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Comedian Sinbad still strong in stand-up after 30 years

Robin Hamilton
Comedian Sinbad still strong in stand-up after 30 years
(Photo: courtesy of Wilbur Theatre)

Some people know him as that guy from“A Different World.” Others remember him from “The Sinbad Show.” Then there are those who think of him as that comic with a sailor’s name that seems to keep everyone laughing.

Sinbad doesn’t care how you recognize him — just as long as he can bring a smile to people’s faces.   “This is what makes me special,” he said.

The 53-year-old comic is expected to bring laughs into Boston when he performs at the Wilbur Theatre this week as part of his non-stop touring schedule. With more than 26 years of comedy under his belt, you would think the entertainer would take a break.

No way, he says: “I have never been off the road. Whenever I had a vacation, I was still on the road. I’d still do an act at a club.”

 Sinbad, whose birth name is David Adkins, caught the comedy bug while in the Air Force during his younger days. While in the military, he played on the basketball team until a knee injury put him on the sidelines. During his recovery, he realized he enjoyed “playing” rather than living under the structure of the military.

 His opportunity would come in the form of stand-up comedy, when the Air Force talent show rolled through his base.  He decided to participate, and the laughs he earned proved addictive — so addictive that he quit the military. The military didn’t look too kindly upon that, and he found himself chasing his dreams with little more than the clothes on his back. “I got kicked out of the Air Force,” Sinbad recalls. “I had nothing but my clothes in a duffle bag. I started going out taking buses and I would go to nightclubs and comedy clubs.”  

Sinbad says at the time, the path to being a successful comedian led to Los Angeles.  His problem — he knew nothing about that city, or how to get there. “All I knew about L.A.  was Soul Train, and a cousin I had  [there] with an Afro. I didn’t know how to do that.”

Some nights, he wasn’t even sure where he was going to sleep. He does remember that there was a network of sorts for comedians who were traveling through town. “They had these places called ‘Comedy Condos’, and I would stay there,” he says.

 His hard work eventually led to winning a spot on the ‘80s televised talent show “Star Search.” That appearance opened up other opportunities, and he began showing up on television series like “The Cosby Show” and “A Different World.”

 However, while breaking into TV meant a greater audience, he had no desire to abandon his stand-up.  “Stand-up belongs totally to us,” he explains. “As a comedian, it is me. It is what made us what we are. The only reason I am doing TV is that someone saw me.”

The “us” he is referring to are some of the comic legends who either inspired him, or people he worked with on the comedy circuit.  “Think about it,” he says. “Cosby, George Carlin, Jay Leno. Comics never stop doing comedy.”

    Each of these comedians has their signature style – including Sinbad. He is one of the few comics who has a clean act. Though he admits it wasn’t always that way.  “I was dirty when I started,” he says. “But then I changed it up when my father came to one of my shows, and it worked. I found out I could talk about more stuff.”

He also remembers that Hollywood wasn’t so impressed with the move.

“Hollywood treated me like I was some kind of gump,” he says. “I had just as much edge as everyone else, I just did it in another way. Hollywood treated me like I had no controversy.”

Sinbad, however, refused to change his routine back.  “I wouldn’t let Hollywood tell me how to do it,” he says. “If someone tells me that my style doesn’t work, I will challenge you.”

That defiance has proven to work for Sinbad, as he continues to have a loyal following.  He says during this upcoming tour in Boston, he plans to talk about current events and will play off the audience to see what gets them going.

One topic Sinbad may shy away from is his recent personal bankruptcy filing. When asked about it, he would only say, “It’s complicated, but I’m working on it.”

What he will say is that he has never been afraid of hard work, and now nearing his third decade on the comedy circuit, he has no intention of slowing down.