Chappelle's Show's Paul Mooney
Paul Mooney' been taking on race since it was still fashionable for white folks to be racist. Most recently known as Chappelle' Show' Negrodamus, Mooney also served as Richard Pryor' longtime writing partner and was a driving force behind shows like In Living Color and Sanford and Son. In honor of Black History Month, the 66-year-old Oakland native released his new, delicately titled DVD, Know Your History: Jesus Was Black"¦So Was Cleopatra. Mooney took some time to tell us why Hillary Clinton will be our next president, why Michael Jackson' innocent and why he' stopped using the N-word.
I read that you were recently pulled off stage at the Apollo Theater for insulting George W. Bush. Is that true?
That is true"¦. Because I talked about him on TimeWarner. I was working with Whoopi Goldberg because she was hosting the show. She left and I was supposed to host. I made some comments, some jokes. They were funny to the audience. The audience loved it. The people that were filming it, I guess it went to LA-they could see it in LA. They shut down everything for an hour and a half until they decided what to do with me. I'm glad I have witnesses in the dressing room because they came and they told me that I was fired and why, and then when the press came after them, they denied it.
That' crazy. It seems like the Apollo is a place where you can say whatever you feel like saying.
Right, right. It was. I laughed. I thought it was funny. I called Whoopi and told her and she said, "Welcome to the club." She got fired off that weight-watching thing she did when she made a comment about him.
On the Know Your History DVD, a young white couple gets up and walks out. You seem to like it when people get pissed off at your act.
It' funny that people can be moved by much ado about nothing. I mean, me making a comment about Bush is nothing to get angry about. If you're gonna get angry, you should be angry about that war and those kids dying"¦. People are weird when it comes to jokes. I just think it' funny that they can get so moved by nothing.
How about the presidential candidates for 2008? Do you like any of them?
Oh, I'm the first person to predict that Hillary would be President. I was the first person to say that. The very first.
What do you think would make her a good president?
I spotted it way back in the day. Way back. I spotted it like a bird-watcher. Just like I knew that Ronald Reagan would be president, back before he was governor. I saw him speaking on behalf of someone else, and I thought, "He' talking about himself." I remember telling Richard , "He' going to run for president." Hillary, I knew. I felt it. Madam President. I mean, I say it on the DVD and I make jokes about it, but I've always been a big fan of Hillary.
What do you think would be the best thing, or the worst thing, about having a female president?
America' ready for it. We're being groomed for it. And what I really think is that Obama and her will join together. I think that he'll run with her. I think that he'll be vice president. I feel it. Because if he' vice-president, that will assure she won't be assassinated.
Because they don't want a black president.
You've created classic characters like In Living Color' Homey the Clown and Negrodamus. Do you like any one character more than another?
What' done is done. That' my feeling about it. I mean, I'm an artist. I wear different hats. I just enjoy doing what I'm doing. Homey the Clown, Negrodamus, Ask a Black Man-I loved all of them"¦. It' a fun experience for me. Things are meant to be a certain way, and when it ends, it ends.
Once, we were doing a tribute to Richard Pryor, Dick Gregory and a couple of other people at the Apollo. Richard had just gotten sick"¦and I had to put on these earphones and tell Richard his lines. I had to coach him. I was in the booth and I started crying because I knew this was the last time I would ever do this. I knew it was over. What is, is. I just had this feeling it was over. People asked me why I was crying, and I said, "I'll never do this again." I just knew it. And I never did.
All good things must end, in life and creativity. I just enjoy the moment, because you can't hold anything forever. What' done is done, and if it' done well, then I'm happy.
You've worked with both Richard Pryor and Dave Chappelle. Do you think that Dave picked up where Richard left off?
Richard was the tree. is just an apple, and the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. In Living Color came from Richard Pryor' shows. A lot of stuff came from Richard. Richard was the mothership.
You've been involved in the aftermath of Michael Richard' rant.
Definitely. Actually, it wasn't a rant, it was a meltdown. It was a nervous breakdown. It wasn't a performance. He flipped out"¦and he just went crazy. There were a lot of layers to that. It wasn't just the way it seemed. It wasn't so basic.
In a way, your work with Richard Pryor helped popularize the N-word. But since Michael Richards' meltdown, you've pledged to stop using it, right?
I have been married to that word. I have romanced that word. Richard and I had fun with that word. We took the air out of it. People have said things like, "When blacks use it, they spell it with an -a and not an -er." A goat, when you sauté it or barbecue it, it' still a goat. And it had become an equal opportunity word to young Latin, Asian and white kids to use it.
Richard Pryor was the first Afro-American to stop saying it when he came back from Africa, because it' not in the African language. You couldn't translate it. He thought about that word while he was there. There were no N-people there. And when he got back to America, he said he wasn't ever going to say it again. At the time, I couldn't see the problem with the N-word, so I said. "No, I'm gonna say it." It took Michael Richards' skit. I heard about it, I watched the video. Jesse Jackson called me, Al Sharpton called me. All kinds of people called, because they knew I was the ambassador for the word.
I had a private meeting with Michael. He was very glad to see me. I gave him tough love and forgiveness, and Michael really didn't know he had that in him. He flipped out, because white people agreed with him, and he didn't want to be the head of the Klan. And he really, really felt bad about it, about his breakdown. He knew it. He wanted to do something to help correct what he did and said.
So I made that statement and that stand. I can't change the past, but I can change the present and the future. I'm not saying it anymore. I'm like a junky. I had to cold turkey. But I've been doing it, and I've still been funny. It' been great, and I've been happy. I just want to live in a world that says "No" to the N-word. I don't think we need it anymore.
You say in your act that you think Michael Jackson is innocent. What makes you so certain about that?
Because I've known Michael since he was about eight years old"¦. From my experience with him, that' too normal. He' on The X-Files. Seriously, he' out there. And from my experience, he' a check-writer. He thinks that money can just cure anything-if he gave something enough money, it could go away.
I talked about him once on The Arsenio Hall Show. I was opening for Eddie Murphy on the Raw tour. Michael was calling me, and I thought it was Eddie, because Eddie can do impressions. I kept telling Eddie to stop calling me as Michael Jackson, and Eddie convinced me that, "it' not me, Paul, it' probably him." So I talked about Michael , and I swear to you, he offered me money. That' what I'm talking about. He' a check-writer. So"¦I thought, if somebody was around Michael and they knew that he was a check-writer, they would get money from him.
Your first job in show business was in the circus. Are any parallels between the circus and comedy?
Not really, no. There' no parallel. I'd rather work with the animals than work with comedians. Comedians are crazy. Including myself, I know that comedians have all kinds of issues and problems. That' what makes us comedians"¦. There was one comedian I knew that was a serial rapist. Did you know about him?
He was a good comic. He was always in jail. He was running around, raping women. And they called him the nice rapist, because he would apologize, he would use protection and stuff. And he would go get these young women, he'd go to colleges and sit in the waiting areas, in the lounges"¦. They busted him because of his bookings.
You helped discover some comedians who are kind of out there, like Robin Williams and Sandra Bernhardt. In 30 years, who' the craziest person you've worked with?
Actually, Richard. Richard was pretty crazy. And the second craziest would be Flip Wilson. He was pretty crazy too. But I think it comes with the territory"¦. have different sides to them. They have a lot of sides to them. Richard was actually an introvert, just like Eddie' an introvert. They're inwards. They keep a lot in. It' hard to really get close to them. But I'm a people person. I don't have a lot of barriers.
Buy Paul' new DVD at Amazon.