Punchline Magazine‘s Noah Gardenswartz ignites the combustible writer and comedian, who will soon spread his fiery gospel on his Showtime special: Jesus Is Black, So Was Cleopatra– Know Your History.
To many older comedy fans, Paul Mooney is the guy who wrote for Richard Pryor; to many younger comedy fans, Paul Mooney is the guy who played Negrodamus on Comedy Central’s Chappelle’s Show.
However, the fact of the matter is that Mooney is a comedy legend; his body of work is strong enough to be celebrated on its own merits– separate from association with the big names he’s worked with.
Perhaps Mooney hasn’t reached the universally iconic status that he deserves because his brand of comedy is simply too raw for too many people. He can be vulgar; he can be racist; and he can be rude.
But he can also be hilarious, brilliant and inspiring. You don’t have to like him as a person or a comic, for that matter. But you must respect him as both.
With a new Showtime special set to premiere Nov. 13, Punchline Magazine caught up with Mooney for what turned out to be equal parts interview and history lesson.
I appreciate your time; I understand you’re extremely busy right now. Are you currently in the middle of touring?
I’m always touring, I’m always on the road. You see, L.A. doesn’t want to pay anybody. L.A. wants to do all the fucking, but they don’t want to let you fuck, so I gotta get it on the road.
Well with all you’ve already accomplished, why is it so important to continue to perform and deal with the hassle of being on the road?
I’ve got to do it because my fans want to see me. We have television and Internet and all that bullshit, but there’s no substitute for real life. All of that shit is like wearing a condom, it’s not the real deal; there’s no perpetrating with a live show. I need that live, unfiltered reaction. I enjoy the instant gratification.
You’ve certainly been outspoken and involved in controversy throughout your career. Do you regret anything you’ve done in your comedy?
How can I regret anything when I was born black in America? Every day is hard as a black man in America so what the fuck should I have to regret? Why do I need to apologize for anything? White people are killing motherfuckers every day without apologizing. What should I apologize for?
You seem to be fairly angry about…
You see, everybody gets it fucked up and thinks I’m angry. I am not angry. If what this is, is anger, then what is the white man who’s been killing motherfuckers for years?
Ok, well then what do you suppose we should be doing to change things?
Man, don’t ask me no white-ass bullshit like that. It’s always been like this. White people have the complexion for the protection for the collection. What are you? ‘Gardenswartz’ is that German?
Um, I’m Jewish.
Shit, than you’re black too, brotha. The white man killed black people, Indians, Jews. My people picked cotton, yours went to the ovens– it’s all the same to them. We were at war with Germany and Japan, and who’d they drop the bomb on? Japan! Because they don’t have any ancestors in Japan. If they dropped the bomb on Germany, they might’ve killed a cousin or some shit.
And then they want to stereotype us. They say black people are lazy. We’re lazy because we worked for free for 400 years. If you worked for free for 400 years you’d be lazy too!
And they say Jews run Hollywood. If Jews ran Hollywood, Hogan’s Heroes would not have been a hit. Jews don’t run Hollywood, Jews run awards. Which is why Mel Gibson didn’t get one; but he got all that fucking money, didn’t he?
So is this why you enjoy comedy so much, because it gives you an outlet to share these views with the public? If you weren’t a comedian, would you ever consider teaching?
I’ve been there, done that. I’ve taught children. I was in the military. I was the ringmaster in a fucking circus. I’ve been around this motherfucker, and I know the game. People try to make it me– it’s Paul. It’s not me, this shit was here when I got here.
So then what made you want to be a comedian?
I was born a comedian, all the great ones are. I’ve been writing it since I was eight years old. I would’ve done it all for free, it’s a part of me.
If you’ve always been a comedian, what made you finally take the stage?
It was just time. Timing is everything.
You’re almost known more for your writing than you are for actually performing. Which do you prefer?
I write and perform constantly because I enjoy them both. I don’t like one more than the other, I love them both.
You’ve certainly been doing both of them for long enough, so what’s left for you? What do you have going on now?
Well I’ve got a new show coming out on BET called Judge Mooney, where we review real cases that have happened and I make my own judgment and the people on the show agree to follow whichever way I rule.
What got this idea started?
If you watch all the judge shows on TV now, all the judges want to be funny, so I said, “Ok, let me do this.’ And, of course, it’s rooted in humor, but this is real shit. These are real cases and they agree to my sentences.
Is having your own show something you’ve always wanted?
Man I don’t give a shit. It’s nice to have, but it’s not something I always cared about. See, nowadays everybody wants to have their own show, almost like they expect it; like they’re entitled to it.
People don’t understand all the doors that me and Richard [Pryor] opened in Hollywood. Except, we didn’t open the doors in Hollywood, we kicked the door down. These people are out here playin’. Don’t you see, it’s all a game.
If it’s all a game, then how do you win?
I win by having a brain; you have to stay smart. One person can change everything. It wasn’t Harriet Tubman and her 50 cousins, it was Harriet Tubman. It only takes one person with a brain and some fucking courage.
Paul Mooney’s one-hour special Jesus Is Black, So Was Cleopatra: Know Your History premieres Nov. 13 on Showtime at 11 p.m. and will be available through On Demand until Dec. 11.