CONVERSATION WITH THE COMEDY DOCTOR™: ONE ON ONE WITH WILLIE LYNCH, JR.
BY TONY SPIRES, THE COMEDY DOCTOR™
Since our 25th Anniversary in 2011, it’s been my desire to lead the now legendary Bay Area Black Comedy Competition & Festival in a fresh, new direction. I wanted to stay true to our roots while reflecting comedy’s changing landscape. The only other option I imagined was proverbially “putting it out to pasture” and going the way of Soul Train, Def Comedy Jam and Comic View and “riding off into the sunset.” Not!
Therefore, it was important that we project a clear and positive picture of our landmark event’s future-selfishly for the sake of posterity but also for our comedians and our supporters whom we serve. In the days following this year’s Competition I polled participants, attendees and staff and everyone shares the same overall feeling. This year’s event has a very positive and long-lasting residual effect and the future of the BABCCF does indeed look bright!
The new directional shift was a success, largely achieved via:
-The collective prayers of loved ones
-A warm Oakland homecoming
-An upgraded event format
-A world-class venue
-An award-winning Comedy Educational Forum
-Having the one and only Don “DC” Curry as weekend host
Another strong, contributing factor was a great and greatly diverse field of talented comedians. The one who proved to be the greatest of them all this year was our new champion for 2012 Willie Lynch, Jr. (“You have to bounce when you say the junior.”).
2012 marked Willie Lynch, Jr.’s third BABCCF campaign. Like in his two previous bids in 2010 and 2011, Willie’s competition sets were seriously funny this year. But his 2012 effort was notably different. I saw it early on. He seemed to come with a heightened focus, a stronger since of urgency and a refreshing, re-booted, offbeat swag. Willie is also likeably quirky, socially and politically astute and has lots of witty, winning material. Much of his shtick bears a message that sheds a needed ray of light into comedy’s often murky abyss. He and other like-minded newcomers add credence to the pervasive feeling that things are looking up for urban comedy’s next generation.
I recently had an in-depth conversation with Champion Willie Lynch, Jr. He filled-in lots of the blanks for me about himself (stand-ups are often mysterious) and shed insight into his winning approach and his unusual perspective on life. That being said, since regurgitating our conversation, I find that I have a whole different set of questions! In the meantime, let’s get started with these:
TS: What’s up, Willie? Once again, congratulations!
WLJ: Thank you, my good brother! And congratulations to you on a great year!
TS: I appreciate you, bruh.
TS: Let’s get right to it, shall we? Willie, Inquiring minds want to know. Why the name?
WLJ: I chose the name during my second stint with comedy in 2007 while working at Belle Meade Plantation in Nashville. I read the Willie Lynch Letters, and it had a profound impact on me. Ultimately I chose to use it as my stage name for awareness and shock value.
TS: How did you develop your style?
WLJ: My style developed naturally on stage in St. Louis. My cadence was something I noticed and adapted from Don D.C. Curry's first Def Jam and Comic View appearances.
TS: DC, who I’m proud to have managed from back in those days to now, has been very influential on today’s generation of young comics. That’s how it should be. It’s good to hear someone give credit where credit is due. See, I knew we were going to get along, young man!
TS: Where do you get your "Afrocentric" perspective? How did you incorporate it into your act?
WLJ: My Afrikan-Centered perspective came from my college studies. It was first introduced through Dubois' 1897 essay, "Conservation of Races." It grew stronger in graduate school when I began studying Dr. John Henrik Clarke. The more I became comfortable on stage is when it became apart of my act. I want people not only to laugh at what I say, but I want them to know who I am and what I believe in too.
TS: Where were you born?
WLJ: I was born April 14, 1982 in St. Louis, Missouri.
TS: What brought you across the river to Illinois?
WLJ: My family is from East St. Louis. My mother just preferred to have me born in a Missouri hospital.
TS: Where did you grow up? How would you describe your childhood?
WLJ: I grew up in East St. Louis, Illinois in a weird but close-knit family. My family was rather large on both my mother’s and father's side. My childhood was unusual and fun at the same time. I was a loner who loved to watch TV and make my cousins laugh. I was bad as hell!!!
TS: Talk a little about the “unusual and fun at the same time” aspect of growing up.
WLJ: It was unusual because I was sheltered a lot. I wasn't really allowed to venture out much. My life changed a lot when my parents divorced. Sometimes I lived with my mother; and sometimes I lived with my Aunt. I didn't have a traditional upbringing. It was somewhat chaotic for me.
This made me a loner. Instead of playing sports with friends, I would be stuck in the house for I was virtually nurse to my old and infirmed grandparents. The relationship with my maternal grandparents doubtless shaped who I became.
My granddad loved sports, and he too was full of wisdom. My grandmother was a thinker who loved comedy and current events and vocabulary-building words; she pushed my education. The fun came from programs my mother had me involved in like chess and bowling. I was very good in both.
TS: Do you see TV and film in your future? If so, in what capacity do you see yourself?
WLJ: I would love to do television. I've always wanted to have my own sitcom like Martin or the Wayans Brothers. My show would be based on my two personalities. One minute I'm serious as hell and I'm up on current events; the next minute I'm doing something weird and childish like digging in between my toes and smelling my knuckles. I love pooting in front of the fan or in large groups of teenagers :)
TS: Hmmm… Okay… Next question, please… I think…
TS: Where do you want comedy to ultimately take you?
WLJ: I want to take comedy to the top. I want to be a legend. If I work hard enough, and if the ancestors give me good health, I believe I can get to Chris Rock or Chappelle's level.
TS: I heard that, bruh! That’s what I’m talkin’ about!
TS: Discuss your education.
