Posts Tagged ‘Redd Foxx’

Redd Foxx

December 11, 2013

Tuesday December 10th, 2013 – Island Lake, IL

I’m a day late, but I would be remiss if I didn’t remember the birth date of John Elroy Sanford – aka Redd Foxx – who was born on December 9th, 1922. He was influential to comedians of both his own generation and those that followed him, and in my opinion has always been under rated.

I first discovered him like most Americans from his role as Fred Sanford on ‘Sanford and Son’ in the ‘70s, but I later came to realize how important a figure he was in the bigger picture of the 20th century standup comedy scene. He was a groundbreaker and trendsetter with ‘party records’.

Those were recordings of standup comedy shows that were risqué for the time, but pretty tame by today’s standards. Before cable TV and the internet, it was the only source of entertainment at most parties and it filled a void. Redd Foxx realized this, and was smart enough to carve a niche.

I saw an interview with him years ago where he talked about having the reputation of doing X rated material or ‘working blue’, and he said the only reason he did it was that there was no place else for the public to get it at the time. It was strictly a business decision, and it worked for him.

Redd appeared on about 50 of these records, and I remember owning several through the years. I’ve moved so many times I eventually ended up dumping all my vinyl albums, but I do wish I’d held on to an autographed album I bought at a rummage sale for $1. I should have had it framed.

Redd worked the ‘chitlin’ circuit’, which is a nice way of saying he played hell holes sweating to squeak out a living just like I’ve been doing my entire adult life. I can only imagine the glut of horror stories he must have had trying to pry payment out of club owners and living on the road.

He wasn’t paid nearly enough for his record sales, even though it did help make him a name to sell tickets for his live performances. He came along at a time where there wasn’t much recourse but to keep working and squeak out a living. He paid his dues, and deserved his eventual success.

I thought Sanford and Son was a very funny show, and still do. Redd’s character holds up well in my opinion. It was always a highly rated show at the time, and my grandparents both loved it so that says a lot. They had different senses of humor, and as a kid I liked it too. It was universal.

Jerry Dye is a Chicago comedian who was born in Mississippi, and is in the generation before me. I worked with him many years ago, and he told me he used to write for Sanford and Son. He said that Redd was notorious for putting as many of his chitlin’ circuit friends on the show as he could. It might only have been a small speaking role or even an extra, but he took care of them.

I always thought that was classy, and should I ever have the ability to do that I’d absolutely do it too. It would be a thrill to be able to give people national television exposure, especially those who have paid dues and deserved it. Redd shared the wealth, and I loved hearing that from Jerry.

Unfortunately, Redd had some nasty issues with the IRS. Rumor has it he owed millions when he died. He was a performer first and business wasn’t a priority. Boy, can I relate to that mindset. Still, Redd Foxx was a pioneer and I greatly respect all of his work. He’s up there with the best.

Redd Foxx was the undisputed king of 'party records'.

Redd Foxx was the undisputed king of ‘party records’.

His major fame came from his role as Fred G. Sanford - the name of his deceased older brother.

His mainstream fame came from his role as Fred G. Sanford – the name of his deceased older brother.

Building A Brand

March 22, 2013

Wednesday March 20th, 2013 – Milwaukee, WI

Today I needed to be in Milwaukee for a recorded video interview with Jason Evans who owns and runs a website about Milwaukee comedy called www.mkefunny.com. Jason is coming up the ranks as a comic himself, and I like him a lot. He’s a student of the game, and is paying his dues.

Jeff Lampton was also there, and he’s another Milwaukee comic I like and respect. Jeff has his own style and agenda, and it’s not one that most people would have the ‘nads to do. Jeff chooses to do what would probably be labeled as X-rated comedy, and that has always been dangerous.

Lenny Bruce chose that route as did George Carlin, Redd Foxx and a precious few others in the annals of standup comedy. There is an audience for that style of comedy, but more often than not those kinds of performers get blackballed and aren’t able to work places most other comics are.

It’s difficult enough trying to hack out a living as any kind of entertainer, but trying to fit into a controversial niche cranks those odds up past astronomical. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but it sure does make the trip more difficult. I respect anyone who sticks to their guns and follows their inner creative vision, which Jeff is choosing to do. Hats off to him, and I wish him only the best.

