Know your (comedy) history
Along with Richard Pryor, his dear friend and collaborator, Paul Mooney is a member of the elite American pantheon of influential stand-up comedians. And just before his 68th birthday, he will be performing in Austin for the very first time. In comedy circles, this is akin to a visitation by royalty, but Mooney would be the first to tell you that he's "neighborhood, not Hollywood." As Pryor's writer and co-writer for all of Pryor's classic albums and concert films, his groundbreaking 1977 NBC special, and The Richard Pryor Show; the head writer who created the Homey D. Clown character on In Living Color; and the creator of Negrodamus on Chappelle's Show, the brilliant solo albums Race and Master Piece, and the DVDs Analyzing White America and Know Your History: Jesus Was Black ... So Was Cleopatra, Mooney has been a cutting-edge voice for challenging audiences on matters of race, class, and culture. He recently spoke to the Chronicle from Carolines comedy nightclub in Times Square right before taking the stage.
Austin Chronicle: I heard that as a student you instigated a lunchroom fruit-pie-throwing riot. Is that true?
Paul Mooney: Yeah, who told you this? What happened was at Contra Costa Junior College in the Bay Area, you know, the taxpayers pay for it. It's a public college, and their sororities and fraternities were segregated; they wouldn't let blacks in. And they said that mixing made mix dating, which meant mixed kids. We discussed that after school one day – my white friends, Asian friends, all of us, a Mexican girl – and talked about the white folks at school, and they said, "That's the way it worked, nothing can be done." And I said, "Oh, really?" So the next day I got up on the table in the cafeteria and told everyone to throw pies at 'em. We forced them to integrate. I said if they don't integrate, they have to get off the campus. And the head of the school was named Dr. Faul; he had one leg shorter than the other. I went to him and told him: "Look, Dr. Faul, when they come here, they're gonna come for your head, not anybody else's. They're going to get you because you're running it." So they told [the fraternities and sororities] that if they didn't integrate, they had to get off campus. I started the whole major thing. That's why when Martin Luther King came to the school, they made it their business that "You have to meet Paul Mooney." That's how I met Martin Luther King.
AC: How did you first meet Richard Pryor?
PM: I had heard about Richard, but I met him because of a girl who ended up being Jim Brown's assistant. She was working for the telephone company, and she was moonlighting – and you're not supposed to work two jobs when you work for the telephone company – and she was go-go dancing with my half-sister, and Richard had brought her as a date. He came to the hotel on Sunset. We used to stay at a cheap hotel. Everybody from Motown used to stay with us, like Gladys Knight and the Pips, because they didn't have any money to stay anywhere, so they'd come to our hotel. So Richard came with this girl to our hotel, and that was in the Sixties with all that Bob, Ted, Alice, and all that stuff. So Richard said, "Let's get in bed and have a freak scene." And I put him out. And he said in his book, "I didn't know that was Paul's sister." So I didn't like him when I first met him. Then a few weeks later at a Trini Lopez concert, I met Richard there. Richard saw me and started running and hiding like a little kid. So we talked and had some drinks and laughed, and the rest is history.
AC: The "Word Association" sketch you wrote for the first season of Saturday Night Live is such a classic, watershed sketch. I'm curious if you can share your memories about its creation?
PM: I was on the set, and Chevy Chase was following me around, telling me that Richard Pryor hated him and that I had to write a sketch for him because he loved Richard. I kept putting him off, telling him, "Don't worry about it; I'll write you something." I ruled because I was Richard's writer, and, of course, Richard was brilliant at ad libbing. It also came from when the producers brought me into Miami – that's where they flew me to. I was auditioning for my job with Lorne Michaels and all those people. So it was like a spoof on them, too. They were all questioning me so that sketch was my payback to them.
Paul Mooney performs Wednesday-Thursday, July 29-30, 8pm; and Friday-Saturday, July 31-Aug. 1, 8 & 10:30pm, at Cap City Comedy Club, 8120 Research. For more information, call 467-2333 or visit www.capcitycomedy.com.