Godfrey Talks Oprah and being Black By Accident
Chicago comic braces for premiere of first Comedy Central special
After sixteen years of pounding it out in comedy clubs across America, the stand-up comedian known as Godfrey will have his first one-hour long Comedy Central special on Saturday, August 27. Entitled Black By Accident, Godfrey explains the title as a way of life he came to understand as a young man growing up in the windy city of Chicago. After numerous appearances on the Oprah Winfrey Show in 1990’s, Godfrey turned his personable skills towards stand-up comedy where he quickly excelled and became a regular at legendary New York comedy clubs like The Comic Strip and Comedy Cellar.
SanDiego.com had a chance to talk with Godfrey and discussed his early years doing comedy in Chicago and his ongoing vendetta against joke thieves.
Congratulations on your special.
Godfrey: It’s about damn time, thanks! I’m crossing my fingers; I just want people to like it and I just want to increase the fan base, you know what I mean?
I think your appearance on the first season of Louie really peaked people’s interest into your comedy.
Godfrey: Yeah, I think so. I just did another episode for this new season.
Has it aired yet?
Godfrey: I don’t think so. I think he might save me for last again. I’m the weapon. I don’t think it’s aired yet, because usually when people see me the let me know. I don’t usually watch myself, plus with television, you don’t know what time shit is on anymore.
When did you film this special?
Godfrey: I shot this hour special in January, and most people when they do an hour special they do at least 2 or 3 shows just to get the best out of every show; I just did one. I had one shot and that was it.
Did you consider yourself to be a clutch performer?
Godfrey: Yeah, I do have to admit that I usually come through when put under pressure. Especially when it comes to comedic stuff, I’m pretty good at that. I mean so far, so good.
Do you remember the first time you did stand-up?
Godfrey: I walked on to my college football team and made it, and they had a rookie talent show. You’re forced to do it; they shave your head and they make you do something. They have a variety show for the coaches and the veteran players, and all I did was imitate the staff and they kept me up there. They were like, ‘You should think about this comedy,’ and I was like, ‘I’ve been thinking about it a little bit.’ Then I remember going on the Oprah Winfrey Show, because I’m from Chicago, so I used to go on Oprah’s show all the time. I remember in between commercials I had Oprah Winfrey in tears laughing. And she would always invite me to the shows and she’d go, ‘You thinking about doing comedy?’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m thinking about it.’ and then I finally started to do it.
How did you get to meet Oprah?
Godfrey: My friend Jocelyn, she used to work at The Improv in Chicago, and she would let me in free and I would go and watch Chris Rock, Bill Engvall; I watched all these guys back in the day and then the same girl said, ‘Hey I got some tickets to the Oprah Winfrey show, wanna go?’ And I said, ‘Yeah sure!’ And we went and it was a dance party. Remember Color Me Badd?
Godfrey: It was them, Gerardo, C+C Music Factory and at the end of the show I told my friend, ‘Yo, I’m gonna go over there and dance with Oprah. That’ll get me some recognition.’ So I went over there and stood there and danced with Oprah. From then I had friends that worked for Harpo Productions in college and I would just come to the show every once and awhile. Because Oprah was sort of organized like Donahue; it was like an everyday people show, it wasn’t interviews with celebrities all the time. So I went on shows with different topics and she actually invited me to be on a panel about relationships. So I was on there for a two-day seminar, which she paid for, and then she took us to see Malcolm X with Spike Lee two weeks before it came out. Before her farewell year they called me to come on the show for people who had been on the show in the past but the producer; I don’t know this lady, she never called me back – I was so pissed off. I was there when her and Michael Jordan landed in Chicago! I was mad as hell. I should’ve been on there man, fuck that! The funny thing is she called me! I didn’t call her.
Had you started doing stand-up yet when you were going on Oprah’s show?
Godfrey: Not yet, it was maybe two or three years after that.
So your appearances on Oprah were sort of your introduction into show business.
