Tommy Davidson on Playing Sammy Davis Jr., Killer Karaoke, and Whether Crack Really Kills
In Living Color's Tommy Davidson is hard at work on Deconstructing Sammy, a biopic about Sammy Davis Jr. The film would follow other castmate turns like Jamie Foxx in Ray and Jim Carrey as Andy Kaufman in Man on the Moon.
That's great and all, but how much longer must we wait before we finally get Damon Wayans in the Medgar Evers story?
"You're gonna wait a long time for that," Davidson told Cultist in advance of his three night stand at the Miami Improv, starting Thursday.
Let's all lock hands and see if a little positive thinking won't help. And while we're at it, spare a little for Davidson, whose film isn't a done deal yet. He explained, "We're adapting a book to a screenplay and then trying to make a movie. It's difficult. I have as much a chance as I did making it as a standup, so I'm just really working hard on it."
Davidson's impersonation is a vehicle for jokes, yes, but it's also a tribute to a man that inspired him in very concrete ways.
"Well, he's the greatest entertainer who ever lived. He was an eclectic American and I loved his humanity and that he didn't have a hateful bone in his body. He broke the color line for entertainers in this country."
In Living Color itself was a massive post-racial success, but Davidson saw color lines differently long before joining the cast. He was adopted by a white couple.
"They call it a point of view, when you're trying to sell an idea to people who don't know shit in entertainment. But for the layman," Davidson said, "the way I see things is that love is the power. There was nothing that separated black from white in my family. It's the world that saw my family as black and white."
It was an experience that has found Davidson firmly in favor of adoptions by homosexual couples.
"Anyone who has love to give a child, that child deserves it. It's really simple math. You've got a child with no love and a couple wants to give it to them. There it is. It doesn't matter about their sexual orientation.
"I see things different from the way the world sees them. But I was fortunate to be raised by a white woman from Wyoming at a time when the whole country was coming together. Through violence, through pain. I've got a cowboy grandfather from Wyoming, a Native American grandfather from Mississippi. I have a brother, Michael, who died from AIDS 20 years ago, a gay white male. I 've got all these people who I'm composed of. And I'm not the only one."
As you might imagine, Davidson's standup act is a bit more nuanced that most. Its strength is what caught Keenan Ivory Wayans' attention all those years ago, and his dedication to his craft was highlighted in the documentary I Am Comic.
"I have a very abstract act," he told us, "and yet - and I know this will sound artsy-fartsy - but I'm probably like jazz in its first couple of years...I'm like the Cirque du Soleil. I have a whole lot to offer from the past, present and future."
So if this weekend you have family visiting from the year 2046, tell them it's safe to take off the scuba tank and head down to the Improv for a laugh. And they don't need to bone up their history, either; Davidson doesn't consider himself a topical comedian, not that he isn't giddy when a chance comes up for him to chime in on the news. Example: his old target Marion Berry's recent claims that the government was trying to kill him with crack.
"It's kind of a farfetched notion if you're not doing crack," Davidson noted. "Why wouldn't the government just do a coup like they do in other countries, rather than going through all the trouble? You want to kill a guy so you give him some crack? And what happens? He says, 'Thanks for the rock!'"
Unless some prankster glues a pudding cup to Davidson's forehead, however, you won't see anything resembling an Aaron Neville impression. It's one of the few that Davidson has never been able to master.
"I thought I could do that one," he said. "But no. He's so good that people just want to hear him. They don't want to hear people doing him. People just didn't like it."
Surely, like Killer Karaoke, this is the sign of a civilization in decline. And while Davidson hasn't seen Killer Karaoke he patiently listened to our impassioned descriptions of several scenes (a man singing "867-5309/Jenny" to Steve-O while carrying trays of pasta and being shocked by half a dozen electric dog collars, a woman trying to sing country while having her head stuffed in a box holding a skunk) and didn't seem surprised.
"The people in control in entertainment," he said, "they're feeding off of desperation. It's like Marie Antoinette saying of all the starving people, 'Let them eat cake.'"
Except in this case, it's a cake with donkey balls in it and Kris Jenner is charging people thousands for a chance to lick the spatula.
"It's an ego state of greed. The people in power start to entertain themselves by humiliating the people who don't have the power. And they make a concerted effort to put it on public display. Who would put their head in a box with a skunk? Someone who needs the money or needs to be seen.
"Me? I want to do work that I feel good about."
You can feel good about seeing Tommy Davidson during one of his five shows at the Miami Improv, starting on Thursday. At the very least, it will be more fun that sticking your head in a box with a skunk.
Tommy Davidson at the Miami Improv. 3390 Mary Street, Coconut Grove. Thursday, January 31 through Saturday, February 2, at 8:30 p.m. Additional shows on Friday and Saturday at 10:45 p.m. All shows cost $20 plus fees and have a two-drink minimum. Ages 18+. Visit miamiimprov.com or call 305-441-8200.
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