I’m one-on-one. You know, a live performance. That’s why I love TV, I love the Internet, I love all of that. It empowers comedians. And a comic like me is really empowered.
BYT: Well, I’m looking forward to seeing you in action this weekend.
Bring that fake white girl with you.