Godfrey: It was, because that was the best way to get on TV, because Oprah’s the biggest thing. You either played for the Bulls or you get on Oprah Winfrey. That’s how I got recognized. People around the city would be like, ‘Oh, I saw you on the Oprah Winfrey Show.’ And I was like, ‘Cool!’ Then I remember this girl I was dating in college, one day she took down everything I said that whole day; without me knowing she wrote down everything I talked about and she goes, ‘You know, you need to think about this comedy thing, because all this shit you talked about is some of the funniest shit that I ever heard.’ I was going to University of Illinois and when I got back to Chicago, one day I went to this amateur night with a friend of mine. It was at The Funny Firm in downtown Chicago on Orleans Street. The host was Mike Toomey' he’s a veteran comic from Chicago. And I went as a comedy team, it was me and a guy named Alexander. I said, ‘Why don’t we go as a comedy team? That’ll be kind of cool; they haven’t seen a black duo in a long time. Let’s do it!’ I remember it was the longest walk ever when we got called up to the stage. It was the weirdest thing, I couldn’t believe that I was about to perform in front of people. So I did that for a year, and then I broke off and did my own thing. That’s when I got motivated to break up and get out of the dup shit. Steve Harvey said, ‘You need to get rid of that guy.’ So I said, ‘Ok’ and then I got rid of him, and then I started watching Bernie Mac on the Southside of Chicago and that’s when I started doing the open mics..
Do you know what your former partner Alexander is doing these days?
Godfrey: I don’t know what he’s doing now. I saw him a couple of years ago in L.A. just out of the blue. He was kind of talented but he wasn’t focused. He liked to be high. He liked to be high but not make any money.
How long have you lived in New York?
Godfrey: I’ve been in New York fourteen years. I tried out the circuit in New York, and it was my speed and I knew this was going to make me a really good comedian, and also, I didn’t want to go to L.A. because I just didn’t like the vibe there. I just thought it was weird. I know that Hollywood is out there, but I really wanted to be funny. I wanted to be a damn good comedian and Hollywood is in New York too. There’s stuff done in New York.
When you moved to New York how long did it take you to become integrated into the line-ups at The Comedy Cellar?
Godfrey: I was at The Boston Comedy Club which was down the street from The Cellar; Barry Katz owned it at one time. The Comedy Cellar is run by this lady named Estee, and I had to show her my tape. I didn’t get in right away. I was a Comic Strip guy, I was uptown. Then I eventually went downtown and I heard about this Comedy Cellar place, which has a low ceiling and fits 130 people, and I was like, ‘Wow. This is where I want to be.’ After a couple of tries I got an audition and I finally got in. I started doing late night, which I still do to this day. Last night I was up at two in the morning. I always get up last after Dave Atell. It was me and Dave Atell last night.
How long are your sets at The Cellar?
Godfrey: I stay last, and you know how much I do? I do a half hour to forty. I stay late because I’m a bum and I want to do a half hour, because I don’t want to hear any comics bitching about anything. I also go last because that’s when the audience is at its worst, they’re the most tired or drunk, and I feel that if I work my jokes out when it’s the hardest position my jokes will be better and it’s fine tuning myself. Plus the owner lets me do longer because I’m last and I’ve earned that. And I’ve been last for the past 10 years.
What’s your take on crowd work?
Godfrey: My thing about crowd work is; I’m not a big crowd work guy. Do you know who Allan Havey is?
Yeah, Night After Night.
Godfrey: Allan Havey is the king of crowd work; he’s really good at that shit. Rich Vos is a good crowd work dude too. Sometimes I’ll use crowd work to bait people into my jokes. Crowd work I’m good at because I like to have it open in case someone gets out of line. I got that from being in the urban circuit too. In the urban circuit crowd work is the thing.
You recently Tweeted about spotting a joke thief that walked into The Comedy Cellar while you were onstage and immediately stopped your performance.
Godfrey: I sure did. It was a dude named Will, that’s all I know, he calls himself Will.
So he’s a known thief and you just stopped your set the moment you saw him walk in?
Godfrey: I was in the middle of a bit and I fucking stopped dead in it. I’m not lying man. Because I don’t respect joke thieves, I can’t stand them. I work too hard on my stuff. One thing about me is I’ll change up my jokes a lot; I like to do different stuff all the time. Atell and Colin Quinn are the same way, we like taking chances and doing new stuff. I’m not here to give somebody else my shit. I think it’s horrible and I think you’re lazy minded and how dare you how to try to take my shit. Like Joe Rogan and Carlos Mencia, remember that? Anytime I see Rogan, I go, ‘You’re the man! You’re the martyr man! I appreciate it!’ I gotta take a chance and eat my balls for how many weeks to get this joke right and you’re going to come and take it. No, forget that! I’m calling out all joke thieves.