You just can’t kill Sinbad’s career.
The comedian needs no TMZ scandal or hit movie to be a fixture of pop culture. He doesn’t need to be in a real movie at all; people can just make one up and swear the fabricated film “Shazam,” where Sinbad played a genie, was a beloved childhood memory. Though I never confused Sinbad’s mythical movie with Shaquille O’Neal’s genie film “Kazaam,” to me, Sinbad will always be Coach Walter Oakes of the HBCU themed show “A Different World.”
The Bill Cosby-created series, which ran from 1987 to 1993, made me think HBCU students were superheroes. Their fashion, slang and intellect normalized my college dreams. Sinbad even reprised his role in a theme song remake of “A Different World” on ESPN’s Sportscenter program “The Six,” with Michael Smith and Jemele Hill.
To be honest, I didn’t know much about Sinbad’s career after his movies like “Jingle All the Way” and “Good Burger” in the late ‘90s. And shown in his 2010 comedy standup special “Where U Been,” I’m not alone in that. But ahead of his two shows on April 21 and 22 at Hollywood Casino, I learned that Sinbad is comfortable being the underdog of the comedy world.
My phone interview with Sinbad was high energy from the very beginning. With ironic wit, Sinbad said that America is “the best country that sucks,” in light of the divisive climate across racial and gender lines. Sinbad also joked that “Kim Kardashian messed up the balance of the world” and critiqued how a lot of entertainment has “zero calories.” Sinbad is truly an elder statesman, watching trends come and go, while remaining who he is.
I was thinking about your career, and how few high-profile black comedians were around when you broke out in the late ‘80s. I could only name Eddie Murphy. After you though, we have so many black comedians, like Kevin Hart and Dave Chappelle.
A door opened up when I came through. There was J. Anthony Brown. George Wallace. Remember, we were all [like] Arsenio Hall, we were all trying to find that way because that door was shut.
What do you think changed when you came out?
There’s more TV. There’s more internet. Nothing really changed. If you look at it ... still only two or three [top black comics] make a lot of money. That’s Kevin Hart. Right now, he’s the Negro of choice. There’s always a Negro of choice.
So you’re saying there’s always one, but they don’t fully open the door to black comedians?
At the most is three. That’s what people don’t understand, when Viola [Davis] talks about [representation], she’s not just thinking about herself. This door has to be open for more women.
You brought up that few people knew what you were doing in your 2010 comedy special “Where U Been,” but it seems like you’ve been making money doing standup. You kind of dropped off from doing movies though. Is there a reason for that?
They quit calling. I couldn’t even get an audition. I said [to] God, I’ve been here before. I’m a comic; I do this well. I started playing music. I play five instruments now. They can never shut me down. Because my world doesn’t revolve around this. My world doesn’t revolve around when they think I’m hot or cold.
If someone said I wasn’t going to work and do movies in 20 years, I’d say you’re out your mind. How are they not going to use me for 20 years? But it did happen. It worked that way. But I’m still here. I feel my best work is in front of me.
Charlie Murphy, another underrated comic, passed away recently. Do you have any memories of him?
Charlie was funny as hell ... runs in the family ... and had a way breaking down life stories that made us lean in and feel like we were there with him. I wish people didn’t have to pass away before all the accolades start pouring in. He deserves more recognition than he received. He was as funny as any other comic working out here.
This Q&A has been edited for space and clarity.