"I like the idea of having this moniker simply for business' sakes, and that's who that person is. And when I come off, I get to be a dad and all that other stuff."
– Cedric the Entertainer
Guy MacPherson: Hello, your highness. I'm talking to royalty here.
Cedric the Entertainer: Yes. I'm feeling pretty good, man.
GM: Have you ever played Vancouver before?
CE: I've never actually played up there. I did a movie up there, which was fun.
GM: Which one?
CE: We did Code Name: The Cleaner with Lucy Liu and Nicolette Sheridan. So I had a good time. That was my first time in the area and I enjoyed it.
GM: It'll be a treat to see you in what you started out doing and became famous for.
CE: Yeah. It's nice. The thing about the audiences, even just hanging out there I was surprised that a lot of people knew who I was already. So I look forward to having a good time with the audience while I'm there.
GM: You've had a pretty impressive movie career since you hit. Was it with The Kings of Comedy that really pushed you forward?
CE: Yeah, yeah, definitely. The Kings of Comedy was probably 2000.
GM: Clearly you don't need to keep doing standup. But you do.
CE: The thing about standup is with most of the big comedians is you gotta keep your finger on the pulse of being able to get out and get to the audience and getting that live immediate response. That's the main thing that I like about it. Even when you do movies, you're dealing with other writers, directors and editors, and everybody's got an opinion. So for me, it's that immediate response of going out there and throwing some stuff out there into the atmosphere of folks and getting that response. Having a good time and making people laugh right there in a live environment is kind of what I was raised on so I just feel like I have to always do it.
GM: And you're the boss.
CE: Yeah, exactly. The boss.
GM: Even when you're working on films, are you always jotting notes down? Or do you just go up there and see what sticks?
CE: It's a combination of those things. Throughout my day, I've learned to do it on the Blackberry now but I'm still kinda old-school, as well. I still have several notebooks that I keep. Whenever something's going on, I'll write down my point of view on it and then try to get it on stage and work it out a little bit. But it's tough. Kinda like all the time I'm looking for comedy out of life so you never know when something comes on. But some nights you can just go up there and just dive off the jumping board. The high-dive, I call it. Just go for it. So I like those nights, too.
GM: How did it all begin? I know you were selling insurance, but were you doing comedy at the same time?
CE: Yeah, I actually kinda started at the same time. I started working for State Farm doing claims and then I stumbled upon comedy right around within the same week. I would just go up on stage. It was actually a comedy competition which a friend of mine told me I should get in. He would hear me say funny things around the house and he was just like, "You should do this." So I got up and the first time I did it I won.
GM: That's pretty amazing. You always hear comics saying that people who can make their friends laugh don't necessarily make good comics.
CE: Yeah, that's true. I always tell young comics that as well. You got to get up on stage and try it. There's no way that you sit up and let your friends tell you you're the funniest person in the world. That is the necessary aspect. You will never know until you actually get up on stage and do it.
GM: It's a different kind of funny, too, isn't it? Because with your friends there are all these shared experiences and reference points. But with a new audience, especially if you're just starting out, they don't know you.
CE: The thing about it that I love is that the audience has no idea what to necessarily expect except for the fans. That's the biggest thing. You are the conductor and they're the symphony. It's a symphony of laughter, if you will, and you're trying to make sure everybody is hitting some good notes and you're making this whole, full orchestrated sound of laughter. You're in control. But if you lose it, that's when you'll hear some... You don't never want to lose it on stage.
GM: Nice analogy. You talk about everything. You can't really pigeonhole you and say you're this type of comic or that. You get out there and cover everything, whether it's politics or pop culture or just everyday occurrences.
CE: That's the thing about it, I'm pretty much an observationist. That is my thing. I like the idea of knowing that there's so much stuff going on in life that I can cover it all, from, as you say, the things that's happening in pop culture to things that's happening with the family. Just have a good time with that.
GM: Were you always "the Entertainer"? Was that from the beginning?
CE: I had a couple of different names early on. But it came pretty early in my career. For a very brief period – this is privileged information – I was known as Cheerio.
GM: (laughs) Why is that?
CE: There was several different comics, they had all these different kind of monikers. Like Sinbad was fairly new at the time. There used to be a guy named Kodak. I don't know if it was the bear or the fact that he was taking pictures, I didn't know exactly which one he was. So I came up with this thing where I make people laugh and my name starts with a C and I'm happy and I bring cheer, so it was like Cheerio.
GM: Ah! I see.
