"I started doing comedy in '93 when Def Comedy Jam was the biggest thing in comedy. And that's not my background. I'm not
from the 'hood. I don't have a bunch of bitches. So I didn't talk about these things because they weren't my reality."
– Alonzo Bodden
ALONZO BODDEN: Hey, what's up man? How you doing?
GUY MACPHERSON: I'm doing well. How are you?
GM: Where are you?
AB: I'm in San Antonio. We're doing scouting for Last Comic Standing. We do it tomorrow.
GM: How's that going?
AB: It's been good. It's weird sitting up and watching a hundred-fifty comics in one day. You really find out what stands out and what doesn't.
GM: I guess some of them aren't even comics, are they? They're people who want to be on TV.
AB: There's definitely a number. We've had people come in and say it's their first time doing it. Some of them are crazy, some of them think it's some kind of amateur contest.
GM: But the worse they are, the better chance of them being on TV.
AB: Well, if they're a train wreck. If they're bad but it's in a funny way, then they'll be on.
GM: What year were you on the show?
GM: And how has your life changed?
AB: (laughs) I'm just laughing because everyone asks that question. It's stepped up. My recognition factor went up because obviously that was my introduction to America. I'm working in better clubs now, doing bigger shows. On a personal level, I bought a house. I'm not worried about paying the bills anymore, which is nice. And the other things you get just because they know who you are: regular appearances on The Tonight Show. Jay Leno has been just great and has treated me really well. A couple of movie spots. Yeah, things are good. I definitely recommend doing it.
GM: Some comics are hesitant or don't want to do it. But you'd recommend it to anyone?
AB: Absolutely. I mean, nobody else is using comics on prime time TV. So that's the big carrot that no one else is offering.
GM: And if a comic isn't happy with the way they're being used on the show, well, you gotta take the good with the bad in everything, is that it?
AB: Right. I tell them, "You're right. Everything you say is right: The show is rigged and comics should never compete" and this, that, and the other. I mean, I'm talking facetiously, but there's a certain percentage of comics that are just going to be angry no matter what. And we find in the auditions that there's a certain percentage where it's anything but their fault. So what can you do when you're talking with people like that. They've already got their mind made up. It's a small percentage but it's almost comical.
GM: Going from being a comic contestant to now being a scout, is there now a wall between you and the other comics? Do they treat you differently?
AB: No, not really. It's been a pleasant surprise. The scouts are me, Kathleen Madigan and Ant. We told NBC and we told the producers of the show that we're going to know a lot of the comics who are trying out and we're not going to pretend we don't. That would be ridiculous. And the vast majority, and I mean like 98 percent of them, they understand. They know it's our job and if they don't get picked they're not taking it personal. They're not saying, "Gee, you're my friend, you're supposed to automatically put me on the show" or anything like that. As a matter of fact, I had one guy do that. I don't know him really well, but he's opened for me and I've hosted stuff he's on. I was surprised. I didn't expect him to be that type but he turned into it and he trashed the whole show and the whole process. But I found out later he was one of those people that had already planned to do that. He had already planned to trash the show. So there's nothing you can do. Sometimes it's weird. It's definitely weird judging your peers and your friends. But they've been cool about it. And we're as fair as possible.
GM: If you know the comics, do you judge them on that particular set or on the bulk of their work?
AB: We go by what we see. We've definitely had that happen where somebody we know who's a great comic will have a bad set. And we have to judge based on the set you do in that moment. We've had some funny occurrences. I think the funniest one was this comic in New York. The way it works is they come in in the daytime before the three of us and they do two minutes and then from that we'll pick who's going to come back that night and go up in front of an audience. So he comes in and his set's kind of flat. And we all know him. We're kinda like, "What the hell are you doing?" And he said, "Oh, are the cameras on?" He didn't even realize that this was part of the show. He thought he was just having to introduce himself. We started laughing. We were like, "This is the audition!" And he just turned it up a thousand percent. He literally did not understand what we were doing, which was really funny.
GM: Did he move on?
AB: Yeah. I mean, he's a great comic. It would be like walking in to a job interview and just saying, "How you doing? My name is Alonzo Bodden" and not realizing you're talking to the boss who's doing the interview. Like, you think you're talking to the receptionist and you're talking to the boss. It was really funny.
GM: Do you get pressure from the network or the producers about certain types of comics to choose?
AB: No. That's one of the rumours. And there's nothing you can do about that rumour. There are always going to be rumours that the show wants this type and that type, and they've set up for this person to make it and they've set up for that person to make it. I've been pleasantly surprised. There hasn't been a lot of interference from the network saying that, although this person isn't funny, they look really good so put them on the show. Or this person's mother had a heart attack last week so put him on the show because we want a sob story.
