For Darryl Lenox, hindsight was 20/20.
An incident in his young adult life left Lenox almost permanently and completely blind, and the comedian discusses it as well as his path to regaining sight in his new stand-up special, Blind Ambition, which debuted over the weekend on Starz. It repeats this month and next on Starz, while a CD version comes out Tuesday via Stand Up! Records. Here’s a clip that includes portions of that special, plus Lenox talking about his eyesight, and why he didn’t kill himself for going blind. Roll it!
Lenox is the first of four headlining stand-up specials to air on Starz — he talks with The Comic’s Comic about that, living in Vancouver vs. living in NYC, and more. Full disclosure: I’ve known Lenox since before Y2K, and even opened for him on the road once or twice. Maybe twice.
Since then, Lenox has gone on to perform at both Montreal’s Just for Laughs festival and the old HBO U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, won the Seattle International Comedy Competition, and appeared on both Live at Gotham for Comedy Central and Jamie Foxx’s Laffapalooza.
How did you wind up on Starz? “I did all the producing and stuff. It all started with Comedy Central not knowing what to do with me, not fitting their demographic,” Lenox said. “The Comedy Network in Canada asked me about doing a show there, but then they found out I wasn’t a Canadian citizen myself. So I decided to do it myself! We started shopping it. Starz, they jumped right on top of it. We liked that it was the first one they ever did. That and fueling my massive ego. And (Chris) Albrecht’s over there. When he greenlights something, it means something.”
You mention not being a Canadian citizen, and yet you lived and kept your base their for several years while working the road for comedy gigs. How did that happen? Did you leave the country because of President George W. Bush or something? “Those were the most formative years in my life,” Lenox said. “I had something way worse than Bush’s presidency. I had an ex-wife, which was way more brutal than Bush.”
He explains one incident, in which “she called my manager — I had one week in Canada booked — I got demoted from headliner one night to middle the next.”
“It was a great place for me, until they kicked me out in 2005,” he said. Why did they kick you out? “They said I was working there illegally. They made a mistake and apologized since, so they let me back up to work, and it’s all fine now. I taped my special there, in Vancouver.”
So how is the eyesight now? “It’s maintaining. Ever since the surgery. I’ve got a visual distance,” he said. “But still, nobody would trade eyes with me. They’re not great but they’re not horrible. There’s nothing I can do about it now.”
You could go take advantage of that free healthcare Canada brags about, until Obamacare kicks in. “Nah, my wife is Canadian, so I’d have to stay there for six months to do that.”
Has your eyesight, in addition to the years you spent living in Canada, also lent a different perspective to your comedy? “A lot of stuff I used to do, I don’t do anymore,” he said. “When we started in Seattle, everybody had a Moses Lake or a Roseburg joke. Everybody could have a Quayle joke. It was all cheearleing and quick to the punch. When I moved to Canada, they didn’t care about Quayle, and they certainly didn’t care about Roseburg. So i had to start over.”
“Nobody knew me there. Nobody knew my ex-wife. She didn’t call anyone there. So I had to get up and say, ‘What did I want to be today?’ It was this rebuilding process. It was really good for me.”
How long have you been in New York City? I don’t feel like I see you around the scene or clubs that often. Are you on the road a bunch? “I’ve been in New York since 2006,” he said. “I am on the road a lot. I’ve got a big rent and a wife. There’s nothing that can help me at Ha! that’s going to help with those two issues.
“And I didn’t start with those guys in New York. I didn’t know them. I didn’t like the process of sitting around and calling in for avails. I wanted to get better right now. I felt like i could get better getting out on the road than sitting around and doing short spots. When I want to work, I want to work. And my best friend at the time was Todd Lynn. He used to say, ‘The clubs don’t do what they used to do in this city…You could make a name and a reputation for yourself in this city. You don’t need to do that anymore.’ So I listened to him.”
Do you plan on turning Blind Ambition into a DVD soon? “Starz, they’re going to play it a bunch of times in November, then play the hell out of it in January, obviously February for Black History Month,” he said. “We are doing our own DVD. They don’t allow us to stream. I assume that’s because they’re going to do their own online stuff (for Starz). We’re going to release our own DVD sometime down the line.”
Buy the CD version of Darryl Lenox, “Blind Ambition,” via iTunes: