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Rodney Perry believes in hard work. It’s what has helped him go from working for years as an intern for free on the radio, to a paid gig on television screens nation-wide, five nights a week, on BET’s number one rated, The Mo’Nique Show. The married, father of five and military veteran has paid dues for years to get to this point, and he knows to whom much is given, much is also required. Rodney Perry escorts Academy Award winning Mo’Nique down a flight of stairs in their Atlanta based studio for as many as 150 tapings, which equates to shooting ten months out of the year. According to Perry, the average television show records 22 episodes; there are some in the business that won’t tape that much television over the course of their entire career.
Perry was born a comic; the ability to make people laugh innate within him. If he weren’t a comedian, he would be a comedian; there were no other options. He found what he loved when he was young, and focused his efforts on being a great comedian, which has allowed him to garner more exposure in a relatively short amount of time. His face should be familiar, if not from BET, then film or maybe a stage play, he’s been grinding and making deliberate plans for success. The comedian is betting on box office gold because he’s starring in Madea’s Big Happy Family, which is scheduled to arrive in theaters April 2011.
Perry had just finished wrapping the stage play, “Harlem’s Night: A Cabaret Story,” in Atlanta prior to coming to Nashville as the headline performer for the grand opening of Jazz and Jokes; a new grown and sexy venue located in downtown “Music City.” Earlier in the day, I met with Mr. Perry and he graciously shared his time as he told me how he started in the business, the importance of The Mo’Nique Show, about the play he just finished and he gave The Queen’s Castle an exclusive sneak peek at what he’s planning for 2011:
TQC: Born in Chicago, raised in Louisiana and now residing in Atlanta. You are also a veteran of the U.S. Navy, is that where you discovered your knack for comedy?
RP: Not discovered, my love of comedy goes into my childhood. My second grade teacher, Mr. Thompson, would let me perform and tell jokes to the class. He discovered that if he told me I could perform at 2:15 PM, I would chill and be calm throughout the day; I would have my moment. I did impersonations of Howard Cassel, Muhammad Ali and my classmates would laugh, that was my introduction. I think comics are born. Although, you can learn the mechanics of what I do, some really funny people are born. Outside of that, you have to find your nerve to do it for the world. We all know funny people; the guys at the barber shop, your uncle, your daddy or mom, but comedians are the people with the nerve to stand up and do it for everybody.
TQC: Delivery, timing, stage presence and more skill is required to be a comedian; who are some comedians living or dead that you admire or have learned from as you’ve perfected your craft.
RP: I don’t know if I have perfected my craft yet. I’m real good, but it’s like an artist working on a piece of art. You’re never satisfied with it, you still have the chisel in your hand or the paint brush. I do consider myself an “A List” comedian, but the world is still locking into me. Eddie Murphy is one of the first names that come to mind because he gave a real life face to what I wanted to be. Richard Pryor, I watched and listened to on records, but to me, I couldn’t be that. Eddie Murphy on the other hand was young, black and not just black, but dark skinned; for me he was it. I’ve learned from everybody, cats you’ll never hear of like John Alstead in Oakland, who told me, “Rodney you’re really funny. You have moments of greatness, but you need to get yourself to a point where you control when you’re great.” Tony Roister told me, “Take that stuff out your pocket. Man, what are you doing on stage with all that stuff in your pockets?” I’ve been influenced by so many comedians. I love comedy and I love comedians. You watch and learn all the time, even the young guys, without stealing or borrowing their essence. You have to be willing to perpetuate the ideas as comics that we share.
TQC: Who are some of the up-and-coming comics that you enjoy watching?
RP: J.B. Smooth, Tony Roberts, Michael Junior and Akatunde, a gospel comedian. Also, Tone X is one of our writers on The Mo’Nique Show, and my younger brother, Rion Evans, who is working on the show and touring with me right now. They all have little nuances that I love; everybody is gifted in different ways no matter what your profession is. Some comics are great at word play, others are physical comics, or great at political satire; my boy Joey Wells can look at a newspaper and find a jewel. Those are just some; I could go on and on.
TQC: Your transition from stand-up comic to television, film and even stage plays have been seamless, at least in the public eye, when did you get bit by the acting bug? When did you say I can translate what I’m doing as a comic on stage into a different medium?
RP: It wasn’t anything I did consciously. My goal has always been to be a great comedian and I realized, if I can become a great comedian then the byproducts of that would be television, film, hosting and radio. I figured that out early on. Rather than try to do a whole bunch of different things, I focused on one thing and it has yielded opportunities in other areas. I am a firm believer in focus and hard work. I think what separates great people from not so great people, is people that are willing to work and I am willing to work. I’ve worked at being a really good comedian and because of that I have received some great opportunities, so when given a chance I give it 110 percent.
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