While his public profile might not be as large as arena-packing comics like Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock or Katt Williams, Earthquake is making a name for himself on the national scene after spending years building a serious rep on the stand-up circuit.
The 45-year-old comedian, born Nathaniel Stroman in Washington, D.C.,
has been killing for years, winning fans in Atlanta and throughout the
South before earning slots on BET’s “Comic View,” HBO’s “Def Comedy
Jam” and Comedy Central’s “Premium Blend.” A pair of well-received
half-hour cable specials followed, as did film roles in “Getting
Played,” “Clerks II” and the animated feature “Barnyard.” He’s also
been seen on the small screen in the recurring role of Uncle Mike on
Rock’s CW sitcom “Everybody Hates Chris,” and as a panelist on HBO’s
“Real Time with Bill Maher.”
Earthquake recently took some time to speak with the Banner by phone from Virginia Beach about his career, learning about white people from Bill O’Reilly, and his upcoming trip to Boston, where he’ll headline The Comedy Connection in Faneuil Hall on Saturday and Sunday night.
How long have you been doing comedy?
Ahhh … over 15 years.
Were you doing comedy at all in D.C. during that time?
Not at all. I started doing comedy when I got to Atlanta in 1991.
That was after being in the Air Force?
Yep, I was in the service for 11 years.
As a comedian, you’ve got the funny now — I’m assuming you had it while you were in the Air Force. How did that work out? Did it get a brother in trouble?
It actually got me out of a couple of things. I would go [perform stand-up] for the soldiers, stuff like that. But I never saw myself as a comedian. It was just a way for me to get out of work.
So you moved to Atlanta, and that was where you first hit the stage as a comedian. What was the club, or clubs, where you got your start?
I didn’t start at a comedy joint. I’d just hit any place that had a mic that a band would play. And anytime the band would take a break, I’d ask the owner if I could entertain the people. And that’s how I started.
And went from there to “Def Comedy Jam?”
Nah, it took a while for Def Jam. I was just going around the country, hitting different clubs, and stuff like that. But yeah, Def Jam, “Comic View,” “Showtime at the Apollo,” and now I’m getting into other things.
How long would you say it took you to get your first TV credit? (Many comics feel like a TV credit validates them as comedians, and some audiences don’t believe you’re serious unless you have a credit. There is also a misconception that it happens overnight.)
I would say about 5 years. That was “Comic View.”
Some people call a lot of today’s comics “microwave comics,” because their transition from open mic to TV is so quick. Do think that worked in your favor, having those years of preparation before getting on TV?
I think anytime you have time to go around and hone your craft before you go put it on TV, [that] is still a plus. I think TV is … you know, some people come on TV and have the best set they’ve ever had. Then they come back to the club, and their set is terrible. [The audience] has those expectations of what it is supposed to be. What the norm is, is that you are suppose to take your craft until it’s at its tightest form before you expose it to TV. That’s like your graduation, or the reward.
You’ve traveled all over. Have you seen the world more as a comedian, or in the Air Force?
Oh, as a comedian. … You gotta understand something about being in the Air Force: You are stationed in that one place. You just there. You might be away from home, but you move there, and you there. You might be there for four years before you move to another place. Whereas as a comedian, you may go somewhere different everyday.
You not only were on BET’s “Comic View,” you also had your own special. How did that come about?
I had a half hour on BET and HBO. When I did the special on BET, they were looking to bring comedy back, and they chose me. It was an honor.
BET, HBO, and you were also on a show where you don’t normally see stand-up comics perform: “Real Time With Bill Maher.” What was that experience like?
They saw my show and were like, “Hey man, would you come perform?” I was like, “Of course.” We had a great time. I was the only performer to ever get a standing O on Bill Maher.
A lot of the discussion on Maher’s show is about politics. Do you consider yourself a political comic?
Nah, just funny. I happen to talk about political things, too. I normally go from political things, to relationships, to … everything.
What kinds of audiences come to your shows? What is the spectrum?
All different types — white, black, Latino … from 8 [years old] to 80, blind, crippled and crazy.
It’s been a minute since you’ve been to Boston.
It’s been about four or five years, and I’m looking forward to it!
What can folks expect to see when they come out?
Non-stop funny. I’m preparing for my one-hour special that will be called “Mic Check,” and again, I’m looking forward to being in Boston.
And Boston is definitely looking forward to seeing you as well. One of the things we discovered preparing for this interview is your fondness for listening to talk radio. And one talk radio host you enjoy is Bill O’Reilly.
Yeah, I like to hear the point of view of the majority. I’m a different kind of brotha. We live in a democratic society. And in a democratic society, majority rules, and Caucasians are the majority. That’s just factual. So a lot of things that sometimes we associate to racism, it’s just something that you cannot legislate. It is just preference.
You would prefer to hire someone who looks like you and talks like you. If we were the majority, we would do the same. The problem I have with it is that we have some leaders who are sitting around here that are using race to benefit themselves. I just like what [O’Reilly] says. Just give it to me straight. Straight with no chaser.
Do see yourself becoming a talk show host, be it TV or radio? Is that an aspiration?
If it’s God’s will. I don’t even make plans. If it comes across my desk, and it’s the best decision that day … that’s what we’ll do.
What was your experience like with your recurring role on “Everybody Hates Chris”?
Well, [Chris Rock] gave me a shot. And I am always thankful for it. He’s one of the best brothers out here right now. And he’s the best because he’s providing opportunities for people who he feels are up-and-coming. Some comedians get to that place of power, they get through that window, and they close it and shut it, and don’t even provide an opportunity for … whoever.
Now you don’t owe me anything, but you do owe something to your genre. You know, this is what made you. And this is one respect I have for Rock, is they always put [on] who they think is hot. Some comedians … you hardly ever see them collaborate.
Why do you think that is?
Some of them think that others are going to be funnier than them … But it’s not even about that. There is no such thing. It’s about the collaboration of making a project great. And if you feel that person is funny, then provide the opportunity to keep the genre, which helped you be you, alive and rocking.
If you had the opportunity to have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be? Where would you eat? What would you talk about?
Man … I have to say my father. I never met him, because I was told that he was no good. Now that I’ve gone through a divorce, you know, I’d at least like to hear his side of the story. … Where we gonna eat at? Hey, McDonald’s, or get hot dog dinner from somewhere, you know.
You just brought up something that was not asked earlier, your divorce. You bring you life to the stage. Are there any limits to that? Do you ever say, “No, I can’t bring that,” for whatever reason?
No, because it doesn’t matter. My philosophy is, the person who matters already knows, and that’s God. So why should I care if you know?
Earthquake performs at The Comedy Connection of Boston, in Faneuil Hall, Saturday at midnight and Sunday at 8 p.m. For ticket information, call 617-248-9700 or visit www.comedyconnectionboston.com.
Corey Manning is a stand-up comedian by night, a super hero by day, and a freelance writer when he has the time. Check him out at www.myspace.com/corey_manning.