Interview with Tommy Davidson
Few comedians have the staying power of Tommy Davidson who has been making us laugh for decades. He’ll be in town starting tomorrow, Friday, August 22, 2019, to perform at Punch Line and chatted with him beforehand about his long career, history with the City of Philadelphia, a potential ‘In Living Color’ reunion, Bigfoot, his advice to other comedians, and a slew of other topics.
Independent Philly: Philadelphia is one of the cities in which you began your comedy career. What was it about Philly that initially attracted you to the city?
Tommy Davidson: Philadelphia is a stone’s throw from Washington, DC. My best friend was from Philly and we were always in Philly; Philly is our sister city. New York is kind of a cousin. I have an affinity for Philly from just knowing the city really good. I did my best comedy special in Philly called, ‘Illin’ in Philly’, which is the biggest comedy success I’ve had to date. It is the city; it was the perfect place to do it. I got love for the place. It’s the most unique city in the country.
Independent Philly: Back when you made ‘Illin’ in Philly’ your material was very topical for the issues of the time period. Without giving away too much, what kind of subjects do you take on in 2019?
Tommy Davidson: A little bit of everything: a little bit of Trump, a little bit of the news, and a whole lot about people. My stand up now focuses on making America laugh again.
Independent Philly: I grew up watching you on ‘In Living Color’ in the 90s. Of all of your characters, which one gets brought up by fans the most when waxing nostalgic about the show?
Tommy Davidson: It’s so hard to tell because we did so much stuff, but probably the ‘Ugly Woman’ with me and Jamie Foxx where you have the massage table and I’m in the Speedos. That’s like Lucy’s candy conveyor belt on ‘I Love Lucy’.
Independent Philly: I have to say, there is a part of me that will always think of you as the little kid that gets tortured by Homey D. Clown.
Tommy Davidson: I was going to say that was a top one too. I got the key line in that whole thing, “Homey don’t play that”, which is something that I came up with.
Independent Philly: The cast of In Living Color was so talented. Has there been any talk of a reunion and would that be something you are open to doing?
Tommy Davidson: I’m open to it… a lot of talk, no action. I’m wishing like everyone else that this thing would hurry up and get done, so we can give everyone what they’ve been waiting for, for a long time. It’s the perfect time and I sure would like to see it happen, I’ll tell you that.
Independent Philly: You’ve had a ton of roles from television to movies. Is there any character that you’d love the chance to reprise?
Tommy Davidson: It probably would be Bobby from ‘Strictly Business’. Bobby was a cool dude, man.
Independent Philly: You’ve been in the world of stand-up comedy for decades. What advice would you offer to someone looking to break into stand-up in 2019 and how has the business changed since you started out?
Tommy Davidson: The business has changed where you don’t need to do live performances, you can just use the internet. If you want to get seen by a lot of people you can just use the internet. I just don’t personally think that the internet can give you an act because you don’t have any collaboration with a live audience. I always recommend that comics who are just starting out, stay on stage seven nights a week, no matter what. You want to get good? Stay on stage seven nights a week. How can you not? Anything you do consistently you can finally get down, right?
Independent Philly: What were some of the biggest challenges to you when you first started out?
Tommy Davidson: Playing to empty rooms, and clubs telling me that I wasn’t what they were looking for. I was funny, and killing everywhere I went, and then a club would tell me, “You’re not what we’re looking for”. I was like, “Isn’t this the place where people go to make people laugh? I’m doing that”, and they’d still say, “You’re not what we’re looking for” and I couldn’t figure out what that was. So I just kept going, and going, and going, until they figured out that what they were looking for was me. It seemed to me like they had their own standard of what they were looking for.
Independent Philly: Bigfoot or Area 51, which one is getting proven or debunked first?
Tommy Davidson: I think Bigfoot will be proven. It’s already hard for human beings to accept that there is anyone out there smarter than them.
Independent Philly: By today’s standards, Bigfoot could probably be the next President of the United States (granted that he was born here).
Tommy Davidson: (laughing) Isn’t THAT right?!
Independent Philly: For your fans in Philly that haven’t seen you perform before, what can they expect from a Tommy Davidson live show?
Tommy Davidson: They can expect the Bruce Lee of comedy. The difference between Bruce Lee and other martial artists is that Bruce Lee did a little bit of everything, and did it all well. That’s the difference between me and other comics: everybody has their own thing that they do. I’ve got a little bit of what everybody does in one person, and I do what I do. They are going to get gumbo. They are going to get one of the best entertainment mixes that their ticket money can buy.
Independent Philly: Tell me something about yourself that would surprise, or even shock, our readers.
Tommy Davidson: I was left in a trash can as an infant. I just finished my book. It’s called, “Tommy Davidson: Living in Color”. It’s about a little black boy who was left in a trash can in Greenville, Mississippi in 1966 and raised by a white woman from Wyoming in an all-black city: Washington, DC. The full description of the book is available on Amazon and it comes out in January.
Who couldn’t use a few laughs in their life these days? The funny arrives tomorrow with Tommy Davidson performing four sets in total, Friday and Saturday nights at 7:30 PM and 9:45 PM. Advanced tickets can be purchased here. All shows at Punch Line at 21+.
[Interview by David J. Miller]