California State University, Northridge, will be in for a night of side-splitting laughter on Thursday, Sept. 18, when Sinbad takes hold of the mic at the Valley Performing Arts Center, at 7:30 p.m.
CSUN Today was able to sit down for an exclusive interview with the comedian, on the upcoming performance, life and his inspirations.
One of the things about your work is that there are certain themes that have carried over throughout the years, including generation change, race relations and family. What has changed or maybe grown in your comedy over the years?
When you first come into the game, you’re just trying to prove that you’re funny. Now 30 years in, I’m not worried about that. Now I ask, where do I want to take this performance today? How do I take this up a notch? I never do the same thing. I’m always changing it up. Part of that is because I’m interacting with the audience a lot. I’ll ask them questions and take my routine in the directions they lead. I also get bored real quick. That’s why I do a lot of incorporating with other mediums, such as music. I love having bands with me.
What do you love about being a comedian? It’s not all laughs, so what makes you want to keep going?
For me, stand up is like jazz. It’s free flowing and all about the timing. I think it’s the freest art form there is. With music, there’s music to learn, and then you’ve got to buy an instrument and learn an instrument. You need a place to play, and then you might need a band and other people. But as a comedian, you don’t even need a mic sometimes. You can do it anywhere, and it’s raw energy. The only way to practice comedy is to test it out on people. It’s the only art form where the doing of it is the actual practice of it.
One of the things that hasn’t changed is your refusal to cuss in your comedy. Why keep it clean when so many other comedians don’t?
When I started, it wasn’t a refusal. When I cleaned it up, it basically was because my father was going to come see me perform. My father’s a preacher. He wouldn’t have judged me. He would have come no matter what, but I thought, ‘well, let me just change it up tonight so when he’s here, it’s not so bad.’ But then I found out it worked. I thought, let me take it as far as I can. I thought I was still one of the most controversial comics out there, because I’d talk about everything: drugs, sex, race, whatever and I had kids in my audience. How much edgier can you get than that? But I believe you can use anything that you want.
Early in my career, I was in a club in Chicago, and we all sounded like bad Richard Pryor imitations. Every guy was trying to be Richard Pryor. But it really was a disservice to Richard Pryor, Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, even Joan Rivers. When they were cursing and being on the edge, they weren’t rewarded early in their careers. In fact, their careers took a hit because of language they used. So I respect them even more now, because they used that language even if it meant their careers might never take off. Now everyone gets rewarded for being dirty. Everyone now says they’re edgy. How edgy can you be when everyone’s doing the same thing? To me edgy is being true to yourself. Edgy is how raw you can be with who you are. Edgy is how much of yourself, pain and all, can you just put out there for others to see and relate to.
As a kid, who were some of your biggest influences?
So many of my early influences were the cats in my neighborhood. Local guys I wanted to become: musicians, drummers and basketball players were my first heroes. My dad was the biggest influence. My dad, while a preacher, was a funny man and not judgmental. His and his parents’ life was terrible. He showed me that no matter where you come from, you can be great and have compassion for people.
But comedy, that was an accident. I knew I was funny, but I didn’t know how you made it in comedy. I remember being 5 years old and watching The Steve Allen Show, and there was this guy on, Alan King. He was telling these jokes about mother in laws. I didn’t know what a mother in law was, but he had people laughing. My dad walked in, and I looked at my dad, and he said, ‘Why you still up?’ And I said, ‘I’m gonna be him when I grow up.’ To which my dad said, ‘If you don’t get to bed, you won’t grow up.’ That thought was in my head and then put away. But then I was seeing people like Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby, Redd Foxx, Red Skelton, so many guys that I wanted to be. I was blessed, because I came up in a time when I didn’t want to specialize. I wanted to be everything. I think that helped me with comedy, because I could talk about everything. I didn’t just see everything in a comedy box.
What can faithful fans, and perhaps newcomers, expect from your comedy show at the VPAC?
For my faithful fans, let me use a music analogy: There might be a new album out, but there’s a certain sound I’m gonna bring that’s undeniably me. And for those who’ve never seen me, ah man, you better hang on, you have no clue what you’re in for.
What’s your connection to CSUN? What made you choose the VPAC as a venue?
Both my son and daughter attended CSUN in college, and they both enjoyed their time here. And it was through them that I met Nate Thomas, the head of the Film option, and he is a beast. He’s just the best. And it was my boy Nate who was telling me about this new place, the Valley Performing Arts Center, that they built, and I was like, ‘what?’ I didn’t even know about it. And I live in the Valley, but I’m on the road almost every weekend and I hardly perform in L.A. So it’s nice to have a venue back in the Valley.
And as for CSUN, man that campus has grown so much. I call it the unknown sleeper school. Everybody’s going to USC and UCLA, and I say man don’t underestimate CSUN, it’ got some great stuff happening there. I keep joking with Nate Thomas that I’m gonna come and finish school there.
For all of our students who’ll be reading this, what’s the one thing you know now that you wish you had known back in your 20s?
Young people get frustrated and give up so quickly. They live in extremes, of oh, this is never gonna happen, or this happened too fast, happened too slow. What I’ve learned is you need patience. Life is a distance game, it’s not a sprint. I tell them you’ve got to get out of your circle sometimes. Do something that makes you uncomfortable, because that’s when you’ll find your greatness. My dad used to tell me, if you don’t mind being the worst one in the room for a short period of time, you can master anything. And you know I love being on college campuses, I love being around young people. I always tell people, if you’re feeling old and mad, be around young people. It’s like a drug, like a growth hormone or something. We need them as much as they need us.