Whether fans remember him as coach Walter Oakes from “The Cosby Show” spin-off “A Different World,” his role as Andre Krimm beside Scott Bakula in the movie “Necessary Roughness,” or dozens of stand-up specials, Sinbad has been a part of most people’s lives since the 1980s.
The comedian is hitting new territory now, bringing his show “Make Me Wanna Holla” to movie theaters across the country for one night only. Fathom Events will show the special locally in Germantown, Bowie, Alexandria and Fairfax at 8 p.m. on Aug. 22. The show will feature Sinbad’s classic style of comedy and showcase his love of funk music.
Sinbad spoke with A&E to talk about the show, his love of music and how basketball changed his life.
A&E: First off, what can you tell me about “Make Me Wanna Holla?”
Sinbad: Man, that’s a big question! It’s funny and we shot some really good film. Why don’t you break it down and tell me what you wanna know.
A&E: Along with the music, is it a little about your life or is it stuff that you’ve noticed over the past few years? What’s the big theme for it?
Sinbad: It’s a mix of everything. Just like with all comedians, it’s a mix of life, it’s a mix of stuff you’ve seen and stuff you’re tired of seeing. Some of it’s about Detroit – my home’s in Michigan. I’m from Benton Harbor. It’s about things happening in Detroit. My show is just a mixture of everything – my life, what’s going on around me, what I’ve observed and what I see. Some of it’s just me talking crazy.
A&E: Talking a little about the music, you’ve incorporated music into several of your shows. How important is funk and blues and jazz to you?
Sinbad: For me, see, it was always music before comedy when I was coming up. I was in bands growing up and I was playing drums by the time I was in fifth grade. I had been playing music for 30 years as I became a comic right after I went to college to play basketball. It was always in me. I was a DJ and I was collecting music and listening to music. I would rather go see a live band than go to the clubs to hang out. For me, as I saw the music I love, the thing I love, start to leave … it’s not just about being old. You listen at these young folks’ music, they have live music growing up, but it was just that it was going away. It was dying. It just bothered me. So I do everything that I can to keep it alive. I always talk about it because I think when you take away a culture’s music, you lose that culture.
A&E: It does seem like nowadays younger men and women don’t fully understand what it’s like to listen to a record on vinyl …
Sinbad: You know what’s funny – vinyl’s coming back! It’s true. Vinyl outsells everything. So yeah, that’s cool. I think what’s more important … it’s not just about hearing the sonic quality. When we were listening to vinyl we didn’t know about the sonic quality. We didn’t know what exactly the quality really was. When you listened to vinyl, you listened to it all. Now you have the ability to just skip right to the next song, or better yet, you don’t need to download the whole album. You just download one song off the album. I like the fact that once you put the record on, you don’t want to keep getting up to move the needle. I think it pushed bands to make better music because you had to make sure people stayed interested. Also, I like reading the album covers. I don’t want to know just the band, I want to know who produced it. I always wanted to know the story because the artwork, remember the album artwork was just as important as the music.
A&E: Yeah, they used to spend a lot of time putting together the cover art back then. That was the big thing.
Sinbad: Oh man, please! That could make or break an album. When I was DJing, I was buying albums people had never heard of because I loved the way the album looked. My first Bootsy Collins album, man, with the star sunglasses, the Jheri curl … looked like a photo of him was an animated version. I said, ‘I don’t know who this is, but he looks funky.’ That was it.
A&E: You’ve spent your career working clean and avoiding R and NC-17 material. Was that a conscious decision by you or was that just came naturally because you grew up the son of a preacher?
Sinbad: Well, just because you’re a son of a preacher doesn’t make you that way. Sometimes you’re more crazy. I always liked controversial stuff. I think sometimes you need to push the limit. When I first started out, I was dirty, but we were trying to be Richard Pryor, man. All of us was trying to be Richard. He had set that standard. I said, “Man, we all sound the same.” We were a cheap imitation – it’s like being a Gucci bag knockoff. We were like Gocci – we would never be Gucci. One night, I was doing my standup in a little club. It was at the start of my career, I was doing the military set … yeah, I hadn’t been kicked out yet … and my dad drove to see me from Michigan at this little club in Chicago. I just cleaned it up because he was there and all these guys had been talking all this stupidness. He never would have judged me. My father would have dug whatever I did. I just wanted to do something different. I flipped it – I didn’t change my routine, I just changed the words. I didn’t change one thing that I talked about. I realized, “Man, not only can I be funny, I actually can become more controversial and talk about more stuff because I’m not cussing because I can get your attention.” Now, as far as doing movies and TV shows, I don’t want to lend myself to “Oh no, I won’t do any roles unless they’re wholesome.” I don’t believe in that, man. I want to be crazy and do everything, but I think people saw me as this so-called clean comic, which I hate that term. They decided what kind of person I must be or what kind of roles I must play and they put you in a box that didn’t really exist.
A&E: Some comedians like Andrew Dice Clay and Lisa Lampanelli have said their stage show is just an act and that they’re nothing like that off stage. Would you consider Sinbad a character or is Sinbad mostly you?
