Veteran Comedian Alonzo Bodden discusses racism, comedy heroes and e-cigs

Stephen Acevedo

On the heels of his latest Showtime special “Historically Incorrect,” comedian Alonzo Bodden will headline at Austin’s Velv Comedy Lounge on Sept. 23 and 24. He spoke with The Daily Texan about his newest material, experiences with racism and comic heroes. 

Daily Texan: At what point in your life did you realize comedy was the career path for you?

Alonzo Bodden: My first career was aerospace. I was an airplane mechanic, and after doing that for 10 years, I started training new mechanics. And that was when I first got in front of people, just being in the classroom and teaching, and I had fun making them laugh. I took this comedy writing class and graduation was doing a five-minute set. Literally from that first spot I had no doubt that this was what I wanted to do. 

DT: Who were some of your comedy heroes when you were growing up and when you were just getting started?

AB: That’s a long list. George Wallace was a hero and a mentor for me. Lewis Black is another guy who I love. Of the huge names I’d have to say it was Carlin and Cosby. Some Richard Pryor, but more Carlin and Cosby, especially when I started out because I was a storyteller. Not a rapist, though, just a storyteller. Chappelle, too, I think he’s the best there is. 

DT: Who’s your favorite person that you’ve worked or collaborated with in your career?

AB: Oh man, how much trouble do you want me to get into? Again, I’d say that George Wallace is on that list because he’s one of my favorites. Steve Martin was fascinating even though I only worked with him for like two days. It was fascinating to watch him work. He was an amazing talent. Another great guy I worked with and learned from was Tommy Davidson. When I first started out, I opened for him and I learned a lot doing that. 

DT: You mentioned electronic cigarettes in your latest Showtime special “Historically Incorrect.” What’s your beef with e cigs?

AB: It’s just kind of annoying, you know? When you walk outside and someone blows a bunch of vapor in your face. And it’s also funny because it’s another generation of thinking, “Oh, this is cool. This is different.” And it’s really not that different. It’s the same as another generation smoking cigarettes. I bet your great grandpa thought he was pretty hip with his little corn cob pipe back in the day.

DT: How do you keep yourself entertained while you’re on tour, traveling and doing press day in and day out?

AB: Well it’s just kind of my work week. You get used to it. I tell everyone that if you’re a comic, you get paid to travel and you tell jokes for free. When you’re on a tour, sometimes it’s easier when you have a tour bus and there’s a few comics with you or you just go venue to venue, but other times it’s harder because you’re getting up and getting on a plane every morning at a different airport. As for entertaining myself, I used to go to a lot of daytime movies. Now I tend to read more. I also try to work out because it’s too easy to get fat when you’re sitting around the hotel snacking all day and all night.

DT: You’ve compared college football to slavery in your stand-up by pointing out that it’s run by white men who exploit the hard work of young black men for no compensation. What would you do to change that?

AB: I think college athletes should get paid. I think major athletes at major schools, like say UT football for example. These kids are bringing in tens of millions of dollars, and then they get in trouble if they get a free meal or whatever it may be. Every coach gets paid, every other person gets paid. So yeah, they should get something, and they should also get the free education.

DT: You’ve talked about coming to the South and often seeing it live up to its image of racism. How does racism affect you on a daily basis?

AB: The biggest one that I used to have to deal with a lot was driving while black. When I was in my 20s, I had a Corvette and a Mazda RX-7 sports car, and you get pulled over, but you don’t just get pulled over. You’ve gotta get out of the car, put your hands behind your head, you’ve gotta kneel down or whatever. You get tired of that. The other thing is when you get treated like you don’t belong, like they’re suspicious of you flying in business class or you go to the bank and that check is a little too big and they don’t know if it’s for real. 

DT: Has any of that changed with time?

AB: It gets better with time, but you still deal with it. The most frustrating thing is what we’re dealing with now with the police brutality and Colin Kaepernick and all that. There’s people who deny it exists. How many black people get killed before you even admit that there might be a problem? The technology we have now to catch these kinds of things on camera just shows even more that — hey, black people haven’t been lying this whole time. I support Kaepernick and what he’s doing because it’s a right to protest. It has nothing to do with disrespecting veterans or any of that. I hate that the right wing has sort of co-opted patriotism like they’re the only true patriots and you can only be a patriot if you do it their way. It’s all bullshit. It’s become a common trick to make the persecutors the victims, like right now with Trump and the deplorables. They’ve spoken out against Muslims, against women, against black people, against Latinos, and when they’re called deplorable, all of a sudden it’s like, “Oh my god I can’t believe it.” Well, it’s true. As a comic, I point out the hypocrisy and the bullshit in that.

DT: You’ve been in the comedy game for a long time now. What advice would you give to young aspiring comedians, especially those who might be getting discouraged from it?

AB: It’s funny you ask that because in the past five or six years, I’ve become the old guy. Young comics are asking me questions that I remember asking George Wallace or any of my other mentors back in the day. My advice is that you have to read a lot because you gotta be ready to talk about anything. Listening is more important than talking, which you don’t find out until you start doing it and being on stage. Also, keep writing. Always keep writing. 

Catch Bodden at Austin’s Velv Comedy Lounge on Sept. 23 and 24.