Paul Mooney has never been one to bite his tongue. The legendary comedian, actor, author, and social analyst got his first break writing for Richard Pryor. He helped pen Pryor's Is It Something I Said, Bicentennial Nigger, and Live on the Sunset Strip albums. In addition to writing for programs like Sanford and Son, Mooney served as the head writer for The Richard Pryor Show, where he helped launch the careers of actors like Robin Williams, John Witherspoon and Sandra Bernhard.
Mooney was also the head writer during the first season of the groundbreaking In Living Color, where he fathered characters like the wonderfully volatile Homey D. Clown. He's probably best known to younger generations for his unforgettable appearances on Chappelle's Show.
This month, he'll be performing at D.C.'s Howard Theatre and New York's B.B. King Blues Club & Grill, in all of his unfiltered splendor thanks to Jill Newman Productions in association with PM7 Entertainment.
Mooney talked to Complex about the 2012 presidential election, why people can't handle the truth and, of course, race. As expected, he's articulate, unapologetic, and brilliant.
Interview by Julian Kimble (@JRK316)
The Richard Pryor Show—it didn’t last long. Do you think it came along too early and mainstream America just wasn’t ready for it?
I think it was NBC or ABC, it was one of the big networks, and they really loved it. Because now they could work it—they all had jobs. Before, you know, they just would have to go home. The scariest thing on TV was the Smothers Brothers, and you know how white they were.
Do you think that by the time In Living Color rolled around in 1990 that people were more ready for that type of comedy?
Well, you’ve got to remember that all that is just brainwashing, it’s mental brainwashing. White people made up the n-word, they knew about racial jokes before anybody, and in their old movies and old cartoons they made fun of everybody, especially black folks. Racial jokes were not new to them. The only thing that was new to them was that they were being made fun of. That’s what was new. You know, everything was funny until you talked about white folks, and that became criminal. Like, “Something is wrong with this picture.” It’s an interesting thing to watch and listen to. About race, nothing has changed—it used to be “overt” now it’s “covert.” That’s the difference.
White people are very good at acting like they’re not racist. They deserve an Academy Award for that. To me it’s like the movie Frankenstein—whenever the doctor would hear Frankenstein’s name he would flip, and whenever Frankenstein would hear his name he would flip. That’s how I look at it, it’s very interesting. And I’ve been able to live through this, and I’ve been one of the blessed people. I’ve been able to see all this, and it’s great. It’s great to come to this ending. I just love the Republicans for outing themselves, with this whole thing about Obama. I love the idea of Obama, I love it. It’s just so perfect.
It’s like one big middle finger, and I’m so glad you went there because I was going to ask you about the election anyway.
Oh, you know yourself that it’s just incredible. The things that came out of people’s mouths—both black and white—it’s unbelievable to me. The shaking the finger—did you see that lady that shook her finger at the president? Who the hell was this woman? It shows you the disrespect; she thought because a black man was in office that she had the power to do this. He should’ve bit her finger off.
You know what a big deal on radio and television this was because all these white men are on TV and radio, they give them everything. All of them. They have everything they want, they give them everything. They shove them down your throat, and if you don’t like them, they’ll fix it. They’ll force you to like them because they give them all that exposure, and all of them gave Obama left-handed compliments; you can read between the lines. Actually, they thought they had the perfect white man. You know that, they really did. They thought they had the perfect white man. To me he wasn’t, and they kept talking about how handsome he looked. He looked like…a waterhead baby that rides on those special buses. He wasn’t perfect to me.
He wasn’t perfect because he was so unlikable.
To call Obama a liar? Come on. It was unbelievable to me. But it’s ok, because they just outed themselves, that’s all. They just gave them enough rope and they hung themselves.
Some media outlets made it seem like Romney had a legitimate chance at winning.
They were giving you the statistics, and I don’t know where they got these statistics. I don’t know where they went to do it, they certainly didn’t go into the projects. You know there are areas that the police won’t go into. I’ve seen a lot of elections, and it was just the wildest thing in the world to me. It was like some horror movie.
Right, but the black guy didn’t die.
Well, we were in a win-win situation. We had had a black man in office, so we were gonna celebrate either way. All good things come to an end, and if it ended we we’re gonna celebrate and if he won we were gonna celebrate, so it was great for us. And you notice how quiet it is now. You saw when the election came, when the verdict was over with that Obama had won, you saw the look on their faces. It was like the OJ verdict. It was unbelievable. They couldn’t believe it. Did you see their faces?
I saw them.
There were Ku Klux Klan members crying. Did you see them? Like they were children. Crying, and I think some woman passed out. I think some lady fainted.
It’s amazing that people were that hurt.
It was very emotional, and did you see them when they had to admit that they had lost? Wasn’t it unbelievable? And the things that came out of people’s mouths—and black people’s mouths too.
Did you hear about the woman in Arizona who ran her husband over because he didn’t vote, even though Romney won Arizona?
Arizona has always been anti-black. They didn't want to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, they don’t want to celebrate anything when it comes to black people—until those athletes got in their asses.
Yeah, with the Super Bowl.
Uh-huh. Those athletes—black and white—fixed them, didn’t they? They made them kiss the ring. But all that Arizona’s ever done is disrespect any minority in office. They always show it, and then they pretend like they’re not racist. Arizona’s always done that, they’re the best at that.
In Florida, there was a man who allegedly committed suicide after Obama won and wrote “Fuck Obama” over his will.
I can believe that, and I can believe he’s not the only person who committed suicide. There’s probably lots of people we don’t know about who killed themselves.
People get offended by brutal honesty, particularly yours. Do you derive any satisfaction from getting under people’s skin for telling the truth or keeping it too real?
No, that’s not my problem. It has nothing to do with me. I mean, I could drop dead tomorrow, the truth will be here. Truth is forever, when you read our history, truth is forever and it always outs itself. You know they’ve got this new movie out about Abe Lincoln and they’re suggesting that he was gay, did you see that?
I actually haven’t seen Lincoln yet.
It’s a new movie; you have to go watch it. But they only tell the half-truth—they said he liked “male company better than female,” and that his wife knew it, and that he had this…pretty white man that actually looked like…you know, like he had a face like Tippi Hedren from The Birds. You know, he had that kind of look, and it was his assistant. But it was a half-truth because Lincoln—if he did have an affair—it was with this black slave that he used to have with him that he freed. It’s interesting, all of it’s interesting. The truth outs itself, and it’s just great. Let’s talk about those dates now.
Yeah, let’s talk about D.C. How many times have you been there?
Oh, a lot of times. I have a huge following there. We’re excited about that. When is it, the 20th?
Yup, the 20th of December.
And then we’re going to B.B. King, what date is that?
That’s the 22nd. Have you ever been to the original Howard Theatre in D.C.?
No, I love D.C. I love it because the White House is right there, I love it. I love that idea of, you know, that White House having a black man in it.
I knew you were going to say that.
And it’s called “the White House,” I love it. Because slaves built the White House, so it’s just perfect. So we’re very excited and we want everybody to come, so we’ll see what goes on. We’re having our class reunion.
Interview by Julian Kimble (@JRK316)