WLJ: I received an outstanding education at Fisk University in Nashville. I studied History there. At Fisk my life changed appreciably. I became obsessed with learning the history of the World and Afrikan people there. I too have my Masters from Tennessee State University in Education. My plan was to move home for a year and save some money before I started my Ph.D. at Howard in D.C. I been on stage ever since.
TS: Do you write your own material? If so, how do you write it?
WLJ: I write my own material. I really enjoy the art of writing a joke. It’s a high for me. Sometimes I just sit down at the computer and say to myself, "Write jokes baby!!!" I get in a zone and just test them out on Twitter and Facebook. I decide what I'm going to take to the stage after that.
TS: Yes, I’ve noticed that you go hard on your social media grind! I think the younger comedians have that over the more “mature” stand-ups. Keep it up!
TS: What would you be doing if not comedy?
WLJ: If I weren't doing comedy, I would be getting my PhD in History and Africana Studies at Howard, or I would be a professional seat sniffer :( Don't ask!!!)
TS: Trust me…
TS: After the “seat sniffer” line this may sound superfluous but why do you do comedy?
WLJ: I do comedy because I was born to. I've been into the art form since watching Def Jam in the 7th grade with my big cousin Mickey. I've always wanted to be a professional comedian. It’s amazing. I love it!!!
TS: It shows that you love it. There’s nothing on this earth like knowing your purpose and walking into it! The people who are blessed to realize this are the ones, I believe, who can change the world!
TS: How important of a role does money play in your pursuit of happiness?
WLJ: Money plays a major role in the pursuit to happiness. I need money to be happy because broke people can't travel the world over. You need money to do that. I want to go to every corner of this earth and see if I can find the footprints of my antecedents.
TS: Married or single?
WLJ: No, I'm not single. I have Hiawatha. I'm going to marry her as soon as I find a good divorce lawyer who is cheap and works for free :)
TS: My readers would never let me let that slide. So, is she in need of the divorce or are you?
WLJ: She is my long-term girl friend Karena. She's been with me since 2002. She's been there through the good and bad. I met her in the fall of 2002 at Parkland College in Champaign, Illinois.
I talked her into transferring to Fisk with me. I have a close attachment to her. Not long after we began dating, I had a mild stroke and began a long battle with depression that lasted 3 years. She helped me through it. I owe her crazy ass a great deal!!!
TS: A stroke? Well, you seem as though you’ve fully recovered. Am I right?
WLJ: I feel great!
TS: Gratitude and loyalty are things that people in and out of show business need to show more of these days. I applaud you for putting that out there.
TS: What makes a woman appealing to you?
WLJ: What appeals to me about a woman is a great conversation and beauty. She too must have a high concept of self and a washed ass!!! I hate a musty woman. My grandmother Johnny Mae Collier spurned the notion of a woman leaving home with an unwashed ass!!!
TS: Yeah, right! You’ll get no argument from me!
TS: What's next for Willie Lynch Jr.?
WLJ: Well, next for me is more progress. I must keep moving forward. I want to become a household name. My plan is to become an elite comedian. I'm hoping to get picked up and put on a big tour like Shaq's or Bill B's. I just need a shot. Once I get in front of that camera, it’s on. I'm preparing everyday and night for that one moment. It might take another 10 years before I get discovered, but I'm going to be ready nonetheless. I'm going to be a legend if Oludumare has it written.
WLJ: Yes, Oludumare. The Creator!!!
TS: Oh, that, “Oludmare…”
TS: What role do you think Black "Greek" fraternal organizations play in enlightenment, education and social justice, as they relate to Africans in the Diaspora?
WLJ: I believe that all Black Lettered Greek organizations have strayed completely away from their origin which in essence was to Unite College Men and ameliorate the race problem in this country. We all have forgotten our roots; we've lost our historical memory. It’s sad.
TS: But they throw great parties! I kid the Greeks.
TS: Also, I know that you and I share a strong belief in Pan Africanism and Black Nationalism and we both have a passion for the plight of our people. From where you sit, how does it look for us going forward?
WLJ: The future of the Afrikan people, home and here in exile is bleak. We have no idea who we are. We have no clue to whom we belong. We have been transformed into something most heinous and ungodly. After studying our history, I realized that we have been hit much harder and come back from much greater defeat.
I'm not certain when, but I know eventually the children of the Sun will once again walk up right and Bounce when they say....Jr.!!!!
TS: Well said, Willie! Thanks for your time and for being a fresh voice in the comedy game! All the best to you, bruh!
WLJ: Same to you, Comedy Doctor. Call me if you need me. I will be back to give back to the BABCCF!
Comedian/scholar Willie Lynch, Jr. has much to offer the world of entertainment. If he stays grounded, hungry and focused on the reason he’s doing it all, I’m confident he’ll get major career opportunities and his shot at the big time. If he remains true to the game we may see comedian Willie Lynch indeed become a household name and we’ll all gladly, “Bounce when we say… Jr.!”
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Tony Spires is a filmmaker, poet, musician, playwright, screenwriter, director, event producer, personal manager, and featured columnist for The Humor Mill Magazine. He is also artistic director of Vision’s Kids and Voices Of Vision Youth Performing Arts Ensembles. Known as The Comedy Doctor™ in comedy circles, and “Coach Tony” to Bay Area teens, he is perhaps best known as the founder of the nationally reputed Bay Area Black Comedy Competition & Festival: http://www.BlackComedyCompetition.com. His Spoken Word & Music CD “Paradigm Shift” is available at: http://www.Phruishun.com and on iTunes. Email Tony at:
ComedyDoctor@BlackComedyCompetition.com. Visit his youth Arts Organization at: http://www.FullVisionArts.org. Join him on Facebook at: http://www.Facebook.com/TonySpires and follow him on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/#!/phruishun.