Thursday, September 20, 2007

D.L. Hughley: The Unapologetic Interview

Interview with Kam Williams

Headline: A Dialogue with D.L. on Everything from Nappy-Headed Hos to His HBO Special
Born on March 6, 1963, Darryl Lynn Hughley was the second of four children raised in South Central, Los Angeles by his adoptive father, Charles, a janitor, and his stay-at-home mom, Audrey. For about a half-dozen years, D.L. was a member of the Bloods, but then the high school dropout decided to turn his life around following the shooting of a cousin.
He broke his ties with the gang, earned a G.E.D., and got a job with the L.A. Times. There he met his future wife, Ladonna, with whom he would have his three children, Ryan, Tyler and Kyle. Ladonna was the one who convinced him he was funny enough to try his hand at stand-up. And he went on to enjoy phenomenal success as a comedian, perhaps peaking at that endeavor during The Original Kings of Comedy Tour, alongside Bernie Mac, Cedric the Entertainer and Steve Harvey.
D.L. has also had quite a career as an actor on TV, not only with his own sitcom, The Hughleys, but also appearing on such shows as The Fresh Prince, The Parkers, Sister, Sister and Scrubs. Most recently, he co-starred on Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, a short-lived series which was cancelled by NBC after 22 episodes.
He’s made his mark on the big screen, too, with memorable performances in Scary Movie 3, Soul Plane, Chasing Papi, The Brothers, and more. However, a few months ago, Hughley created quite a controversy during an appearance on the Tonight Show when he qualified Don Imus’ "nappy-headed hos" comment by affirming, "They were some of the ugliest women I've seen in my whole life." (
Here, Hughley discusses that remark, as well as his new comedy special, Unapologetic, which debuts on HBO on Saturday, September 22nd at 10 PM (check local listings). On October 4th, he’ll be kickstarting a nationwide stand-up tour in Trenton, NJ which will take him to over 25 cities by the end of the year.

