MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. You probably know him from his hit sitcom "The Hughleys," which followed a black family adjusting to life in a white suburb, or his talk show on CNN or his many guest spots on other popular talk shows. Or you might know him from the mega-hit documentary "The Original Kings of Comedy," where he was featured along with Steve Harvey, Bernie Mac and Cedric the Entertainer. Here's a clip from that.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE ORIGINAL KINGS OF COMEDY")
D.L. HUGHLEY: White folk get broke, you best believe somebody dying that day. Black folk, they don't kill nobody just because we broke, 'cause that ain't no new condition for us. You're broke. You're going to kill somebody? No. I'm going to get my phone cut back onto my mama name, and then we'll put some credit in a little kid's name, won't we? I know six-year-old kids got apartments in their name. Latrelle, scribble your name on the lease and come on, now.
MARTIN: What you might not know - although if you are familiar with his comedy, it's hard to miss - is that D.L. Hughley takes his comedy seriously, which is to say he has a keen interest in politics and public affairs, and he's put some of those thoughts in a new book. It's titled "I Want You to Shut the" - fill in the blank - "Up: How the Audacity of Dopes is Ruining America." And he's with us now from our bureau in New York.
Welcome. Thank you so much for joining us.
HUGHLEY: Hi. What a nice voice you have.
MARTIN: Why, thank you.
HUGHLEY: Hence, doing radio. That's...
MARTIN: Hence. Yes.
HUGHLEY: Yeah. Yeah.
MARTIN: And, of course, we want to talk about the book. There's another project on Comedy Central coming up that I'm going to ask you about later, but if you don't mind, I do want to go back. For people who aren't familiar with your early story - and you've talked about this before, but for people who aren't familiar, how you grew up in Compton, you got involved with gang life at a pretty early age, but then you turned things around after something tragic happened to your cousin. Do you mind talking about that?
HUGHLEY: I'm sure people have heard versions of it in the media. I'm talking about just - not even just me, but it's all-too-common an occurrence, but my cousin was killed, and it changed the way - I mean, I think, like a lot of people, when you're very young, life seems - it seems more like a movie than reality where people kind of don't really die and you feel young and immortal. And that really kind of changed the way I saw things, because I didn't want to die, and I certainly didn't want to kill anybody. So it changed, kind of, my thought process.
MARTIN: And you went and got a - you got your GED.
MARTIN: You went and got a legitimate job. Well, how can I say it, a legitimate job?
HUGHLEY: Right. I did sell a little weed on the side while I was working, but I did get a job.
MARTIN: With the Los Angeles Times.
HUGHLEY: I did.
MARTIN: Working in circulation.
MARTIN: I'm sure they were grateful.
HUGHLEY: Yeah, they were, actually.
MARTIN: And what I found fascinating is you talk about this story in the book about how you're married, you're expecting a baby - your wife's expecting a baby - you wanted a raise, and you realized, to get to the next level, you had to have a college degree, which you did not have.
MARTIN: So you persuaded somebody to write you a letter on letterhead saying that you were just a couple of credits shy of your college degree...
MARTIN: ...so you could get there. And then you went on to go and, like, break sales records. And I do have to ask, like, where did you get the idea for that?
HUGHLEY: It seemed cheaper to pay $200 for a guy to write me a letter on college letterhead than to go to college. So - and, you know, I was talking one day to him, and he was saying what he could do. And I didn't believe him, but I scraped the $200 up, and it worked. And I don't even think my boss - who I referenced in the book, named Ron Wolf(ph) - he didn't necessarily buy it, but he believed that I could do the job.
MARTIN: He was very supportive of your comedy career, to the point where...
HUGHLEY: He really was.
MARTIN: ...he actually lost his job for a bit behind that. And you say in the book, that's why I take what I do so seriously and say what I mean and mean what I say. It's not enough for me to ask why it may sound funny, but to me, this - fill in the blank - ain't no joke. Talk a little bit more about that.
HUGHLEY: I wouldn't find this out for many years, but he kept my benefits alive. I'd gotten sick. I wasn't getting my basic REM sleep. I fell out on stage. They took me in, the doctor says, you're suffering from exhaustion. They kept taking me out. And what he did was keep my salary alive for a year and gave me benefits and he said, go chase your dream.
And I never looked back from that point on. I was working. I had a family and kids. And so, years later, I was playing a gig right around where I live in Southern California. He came, and we went to the bathroom. His new wife told me that he'd lost his gig and his family. You know, his wife had left. So, when somebody invests something like that in you, it brings laser focus to what you're doing and the perception and the investment people have in you.
MARTIN: How did you get into comedy? Were you always funny? Did your family and friends always think you were funny?
HUGHLEY: They always thought I was odd. They thought I was odd. I remember I was at a barbershop. They were - you know, back then, cats, they hustled. They did taxes. They sold VCRs. They were promoters. I was getting a haircut, and I used to talk about people in the barbershop. So finally, this guy said, if you think you're so funny, then open for this concert we're doing. You know, and I did, and the minute I picked up the microphone, I knew that I would love it for the rest of my life. It was definitely love at first sight.
MARTIN: So talk about the book. You know, "I Want You to Shut the" - you have to fill in the blanks, folks - "Up" - because I'm not trying to lose my license behind D.L. Hughley - "How the Audacity of Dopes is Ruining America." Now, you've always had, like, an edge of, like, social commentary in your comedy, but...
HUGHLEY: Well, we have...
HUGHLEY: I would say that nobody in governance right now is really exceptional, and there used to be a time when people were.
MARTIN: Were you watching CNN one day or MSNBC or Fox, and just saying: I can do better than these jokers?
