Two minutes into a conversation with legendary stand up comedian George Wallace and it’s clear that even after thirty-six years the man still loves his job. Lucky for us he does. Not just because we still get to enjoy his rapid-fire brand of observational humor, but because the man has some crazy ideas about what he’d do if he were President of the United States. Trust us, the “I Be Thinkin’” comedian has the fan-base and charisma to make it happen.
Let’s hope Mr. Las Vegas is satisfied enough with his lifetime achievement award that the star of his own show at the Flamingo, doesn’t start thinkin’ about a run for the White House in 2016. In the meantime, enjoy watching Wallace receive the Centric Comedy Icon Award as part of the Centric Comedy All-Stars special airing Saturday, March 2 at 9 pm, EST. Shot on his home turf in Vegas, it features an unrestrained Wallace amid nine of today’s hottest comics, including, host Bill Bellamy, co-host Anthony Anderson, Tony Rock, Sherri Shepherd, Earthquake, Gary Owen and more.
Recently, Laughspin caught up with Wallace to learn more about his unique sense of humor, how it’s still evolving and where it comes from these days. Hint: He watches a lot of cable news shows.
After 36 years of performing stand up did you ever think you’d be the recipient of a lifetime achievement award?
I think I should have gotten it 20 years ago. Last year Earth, Wind and Fire got it and Diana Ross also got it, so you don’t have to be dead to get it. But anytime people honor you with an award for your craft it’s an achievement. I have the greatest job in the world to be able to do stand up comedy. I just have fun going out there night after night and making laugh. And it’s not even about the money. It’s about making people happy and feeling good about that.
How has comedy changed and how has your own style evolved since beginning your career in 1977?
There are differences, but it’s really the same because it’s still about making people laugh and making them happy. As comedians, all we do is add a twist onto true stories. For me, it’s mostly making observations about what’s going on in the world today and that changes every day. But we also have better resources now—like the Internet, Fox News and CNN. Speaking of Fox News… Is anybody ever happy at Fox? Everybody is always pissed off over there. And CNN? We call it the “Comedy News Network.” It was so nice to watch the Pope retire. He got in that helicopter and then he stopped by the YMCA to drop off some boy scouts, and I thought that was great.
How do you create your craft as an artist?
If you’re a comedian, it’s just a part of you. You wake up in the morning and watch the weather, watch the news and you see something that’s stupid. I remember when Anderson Cooper was covering Super Storm Sandy he was standing in water almost up to his head. And he’s saying, ‘It’s really deep out here and the winds are getting stronger.’ We can see that! Just get your ass out of there and into the house. Then he’s asking people in Queens, New York, about the 80 houses that just got wiped off the block. ‘Have you ever seen anything like this before?’ he asks these poor homeowners. Of course they haven’t! And that’s the absurdity that we comedians pick up on.
I even look at commercials. Have you seen that one where KFC is selling chocolate cookies now? I say wait a minute. I say that before we go selling cookies, we got some more work to do on this chicken because it doesn’t taste like it used to. Someone’s not using all 11 spices. A comedian can’t look at a commercial or TV shows without thinking of something funny to say. Look, the Aflac duck is finally in the hospital. How funny is that? I knew he was going to getting his ass kicked eventually. He’s always in places he shouldn’t be: in the barbershop, in the Grand Canyon, in the steam room with naked men— all kinds of places. But you’ve never seen that duck walk into a Chinese restaurant, have you? They’d have his ass hanging from the front window. You want a number seven? Aflac!
But to prepare for a show or a guest appearance, do you ever have to force yourself to write?
I sit down and I write. Or I talk to people on the phone and sometimes they say stupid things, and I write that down. Or maybe I’m walking through the grocery store and I see things like evaporated milk. And I think: What the hell is in the can then? It all becomes jokes and keeping people laughing. I mean, I could just watch the news and write jokes all day long. I was just watching British Petroleum commercial where they were saying they’ve done more for the world than any oil company. And I was thinkin: In the last five years BP did more to screw up America than any other oil company. But they’re not talking about that, are they?
So comedy for me is just about finding humor in everything. You know, my sister just passed away. Well, she loved her cell phone so much that I threw it in the coffin with her. Then during the service I called it and everybody was just laughing and remembering. It was great—until she picked up. They stopped laughing then.
Have you ever regretted saying something offensive on stage?
I’ve never gotten in trouble and I’m at the point now where my humor is a bit edgier. You know, it’s like the time Prince Harry was raising hell in my hotel, up there running around naked. You know I’m the one who took the picture, right? [laughs] I said you stop this running around naked like a crazy man. If your mom could see you now, she’d turn over in her car. The audience gasped. It was like they were saying, ‘Oh no, he didn’t just say that, did he?’ I crossed the line right there, didn’t I? Well I do shit like that every once in a while. I cross the line but so did her [Princess Diana’s] driver. [laughs] So I’m starting to get edgier. But I told the audience that of all the jokes I told that night, that’s the one they will remember first tomorrow.
What’s it like on stage during the moment when the audience goes flat because they’re stunned by a joke like that? Do you get nervous?
With me it’s kind of like, Yeah, I said it. Then they’re reminded I’m a comedian, it’s a joke and they are cleared to laugh. When they come to see me in the first place they’re looking for something unexpected and they know what I’m doing is just joking. There’s no malice. Like the other day I was talking about all the Ethiopian restaurants opening in Vegas. Personally, I didn’t even know they had food in Ethiopia. I told that joke and it had that stunning effect and so I had to ask the audience if I crossed the line that time. And they go, ‘Yes!’ I do stuff like that every now and then. But we’re comedians so people should understand that. Gilbert Gottfried said something that people were angry about and then Tracy Morgan said a joke about gays and people were angry. You know, he’s been doing that joke for 14 years and suddenly people are angry.