GM: But pretty much all the groups get represented, whether it's racial, gender or physical disabilities.
AB: It is a TV show so they're going to want a representative group, you know what I mean? But no one gets a free pass. Because that's the rumour that goes around. Nobody gets a free pass like that. It doesn't happen. They'll definitely have a mix. They'll want some minority comics, some women, guys. I mean, the physical disability thing, Josh Blue did that last year. But that is not a type; Josh is just hilarious. Josh is very funny. We went overseas this year. We went to Sydney, London. And we went to Montreal. Canada isn't overseas but it's another country. So I'm pretty sure they're going to want somebody from another country in the mix. I don't know if it'll be somebody from each country or just one.
GM: Is it just you, Kathleen and Ant that have the final say?
AB: No. We're kind of the screeners. The producers of the show get involved and so on. But we pick who makes it in the daytime.
GM: How were the Canadians, by the way?
AB: The Canadians were good. I can't give away anything. But I will say Canada was well represented.
GM: Did you notice any differences in the styles of the various cultures?
AB: The big difference was especially with Australia. Standup is relatively new there. So most of their comics haven't been doing it that long. And, you know, you've seen comics enough, you've been around it enough. You know what a two-year comic does, what a three-year comic does. And that's what most of their comics do. Also, they don't have many places to perform. So most of their shows are in bars and stuff like that. So they tended to be more raw. But we got some good ones from Australia.
GM: I hear that Ant is like the Simon Cowell of the show. Was he told to be like that?
AB: No. Ant is the ant. That's who Ant is. The producers of the show specifically told us that we are not - and they don't want us to be - Simon, Paula and Randy. I tell the comics, "I'm not here to make a name for myself off of you. I'm a comic. I've got my own career and my own thing. I don't need to pick on you to make me look good." Ant is Ant. You've seen Ant. Ant is a dramatic, over-the-top kinda guy, but he's certainly not being Simon; he's being Ant.
GM: From what I've read, he's being overly mean to some good comics. And I'm thinking, "You're Ant! You're not that great." And here he is being the hardass. You and Kathleen are funny.
AB: Kathleen is hilarious on the show. If they get some of Kathleen's asides, just things she says to us, she'll have us just cracking up. Kathleen's really funny. I'm not going to trash anybody on the show. That's all I can tell you about it. Ant is Ant. Ant loves drama. Ant has no problem with people being mad at him as long as they say his name. You know Ant. You know what Ant does.
GM: Yes. And I guess it makes for good TV. You need an antagonist... Hey, maybe that's how he got his name!
AB: Look at the list of scouts and figure out why they picked each one. They didn't pick [John] Heffron or Gary [Gulman] orTammy [Pescatelli]. They picked Ant because they know how Ant is. The other thing I say, and this is kinda funny, there are some comics that come in and they're already angry at Ant for who knows what? I mean, historically angry at Ant. That in itself is kinda funny because you're getting your shot here so why waste it being pissed at him?
GM: Wait until you have a reason to be pissed.
AB: Be pissed at him but not during your audition. Why give him that?
GM: It's nice that this gig gets you a chance to see the world. And I see you're going to Japan and England next month.
AB: I've been fortunate in my career that I've travelled the world a lot. It's been a good trip. I'd never been to Sydney before. Montreal is one of my favourite cities in the world. You know I love you Canadians. You guys just need to warm it up, that's why I can't move there. But it is nice to experience a free country. Well, I used to live in one, and then the Bush administration came in and decided everyone's a terrorist. Including you Canadians sneaking down and bringing all your bombs and your nuclear devices.
GM: Yeah, we're bad that way.
AB: You guys catch terrorists before they act. That's just because you use your defence budgets on defence.
GM: That's just the way we roll.
AB: Yeah, you trouble-makers.
GM: Do you like flying? Or do they hassle you?
AB: That's just part of my job. That's what I tell people. They pay me to travel and I do comedy for free. I'd love to spend more time at home but the nature of our business is you go on the road.
GM: You were a jet mechanic. Does that make you more secure about flying or less?
AB: I don't worry at all about planes. I know how they're built. I know how they're inspected. They're built so much better than anything else in the world. I don't worry at all about flying. It's almost comical to me that people do worry because there's nothing to worry about flying. Other than pilots drinking and flying.
GM: What made you first get up on stage? Were there influences?