DL: Hey, Kam, how are you?
KW: Fine, thanks so much for the time.
DL: What’s happening?
KW: I just checked out an early copy of your HBO special, Unapologetic, which I found hilarious, but of course, before we get to that, first I have to ask you about your controversial Tonight Show appearance. What type of feedback have you been getting from it?
DL: I think there are people who get that it’s a joke, and there are people who take it a little further than that. It kind of varies, but I think most people understand that that’s kind of the way I see things, and that I don’t believe I said anything that was untrue, and that it was just a joke.
KW: I’ve noticed this as a critic: a comic can get away with anything, as long as it’s funny. But if it falls flat, then everybody will focus on the fact that the material was also politically incorrect. If I walk out of a movie that had me howling, I can’t give it a bad review, even if I’m embarrassed about what I was laughing it.
DL: Exactly. I think that what I’ve come to realize is that we have a dual kind of existence in our society now. One, where we are open and honest, and that’s usually in our heads. And another, that we play out for everybody else. But if you look at what I said, I still hold to the fact that I personally don ’t know a lot of attractive female basketball players. I just don’t. I was watching ESPN recently and they were talking about why the WNBA isn’t doing well, and ways to improve it. One of the ways was to make it sexier, because sex sells. So, I don’t think I said anything that a lot of people couldn’t obviously see. But because we live in a politically-correct society, we have to almost filter our thoughts. And if you do that, that’s almost kind of antithetical to being a comedian. So, my purpose or intent is never to make people go, "Wow!" or shock them, but it’s just to say the things I see. And that’s what I’ve always tried to do.
KW: Well let me say for the record that I have a first cousin who played on the U.S. Olympic Team who is very beautiful and feminine, and I met some of her teammates who were also very attractive. But I understand how you feel. For the audience watching you, there ’s a dual reaction. They might initially laugh impulsively at what you said, but then there’s a secondary reaction where they can’t admit that they first found it funny, because Imus got fired for saying something similar.
DL: Right, right, right. Imus got fired, ultimately, because he told a bad joke on a slow news week. That’s the real reason why he got fired.
KW: So, I guess you don’t think it was an important issue for the black community to organize around.
DL: I take exception to the fact that when in our community we’ve got people dying in the streets, especially in your area, New Jersey and Philadelphia, one of the most violent in the country, kids are dying left and right, and this is the issue we’re wasting time on. It’s ironic, the things we think are important as a society. The governor of your state almost got killed rushing to an apology for a dumb joke. He literally almost lost his life. That’s the height of irony. In the end, if he’d have died, would that have been worth it? Over an apology for a stupid joke? Is that where we’ve come? That’s dumb.
KW: Do you have anything special planned for New Jersey when you ki ck off your stand-up tour here in Trenton?
DL: Because it’s the first day of the Unapologetic tour, it’s something I’m going to be really focused and concentrating on. But to me, wherever I go, I want people to have a good time and to know that I came to be honest with them.
KW: Are you going to conduct yourself differently due to the fallout from you remarks?
DL: I’m going to tell you how I see it, and accept the fact that some people are going to take umbrage.
KW: How do you write your material, then? How do you decide what jokes to include in your act?
DL: You can’t write Imus, or Michael Vick, or O.J. I’m just blessed with a perspective to be able to notice them. Almost everything I did in the HBO Special was going on at that particular time.
KW: Yeah, I noticed that it’s all observational humor touching on a lot of hot-button topics like Paris Hilton in jail, Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama running for president, Hurricane Katrina, Alec Baldwin’s parenting issues, and the female astronaut arrested in adult diapers.
DL: Yeah, even today, as I watch what’s going on with O.J., I’m thinking, if you killed two people, maybe you should lay low. That’s kind of obvious to me. I think stand-up is one of the last places left where people can expect to hear a level of truth. Newspapers, TV shows and radio stations are all controlled by corporations that are homogenizing everything so they can sell it. That how I see it. That may not be everybody else’s perspective, but I think I kind of have an obligation to have enough courage and conviction to say things as I see them accurately.
KW: Were your comments on Jay Leno an orchestrated strategy to help you kick off your upcoming tour?
DL: No. I’ll be on the Tonight Show again tomorrow, and you’ll see that my act will be about what’s going on right now.
KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps as a comedian?
DL: If you lack the courage of your convictions, sell shoes.
KW: Any plans for another Kings of Comedy tour?
DL: I don’t know. A lot of people have been asking me that lately. So, it’s kind of percolating. I’m not going to say anything more, but it sure would be a nice situation to get back into, because it was one of the best times I’ve had professionally.
KW: What else is going on with you?
