Interview: Tommy Davidson talks ‘Dying Laughing’ and reminisces how he almost skipped out on the audition that would change his life
Gravitas Ventures

Comedian Tommy Davidson has been filling clubs and bringing laughter into the homes of families since the ‘90s. His work with Keenen Ivory Wayans on “In Living Color” changed the landscape of modern comedy and introduced the world to characters that would forever influence how we look at humor.

The stand-up comic is now part of a new feature length documentary, along with his fellow pioneering comedians that explores the agony and the ecstasy of making people laugh. “Dying Laughing” comes out on Feb. 24, and gives viewers a candid peek at life from a comedian's point of view.

AXS had the pleasure of speaking with Tommy about his own personal experiences and what we can expect from “Dying Laughing.”

AXS: Take me back to the beginning of your stand-up career and what it was like when you made your move from the stage to the screen on ‘In Living Color’?

Tommy Davidson: That was not an overnight thing. That was a whole lot of busted auditions and learning how to act. It was doing a lot of clubs and having a lot of letdowns with TV shows I thought were going to happen. All the stuff that was supposed to happen didn’t. Here I am all the way out in L.A. from Washington, D.C. Finally I just went back to the clubs and I ran into Keenen Ivory Wayans – who created ‘In Living Color.’ You know, I actually didn’t go to the audition. Then my agent called me and said, ‘Well, if you go what does it hurt?’ So, I went. I don’t think I did a good job but they had another audition which included a stand-up audition. There were 30 comedians. All you know. Everybody who was anybody was at that audition - from Martin to Jamie Foxx to Jim Carrey. I was number 30. The last person to go onstage and I was ready. He told me that night I got the show. I knew what I could do. It didn’t matter if I got that show or not because I knew I wasn’t in control of that. What did matter is I felt that I was the best at that.

AXS: Who was your favorite character to play on ‘In Living Color’?

TD: It’s hard to say because we did so many things. I did a lot of impressions like Michael Jackson, Spike Lee, I did MC Hammer. But probably my favorite character of mine was a guy named ‘Sweet Tooth Jones.’ He was this Kung Fu teacher with an afro. He’s a beauty. That was my favorite right there. That was my baby.

AXS: How did you all manage to keep a straight face?

TD: We didn’t. I mean, we tried our best but we had a lot of fun. The reason why that show was so good was because we loved what we were doing so much. We were giving y’all everything we had. If it was funny to us, it was going to be six times funnier to you all. So, if we were cracking up, then oh boy. 

AXS: Let’s talk about ‘Dying Laughing.’ Why do you think it’s important to do a documentary like this? And why now?

TD: Especially now, with everything that’s going on politically. So, it’s important in a social sense. But it’s important to me, speaking for myself, that people understand everything about what they see. Stand-up comedy isn’t just about a bunch of funny people standing up there. Because then anybody can do it. It’s a bunch of people who work their asses off to learn how to bring that across. And the people who are the best at it are the people who work really hard at it. That would go for a top attorney or an NFL quarterback. Any level of excellence you’re going to have to continue to have that as a lifestyle. To have success as a lifestyle. I’m not talking about society’s idea of success which is to have as many cars and houses as you can. But real success, to me, is to be able to pass on positive experiences to the next person. So that happiness is over personal gain.

AXS: So, when fans watch it, what do you think they’re going to learn about you?

TD: They’re going to learn that when it comes to stand-up, I’m a beast. There are so many facets to me and others. For instance, did you know Tom Hanks did stand-up? Did you know Michael Keaton did stand-up? Ben Stiller did stand-up? It’s hard to do. Let me see any person stand up in front of 50 people they’ve never met and make them laugh at the same thing at the same time. It can be learned. That’s what I think this documentary is about. That anybody who’s thinking about it can learn it.

AXS: Do you have any words of wisdom for aspiring comics?

TD: Mine is really basic. Stay at the clubs. Stay onstage and let the comedy God lead you through.

AXS: Tell me what else you’ve been working on and what you have coming up?

TD: I’m working on a one-man show which is coming up around the corner. I just signed a book deal, so I’m really excited about that – ‘Tommy Davidson: Living In Color.’ There’s a lot of biographical stuff people don’t know about me that’s going to be in there. I’ve got a TV show that’s on the air now that I’m hosting called, ‘Vacation Creation.’ We take families to every country you could imagine, in every corner of the world. From glaciers, to swimming with dolphins, to zip lining in Costa Rica, it’s just been incredible.

AXS: Can fans catch you on tour?

TD: I’m currently making my way across the country. I’m actually now on tour with Michael Epps. Then I’m playing the clubs, booked through next year. I’ve got plenty of stand-up going.

As for his upcoming feature, Tommy added, “I think overall I just feel very blessed. When I broke into comedy at 20, I was sharing the stage with Roseanne Barr, Rosie O'Donnell, Seinfeld, Jay Leno, Ben Stiller, Jim Carrey, Damon Wayans, Eddie Murphy, Tim Allen, Louie Anderson, Drew Carey; this is what I came up with. This was before anyone had shows. So, to be in this with them now is kind of surreal. When you realize you’re no different than you were before, it’s a good feeling.”

“Dying Laughing” opens in theaters and will be on demand, Feb. 24. For a beautiful, moving and funny look at life as a stand-up comic, this is one feature you’re not going to want to miss.