I never chose to go that route, and it was a conscious business decision. Foul language doesn’t offend me at all. I’ve been around it as long as I can remember, but this style of comedy isn’t just about swearing. It’s about trying to make points about subjects that can be considered volatile or controversial by a large percentage of the public. It takes guts and skill to do that style correctly.

Lenny Bruce and George Carlin got arrested for what they said, and although it was wonderful publicity for both of them I never wanted to rattle those cages. I want to get laughs, and that will hopefully get me paid. Does that make me a sellout? So be it. I’m there to entertain my audience, and there is more opportunity to get work for someone who can work clean if word can get out.

That’s why I drove up for the interview, as it was about my ‘Schlitz Happened!’ shows coming up in April at the Northern Lights Theatre at Potawatomi Casino. Hopefully I can attract comedy fans that follow Jason’s site, but I want to take it much farther than that. I want this to be part of the Milwaukee community as much as the subject matter I’m talking about. I want to be a brand.

   In a perfect world, this will be something that will be in demand locally from everything from church festivals to libraries to private parties to a stage at Summerfest or the State Fair. It will be a totally clean show, and I’m consciously choosing not to use any swearing at all. NONE. It’s not a nightclub comedy show. I’ve done that, but this isn’t it. This is designed for a broader market.

I want Milwaukeeans who have never been to a standup comedy show to become loyal fans of what I’m doing so they’ll come back again and again and send others. It will never be exactly the same show twice, as I’m going to allow for some audience input at times which will freshen it up and make each performance unique. It’s taken a lifetime to develop this show, but I am SO ready to make it a success. I’m grateful for this chance, and those who come see it won’t get cheated. 

Plus Tax

October 12, 2012

Thursday October 11th, 2012 – Mt. Prospect, IL

   Whew! What a sense of sheer relief it was to bring my box of tax receipts into my accountant’s office this morning. I felt like I just got a clean bill of health after a complicated biopsy and went to the dentist and only needed a cleaning both on the same day. It was like walking on sunshine.

I really worked hard at getting all those records in order, and my accountant looked at what I’d done and nodded in approval which is a major accomplishment as he’s a pretty quiet guy. “Well, you’re getting better,” he said. “Now we just have to work on getting you to do it a little faster.”

He’s totally right, and the good feeling I had standing there knowing I’d done my due diligence really put me in a great space. I know it was right, and I felt the weight of the world lifted off my shoulders as I walked out of his office. I didn’t cheat anyone, and I did the best I could with what I had. I saved my receipts, and he’ll take care of the deductions. If I owe anything, it will be paid.

I don’t know how I’m going to pay, but I’ll do what I need to do and that’s all I can do. At least I got the wheels in motion, and I can’t feel any better about it. I’m not going to make any shallow promises, as I’ve been down that road before. But I know I fully intend to overcome this problem once and for all, and that will start by just being smart and keeping my records more organized.

Why I didn’t do this before is still a mystery, but I don’t want to go over all that painful ground again and again. I want to start completely new, and I told my accountant my goal is to become a model customer and the example he uses to the rest of his clients on how someone can transform. I want the head of the IRS to call me on April 16th and comment on how stellar my return was.

This is an amazingly important part of show business, business in general and American life in general. Like it or not, (and nobody does) income tax is part of our lives. It’s not going anywhere anytime soon and fair or not that’s how it is. Why make it worse by bungling the process yearly?

I remember hearing horror stories from comedians over the years who hadn’t filed their returns in decades, if ever. Two prime examples have now died, and I guess they ‘won’. But I know a lot of entertainers have had big problems with the IRS from Willie Nelson to Redd Foxx to so many others. Wesley Snipes comes to mind and I’m sure there are a lot more. It’s all a needless waste.

Dealing with what isn’t fun is just that – not fun. But it is necessary, and the true greats always find the way to do what’s best in the long run even if it sacrifices pleasure in the short run. I have seen the light after today, and I really do feel like a new man. I believe in my heart I’m changed.

I believed that after I got my diabetes diagnosis and completely changed my life as far as what I ate and how regularly I exercised, and I’ve stuck with it and feel better than I ever have. I don’t see why I can’t do the same and completely transform the way I handle my tax situation as well.

This way, when I do eventually hit that windfall I’ve always dreamed of I’ll handle it correctly and not have to feel that lump in my stomach I’ve felt so often before. This was a breakthrough.