DL: We just finished Studio 60, and that took so much out of me, by the time I finished with it I was drained. And it took me away from stand-up. I think we wrapped the season on the 23rd of April, and then right after that I only had about 30 days to prepare for this HBO Special. So, I was exhausted.
KW: Why did you take that gig in the first place?
DL: To wash the taste of Soul Plane out of my mouth. I really needed that.
KW: And what was it like working with writer/producer Aaron Sorkin on that show?
DL: He’s a genius. But like most geniuses, when they make them big, they make them bigger than everybody else.
KW: Would you say that you’re happy?
DL: I think I’m as happy as a person like me can be. I’m not one of those cats who thinks he’s happy as a constant state. I think every human being gets 20 great days in his life, and I’ve had 6 of them so far.
KW: The reason I asked is because I recently interviewed Columbus Short and…
DL: I love Columbus!
KW: Yeah, well I asked him, "What question are you never asked that you’d like to be asked?" And he said, "Are you happy?" And I thought it was a good enough question to ask everybody I interview for now on.
DL: The funny thing is, I’ve got a wife, so I’m asked that question often. I think that happy might work for people in corporate America, but if you’re an entertainer on the stage, I don’t think that you can be happy and comfortable in your career. I just don’t.
KW: Doing stand-up has got to be one of the toughest things in the world. It’s just you and a mike in front of a live crowd.
DL: You know why that is? It’s because all of your sensibilities, your most natural inclination is to be liked and accepted. That’s a natural inclination. And that’s antithetical to what you have to do as a comedian. Take Kathy Griffin…
KW: Who made a crack about Christ during her Emmy acceptance speech the other night.
DL: It’s so funny that the Catholic Church came out against her the same week that the San Diego Archdiocese paid $600 million to settle a child molestation suit. And they can’t take a joke? Come on now! You wouldn’t spend that much money on hookers and cocaine. But you can’t take a joke? Come on!
KW: But I wonder whether she’d have made the same joke about Muhammad or Islam, given the assassination of filmmaker Theo Van Gogh.
DL: This takes us back to Imus and Michael Richards. At least they were honest. Everybody has the right to feel how they feel. The most dangerous thing about corporations creating the appearance of a homogenized society is that it makes us think that we’re further along than we are as a society, which is why we’re always shocked when something happens.
KW: Yeah, like when we heard about that black woman who was just kidnapped by racist rednecks and raped for a week.
DL: Right! The fact that we’re still shocked by stuff like that tells you that we ’re not depicting our society accurately. We’re shocked when violence occurs, yet we’re the most violent country in the world. My gig is to observe all that stuff and take it in without ever forgetting that I’m here to make people laugh, not to preach. The payoff, hopefully, is that I’ve constructed the joke well enough to get a laugh.
KW: Do you expect a change in your live audience demographic on tour due to the Tonight Show?
DL: I couldn’t know. I don’t write jokes to gain or lose fans. Mt gig is just to do my job the best I can. Some people will be angry, but I’m a big boy.
KW: Do you read your fan mail?
DL: I don’t read good or bad.
KW: I’m the same way. I hate reading letters to the editor because you want to be liked, but you don’t want to be influenced in your opinions by what’s popular.
DL: I think we’re in the same position. You’re actually taking a stand on things that you haven’t taken a consensus on. And I don’t know how we can get to a consensus about what’ s funny. Who are these people who presume to be the arbiters of what’s appropriate conversation? I’m a nightclub act. I tell jokes where people go to drink and eat chicken wings. And they’re there for a release.
KW: When I reflect on my childhood, I remember we could be pretty cruel. You had to develop a thick skin early to survive. Everybody was teased, everybody had a nickname. Mine was Joe Kraut, because it was right after World War II, I guess, and I was the only kid on the block with red hair and freckles in an all black neighborhood.
DL: You remember when we grew up, our mothers taught us to say, "Sticks and stones can break my bones…" because they knew that growing up in the ‘hood was a cruel place. If you didn’t know how to defend yourself physically or verbally, you couldn’t go outside. So, pardon me if I’m not as affected by someone telling a joke that doesn’t go over that well. Pardon me if I don’t think that’s signaling the downfall of civilization. Pardon me if I go, "Learn how to take a joke."
KW: Still, I wonder if there’s any special message you might have for sisters who might have been offended by what you had to say about the Rutgers basketball team?
DL: People who know me, know what I’m about. People who know me, know who I am. And people that are fans, will be fans. People that aren’t, aren’t. I just can’t truck in apologies for a perspective that is clearly all mine, and for something that was clearly a joke. I like to think that I’m pretty good at what I do, so I hope people will laugh, have a good time and enjoy themselves.
KW: Jimmy Bayan was wondering where in L.A. you live.
DL: In Calabasas.
KW: Calabasas? Where’s that?
DL: Actually, it’s a place called Woodland Hills.
KW: Is there a question you always wished someone would ask you, but no one ever does?
DL: No, man, but thanks for taking the time to talk to me. I appreciate it.
KW: Same here, D.L. Good luck with the HBO special and with the tour.
DL: Thank you very much.

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