AB: Well, now that I've started doing it, there's been a ton of influences and tremendous influences. I just worked with Lewis Black in February and I joked with him all weekend that I want his job. But the way it started, I used to train airplane mechanics and I just loved making them laugh. I was a funny instructor. That was the first time I was in front of people being funny and I just loved it.
GM: But it still takes something to take that next step to go in front of a comedy audience with just jokes.
AB: It's a drug. From the first time I did it, I just absolutely loved it. And from the first time I did it, there's never been a Plan B. It's just what I've wanted to do.
GM: When you were a kid, were you a fan of comedy?
AB: No. That's what's funny. I didn't grow up wanting to do this. It's not like all my life I wanted to be a comic. I don't know. I found the talent and I just love doing it so I've been doing it since.
GM: You told me in Montreal that you write more now because you used up so much material on the series.
AB: Yeah, when you're on TV you burn through a lot of material. So I write more. Also as time goes on I've become more topical so I have to write more because I'm trying to stay on top of what's going on in society. I think we're witnessing a decline of western civilization and no one's paying attention, so I'm doing my best to yell at them and tell them to wake up. Apparently it's not working.
GM: Are you doing more political stuff now?
AB: Oh, yeah. I can't write as good as they can. George Bush has much funnier writers than me. I don't know how much of this is in the Canadian news, but Congress came up with this bill directly to get the troops out of Iraq. And George Bush actually said in his speech, "You guys can't sit 6000 miles away and tell military experts what to do." And I'm like, "Haven't you been doing that for the last six years? Are you fucking kidding me?" How can I write a joke better than that?
GM: We get all the American news so don't feel you can't talk about those things up here.
AB: No, no, I always talk about it in Canada because you guys know more about it than most Americans. Most Americans are pretty dumb, don't read the paper, have no idea what's going on. You guys know more about it than we do. I live in California and, you know, they re-elected Schwarzenegger, which in itself is 10 or 15 minutes of pure comedy, but he's running on the
green platform! He talks about global warming. He owns nine hummers! How do you deal with that? How do I make something funnier than that? And I drive a hummer. I love it. But I don't sit up there and talk about having to save the planet. At least I'm consistent. I'm like, "Yeah, I drive a hummer. Screw the planet!"
GM: When you're putting down the States in Canada, everyone's with you. Don't you then feel like, "Well, hang on a second, you're not so great yourselves"? If you say it in front of an American crowd, you can get a nice back-and-forth where you can challenge them, but up here everyone's just agreeing with you.
AB: No, in the States they generally agree. It's surprising how much they agree. The thing about comics, and all my friends know this - the only thing I'm serious about is comedy - so on a serious note, all the way back to the court jester it's been the comic's job to challenge the king. So that's what we do. And here's the big difference. I'm not the president. I'm not the governor. I'm not standing up in front of people saying "I know how to lead you" and "do what I say". It's the same way with the religious right, which is another group that is out of their minds. They better hope Jesus doesn't actually come back because they're gonna be in serious trouble. It's like, "We're Christians, we're the right, and we have sex with young boys and gay male prostitutes. Oh, and we start wars. We like killing small countries." Yeah, that is exactly what Jesus was talking about: kill all the Arabs and gay people. I think that was chapter 27.
GM: There are a lot of black comics who appeal mainly to a black audience, women comics who appeal mostly to women, gay comics who appeal mostly to a gay crowd, etc. Did you make a conscious decision to take a more universal approach or is that just the way it turned out?
GM: Because you have broad appeal.
AB: All my heroes have broad appeal. [Bill] Cosby's the ultimate. He's at the top of the list. Chris Rock, George Carlin, Lewis Black. I don't ever want to break my comedy up and shoot for one group. I make fun of racism but I think I do it on kind of a balanced basis. I don't hate white people nor do I send a message of hating white people. To me that's ridiculous. But that's how I grew up. That is my reality. I was bussed to white schools before it was an issue. I grew up around white kids. It was never a huge thing to me.
GM: Do you get backlash from other black comics or audience members about not representing them more?
AB: You know what's interesting about that? I've never gotten backlash from black comics. Early in my career when black audiences didn't necessarily accept what I did, the black comics were very supportive of what I did. They told me, "Just keep doing what you do." Now, because I've had some success, the audiences support me, too. It's never been an anger thing. I started doing comedy in '93 when Def [Comedy] Jam was the biggest thing in comedy. And that's not my background. I'm not from the 'hood. I don't have a bunch of bitches. So I didn't talk about these things because they weren't my reality.
GM: Where did you grow up?