Sinbad: Dice Clay is a character and I don’t know about Lisa as a character, but you have to be careful when you say that because when you do something like that on stage, then off stage you’re “Oh, don’t approach me that way, that’s not who I am,” I think that throws off a mixed signal. I’m not judging somebody, but a lot of what I say on stage, I am. A lot of the things I do on stage is me. It’s not like, “Oh, that’s a different guy on stage,” no. A lot of what I say is me.
A&E: Here recently, you’ve done some voiceover work with “American Dad” and the just-released Disney movie “Planes” – is that something you can see yourself doing more of in the future?
Sinbad: I did a lot of it back when I first came in. I did “Homeward Bound” where I played a horse. I’ve done quite a few voiceovers. For me, it’s fun. And it’s quick. I have fun in there. I know a lot of people don’t, but I have a ball. I found a way that works for me. When I came in to do “Planes,” my character was a one-afternoon taping and they liked what I did and I came back in about two more times and they expanded the character.
A&E: Sports seem to be a big part of your life – you played basketball and you starred as a defensive lineman in “Necessary Roughness.” Are you still big into sports?
Sinbad: There was a time in my life when I was coming up – I love basketball like a person needs water to live. I loved it. I think basketball got me to where I need to be as a comedian. When I first started, I was a terrible athlete. I mean, I cried I was so bad. That’s why I love my father so much. He’s the one that said, “Look, we can change this if you work hard.” And I got mad because I didn’t have this natural ability. He said, “There’s this thing called persistence and not giving up.” I said, “That’s not a talent!” And I realized it is.
He told me, “If you don’t mind being the worst one in the room for a short period of time, you can become great.” I didn’t realize what lesson he had given me. No matter what I was going to do – I was going to play drums, I was going to play guitar – if you don’t mind suffering for that short period of time … I’m even laughing about it. There’s a quote he gave me: If you want to become something, forget what you are today and think about what you want to become. People would laugh at me, but I was already seeing this other guy in my mind and I applied that to everything I did. I use a lot of sports analogies when I’m talking about life or something on stage because I think everybody should play sports whether you’re good at it or not because it teaches you how to go beyond – how to go beyond in pain, how to go beyond and deal with different personalities. But when I went to college to play basketball, it was a painful experience. My college experience was a terrible four years. So I’m not a sports fanatic. I watch sports, but I’m not one of those guys that says “Let’s get to the sports bar, I can’t miss this game!” Unless, of course, my man LeBron is playing. And what I love about LeBron … how could anybody have ever doubted him, man? I’ve been watching him since he was what, 15? When did people start believing he couldn’t win? That’s all he did! That boy was 18 years old and took an NBA team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, to the NBA finals. Detroit trades a whole team because of him. So I was like this, he’s like Apple computers – they’re so good at what they do, they demand a revolution every time they show up. I’m so glad this last [season] he had that moment, that sixth game changed everything for him.
A&E: Yeah, he took off the headband and that was it.
Sinbad: They can say what they want now – he’s the man. [Laughs]
A&E: People always compare him to Kobe and Jordan. Can we just say LeBron is LeBron and he doesn’t have to be compared to anybody?
Sinbad: Look man, Michael was Michael. Michael didn’t try to be nobody else. Michael Jordan snuck up on everybody. Nobody saw that coming. You know? And Kobe’s a whole different kind of animal than LeBron. You know what LeBron is? LeBron is Michael, he’s Magic, and he’s George McGinnis, who used to play for Indiana … big Hercules. [LeBron]’s a beast, man.
A&E: ESPN made a big deal about Jordan being able to dunk at 50. Can you still get out there and throw the ball down?
Sinbad: Man, please. No. No. [Laughs] My vertical left. [Laughs]
A&E: You’ve done movies, TV, standup shows – if you had to choose, could you pick one thing you’ve done that you’re most proud of?
Sinbad: Ah, man. You know, as far as what I’ve done, there’s no one project I’m most proud of. I’m most proud ... that I’m still here. I’m most proud of that I’m still relevant and I still think my best work is ahead of me.
A&E: You’ve got the show coming out through Fathom in theaters across the country, but after that, what’s on the horizon? What’s next for Sinbad?
Sinbad; I want to do some more TV and some more movies, but I want to do what I’ve been trying to do since I got here. I said let me do the stuff I’ve been writing. I want to direct. I want to produce other things. That’s what I’m excited about. As far as TV, I don’t know if I’ll do sitcom work again because once reality shows came in, you can’t make anything funnier than real cable now. Pawn boys and duck people, you can’t write that.
A&E: What do you hope people take away from your shows?
Sinbad: I was watching this Eagles special the other day. It was with Glenn Frey and Don Henley. They said their fun thing was there was always a hidden meaning behind every song. It’s not obvious, but every song has got to have some meaning. I hope when you leave, I’m not just telling jokes, I’m leaving you with something. I’m trying to push it so when you leave, you say “Wait a minute, what was he saying?” Yeah, I hid it through comedy, but some of that stuff I’m talking about ain’t funny in real life. We use funny to take the pain off, to take the edge off. But I’m still angry and it’s still there. I have to find a way to express my anger that doesn’t turn the audience off, but I refuse not to talk about it.