Lavell Crawford has caught a few breaks over the past two decades, most notably when he finished runner-up in the 2007 season of NBC’s Last Comic Standing, and most recently nabbing a recurring role in this season of AMC’s Breaking Bad.
But Crawford, 42, continues to tour as a stand-up comedian, and debuts his latest hour special, Lavell Crawford: Can A Brother Get Some Love, tonight on Comedy Central. In the special, Crawford tells several stories about his childhood and how his mother used to treat him. We talked a little bit about that as well as about his career in comedy.
Here’s a clip in which he describes the lecture his mom would give him before they entered the grocery store. Roll it.
You open your set by talking about losing Last Comic Standing. Is it true you still can’t get over coming in second? “Nah, man. But everybody I run into, people say ‘You should have won Last Comic, so I feel like I should talk about it. They say, ‘Oh, we’re so mad.’ What about me? I’m a little upset about it myself. But no. He (Jon Reep) was the Hemi guy for a year. I don’t like putting anybody down.”
You filmed the special in St. Louis, where you’re from. Is there something special about the St. Louis comedy scene? Plenty of big and up-and-comic comics have come out of there. We list off Cedric the Entertainer, Kathleen Madigan, Guy Torry, Mike Pace, Tommy Johnigan, Nikki Glaser among them. What can you tell me about it? “It was a flourishing scene around the late 80s, early 90s. The comedy club scene was on. Of course, you know being an open micer, you had the bars around the city that you did. Some was good. Some was, I hope this is quick so I can get the hell out of here. Southern folk, I think you got a lot to talk about…tell stories. That’s the kind of comedians I’m drawn to. Someone who has stories. Bring it to life. I like stories and material over I guess attitude.”
You tell a lot of your stories about your mama. “She’s my girl, she’s my inspiration, plus I take care of her. Like a lot of black guys out there, all we had was our mama.”
Here’s another clip of Crawford talking about his mama was old school.
You made it onto Def Comedy Jam in 1995, and then resurfaced on TV in 2007 for Last Comic Standing. What did you learn about yourself as a comedian in those 12 years between big TV breaks? “When you get an opportunity, take it. I got my first break doing Comic View. I did that a few times and got a half-hour out of that…I was working steady, I was touring around the country, I was getting a lot of experiences a lot of people don’t get to do. Performing in the Ivory Coast, Barcelona, Spain. I got to meet influential people like Al Gore. I did a dinner and show for him. I did some pretty cool things before Last Comic Standing. Entertaining, anything like that. You write hit songs, you’re a star. When you’re a comedian, there’s never that hit jokes that makes you famous. There’s TV or movies. You’re doing the same show you’ve done for years, and people discover you, they think you’re gold. But you’re the same comedian you were before. As long as you can work and making a living as a decent comic, that’s a good thing.”
I can hear cartoons playing in the background! “I have three kids, two by marriage and one is biological. He’s eight months old, Lavell Jr.”
Has becoming a father changed the decisions you make about your career? “It’s more about my well-being, my health, being a diabetic. I gave up sugar. Play a lot of golf and exercise. I’m 42, so it was so long before I was blessed with one, he’s no bother to me. He’s a baby. I have two sisters who have kids. One sister has two, the other has one, my oldest nephew I practically raised like a brother. Black houses and Latino houses, they know about kids, so it’s no big deal.”
What is a big deal is how you joined the cast of Breaking Bad this year for the award-winning drama’s fourth season, as Huell, bodyguard for attorney Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk). How’d that come about? “Audition. I just walked in, and it was weird. I was reading for one other role, and they didn’t cast that. They said ‘Can you read this other one?’ I did it, and they said ‘When can you start working?’ I said ‘Today.’ I’d just gotten off a plane. I was pooped. But I said I’d do it.”
“I’d seen Breaking Bad a couple of times, but I hadn’t watched it fully. I’d heard good things about it and knew Bryan Cranston was a good actor. But wow. I looked at them. Emmy Awards.”
What’s it like working scenes with Bob Odenkirk? “Yeah, yeah, he’s my boss. I guess as long as he’s around, I’ll be good. I’m the worst bodyguard in the game. I don’t protect him that well. I just look like I’m dangerous.”
So far, so good, though. You had a funny scene a couple of weeks ago. “It gets better. I’d rather be going to the toilet as an actor than really have the runs as a security guard! Why’d he lose his post? He’s pooping.”
What more can you tell me about this season, without spoiling anything? “Primarily I’m on the whole season. It builds up. I’m not giving up too many spoilers. But it’s hilarious. My character gets to do some things because my boss, Bob Odenkirk, is a pretty eccentric guy. He’s pretty snaky. He’s doing things he isn’t supposed to, so they don’t always work like they’re supposed to…I’m more like a utility man.”
“Me and Bill Burr, we do a great scene together. There’s a big change, and me and Bill Burr were running a scam and it backfires, so it’s a wild scene. It’s cool to see Bill because I’ve known him for years, and he was happy to be there because he’s a fan of the show. He was just hyped about it. We did real good, we played off each other really well.”
Can a Brother Get Some Love? comes out on DVD on Aug. 16, 2011. It’s already available as a CD.