I went to a comedy show and a freestyle rap battle broke out.
But not before the audience also bore witness to a live DJ breaking down beats, singing and/or rapping from a classic name in old-school hip-hop, a funny Internet video you’d like to email your friends and coworkers about the next morning, and a solid dose of stand-up comedy from touring club headliners.
Such is the Mixtape Comedy Show, hosted and produced the third Sunday of each month at Gotham Comedy Club by Royale Watkins and Anthony Anderson. When I caught up with the dynamic duo of comedy variety, Anderson’s Guys With Kids was but a promising new sitcom on the NBC slate — it received an order for four additional episodes late last week from the network.
Here’s a clip explaining the Mixtape Comedy Show for those of you who haven’t seen it live before. Roll it!
They joked that it took them more than a year into their run of more than three years doing Mixtape together (it’ll be four years come January) to actually get to know each other.
“How long have we known each other?” Anderson asked Watkins. “We’ve known each a long time…we’re going to say 12 years. Yeah. Twelve years. That’s a good number.”
Watkins: “Round it to 12.”
What made you decide in 2009 to do a comedy show together?
Anderson: “Both of our kids are in private school, and we thought we could monetize our relationship.”
It’s that simple?
Watkins: “No, it’s not that simple.”
Anderson: “That’s what it’s become!”
Watkins: “That’s what it’s become. But it started out as, we were goofing around. You know, Anthony has always been a funny guy, and I’ve always appreciated…we had been talking about trying to do something, stand-up wise, for a while, and we were goofing around on Facebook three, three-and-a-half years ago and the fans were like, you guys should do a comedy show? It was like, absolutely. Let’s do something. And Anthony was here in New York at the time doing Law & Order, so it was like going to be much easier for us to be doing something here in New York where he is spending most of his time. And I’ll jump on a plane and fly back and forth. And we put up the first show. Fans got really excited about it and said you guys should do it again next week. We’re like, oh, we can’t do a weekly show, but we can come up and do a monthly show. And from there, after the first one, the second one, people continued to get excited about it.”
Is the plan to take it back to Los Angeles now that you have the sitcom there?
Anderson: “No, no, no. We won’t take it back home to Los Angeles. We’ll keep it here.”
Watkins: “We purposely avoided L.A.”
Anderson: “It could have been simple for us to do it in L.A., but no.”
Watkins: “We’re looking to expand the footprint of the show. We’ve been looking at cities like Chicago and D.C., and New Jersey and Seattle. But not L.A.”
Anderson jokes: “We might take it to Des Moines, Iowa. They’re starving for comedy there. Wichita Falls. You know. We want to go places, uncharted.”
Anderson: “Stone Mountain, Georgia. You know, where the Klan is. Yeah. You know, Klansmen like to laugh.”
Watkins: “Everywhere but L.A.”
There are a ton of great comedians in NYC. What sets Mixtape apart from the city’s other comedy shows.
Anderson: “Royale Watkins and Anthony Anderson.”
Watkins: “That’s where it starts right there.”
The starpower, then, is what you’re saying?
Watkins: “When you talk about starpower, we’re talking about bringing quality entertainment to people, is the thing that makes us completely different from what anybody else is doing.”
Anderson: “And we like to say, if you’re going to use the word ‘star,’ you know, constellation. It’s a whole lot bigger than star.”
Like that poster of you two in front of the club?
Anderson: “You know it’s funny, because Warner Bros. Television wouldn’t give me a poster for my television show All About the Andersons, but Gotham Comedy Club plasters me all over subways, buses and cabs. Yeah. That’s how we do it in New York!”
Is that you do it Gotham instead of the other New York comedy clubs?
Anderson: “This was Royale’s relationship.”
Watkins: “When we reached out to Gotham and Chris Mazzilli, Chris just got it. And his response was, whatever you guys need! And so when you have somebody who is, whatever you guys need, it’s hard to turn that down.”
Anderson: “And not to slight the other rooms in the area, but they already had something going on there. We didn’t want to follow suit. It’s like, ‘Oh, were such-and-such has his night on Tuesday, and we can package you, and you got your Sunday, and you got your Tuesday,’ it’s a little different here at Gotham. And like Royale said, it’s been whatever you need, and it’s been that way since day one.”
What does having a DJ there add to the show?
Anderson: “It keeps them entertained when I’m not funny onstage…Music is a great component to any show.” He adds: “Any good party has a great DJ. Not only are you entertained with our comics here, but it’s also a party atmosphere.”
Watkins: “The other thing is this: The thing that sets our show apart is we have three dynamic pieces of entertainment that have been pulled together to give people a full show. We have comedians, we have a freestyle rap battle, and we have a closing music artist. The DJ is the connective tissue between those three elements.”
Anderson: “That’s what Snoop says. When somebody says something poignant, you know, CHURCH! I really don’t know what that means, but when you’re in church, and the pastor says something poignant, the people in the church don’t say ‘church,’ they say like, ‘Amen, amen!’ or ‘Hallelujah!’ Something like that. But you know, church.”
How important is it for both of you personally to get onstage?
Anderson: “I try to keep Royale off the stage. He’s a stage whore. And I’m going to tell you this: The room is great. The energy is great. And Royale’s a comic. A damn good comic. So when the energy is flowing like that, he’s just chomping at the bit. He’s like, ‘You fat motherfucker! Get off the mic so I can come up there.’ And, I’m the fat motherfucker. So I get off the mic and let him come up.”
Watkins: “It’s important…look, we provide a service. And when that service is fine-tuned and packaged, it makes the experience that much more dynamic. Anthony obviously brings all of his starpower and fun and his jovial self, but the jokes on top of that make him a force that is just hard to beat. Me, I’m a practiced comedian. I have a lot of material. I have some things I want to say. And when you have the energy and excitement that our fanbase brings to this room once a month, it’s hard to let that go. It’s important to get onstage and practice, so once we get onstage we can have as much fun as we possibly can have.”
How has the show evolved over the years? Did you have the vision for Mixtape in place from the start?
Watkins: “The first version was just comedians. It wasn’t the Mixtape Comedy Show. It was some other name. We hadn’t even come up with Mixtape yet. In between the first show and the second, Anthony and I ended up freestyle rap battling each other.”
Anderson: “I whipped his ass!”
Watkins: “He did. On Facebook. We posted videos. And the fans saw those videos and said you guys should battle each other at the next comedy show.”
Anderson: “And then I whipped his ass!”
Watkins: “No, you didn’t.”
Anderson: “Not by you, though. You brought in this secret weapon.”
Watkins: “This female rapper came in and tore the place apart. And we haven’t seen her since.”
Anderson: “We have not. Because she was scared I was going to get all up in that ass.”
Watkins said they brought up Kangol Kid from UTFO one month. “Once we looked at all of the pieces, we realized, we have a comedy show, we have a freestyle battle, and we have a closing music artist, let’s move these pieces around. We’ve since added viral video clips up front of the show. It just gives it a bigger feel and then last year we started streaming the show online for all of the people who were complaining, ‘Hey, I don’t live in New York City. I want to experience the show.’ We started streaming online and the social media piece allowed the fans to engage us during the show in real time. Just continue to add. Most people call them fans. We call them brand ambassadors, or co-producers, because those people continue to tell us stuff about the show, learn about the show from a perspective we can’t have because we’re onstage in New York City.”