Known for his work on MadTV, the tireless stand-up comic has re-entered the game of sketch comedy. But this time Damon Wayans is involved and the censors are far, far away.
By Dylan P. Gadino
The sidewalks and streets of midtown Manhattan are getting abused by driving rain. Tourists and late night commuters headed for the Port Authority are ducking for cover and umbrellas are flailing. Needless to say there isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t a swarm of people cramming into the nearby Laugh Factory on Eighth Avenue. And thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a shame. TheyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re about to miss a stellar performance by one of the countryÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s most underrated stand-up comics.
The showroom at the club is less than full but thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s still an undeniable air of confidence, nay, cockiness as Aries Spears takes the stage. Dressed in an oversized white T-Shirt, a white face towel draped over his left shoulder, jeans and a Yankees cap, Spears makes quick with the greetings and delivers nearly an hourÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s worth of Grade A comedy.
Those unfamiliar with Spears before tonight are easily won over. Having seen the way he spins topical humor around observational wit and then deftly anchors it all with spot-on impressions Ã¢â‚¬â€œ how Ã¢â‚¬Ëœbout the way he murders the crowd with the Schwarzenegger refrain, Ã¢â‚¬Å“Get Dowwwn Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ Get to the Choppa! Ã¢â‚¬â€œ they file out to the hallway and eagerly ask for autographs and take photos with the comic.
Weeks later, Spears is spending the day in his home base of Los Angeles driving around, tying up some loose ends before heading back on the road for a tour that would put most major rock bands Ã¢â‚¬â€œ let alone most comics Ã¢â‚¬â€œ to shame. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not the type to go out on quick jaunts or hang around his hometown clubs polishing up his set with 12-minute sets here and there. Rather, heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s booked solid through the beginning of December with plans to crisscross the country and even make a few stops in Canada.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s where the money is, on the road,Ã¢â‚¬Â he says. Ã¢â‚¬Å“IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m trying to stay as active as possible.Ã¢â‚¬Â
By the time he plays the 2,300-seat Tulalip Tribes Amphitheatre outside of Seattle, Washington in September a new Showtime show, of which Spears is a cast member, will have premiered; he could have a whole new set of fans.
That month Damon WayansÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ The Underground kicks its 10-episode season off for the cable giant. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a show that Wayans has described as Ã¢â‚¬Å“In Living Color on steroids,Ã¢â‚¬Â adding, Ã¢â‚¬Å“it will be everything we werenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t allowed to do on broadcast television.Ã¢â‚¬Â
After hearing Spears excitedly talk about the show, one quickly learns this isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t hype. Ã¢â‚¬Å“The cool thing is that because itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s cable, especially uncensored cable, I think weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll be able to do the kind of sketch comedy that really hasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t been seen before,Ã¢â‚¬Â he says. Ã¢â‚¬Å“We can actually finish jokes.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Like Damon has a character called Super Nigga,Ã¢â‚¬Â Spears explains. Ã¢â‚¬Å“HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the one guy in the Justice League thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s been outed for his delinquent ways. Instead of rescuing people, heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s shooting dice and when he does rescue people he charges them. And his superpowers are all in his dick. So if he has to rescue a woman from a burning building whoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s 13 flights up, heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll jerk off to a Halle Berry picture and his dick will turn into a 70 foot pole.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Spears is also proud to report that he penned a sketch called Ã¢â‚¬Å“Balls-Out Jeans,Ã¢â‚¬Â based on a line of denim wear that allows men to show off their testicles. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Women have been able to wear low cut jeans that showcase their goods,Ã¢â‚¬Â he says. Ã¢â‚¬Å“So itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s time for men to get a piece of the action.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Although heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s made a few turns in motion pictures Ã¢â‚¬â€œ for one, he played Cuba GoodingÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s brother in Jerry Maguire Ã¢â‚¬â€œ itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not surprising Spears has returned to the sketch grind. No doubt, even the casual Spears observer will recognize him from his eight brilliant seasons on FoxÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s sketch show MadTV, where he routinely lampooned the likes of Bobby Brown, Mike Tyson and Shaquille OÃ¢â‚¬â„¢Neal (a real-life friend of his). He also created recurring characters like Belma Buttons (thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Spears as a fat, sassy woman played opposite of Debra WilsonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Tovah McQueen), Dollar Bill Montgomery (the militant host of Real Motherfucking Talk), and El Diablo Negro from the Mexican Wrestlers sketches.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“This is a lot edgier than MadTV,Ã¢â‚¬Â he says. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I think Chappelle set the bar when he came out with his show. So I think in order to be as great as him or greater you have to push it a little furtherÃ¢â‚¬â€ as long as thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s substance in terms of the material. Like youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re not doing T Ã¢â‚¬ËœnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ A for the sake of doing T Ã¢â‚¬ËœnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ A. At the end of the day thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s got to be structure and great comedy. When you start with that, everything else falls into place.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Aries Spears was a child of the Ã¢â‚¬Ëœ80s. So naturally, he fell in love with Eddie Murphy. He studied his legendary concert films Delirious and Raw. He admired the way Murphy was able to imitate people and talk about race and relationships and make it all funny. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Eddie was the Michael Jordan of comedy,Ã¢â‚¬Â he says. Ã¢â‚¬Å“He had a full range of abilities.Ã¢â‚¬Â
But the thing Aries first latched onto was impressions. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s where he started. And today, heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s got a solid repertoire. He does everyone from Robert De Niro to Al Pacino; from DMX to Jay-Z; from Michael Jackson to Sylvester Stallone. Ã¢â‚¬Å“But I never wanted to limit myself to just impressions,Ã¢â‚¬Â Spears explains. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I wanted to branch out and develop other parts of my game. To sustain longevity you have to evolve.Ã¢â‚¬Â
HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s already evolved. Beyond his sketch comedy credits, sitcoms and movies, Spears has also recently lent his voice to a new animated series from Shawn and Marlon Wayans called Thugaboo, set to air in August on both Nicktoons Network and Nickelodeon.
And as odd as it sounds, since heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s only 31, heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s already proven his longevity: heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s been doing stand-up since he was 14 when he was living in ManhattanÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s HellÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Kitchen neighborhood. At 16 he became the youngest comic ever to perform on Def Comedy Jam. His family Ã¢â‚¬â€œ his mother, Doris Spears is a renowned jazz singer Ã¢â‚¬â€œ moved to New Jersey where he eventually dropped out of North Brunswick Township High School when he was 17.
Shortly after, he moved to Los Angeles. He quickly landed a role on the sitcom A Different World and then landed a part in Home of Angels, his first movie. By the time he was 22, he was a regular cast member on MadTV.
But he never lost his interest in stand-up or the art of crafting jokes. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s something thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s on his mind every day. He admits that he carries a pad and pen around a lot, jotting down things he thinks are funny. Ã¢â‚¬Å“The average comedian is kind of an observer looking at every day things that everyone could relate to and then trying to find the exaggeration in those things.Ã¢â‚¬Â
And although he has said in the past that the Ã¢â‚¬Å“ultimate goalÃ¢â‚¬Â is to become a well-known movie actor, he canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t deny the effects that performing live has on him.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“The best part about being a stand-up is the connection with the audience,Ã¢â‚¬Â he says. Ã¢â‚¬ÂItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s very orgasmic. ThereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s nothing more gratifying then when you can make 300 people applaud and stand upÃ¢â‚¬â€ because thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s all you. You take all the credit. And if it fails you take all the blame. But itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the credit that makes it all worthwhile.Ã¢â‚¬Â
For more information, visit: www.ariesspears.com