Too Sinbad

Not since Richard Pryor flamed out in the ’80s has it been so good to be funny, gifted, and black in America.

Eddie Murphy, whose career might be on the elevator ride going down, still knows how to bang it at the box office as the Nutty Professor. Chris Rock, Murphy’s Saturday Night Live spawn, continues breaking comedic ground on HBO. The Wayans clan (Keenan Ivory, Marlon, Shawn, Damon, et al.) is proving itself as versatile and marketable as the Jackson Five brood (look, Ma, no Tito). And Spike Lee’s joint The Original Kings of Comedy gives the quartet of Bernie Mac, D.L. Hughley, Cedric the Entertainer, and Steve Harvey its rightful spotlight in a well-received documentary about the ethos and nuances of modern black stand-up comedy.

And then there’s Sinbad. Remember him? Tall, light-skinned brother. Funny-looking clothes. PG-rated material. Became a poster boy for Star Search. Made such movies as Necessary Roughness, Houseguest, Jingle All the Way, and First Kid. Hosted the talk show Vibe for a minute or two. Brought old-school funk to the Caribbean with his music festivals. Yeah, that Sinbad.

The last time I talked to him was in 1994, when his stand-up comedy routine was booked in Omaha. I remember Sinbad was a happy and accessible guy back then, warming up to an interview like it meant more to him than the show itself. We talked for 30 minutes about everything from his children and divorce, to Richard Pryor and Phil Hartman, his co-star in Houseguest. Sinbad knew the value of good publicity.

What a difference six years makes. With Sinbad in town for a one-night gig this weekend, I jumped at the opportunity to interview him for PitchWeekly. But the gods of comedy must be crazy. Hooking up with Sinbad by phone these days is harder than getting Survivor contestants to play nice. At one point, we were told Sinbad wasn’t answering his cell phone. Too bad. So we are left to ponder what might have been if Sinbad was to field some of our tough questions (FYI: the following answers are actual statements Sinbad made in previous interviews):

Pitch: I once had trouble getting an interview with Jimmie “J.J.” Walker. Do comedians prefer to avoid reporters?

Sinbad: We all do dumb stuff like that, and we try to hide it.

Pitch: I understand you are getting paid $50,000 for the one-hour set. Why so much?

Sinbad: Why? Because I’m paying alimony.

Pitch: If you come back to town again, I’d love another chance to interview you. But can you understand why I might be scared of your blowing us off again?

Sinbad: Being scared to fail will stop you from being anything great.

Pitch: Thanks for the advice, Sinbad.