Sinbad: 'Hollywood Only Picks One Black Comedian at a Time'

The comic talks his new standup special and the politics of showbiz.

For nearly 30 years, comedian Sinbad has been cracking up audiences on TV (The Sinbad Show, A Different World) and in film (The Coneheads, Houseguest and Jingle All the Way). But the 57-year old hones his craft best and unfiltered on the stand-up circuit. In Sinbad’s latest comedy special, Make Me Wanna Holla, now available on DVD, he sheds a thoughtful, humorous light on the most controversial subjects. And when he spoke to, Sinbad gave us further insight on why older comedians are sometimes funnier, why you won't find him on Facebook and where you can find the cast of A Different World reunited.

Your new stand-up special features controversial topics like the Trayvon Martin case and the rash of school sex scandals between teachers and students. Why do you think you embrace the tough subjects?
First of all, I’m older. People like Bill Cosby and myself, we’ve seen a lot and we’ve done a lot. I think you can tackle the tougher things if you can tackle it with respect. Martin Luther King Jr. said some stuff is so bad you’ve got to laugh. You have to find a way to find the humor in it because it gets ridiculous sometimes.

You also addressed and found the humor in the hardships of your home state of Michigan, including the city of Detroit’s bankruptcy woes.
Benton Harbor, Michigan, is my home city. We got taken over by the state and when I got back there and saw it for myself, it was a bad situation. I’m going around and riding with my guys that I’ve known for awhile and they were giving me inside information. It’s bad enough that the city of Detroit went bankrupt, but the reason the city went bankrupt was because of the amount of shady stuff that was done to the people. Then, when the government went to take it over, some shady people came in to try to change the shady situation. So I was like, “When does this stop? When does someone actually care about the city?” So I just wanted to talk about it. I’ve always talked about stuff. How can you not? It’s reality.

As someone who rose to fame in the '80s and '90s, what would you say is the biggest difference between comedy then and now?
Things change. There’s more social media and now there’s a shorter attention span. The cast of A Different World got together recently for a Where Are They Now? with Oprah Winfrey and we were talking about the heydays of making TV shows and movies back in the '80s and '90s when I first got to Los Angeles. There were so many comedy clubs when I came up, so you had a chance to get a foundation. We were working and comics could find a lot of work.

What hasn’t changed for Blacks in comedy in Hollywood?
If you look at it now, what hasn’t changed is that they would only pick one [Black comedian] at a time. I don’t know what it is with Hollywood. Well, we know what it is [laughs]. And nothing has changed. Like right now, it’s Kevin Hart, so you have Kevin Hart in nine movies. But that’s the only young brother you see and there are a lot of funny young comics around but they always find one of us. And that's the one who works.

So what do you think is the biggest problem with finding new comedic talent? What can the comics do differently?
Well, Kevin put his time in but everybody wants quick fame. And no one has that unique voice. I’ve been going to comedy clubs lately and you know who stands out? The older guys. We’ve seen more life so we don’t come up with the same old subjects. The guys now are trying to figure out what’s hot. It’s like music. You can’t do R&B cause Black music ain’t in unless you have blond hair and blue eyes. Soul music is only working if you ain’t soulful. With comedy, everybody’s trying to figure out where do I get in, rather than just be you. The answer is don’t be scared of being you. It might take a minute to get in but you’ll get there.

Back in 2011, you and your family were featured on a reality show, Sinbad: It’s Just Family. With many celebrities turning to that format to promote new projects, do you think you would ever do one again?
You know what happened to us? I was trying to sneak a sitcom through a reality show and they picked up what I was trying to do and they didn’t know how to handle it. They wanted us to fight and we were like, “No, no, no. People want to laugh.” I actually based it on stuff that happened from my life and I just happened to do it with my family. It was like Lucille Ball when she worked with her family. I was blessed because my family was talented enough to pull it off and they just wanted us to fight. We would sit in meetings where they would actually tell us, “We need you to fight more.” And I would say, “That’s not going to happen. But if you’re paying attention, this show is funny. Just leave it alone and let’s keep doing it and we’ll be able to take it to another level.” But they canceled it.

Are you one of the elder statesmen who embraces social media to promote your work and brand or do you just flat out reject it like some in your generation?
I’ve been a tech freak since 1983. Before they called it branding, I was developing my brand. I picked my name Sinbad for a reason. I was wearing those colors and different hair colors for a reason. I was trying to make it easy for people to find me. My son and I were some of the first ones on Twitter. And people were like, “Man, what is it?” I would tell them, “Twitter!” And they would say, “Twitter? Yeah right!” Then all of a sudden, Twitter blew up. I'm mainly a Twitter person. With Twitter I can get my thoughts up. But Facebook is too much work and they take too much of your privacy. I’m trying to make my peace with Facebook and use it, but I have a hard time with it because of the business model of them getting all of your personal information. And I’ll do Instagram, but I’m not taking a thousand pictures of me sitting in a chair, because to me that’s just ridiculous.

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(Photo: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

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