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D.L. Hughley is one of the funniest men in America right now. Making his name as one of the Kings of Comedy, as captured by Spike Lee in the film of the same name, Hughley's star has only continued to rise with frequent appearances on Real Time with Bill Maher, his new HBO special, Unapologetic, and a recurring role on NBC-TV's now-cancelled Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. He's currently on a national tour of small theaters, which brings him to Detroit this week.
Metro Times: Your comedy doesn't seem to have the anger that a lot of your predecessors had.
D.L. Hughley: I think I'm more curious than angry. My interest is stronger than my ire. I basically don't think people are all good or all bad. I just believe they're all human. So, from that perspective, I never have to gear up for an angry reaction.
MT: On the HBO special, you say you don't care if people call you the "n" word, just so long as they don't physically hurt you. That's an interesting perspective.
Hughley: It's a lesson in futility. Now, honestly, if no one ever says the word "nigger" again, I don't see how that would change anything in the inner city. It's like a Band-Aid for a mortar wound. And I refuse to deal in those kinds of sensibilities. I believe you define who you are. If you let others do it for you, you'll always be looking for the new narrative they have for you this week.
MT: Your political observations are astute, yet there isn't a lot of anger when you deal with that subject, either.
Hughley: Well, I don't think George Bush is a particularly nice man or a particularly evil man. I think he's incompetent. So, I think those kinda things tend to speak for themselves. When I listen to radio commentators, their conversation is only to sway you. Mine is only to pique your interest. I've no concern with how people perceive what I'm saying, other than they see the irony of a situation. If I accomplish that, I'm very happy.
MT: Does the lousy state of the world make it harder to be funny?
Hughley: I think it's more crucial, more relevant to be funny right now. We have a strange sense of honesty and destiny and values these days. And the irony of it all is interesting. But there are always things that tend to write themselves. A month and a half ago, we sadly lost 11 miners in the Utah mountains. Well, two days ago, 3,200 black coal miners were trapped in Africa. All of them got out. To me, that's irony, 'cause in Africa, they ain't waitin' on no help! "If they ain't sendin' help to Rwanda, they ain't sendin' none here!" And to me, that just begs for a routine. "Man, we're still waitin' for them to get to Darfur. I'm bettin' we're a long way down the list!"
MT: Will Detroiters get a different show from the HBO one?
Hughley: Well, a lot of things have happened since that show. There'll be some pieces that people recognize, but it'll still be significantly different from the special. I'm really excited because we're playing 1,000-seaters. I played the Fox a couple of times with the Kings of Comedy. But to me, what I've learned over the years and then from doing Studio 60 is when it comes to comedy, bigger ain't always better.
MT: It didn't seem they used you to the best of your abilities on Studio 60.
Hughley: Well, when I saw the pilot, I thought it was going to be a groundbreaking show. But what ended up happening to me is what's happened to most black characters on all-white shows. You kinda end up being Isaac from The Love Boat. Remember when a black woman would walk onto the ship at the beginning of an episode? You knew the story right then was going to be that Isaac was going to get some pussy! So I ended up being Isaac on The Love Boat. And it's hard to pretend that's who you are.
MT: You always give credit to your mother.
Hughley: But not in the loving, protective kinda way. It's more like when you wear tight shoes so it'll feel good when you take them off. She taught me to be self-sufficient and the world is tough and you can only count on getting anywhere by outworking everyone. It's like a construction worker who gets calluses on his hands because he worked hard. That was my experience growing up. But it's really served me well and I do appreciate it. I really don't think you can be a well-adjusted child and grow up to be a great standup. It's kinda antithetical to what we do.
Friday, Oct. 12, at the Royal Oak Music Theatre, 318 W. Fourth St., Royal Oak; 248-399-2980.
Bill Holdship is the music editor of Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.