Back as Barack
Sure, the housing market is glutted, the stock market is in free fall, and every corporation in America is looking for a handout – to paraphrase Prince, the economy is tanking like it's 1929. Still, it's a good time to be a light-skinned black man in America. Just ask Derek Reid. Shortly after graduating from Bowie High in 1992, Reid started working open mics at the Velveeta Room. "I'd always wanted to be a comedian, but I wasn't sure how to go about doing that," says Reid. "So I'd go down to Sixth Street, you know, and I would notice these people in these windows performing from the street, and I was like, 'What is this?'"
What it was, was Esther's Follies, and after a scant year, Reid found himself performing there, playing Colin Powell and Michael Irvin and writing a lot of film parodies. "I can't tell you how cool it was being 21 years old and making a living as a sketch comedian," enthuses Reid. "I was taking theatre classes at UT and ACC, and they were telling us, 'You probably won't work much as a professional, and if you do, you probably won't get your first job until you're 30,' and I was already working."
After just four years with the Follies, Reid got snatched up to host a Los Angeles-based show called The Basement on Fox Family Channel. Although it lasted only one season and the channel tanked shortly thereafter, it was a blessing for Reid, who landed commercial work and gigs with the Groundlings and Upright Citizens Brigade.
Which brings us back to the light-skinned black man thing. "I first premiered my Obama at the Groundlings. I was hoping to get Saturday Night Live's attention. Right now they have Fred Armisen doing Obama, and he does a great job, but he's white, so there's certain jokes I can make that he can't." When the Follies' Obama, Espie Randolph, got the gig as the Macy's Elf in Zach Theatre's The Santaland Diaries, Esther's called on Reid. "I'm not replacing Espie. It just worked out perfectly that about the same time I was coming home for the holidays, Espie was leaving. And I'll be departing right about the time he's coming back. Plus, I am the light-skinned black man, and he is the darker-skinned black man, so Obama is actually my territory."
So what, exactly, makes Obama funny? "It's his cool. He's a lot like Henry Winkler in Happy Days. I can see him walking into a bar and pounding a jukebox and it instantly coming on. When they introduce me, they have the Shaft music playing in the background. I mean, he's just cool. And that's funny, you know? That we finally have a cool president again."
Esther's Follies performs Thursdays, 8pm; Fridays & Saturdays, 8 & 10pm, at Esther's Pool, 525 E. Sixth. For more information, call 320-0553 or visit www.esthersfollies.com.