Comedy as catharsis is an oft-mentioned concept, but that doesn’t make it any less true.
During a Tuesday night interview, veteran stand-up comedian Rodney Perry and I discussed the therapeutic benefits comedy shows can provide for both crowd member and performer. We agreed that for people who truly love telling jokes like him, or for those like me who get a natural high from laughing at them, comedy is a necessity. It’s definitely the healthiest addiction I’ve ever had, and I’ve been lucky enough to live through a couple.
Perry, who headlines Raleigh’s Goodnights Comedy Club this week, started stand-up while he was a teenager in the Navy and he has since gone on to tour the world, act in movies and on TV shows and before our interview Tuesday, Perry interviewed the great Arsenio Hall on his radio show. In addition to the comedy is therapy talk, Perry I chatted about how different his life is after suffering a stroke last September, if he sees a difference in white and black audiences, what he thought of my interview style and much more.
Enjoy the interview, follow Perry on Twitter and don’t forget The Best Tweet I Can Find in Five Minutes at the end.
Tony Castleberry: Were Navy audiences tough or were they happy to have a comedic distraction from military life?
Rodney Perry: Yes and no, man. They were kind of tough because, when I was in the Navy, I was 19 years old and anytime a young guy is telling 30-year-old guys stuff, trying to make them laugh, it’s like, “Come on. Shut up, young fella.” But it was really part of my growing years and my formative years.
I was actually part of a comedy team early on with a guy by the name of Harry Ratchford and he is currently Kevin Hart’s head writer. Harry and I, we were roommates and we would just make up jokes that day and go tell ‘em that night.
The Navy men and women have been awesome to me throughout my career. My shipmates come see me all over the world.
TC: That’s awesome. Getting started in comedy is tough for most everybody, but performing for Navy crowds is not like going up at an open mic in a coffee shop. There was a little more pressure there for you, wasn’t it?
RP: Absolutely, because these are not only members of the United States Navy, they’re also your co-workers. If you do a coffee shop and you have a bad set, you never have to see them people again. [interviewer laughs] If you bomb in front of your co-workers, you’re gonna hear about that forever. It was definitely a different pressure being funny for them, but they were also some of my most enjoyable shows. I still travel to Japan and Europe doing shows for the troops because they’re the most appreciative group, especially when they’re out of the country. A little slice of home is always welcome.
TC: No doubt. Do you enjoy doing stand-up more, less or the same as you did when you first started getting good at it? I’m not talking about when you first started. I mean when you first started feeling good and getting a rhythm and really understood that you were good at it. Do you enjoy it as much now as you did then?
RP: Comedy is my solace. I actually did an interview earlier today with Arsenio Hall and he said, “Rodney, I needed the therapy (that stand-up can provide).” Stand-up for me is like therapy on some level. We don’t really go see a therapist so talking to you guys is kind of our therapy.
I enjoy it the same. The difference is this: I don’t have as many firsts. Early on when you’re just figuring it out, you’ve got the first time you played a theater. You’ve got the first time you played a comedy club. So now it’s not a first. I’m returning to a lot of these places and that takes the wonderment out of it a little bit. … And, you’re good (at performing) now so I kind of know almost every situation I can at least manage. Early on, you weren’t sure about that.
TC: I heard Dean Edwards on satellite radio describing the difference between black and white comedy crowds and he said it’s tougher to get a black crowd on your side, but once they get on board, they ride with you all the way. Would you agree with that assessment?
RP: I mean, maybe, on a minute level. It’s all about finding common threads with people. … It’s those common threads that make people laugh, when the comedian can say one thing that happened to you too.
What happens with black and white is, there are some cultural similarities, but black people are gonna gravitate toward a black comic. We all do it. People don’t admit it. People don’t talk about it, but we all gravitate to people that look like us. That’s OK though. But my audience, when I play comedy clubs, I’m 50-50. I’m probably 60-40 whites to blacks so if I don’t understand how to communicate to my white peers, I’m at a loss.
There’s a niche comic for every type of audience. I will say this: My white counterparts don’t have the same litmus test. A white comic could go his whole career and never make an all-black audience laugh. If I was a white comic, I could go my whole career and never be faced with a black crowd. As a black comic, I don’t have that luxury, but the odds of me ending up with a white crowd are way higher than the reverse.
Regardless of your color, we all need to laugh. Those are some of the common threads and I strike those in my show.
Think of it like this: You’re in the audience. Say you’re on a date. You’re with that special person and the guy on stage broaches a subject that you wouldn’t have talked about for weeks! He sped up the whole relationship because you can go, “Hey baby, would you do that? Yeah? Good to know!”
TC: [laughs] Your “Big Man” bit is hilarious and man, I’m living that struggle to keep from getting big too. Is it tough for you to maintain a healthy diet?
RP: It’s very difficult. This is the thing, man. (Comedians are) up late at night. We’re getting very little sleep. The club generally fries every piece of everything that comes out of the kitchen. [interviewer laughs] You have to be very deliberate.
I don’t know if you know about my health scare, but I had a stroke in September 2016.
TC: Oh my God. No, I didn’t.
RP: It’s imperative. I have to eat right. It’s part of my life now. I try to eat earlier. I might not even eat at the club. I might go to a restaurant and have a salad. I work a little harder at eating better. As we become older, that just becomes more imperative. I swore off red meat. I’m not eating beef or pork right now and I’m not eating any fried foods.
I feel better. My tastebuds have changed. When you have a life-changing experience of any sort and you allow it to affect you, you can lead a better life. I’m leading a much cleaner life across the board right now. I may have had two drinks in the last six months. I was smoking cigars. I cut that out of my life. I got a wake-up call in September, man, and I’m listening.
TC: That’s good to hear. I hope you knock ‘em dead at Goodnights this weekend, Rodney, and thanks for the time.
RP: Thanks for including me. I know you have a choice of who you talk to and I really appreciate it. We’re hoping to do big numbers this week. … And great interview by the way.
TC: I appreciate that, man. I work hard at this. I tell people I interview comedians and I think they think I just have similar questions for each one, but I do research. I try to get in there and dig a little bit, you know what I mean?
RP: I think it’s very dope and as a person that does interviews myself, I always appreciate that question that makes me go, “Hey, I’ve never had that question before.” You had good questions and I appreciate it.
Here it is: The best tweet I can find in five minutes
My favorite part of soccer is not watching it.
— The Guy (@theguydf) March 8, 2017