You may have seen Godfrey pop up on your TV screen in recent years on NBC’s 30 Rock or FX’s Louie, but until this weekend, you haven’t seen the comedian born Godfrey C. Danchimah Jr. perform in his own hour-long stand-up comedy special.
Godfrey’s Black By Accident debuts Saturday, Aug. 27, 2011, on Comedy Central. A DVD version the following Tuesday will include a half-hour of additional stand-up material, plus bonus features including an interview. Before reading The Comic’s Comic interview with Godfrey, let’s take a look at this preview clip, in which he jokes about childhood hearing tests and how Chicago cold is different from New York City cold. Roll it.
A lot of your comedy is observational and physical — what is it about the human condition, or the way people act in public, that continues to fascinate you?
“I think it’s the little things that people don’t see. Sometime a a lot of people go about generally observing things. I find the nuance. A lot of comics, we talk about the same stuff…
“But there’s times when I like to find the strange angles to something. People go, ‘I heard a lot of jokes like that, but that’s one of the most interesting takes I heard.’ That’s what I try to do. Even when I go into the hack zone. You know what I’m talking about, hack zone. Airplane joke? But I fly a lot. I travel. So I make jokes about it and hope I can get people to go, I hadn’t thought about that. That’s cool. That’s what I take pride in in my stand-up, is changing things up. Being special.”
Here’s a clip from his DVD in which he talks about being original as a stand-up, and how he thinks political correctness and joke thieves are bad for comedy.
As for the title, Black By Accident?
“I like the title, because people laugh at it. It defines who I am pretty much, but I dig when people take it the wrong way…What do you mean? You didn’t mean to be black? Well, sure I did! My style of comedy, which you know, I relate to anybody. And a lot of times when I tell a joke that’s not in the black zone, oops, I’m sorry! I’m happy to be black, but I just know this information. That’s where the title comes from. I’ve always done things that were different from what people expected me to do. Being a son of immigrants, my view is different. And growing up in this country but having African values and British values, I come out being neutral.”
And yet, there’s not much talk about your own life experience in the special.
“I do not. I just wanted to not to that, and make that my second hour. My father passed in November, so I really really want to talk about him, because I have newer shit. My father, I have a ton of material about him because he was funny…he gave me so much shit…it was funnier with him. When I joke about him, people go my father is just like that.”
“My next special is probably going to be called, ‘I thought you were regular black.’
“I just wanted to have an introduction to me in this first hour. My crowd is mixed. People said, ‘You’re brave to do your comedy show in front of a bunch of jaded New Yorkers?’ A lot of comedians will go to a neutral city so they don’t fuck it up. A New York audience will ruin your hour.”
“I hope the next one I do will be better than the first. Sometimes the second one is weak. But I want to improve.”
With your upbringing as the son of an African immigrant, born in the middle of the United States (Nebraska), then raised in Chicago, did that make you feel a greater kinship with President Barack Obama? I know you often wore an Obama shirt onstage in NYC throughout the 2008 election.
“Obama — my father, he was so happy. He said, ‘Well, he’s black, but he’s African. He’s half-African.’ That was a really significant part, it really validated a lot of stuff I talk about being African and being educated. If you come to America and make the most of your opportunities, you can really make it. The fact that Obama was president really added some flavor to my act. He might not be doing that well politicially right now, but in terms of jokes, he’s sweet.”
You’re very energetic and physical onstage. Did you act up as a kid in school?
“Yeah. I was always funny. Especially, my mother can say she cultivated my love for television and comedy. We watched a lot of Jackie Gleason, lot of Lucille Ball, Laurel and Hardy, Three Stooges. I watched a lot of things constantly all the time. I was exposed to comedy. I had a knack for it. When I was three and four, I was impersonating Muhammad Ali and Howard Cosell. And I could make babies laugh. I thought, if I could make babies laugh…babies and New Yorkers, I’m good.”
“Even though I went to college for psychology, it all goes hand in hand. I had a knack for filmmaking and performing, because I’m a narcissist. As my girlfriend tells me, I’m a narcissist, it’s all about me. But I got into trouble a lot in school. They say you’re a disturbance in class. You’re a distraction, they’re moving you around. You never really get rewarded in class for being funny. You’re a disturbance. But the funny kid is often witty and clever and quick….they finally get a chance to express themselves when they get out of school.”
With your talk in this special about not caring for the cold weather in Chicago, or the heat of summers in New York City, why don’t you spend more time in Los Angeles?
“First off, I love New York City. I have relationships I don’t want to let go of. My dream is to have a show based in New York and not leave. I’ve been all over the world…I’ll tell you, New York wins. When they say it’s the center of the world, it’s true. Every movie they make they want to put New York in the background. Every comic wants to have that mental toughness. Every artist wants to come to New York. Frank Sinatra had songs about Chicago and New york, but he didn’t touch Los Angeles. Camaraderie, you have that in New York City, whether it’s fake or not you have that. You don’t have that camaraderie in Los Angeles. I’m bicoastal. I go back and forth. You can’t get that vibe when you go there. I’m always happy to be back.”
Since you’re in NYC, and you joke about this in the special, do you have a strategy for dealing with the homeless on the subway?
“I have this special technique of holding my breath until he walks past me. But I have to hold it in a little bit longer. Their stink is still there for another good minute. I have scuba diving techniques, but it’s self contained underground breathing. I do a half-Matrix thing if it’s not crowded, I lean back. It’s half-Matrix, not full Keanu, and then when he goes by, I go, ‘Whoa.'”
You do voices, too. Is the Denzel Washington impersonation just a given for black comedians now?
“Denzel Washington is the new imitation. It used to be Cosby. Some do it better than others. I have to give credit to Dean Edwards. Dean is the first one to really do Denzel well. The other guys who impersonate can really help you make yours better. And then another guy, Reggie Reg, and you see them, then you think I have to start practicing mine. And my Obama’s not bad, either. My Obama is not bad. It’s Town Hall obama. It’s roll up your sleeves when people are in church staring at you.”
“Because everybody has their version of Arnold (Schwarzenegger), black and white, and everyone does it and it gets a laugh. Even when it’s shitty, they do Arnold. I also do Jason Statham, which is somebody no black comics do.”
Before I let you go, can you update me on the status of your animated TV deal?
“I have no idea. These things are so fleeting. You work on them. FOX studio buys it, and it doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed. No matter what happens to it, I can say I sold a show. It gives you credit so you can come back and pitch again. Five shows out of 100 get accepted. It’s whatever happens. I’m glad I sold a show. I got farther than I did last time. Last time, they didn’t want it. This time, they bought it.”
“I’m hopefully crossing my fingers about this hour. For comedians, it’s all about your hour. It’s something that will get you to that next level. Of course, we all go on auditions and want to get a TV show, but you just control what you can do, which is your act. Thank God Comedy Central gives you a medium to show your thoughts on screen.”
“I can always create new material. That’s something I can control. I also have a bunch of new stuff on Vh1 this fall. Vh1 still has an audience, so I’ll always do those talking head shows; Sundance (Channel), too. And The Heart, She Holler, new series coming out on Adult Swim, I just did an episode with Patton Oswalt. And I did another episode of Louie — his niece comes to visit him and she can’t stand him. I’m the only person she’ll talk to. It’s funny.”
“You’ve got to keep moving, keep creating.”
“Godfrey: Black By Accident,” premieres at 11 p.m. EDT Saturday, Aug. 27, 2011, on Comedy Central. It’ll be available as a DVD on Aug. 30.