White on Black
Steve White raps about Obama’s ethnicity and a hell of a lot more.
Thursday, March 5, 2009
Over a comedy career that’s spanned 20-plus years, Steve White, formerly of Las Vegas and now settled in L.A., has appeared all over the comedy map – most recently in Japan. What was he doing there?
“Telling jokey-jokes to the enlisted folks with [rapper] Young Joc through the MCCS, the Marine Corps Community Service,” he says in a rapid fire cadence that hints at a fierce intelligence. “I have such a quick tongue, I have to watch myself.”
And you have to watch him at The Planet Ultralounge for two shows this weekend, because the wisecrackin’ funny man is known as a comic’s comic.
But his comedy career only took shape after he abandoned another career track.
“My English teacher at Nassau College,” he recounts, “a woman, country, a little ’Bama type woman, was like, ‘Steve, you got too much energy – you gotta do comedy.’ I was an accounting major. If I didn’t do comedy, I can imagine there would be Ritalin in my future.”
He worked the comedy circuit early on, honing his chops to “implement” his act to fit the regions and cities he performed in.
“If I’m in Monterey in the summer, I’ll be like, ‘You know, it’s summer in the rest of the United States.’ I’ll learn what you eat, what you wear, how you talk.”
He does political and black – i.e; African-American – comedy: “I wasn’t going to vote for Obama; I was getting tired of a black man asking for change.” But he jumps freely over other topics: “See what happens when you turn 40?” he told www.rooftopcomedy.com. “You cut your hair off and start peeing on yourself.”
In the mid ‘80s, his friendship with a corps of black performers helped kickstart his career. “I happened to be shooting pool at Eddie Murphy’s house – we grew up in the same town – bitching about not being in SAG (Screen Actors Guild). He was like, ‘No problem, I’ll just put you in my next movie.’ That was Coming to America.”
“I had one line: “So what do you think?’ And I killed it.”
The bit part paid $1,200, which he used to pay the SAG membership fee. Good thing, too, because at the Coming to America premier, White ambushed Spike Lee (“Hey Spike, I want to do something with you!”) fresh from doing School Daze and starting work on Do the Right Thing. White got an audition. “Crushed it,” he says.
“Spike got everybody involved… as a family. I had the best time, I learned so much about camera movement, writing, casting, cinematography. We didn’t know it was going to blow up the way it did; we never thought it was going to be Gone with the Wind.”
When that movie dropped, the impact sent waves through Hollywood, starting a wave of black films bringing more work White’s way: Mo’ Betta Blues, Get on the Bus, Harlem Nights, Other People’s Money, Clockers, TV shows Martin, The Jamie Foxx Show, Def Comedy Jam, network specials on BET, Comedy Central, HBO (“Two of them pay,” he quips).
Now he’s come, happily, back to stand-up – he won the 2008 San Francisco Comedy Competition, besting 16 hungry comics from across the country.
“The really good comedians,” he says, “walk that line where, my acting teacher says, you ‘bleed publicly.’ Chris Rock makes me laugh. The Family Guy kills me. Tropic Thunder. Robert Downey Jr. was brilliant, hysterical. I have a great barometer for excellence.”
STEVE WHITE performs at The Planet Ultralounge 9:15pm Fri-Sat (doors open at 8pm), 2100 N. Fremont St., Monterey. $8/Fri; $10/Sat. 373-1449, www.theplanetmonterey.com