Creating a character on the spot helped Benji Brown get out of a sticky situation, and then that character helped him become a headline act who travels the world doing stand-up comedy.
Brown first gave Kiki a voice years ago when he called a young lady he wanted to date, but a man who turned out to be her boyfriend answered the phone instead.
After escaping that predicament unscathed, Kiki soon became a fixture in Brown’s act on stage and in funny YouTube clips and during a Wednesday afternoon interview, Brown said the character has been a lifesaver several times since that deep-voiced man took the call Brown had intended for a woman who caught his eye.
Before his shows at Goodnights Comedy Club in Raleigh this week, Brown and I discussed Kiki’s origins, rooting for Florida State while living in Miami, what it’s like hanging out with Basketball Hall of Famer Alonzo Mourning and more.
Enjoy the interview, follow Brown on Twitter and don’t forget The Best Tweet I Can Find in Five Minutes at the end.
Tony Castleberry: You’re a Florida State fan, but you’re from Miami. How did that happen?
Benji Brown: I’m Seminoles all the way. It doesn’t have anything to do with a bandwagon. I have an uncle who, back in the day, trained (former FSU and NFL star) Deion Sanders in track. So when Deion ran track in Fort Myers, Fla., I pretty much followed him when he made his decision to go to Florida State. I was rooting for him. I wanted him to win, so I needed the team to win too. I became a fan ever since the Prime Time days.1
I made a lot of enemies down in Miami.
TC: I bet. Hurricanes fans are known for being…avid I guess I’ll say. I’m sure you probably had some verbal altercations here and there, right?
BB: Big time. It’s tough being a Seminole when you’re surrounded by orange and green, but I stand my ground. Florida does have a stand your ground law.
TC: That’s exactly right, for better and worse. I knew a guy who knew a guy in Vegas and I got 30-to-1 odds before the season started on Florida State winning the NCAA football championship. I put $20 on the Seminoles and won $600 so in a way, I like Florida State too.
BB: Smart man. You beat the odds, Tony. You did your thing. What a feel good story.
TC: I don’t think I’ve made a single bet since. I’m smart enough to get out while I’m ahead, you know what I mean?
BB: The whole purpose of life is to know when to leave the casino with the chips, and you left.
TC: [laughs] Speaking of Twitter, you’re @benjibrown1. The guy who got @benjibrown last tweeted in 2010. Did you consider asking him if you could have @benjibrown since he isn’t really using it?
BB: I’m so used to benjibrown1 I forgot all about the other Benji Brown. I think someone did mention that too me one day in passing. They said, “Whoever is @benjibrown, he expired.” He must have gotten a head start on me. He was a Twitter user before myself. He beat me to the punch.
TC: He hasn’t tweeted since 2010. He should be forced, not forced, but he should have the common courtesy to give it up if he’s not gonna tweet for seven years.
BB: Let someone who’s active get the name. His name is probably not even Benji for real. It’s probably Eugene. [interviewer, Brown laugh] I just let it be.
TC: How tight are you and Alonzo Mourning? Like, do you and Zo get lunch once in a while or go watch a game or text him? He seems like a great guy.
BB: He’s a cool guy. We’ve been knowing each other now for over a decade. We still keep in touch. He works in the front office for player development for the Miami Heat so it’s tough to kind of catch up with our schedules. Summer is the time when we catch up and do lunch or go out to the local casinos and have a little friendly betting going on.
When he was playing, it seemed like he had all the time in the world. Then (Heat President and Hall of Fame coach) Pat Riley gives him a job and I’m like, “You mean to tell me as soon as you hang up the basketball shorts, you want to go and work for Pat Riley again?” Pat Riley has his guys stay busy.
But (Mourning) is a down to Earth guy. He’s very active in the community. I think it’s gonna be a competition between he and Shane Battier to see who will be the next general manager. Shane Battier’s now on board and Alonzo Mourning has been working in the front office since he retired (in 2009). I think he may have a leg up for that position whenever Pat Riley decides to hang it up.
TC: I don’t know how tall of a man you are, but is it weird hanging out with a dude that’s 7-feet tall?
BB: [laughs] Not really because he enjoys hearing me say, “Alonzo, I look up to you. I really do. Literally.” [interviewer laughs] He’s on the doorstep of 7-feet tall, (but) I’m used to it now.
I remember eating with some friends (years ago). Dwyane Wade’s a rookie, doesn’t have a big-time name in Miami just yet. There were a few us there. Grant Hill. It was amazing, just a great night and Alonzo is sitting down at the table and he’s still taller than everyone. I kept telling him, “Alonzo, sit down so we can say grace.” [interviewer laughs] He says, “I am sitting down.” He’s a tall man in stature, but he’s an even bigger person.
TC: Did the Kiki character get laughs from the get-go?
BB: The Kiki character got laughs from Day 1.
It was by fate. I share this story all the time because maybe it can help someone down the line. I met a young lady years ago, in my high school years and she didn’t tell me that she had a boyfriend. So I developed that character because her boyfriend answered the phone. I had to think quick. I had to be very quick and on my toes.
I was so excited and I couldn’t wait to call this young lady and I hear a deep voice (on the other end of the phone) and I turned into Kiki in rapid fashion. He was like, “Hello” and I said, (in a high-pitched tone), “Hello.” “Who is this?” “This is Kiki. Can I speak to April?” “Yeah, hold on.”
I was so scared that when the girl picked up the phone, I continued to talk like Kiki because I was that scared. I said (in Kiki’s voice), “Why didn’t you tell me you had a man?” “Who is this?” “Don’t worry about it. Just meet me at the Walmart.” We met and I told her. My heart was still beating fast.
Not only has that voice allowed me to travel the world to perform. The Kiki character has allowed me to stay alive and gotten me out of so many situations. I’ve escaped the jaws of death doing the Kiki character. [interviewer laughs] It has been a wonderful ride.
Here it is, The Best Tweet I Can Find in Five Minutes:
I hope the world ends after Mahershala Ali is on True Detective but before Sean Spicer is on Dancing with the Stars.
— Morgan Murphy (@morgan_murphy) July 27, 2017
- Sanders’ nickname is Prime Time. ↩