CE: It kind of came from there. But my show started to develop. I got pretty popular fairly early on and the name kinda came across haphazardly. I would be popular and people would want to hire me to do 30- and 40-minute shows and I didn't have that much material as a comedian so I would sing, I would do poetry, I would do whatever I could do to fill up the 30 minutes of time so I could get the money. So the guy was going to introduce me as a comedian. He kept saying, "This next comedian...". And I was like, "Don't introduce me as a comedian because I'm not just going to do comedy. Call me an entertainer." So he called me "Cedric the entertainer" and I went up and I had a great show and people loved it and I was like, "Okay". And when he came back off stage, he was like, "Cedric the Entertainer!" and I was like , "There it is, right there. I'll take that one."
GM: Is it more the African-American experience, like in hip-hop, where artists take stage names? I always wonder if their families want to see their family names up there to bask in the glory.
CE: I actually think it's great because you take on a public persona and you get some anonymity in your regular life. I really think that's important to a certain degree that my kids don't have to walk around where as soon as you hear their name you can identify them. Like a black kid named Goldberg, everybody's going to say, "Are you some kin to Whoopi?" Or like you can't be a black kid named Winfrey. With a last name Winfrey, it's like, "Are you Oprah's? Nephew? Son?" They're not the ones in show business. You want to let them be themselves. So that's kind of the idea behind it for me. I like the idea of having this moniker simply for business' sakes, and that's who that person is. And when I come off, I get to be a dad and all that other stuff.
GM: Your family name is on the internet. Would you rather have it not be known?
CE: Well, I mean, after a while, you know, you can't stop the internet. You can't stop it these days so after a while it's okay. But when I go out and market myself as this comedian and entertainer, that's what I use. So as long as I'm marketing myself that way, that's more what people will buy into.
GM: On your Taking You Higher DVD, there's all manner of show business: a band, dancers, and singing. Do you miss the days when show biz was an event?
CE: I really do. It's not quite the show that I'm bringing out on the road. It's just so expensive to do. You end up charging your core audience a lot more money just to come out. It all trickles down to that audience. So we're trying to figure that out because I think that people do want a full night of entertainment. It's great to see your favourite person in town, be it singer, comedian or whatever, but it would be a lot more fun if that show had that attitude of performers of old where it was costumes and music and dancing and lighting and just a lot of stuff for people to go see. You just got your money's worth. So I like the idea of that.
GM: And variety shows on TV, when we were growing up, you don't see anymore. where it's skits and singing and comedy and dancing.
CE: Definitely. That seems to be where the world is just missing out. I'm in the idea [stage] of just trying to develop something like that. That would be really good.
GM: The Spike Lee film really broke you to a mainstream audience. Did that force you to alter your act in any way?
CE: Not really at that point. Probably more so for me was the Bud Light commercials, which was interesting because commercials come on on such a regular basis. Kings of Comedy, because it was placed in this kind of African-American [energy?], that was okay. But once the commercials got really popular then I started to see my audience change. And when that audience starts to change, and it's a really diverse audience out there, then you open the material up a little bit. But I've kind of always been that way. I grew up and my mother was an educator, she was an English teacher, so I just had all those different kind of backgrounds. I went to college, I worked in corporate America, all before I did comedy. So I brought that to the stage anyway. So I was never really kind of one-dimensional anyway. But I think it was important to have that kind of diversity as that audience started to grow.
GM: And you were able to do that without compromising.
GM: I guess, from seeing you, that you're not a proponent of eradicating the N-word because you use it all the time.
CE: All things have their place. It was born into a negative connotation, the word itself, and it kind of morphed itself to where people used it differently in a small group. I think that that happens with so many words, be it a group of women who call each other bitches or whatever. They do that in a lovingly affectionate fun kind of way. Do you eradicate the word itself because this group of girls like to go, "Bitch" this or whatever, that's fun for them and it works. But in public and national situations... But if you're a comic I think you have to be aware of it, and if it's not necessary, don't. I've always said about my comedy, if it's something I feel like I want to say and it really best serves me saying it for my joke, then I'm not going to change that. I actually used to be known for not cursing at all. People would say, "He's a clean comedian." And I was like, well, you know, if I feel like I need to say a curse word, then I'm gonna say it. I'm not going to buy into that I'm the cleanest comedian in the world. If you start selling me that and I start selling it back to you, I trap myself from the freedom of expression. And that's what the real core thing is about at any time.
GM: And if you have that label it puts you in a box and also people might avoid you like they do G-rated movies.
CE: Yeah, exactly. You'll definitely have that. You start growing an adult audience, you're like, "Dude, I'm not afraid of a few curse words." But I'm not going to sit up there and curse you out for an hour.