Do those kinds of media scandals stay in your mind and affect you when you’re on stage?
It does affect me. I have to check myself to make sure I don’t cross the line too far. You certainly don’t want to offend anyone. But, you know, I am doing it a bit. There was a blind man who showed up late to my show the other day and I chewed his ass out. He had someone bring him in and that he held onto and followed around. And I joked that since he had someone like that he didn’t have an excuse to show up late. And he was pointing right at me and I said, you ain’t fooling me because you’re pointing right at me. You ain’t that blind. So my show is getting to the point where everyone now wants to be included in that way. I even riff on old people in scooters. I tell them I see them in the scooter stores and on TV, bragging about how they didn’t even have to pay for the scooter. Well, someone had to pay for it— at $3,500 a chair! And these people will run you over. So I’m insulting people in a good way and no one wants to be left out of that.
How did growing up in the South inform your comedy?
Growing up in the South was great. You know, I’m actually thinking of doing a set of CDs on North, South, East and West comedy. Humor can be so different in different places. Like here’s something: Most people ‘wait’ for the bus, but in NYC people actually stand in the middle of the street and ‘look’ for it, saying, ‘Where the hell is that bus?’ In L.A., all your food comes with fruit. In New York, if fruit winds up on your plate, you’re paying extra for it.
Have you ever considered doing a sitcom or a talk show as other comedians have done?
Yes, I just completed two books and I’ve considered doing a sitcom or talk show. I’m thinking about a talk show now because I know everybody in the business now, and I think it could really be fun. Plus, the reality TV is really starting to aggravate me. They got white people going all over the place looking for ghosts, saying, ‘Dude, did you see that? Did you hear that?’ No, I didn’t hear it, you didn’t hear it, and nobody saw nothing! Stop looking for ghosts, white people. You never see black people looking for ghosts. That’s because ghosts don’t like us and we don’t like them. We don’t like nothing in white sheets! There’s a haunted house across the street from my house in Atlanta. Three months ago a black family moved in with five badass kids. I came home for a little bit last week and the ghosts had a U-Haul backed up to that house. They were getting the hell out of there.
How much of your stand up routine is predetermined and how much is riff?
I riff every night. People tell me they’ve come to my show 15 times because it’s different every night. I’m even sitting down now, taking questions from the audience and talking. The show is supposed to be an hour but the next thing you know we’re ninety minutes over and people are still not ready to go home. We talk about everything: where people are from, societal issues, government and politics. It’s just great fun.
Speaking of government… Are you really running for office in Vegas?
Somebody put that out there because I say stupid stuff about running for mayor or president or pope, but that’s just how I start riffing. I talk about running for president because I would make a great one. I even have town hall meetings where people ask me how I would handle different things with all the stupid stuff going on. What I say sounds crazy but it also makes sense. Everybody in Congress right now should be out. I want to start a new Web-site called, ‘if you’re in, you’re out.com.’ Everybody should be out because this Congress is getting nothing done.
We should be in congress— you and me. It should be like jury duty. You get a letter in the mail that says, ‘What are you doing next year? Because—guess what?—your ass is going to Washington, D.C.’ And I guarantee we’d get shit done that way. Because, come 4-o’clock, were all going home. You understand me? Regular folks get the job done and want to go home. Some of these Congressmen are so old they might still be the Forefathers! Look at John McCain. He doesn’t even know how to tweet or use a blackberry. Old people just start wars. Young people think differently.
What would your first order of business be if you were president?
I would have jobs for people immediately. I’d jumpstart the construction industry by having people build thousands more unemployment offices. [laughs] I’d balance the budget by maybe having some garage sales. The government has lots of crap it doesn’t need. For instance, we could sell West Virginia. Right? We got one Virginia already. We don’t need two!
What other career would you consider if you weren’t a comedian or POTUS?
I’d be the president of an airline. My first degree was in transportation and my second was in marketing, so I’d make a great airline president. I’d make them run on time and there would be no crying babies on planes. If you’re going somewhere you’d have to FedEx that ugly baby a week ahead of time. And why can’t somebody build an airline with wider seats? Why do they have to keep stuffing people in? Somebody reclines and then you get his dandruff in your food. Cell phones on airplanes? No way. I wouldn’t allow any cell phones but mine. Can you hear me now?
Youth and your interactions with young people are a running theme in your comedy. Why do you think that is?
I teach every young comedian to just be true to yourself. We don’t know the formula for success; but we do know the formula for failure, and that’s trying to please everybody. There’s a market for all kinds of comedians; and as long as people are laughing and putting asses in the seats, it’s all good. It’s crazy but I talk to young people about the differences in generations. I point out the things they have now that we didn’t have when I was a kid, like all this technical stuff. These kids are always in the house and on the computer—probably making bombs.
I bought my nephew a football the other day and he asked me where the cord was so he could plug it in. And young people got new diseases nowadays, too. They got acid reflux and A.D.D. I tell these young people that when I was kid A.D.D was nothing a good ass whipping wouldn’t cure. They also got this disease where some people have fits of uncontrollable crying or laughing. What? So I guess when you walk out of my show you got a new disease—and a new prescription. Because my prescription for life is just to keep enjoying it and keep laughing it off. Laughter is healing.