AB: I grew up in Queens. I actually grew up in St. Auburns, right in the middle of, like, LL Cool J, Run DMC, and some great jazz musicians. It wasn't the 'hood; it was a middle-class black neighbourhood. Although, I think on his second album 50 Cent informed me that my neighbourhood was the 'hood. I didn't know because, you know, we had two cars and a lawn. I didn't know we were the 'hood but apparently to 50 it was kinda rough.
GM: I read that you were a jazz fan, as am I.
AB: Oh, yeah. I've been doing these jazz cruises that have been phenomenal. One of them Dave Koz hosted and we hadMarcus Miller, David Sanborn, Patti Austin, Rick Braun, Euge Groove, Mindi Abair. The line-up just goes on and on. The cruise is a phenomenal place. I get to meet and hang out with the guys and then I make fun of them. That's my job on the cruise, to make fun of the musicians.
GM: Comedy and jazz were intertwined for years. Comics used to open for artists such as Miles Davis.
AB: I've always thought that improv'ing, which I love doing on stage, just talking to the crowd, that's the jazz of comedy. That's my favourite thing to do. My favourite joke is something that's going to be funny in that moment and never be funny again, but it just fits the circumstance perfectly.
GM: There's been a lot of bitching within standup lately: Dane Cook, Carlos Mencia. Everybody's piling on to these guys. Where do you stand?
AB: It's funny how that works. I've known Dane for years. I was hanging out with Dane when he was becoming super famous and I didn't even realize it. We used to work a club in L.A. called Dublin's. It was a big Irish bar on Sunset. And we'd be there every Tuesday night and we'd just have fun and work out material and this and that. The host used to call me the legend of Dublin's because I was there from the very first night. And I would always just sit on a stool and talk to the crowd and come up with stuff and develop material. And I had fun doing it. Dane was the rock star. Because that's what he is. He has this energy that's like a rock star. There's a million people who sing, but why is Mick Jagger, Mick Jagger and Bono, Bono? Because they have something that others don't have. And Dane has that. But I used to joke with him. When I found out he was playing arenas, I was like, "Dane, you could have, you know, helped me out." But that's just what Dane's energy is. Comics will say that Dane's material's not funny. And it may not be funny on paper but it's funny when Dane does it. Because it's the way he does it. And you know something? If someone's super successful, God bless 'em. There's always going to be an element that's mad at people's success. To me, Margaret Cho isn't funny. Not in the least bit. But God bless her for building a career on one joke. Janeane Garofalo's not funny to me. But God bless her; she built her career. So what? The thing with Carlos stealing material and all that, I'm not even going to get into it. I know Carlos. I've done a few shows with Carlos. I had fun with Carlos. And my view on that is Joe Rogan may have had a valid point but he picked the wrong joke because every comic did that joke. As soon as they said they were going to build a wall, any comic worth his salt does some form of the joke: "Well, who do you think's gonna build the wall?" Because it's the first thing that comes to mind. I understand Joe's point, I just think he picked the wrong joke to make an example of it. It's been an ongoing feud. And it's been an ongoing thing with Carlos. But that's just the way it is. I don't have the time or energy to get riled on whether or not Carlos Mencia is stealing jokes because I want Alonzo Bodden to be famous. I've learned that you have to work on your own thing. Now, Joe's famous and Joe is hilarious. And Joe is a comedy purist. I've worked with Joe, I've been around Joe. Joe is the one on season one who called Ant a joke thief and told what movie Ant took the bit from. So that's Joe. It bugs the hell out of him and he spoke up. And a lot of people are saying it's about time someone spoke up. The fact that he and Carlos are on the same level made it legitimate. It didn't sound like someone bitching. But I try to be like Switzerland. When I started out, this guy, Danny Mora, who was a great old-school comic who used to work with Freddie Prinze and stuff, told me, "Look. There are always going to be people who steal jokes. There's nothing you can do about it. But your talent allows you to write more." See, anyone who's a joke thief, at some point it's going to come out. But if you're creative and you write, then you don't have to worry about it because you'll come up with your own jokes.
GM: Have you been a victim of joke theft?
AB: Probably. You can't monitor it. Unfortunately you can't copyright a joke. But yeah, I've had e-mails from people that so-and-so's doing your joke. But, you know, they're doing it at the
Chuckle Hut in Butt Fuck, Arkansas, and I'm doing it on theTonight Show. So whose bit is it really?
GM: I look forward to seeing you.
AB: It'll be fun. Say hello to Vancouver for me. Vancouver's generally warm, but I'd like it dry.
GM: It's dry and warm today.
AB: And it has to be warm enough for the beautiful women of Vancouver to show that they're beautiful. I don't want no big heavy wool coats. It's better to show off for the tourists. You guys living up there are spoiled.