Interview: Lavell Crawford’s climb to Cosby-status comedy

By | August 11, 2011 at 10:35 am | 2 comments | feature slider, Interviews, News | Tags: , , , , , ,

Comedian Lavell Crawford made a name for himself when he finished in second place on season five of Last Comic Standing. Crawford has parlayed that exposure into tremendous success. He recently filmed an episode of Comedy Central’s ratings monster Workaholics, and has been a regular on E!’s Chelsea Lately and TBS’s Lopez Tonight (RIP). Perhaps most intriguing, Crawford landed a role on AMC’s acclaimed series, Breaking Bad, an incredibly dark drama about a terminally ill meth dealer. On Aug. 12 at 11 pm EST, Comedy Central will premiere his new one-hour stand-up special, Can A Brother Get Some Love? I recently caught up with Crawford to chat about all this and more.

You’re in the middle of a big tour right now. How’s that going?
Great, man. I’m traveling the country; I ain’t staying put. I’ve probably got more miles than an airplane pilot. Up in the air like Superman.

You filmed your Comedy Central special in St. Louis, where you grew up. Did that give the show any special meaning for you?
Oh, man, it was very special. I mean, that’s where you started. That’s your roots. I mean, I started comedy right there at The Funny Bone so I had to do it there. Right there in St. Louis, that’s where all the stories began.

Most of your comedy focuses on your family and your upbringing there in St. Louis. How does your family react when you use them as material?
You know, they laugh. My mama, matter of fact, she sells T-shirts on the road with me. She’s a butt of a lot of the jokes, but she knows it’s funny. And it’s exaggerated because my mama’s a sweetheart. When we were kids, every kid thought their mama was a mom. And I just got reunited with my dad after like 30 years, and it’s funny because he’s… he’s my dad. Matter of fact, I had breakfast with him this weekend. And it was funny to watch how he reacts because he was at the show and he loved it.

So your dad appreciates your comedy?
Oh yeah. You know, he hears the jokes I do about him. And he gets a kick out of it. You know, it is what it is.

You were on season five of Last Comic Standing. Was it important to you getting that affirmation from the mainstream that you’re the real deal?
You can’t ask for anything better—being on live TV and having that audience. And letting America know that you can do it. Because the thing about being a black comedian is that you get put in a classification. I started out at The Funny Bone so my audience was highly mixed or mainly white. So I had all that experience. Some of my comedy friends, they fear an all-white audience: ‘What are we gonna do!?’ [laughs] But funny’s funny, man. I did some hard-ass wrongs where I was with vaudevillian comedian Dan O’Shea, and he told me I couldn’t cuss. But they would cuss right at me. So I had to go strong without cussing. It was almost like Comedy Bootcamp.

But I made it and it taught me a lot of things. I’ve gone into churches. I’ve done some nursing homes. So, in that respect, I think being on Last Comic Standing was a great experience, man, because it did what being on Johnny Carson’s show used to do for a lot of comedians. You know, it did a lot for my career. I used to be looking at the bookings, and the bookings would come in, but now I know exactly where I’m at every week. I actually have to turn down stuff.

That’s a good position to be in.
A very good position. A blessed position. I can’t complain.

Jokes.com
Lavell Crawford – Heaven
comedians.comedycentral.com

In the special, you talk about what you would have done if you had won the $250,000 on Last Comic Standing. So, aside from getting back at people from your childhood, what do you think you would have done with the money?
Seriously, what I would’ve done: I go to Church—Church is part of my life. I would’ve gone to my home church and given them 10 percent of my earnings. And I had the checks already written out. Plus I would’ve done something nice for my mom and then done something nice for me. And for my wife—she was my girlfriend then—I would’ve bought her a real nice ring, even though she’s got a nice one now. But I basically did everything I wanted to do.

Where do you think your desire to make people laugh comes from?
It’s just in my psychology, I think. I mean, being on stage… You know, when I lost on Last Comic Standing, I saw my mom crying, I saw my little brother and my sisters crying. Everybody was just hurt. They were hurting for me. The audience was hurting because they thought I was going to win. But I had a little inkling that I wasn’t going to win. I mean, they used me in the commercial for the show, so people fell in love with me.

I didn’t win the money, but I still won. I was sitting in my dressing room and I was kinda tearing up. I was eating some buffalo flavored potato chips and that was like the day before I called Nutrisystem [laughs]. But I had that mentality that this is going to launch me to where I need to go. And it did, man. Everyone’s looking for that way in. Everything stems from that audition. I got Breaking Bad and all those things.

I was actually just going to ask you about Breaking Bad. How’d you end up getting that role in season four?
I give it to the Almighty because I don’t know [laughs]. I was just coming off a gig—I forget where I was coming from—but I came home tired and I’m with my wife and they called me and said, ‘Hey we got this audition. You need to come over and do it now because it’s the last day of the auditions.’ I said, ‘I can’t come in tomorrow morning!?’ But it was a great experience, man. I mean, Bryan Cranston and all those guys, Vince Gilligan. They were cool people; they weren’t Hollywood. They filmed it in Albuquerque, so that made it really cool.

Since you’re getting into acting now, is standup comedy still your main thing? Is it still your passion?
Man, I could never give up stand-up. Hopefully I can keep traveling and become a legend like Bill Cosby, and I can perform Vegas—make like $150,000 and then come home and have my caretakers wash my balls off and I can lean back and relax.

Jokes.com
Lavell Crawford – I Keep It One Hundred
comedians.comedycentral.com

A few months back there was talk of your own Comedy Central show– Brothers from Another Mother. What’s the status on that?
Well, it fell through. It fell through. In the show, Me and Ralphie May, we have the same father and we inherit a BBQ restaurant. It was a funny show but they passed on it because they had like six comedy shows that didn’t do well and they were scared to take a chance on it. We’re gonna try to re-shop it, though.

Well, best of luck to you with that.
Thank you. I think we might try to do a new script and make it into a movie and then come back to it on TV.

Be sure to tune in to Lavell Crawford’s new one-hour special, Can A Brother Get Some Love?, premiering on Comedy Central Aug.12 at 11 pm EST.

About the Author

Daniel Berkowitz

Daniel Berkowitz is a Los Angeles-based graduate student focused on nonfiction writing, popular culture and advancing standup comedy's place in the academic realm. He's currently working on a book about how comedy affects democracy. He also really likes baseball.

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