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Published on March 6th, 2018 | by Darren Paltrowitz


John Witherspoon On His Upcoming Stand-Up Shows In New York, “Friday” & “Black Jesus”

John Witherspoon has made you laugh in movies like Friday, House Party, Little Man, Boomerang, and I’m Gonna Get You Sucka. You should also be well-aware of Witherspoon from his many years of television appearances, including roles on The Wayan Bros., The Tracy Morgan Show, The Boondocks, and Black Jesus. But many people do not realize that Witherspoon got his start as a stand-up comic, getting his start at The Comedy Store in Los Angeles alongside Robin Williams and David Letterman.

All these years later, Witherspoon is still touring more weeks of the year than not as a comedian, and his calendar includes three nights at New York’s Gotham Comedy Club from March 22nd to 24th. I had the pleasure of speaking with Mr. Witherspoon by phone about his multi-faceted career — which includes the popular Cooking For Poor People series on YouTube — and what else he has coming up in the near-future. The comedy legend can be followed on Twitter via @John_Pops_Spoon.

I’m interviewing you in advance of your upcoming shows in New York. Will you be performing in New York alongside your son J.D.?

John Witherspoon: No, it’s just me.

When did you first play New York? Weren’t you L.A.-based after first moving out of Detroit?

John Witherspoon: Yeah, I went to The Comedy Store in 1974. I drove to California from Detroit, too cold, and I wanted to seek my fortune.

Was that how you became close with Jay Leno, David Letterman and that scene?

John Witherspoon: Oh yeah. I knew Leno. David Letterman emceed the first show, I emceed the second show in 1974.

Have you seen the TV show that’s loosely based on The Comedy Store called I’m Dying Up Here?

John Witherspoon: I haven’t. It’s on cable somewhere, but I think I saw five minutes of it one day, I happened to stumble upon it. But I don’t know if it conveys the reality of The Comedy Show, I haven’t looked at it. Does it have good reviews?

I think it’s a good show. It has on Dom Irrera and some people who were around in the early days.

John Witherspoon: I knew Domenick…

Is it a misconception that you have gone in and out of stand-up as your acting career has taken off?

John Witherspoon: Oh, it’s a misconception. I did them both for the last 40 years. I would work in the daytime on a TV show, then Thursday night or Friday night after a red-eye, I would go to a comedy club.

How was your stand-up in the early days compared to what you do these days?

John Witherspoon: I have old Letterman shows that you can check out, but today I’m talking about being an old guy. That changed. I talk to the youths. I tell everybody I’m getting old and it’s hard to accept it. I’m definitely doing “old” material now.

Did that change when the “Pops” character took off? I ask because you seem to have gotten more physical with your comedy in recent years.

John Witherspoon: I probably had material to be physical with. The world is more physical today, I’m more physical today.

I’m a fan of the YouTube cooking show you do. You actually show cooking chops. Have you been cooking all these years?

John Witherspoon: I love to cook. I’m going to cook a filet mignon tonight for the family.

Seeing the name of the show, a lot of people may think it’s a joke, but you’re actually showing that you can cook. What led you to title the show that? Was it just for comedic purposes?

John Witherspoon: I say Cooking For Poor People because when you’re hungry, everything tastes good. That’s true. (laughs)

Do you think we may see a cookbook from you in the future?

John Witherspoon: Someone told me that the other day. I’ve thought about it, if I had time I’d make a cookbook, it’d be fun. When you’re hungry, everything tastes good. (laughs)

Have you ever used that line in your stand-up?

John Witherspoon: No, but at the end of every show I tell people to look at my cooking show. I’ve got 100, 200 thousand people now.

Career-wise, is there anything you’re still hoping to do or accomplish?

John Witherspoon: No, career-wise I’ve been very successful. A fourth Friday would have been nice. I don’t know if they’re going to do it, but no one signed that check yet. That would be a topper for my career. I’m going to keep going on the road, stay on the road. This year I cut down on my dates and it turned out real good. I’m at home right now, sitting outside, looking at a waterfall, because it’s about 78 degrees in L.A.

I definitely envy that in New York.

John Witherspoon: What’s the weather like in New York?

It’s a pretty warm day for the winter, maybe 40?

John Witherspoon: Oh, we’re about 76. (laughs)

I also read that you’re a musician and that one of your brothers was a very successful songwriter. How serious about music were you in your early career?

John Witherspoon: Just in high school and elementary school I played the french horn and the trumpet. I’ve got trumpets around the house and I don’t play them. I can play the french horn and I can play the trumpet and I can play the piano, I had lessons at home. I always wanted to play piano, so when I was 50 years old, my son was taking lessons and I told the teacher to teach me. I started out with baby lessons. I can play a little bit now.

Talking to someone who’s modeled, acted, done stand-up, played music and cooks, you’re a real Renaissance man.

John Witherspoon: Yeah. I’m a little of everything. (laughs) I’ve been around, I’ve done it all.

Finally, John, any last words for the kids?

John Witherspoon: The kids, when they’re growing up? They’ve got to describe what they want. Never give up, I never gave up. When I was broke, I got a job at The Comedy Store working the door. There was no shame for me working the store. I used to be emcee at The Comedy Store. Mitzi [Shore] and I used to run the room. I would go on with Richard Pryor, I would be opening act for him, then I would be seen all the time, so I would work all those jobs. I took all the jobs, nothing was too small for me. There are no small jobs. Good Times, What’s Happening!!, Barnaby Jones, The Incredible Hulk, I was in my first movie The Jazz Singer with Neil Diamond…

I got older and I took a job with Shawn and Marlon Wayans, shooting The Wayan Bros. for five years. Then Tracy Morgan, I worked on that for a year and a half. I took all those jobs. Right now I’m on Black Jesus — Charlie Murphy died so they had to rewrite all the scripts because Charlie Murphy and I were co-stars — and we just finished taping Black Jesus, and it should be on the air in April, the new third season. So I’m a Renaissance man, I’ve been around it all.

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About the Author

Darren Paltrowitz is a New York resident with over 20 years of entertainment industry experience. He began working around the music business as a teenager, interning for the manager of his then-favorite band Superdrag. Since then, he has worked with a wide array of artists including OK Go, They Might Be Giants, Mike Viola, Tracy Bonham, Loudness, Rachael Yamagata, and Amanda Palmer. Darren's writing has appeared in dozens of outlets including the New York Daily News, Inquisitr, The Daily Meal, The Hype Magazine, All Music Guide, Guitar World,, Businessweek, Chicago Tribune, L.A. Times, and the Jewish Journal. Beyond being "Editor At Large" for The Hype Magazine, Darren is also the host of weekly "Paltrocast With Darren Paltrowitz" series, which airs on dozens on television and digital networks. He has also co-authored 2 published books, 2018's "Pocket Change: Your Happy Money" (Book Web Publishing) and 2019's "Good Advice From Professional Wrestling" (6623 Press), and co-hosts the world's only known podcast about David Lee Roth, "The DLR Cast."

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