Capone only had a few minutes to talk to The Comic’s Comic on Wednesday night, fitting me in between rehearsals and showtime for Amateur Night at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem. Capone, born Derrick Lee, has hosted the infamous Apollo amateur showcases for nine years now, and says he’ll continue making time for it even though he’s about to embark on another leg of Shaquille O’Neal’s All-Star Comedy Jam — it kicks off tonight in New York City with two shows at the Best Buy Theater. Gary Owens hosts, with performances from Finesse Mitchell, Tony Roberts and Capone, plus DJ Spinderella.
You can see Capone and Shaq hamming it up in the photo above this week while promoting the tour.
How did you get the gig hosting Showtime at the Apollo? “I went to perform at amateur night as a special guest. The producer or the show saw me, asked if I’d be interested in being a rotating host. The rest is history.”
And you’re still hosting despite constant touring with Shaq and other road gigs? “Yeah, I still come and do it,” Capone says. “I’ve been flying in just for the Apollo just because they’ve been so dear to me.”
How is touring with a group — like you do for Shaq’s All-Stars — different from your regular road gigs? “The beginning of the tour was the preliminaries to see who fits in. The new DVD (“Live From Orlando”) is launched with it, along with the whole thing with Showtime, the deal with Lionsgate…
But what makes a group tour different for you? “In all honesty, you have to learn patience. Each one of the guys are headliners, so when you’ve got four headliners or five headliners, it’s different. With me, I’ve just learned to be humble and know that someone else could be doing it. I’m happy that I’m one of the guys that’s doing it. Any one of us could be replaced.”
“The thing is we really come together when we’re about to do the show. Most of the time when we come to a new city, everybody goes off into their own direction. But then, some of us are off doing press…others are doing their own thing.”
How is it touring with and performing for Shaq? Does he actually tour with you the whole time? “No, he comes to some of the shows. He doesn’t come to all of them but he comes to some of them. I guess as a comedian, and you’re performing for your boss, you want to stay on your A game. It can be nerve-wracking when you’re performing for someone as big as Shaq. You want to change it up. You don’t want to be seen as someone who does the same thing night after night.”
I know Shaq was in the audience for one of Kevin Hart’s specials, and he just laid into him. Do you do that, too? “You have to pick on him. He’s there. And he’s a comedian, too. Talking trash about the comedians, too, so it’s a bit of a revenge thing, when we get the mic.”
A 2010 bio of you online said that you also were a local businessman, owning a barber and beauty shop plus a computer store, all in the Bronx? Is that correct? “No, that’s not true any longer. I kind of let anything go for stress reasons. I wanted to focus on my comedy career. When you open up a business, it’s kind of hard when you can’t be there, to find someone you can trust to run things for you. So I decided to invest in myself. It’s been great so far.”
Some comedians, such as Carrot Top or Larry the Cable Guy, use a stage name because it’s part of their shtick as a character comedian? Why did you choose to perform as Capone, “the gangster of comedy,” and not under your birth name? “Well, the name was from the streets. I used to be a hustler back in the day. It just followed me.” So Capone was a nickname you got tagged with as a kid, then? “Nah, I can say early 20s, that’s when it started.”
Plenty of comedians have joked about Cinemax “after dark” programming, but I cannot think of any other comedian who actually has been in a “Skinemax” series, playing a comedian. How did you get involved with Zane’s Sex Chronicles? “It’s definitly a blessing. My manager at the time was the producer, Suzanne de Passe, and she was the one who discovered The Jackson 5. She was also the one who put me on Showtime at the Apollo. It was in my contract that I could be myseff and be the voice of reason (on Zane’s). I didn’t partake in any sex scenes. I’m kind of glad, but then again, I could have been mad. But yeah, that was in my contract.” What kind of feedback did you get from appearing on that series? “To this day, I get ‘When is that coming back on?’ So it’s kind of a good thing.”
Since that show ended in 2010, Capone has gone on to making Russell Simmons laugh again as part of last year’s Russell Simmons Presents: The Ruckus, on Comedy Central. Roll the clip.
How was doing The Ruckus on TV different for you from performing on Russell Simmons’ earlier stand-up comedy showcase, Def Comedy Jam? “Def Jam was something that was probably a dream of mine for years to come. So I gave it everything I got. I became a nurtured comedian when I did The Ruckus.” Why do you say nurtured? “When you’re hungry for something you kind of give it your all. I was seasoned when I did The Ruckus. It was a great opportunity. But it wasn’t the same. Def Jam was a big break. Ruckus was more keeping yourself relevant.”
“And now doing the Shaq (tour) is, you’re aiming for stardom. The exposure I’m getting now is unbelievable.”
How long this tour? “This one we’ll do it til January, and do new contracts. As long as I’m doing good.”
I saw Shaq just Tweeted something about a contest for the next “all-star” to join the tour as an opening act — what do you know about that? “They’re always looking for new comedians, because the brand is strong and it’s only getting stronger. If everybody had any sense, they’d take part in anything that goes on with that.”
What does your 2013 look like so far? “I’m getting a lot of calls now, but I’m turning a couple of gigs down, because…the filming part of this tour is drumming up movies and other stuff. I dont’ want to spread myself too thin and miss out on opportunities in-house.”
One of those in-house opportunities is the new DVD, Shaq’s All-Star Comedy Jam: Live From Orlando, featuring Capone, Gary Owen, Lil’ Duval, Tony Roberts and Jay Pharoah. Here’s a clip!
You can buy the DVD now via Amazon or iTunes: