A.J. Jamal unloads wicked physical comedy and impressions on Planet Gemini.
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Comedian A.J. Jamal, originally from Cleveland but now stomping around Hollywood and beyond, came up in the same Cleveland comedy scene that gave us Arsenio Hall, Drew Carey and Steve Harvey (Bob Hope and Tim Conway were earlier products of the maligned Ohio city), and caught good breaks in the ’90s, including recurring bits on In Living Color and hosting Comic Justice (as did Dave Chappelle, who also lived in Ohio for a time.)
During his appearance on BlueTube TV, an interview show, he cracks on the low-budget production values of the show for six minutes before his laughing hosts can ask him where he’s from.
“I’m originally from Cleveland, Ohio. Everybody talks about LeBron leaving Cleveland, and he left for $100 million. I left Cleveland for $250. Ain’t nobody cared, nobody cried, they didn’t even know I’m gone.”
You’ll probably know his face without being able to place why (maybe from his 2010 show at Planet Gemini?), but he hasn’t yet broken big like his Cleveland comrades, though not for lack of talent.
He began working as an engineer for IBM and must have had co-workers in that company’s famously conservative culture cracking up. Although he bills himself as an analytical comedian, the “King of Clean” is naturally, gleefully and compulsively funny.
He does hood jokes, but reveals he’s enjoying some of the perks of success.
“You ever get real ghetto and just put enough gas in your car to make it to your gas station?” he tells one audience he’s already got laughing with momentum. “‘I’m in the wrong neighborhood ‘bout to run out! I’m going to put enough in to get me where it’s 8 cents cheaper. Do this $1.80 right now. I’m good.’ I have a Escalade. I put $1.80 in and ran out of gas coming out of the gas station. I had to call AAA. I called AAA and said, ‘I’m out of gas.’ They said, ‘Where you at?’ [I said,] ‘The gas station.’”
He does a wicked-good impression of Prince’s crisp dance moves and sharp falsetto. He’s got James Brown down, too. Both show off an aptitude for physical comedy that’s rare and totally delightful, manic and free. His act is a well-rounded arsenal of the riffing of David Allen Grier, the quick delivery of George Carlin, the PG-13 clean content of Gabriel Iglesias and the hip, urban stories and observations of Chris Tucker or Martin Lawrence.
He does ethnic jokes that skate that thin line between affectionate impression and ethnic stereotype (and his gay rapper bit crosses into the unfortunate territory of In Living Color sketch “Men on Film”). But he cracks on himself and his own life, as well as black culture, so, apparently, it’s all good.
The comedian telecasts his aging body in front of a comedy club crowd.
“I’ve gained so much weight. I’ve got a six-pack that’s just ice around it. When you’re in your 40s it’s hard to get to the gym. You ever put on your gym clothes, tennis shoes, headband, wristbands, sweatbands, and go into the kitchen and make pancakes? I was walking home the other day, I thought somebody was following me. [He walks and huffs with every breath]. It was my legs rubbing together!”
He’s a black comedian, but not confined by it, and appeared in Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood. But his TV and film stuff has mostly been black audience-oriented and independent (and, he would admit while laughing, “low-budget,” like the self-effacing 2000 flick The Cheapest Movie Ever Made).
He’s also diversified his resume in entertainment, directing, producing, writing – lots of writing, including on a Comic Relief special and Martin Lawrence’s 1st Amendment Stand Up series – talk-show appearances and, as he still does incessantly, touring gigs. He just hopped off a gig on a cruise ship.
He does joke about being married, although the subtext is that he loves his wife and loves being married. On comedian showcase Inside Joke, he’s seen hiding behind a car, peeking over the hood at his house.
“I’ve been married for 1,323 days,” he tells the camera furtively. “And uh, I’d say maybe 12 of those have been OK. I’m not doing life. I’m doing, like, 5 to 20 and then I’m out. I wouldn’t say that I don’t like marriage. I just don’t like her!”
It’s scored with tense action/spy music as he sneaks into his own house, past his wife in the kitchen, and creeps into his room.
“This is my room,” he whispers to the camera. “I’ve made it in. You see, I run this house. I call the shots around here. I’m the man.”
His stand-up gig in the wake of Thanksgiving should blast away the holiday excesses and dramas with family-friendly (21-and-over, that is), smart and jolly belly-laughs.
A.J. JAMAL and CORY “SHOWTIME” ROBINSON perform at 9pm Friday and Saturday at Planet Gemini, 2110 Fremont St., Monterey. $10. 373-1449, www.PlanetGemini.com.