HUGHLEY: No. Well, I probably couldn't, but I shouldn't be elected. Neither should a lot of those people. And I think that all of us have picked leaders for all kinds of reasons. And none of them - many, a great deal of them, having nothing to do whether we think they are going to do a good job or not. It's more or less to make political statements. I think we tend to process things like children do. It just worked its way into a book.
MARTIN: Well, talk a little bit more about it. You just said, look, I've had enough, I've got to speak my peace? And if you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. I'm speaking with one of the original Kings of Comedy, D.L. Hughley. His new book is titled "I Want You to Shut the" - fill in the blank - "Up: How" - I'm editing here, just so you'll know - "How the Audacity of Dopes is Ruining America."
I do want to let people know that you have tough love for Barack Obama in the book. I mean this is not just for you and me.
MARTIN: You say, quote, "If you're going to be treated like any angry black man, then maybe you should start acting like one. The entire street is behind you and many, many other streets like mine. And all we need is for you to give us the word. What we more than anything, Mr. President, is for you to lead."
So that's - do you think he's, what? Bored in the job, not fit? .
HUGHLEY: I don't think he's bored. I think he's not confrontational, I think by nature. I think he is intelligent and I think a lot of cats like that take longer to process. His presidency really hangs in the balance right now. Nobody knows how it's going to go.
MARTIN: You got in the book - and I just want to say for people who have not had a chance to read it, as I have, and I'm only quoting, you know, obviously a few lines here and there because we don't, you know, have time to read the book, right? That's what a book is for.
HUGHLEY: I hope you eventually...
MARTIN: But - but I'm just saying - well, I have read it.
HUGHLEY: Thank you.
MARTIN: But what I'm saying is, it is funny. I mean it is funny. But there is a kind of a pox on all of your houses tone to it. It sounds like you're pretty much mad at everybody. Is that? Is that...
HUGHLEY: Well, I'm angry that people have allowed this to happen, much like children. We complain about - one of three things happen: either you vote for somebody - I mean either, you know, there are people - like these undecideds. Who the (bleep) doesn't know who they're going to vote for? Who is so, is so kind of disconnected from reality that they can't see the stark difference between these two men and their ideas in this country? I think that the idea of having a black man in the office has driven a lot of people crazy and are acting so unreasonable that it's almost impossible to have a reasonable conversation with them.
MARTIN: What do you want people to draw from the book?
HUGHLEY: It's more or less a mirror. Like look at the things we concentrate on. Like even in Mitt Romney's speech he talked about how he wanted to cut everything, you know, basically but the military. We're going to be fat, illiterate dummies and - with the mightiest military in the world. Look at what Japan and Germany, and even India have done. They're not military powers, but they're still economic and educational powers. We are like the guy who goes to the gym while another guy goes to the library. And eventually the guy who goes to the gym is going to call the guy who goes to the library boss or judge. The way we assess ourselves is based on our ability to dominate. We were powerful when they tried us on 9/11. If a man will jump into a plane and immolate(ph) himself in the building, he doesn't care how powerful you are. If he believes that he's fulfilling a destiny, your might means nothing to him. And that idea, and that people would buy into that idea is juvenile.
MARTIN: You keep coming back to juvenile and you want people to grow up. What does that mean to you? For America to grow up, what will have to happen?
HUGHLEY: I think we have to start acting - we have to start saying the things we mean and doing things we mean. We have to invest in our education. If we're the Christian nation we complain to be, we should care about poor people more. We should care about being a - our benevolence can't be predicated on what somebody does for us. It has to be just the right thing to do, and we often will tout how benevolent we are. But there's always a benefit. We're not going to be benevolent to Haiti. They ain't got no oil, so it's always got to be something in it for us. And like the brochure of America is a lot better than the reality of it.
MARTIN: Speaking of saying what you mean, I'm just going to read - and as I've said, that the book is wide-ranging. It talks about your personal history. It talks a lot about politics and your rise, and exactly how you kind of got where you are. And you don't pull any punches on yourself. I do want to say that, at least from what I can see, not knowing you personally.
But let me just read from one of the reviews, OK? This is from Kirkus. Although he almost always finds a nuanced angle in presenting his outspoken opinions, it's sometimes difficult to know where comedic provocation ends and deadly earnestness begins. Yet his views on marriage, women and kids seem strangely unhinged and harsh compared to the cool approach that makes the book so appealing throughout. For example, I'm reading from Chapter 17. Being a dad to daughters is very different from being a dad to sons. The dangers are different and the way they listen to you is different. I'm sure every father feels the same way that I do about his daughters. I love them, but I don't like them. Who likes women?
HUGHLEY: Really, darling. Really.
MARTIN: You don't like women?
HUGHLEY: I don't like the way they process - no, I don't. I enjoy their company. I do not like the way that they reason. You can't understand them.
MARTIN: Well, for a man who has been married for 26 years and has two daughters - you have three children overall, two daughters and a son - you don't think you've figured it out?
HUGHLEY: Do you think any man has figured it out? Anyone? Anyone? Name me a man who says I've figured women out, I got it.
My daughters, who I love immensely, are so certain, like if a man can have a face only a mother can love, then women can have personalities only fathers can love.
MARTIN: OK. That's fine. But I have to ask you, though, and throughout the book, though, you do make some impassioned discussions about just how cheap you feel black life is viewed in this country.
HUGHLEY: It is viewed.
MARTIN: OK. But then to go on and in many parts of the book have some very harsh things to say about black women - African-American women.
HUGHLEY: Like what do you think is harsh?
MARTIN: I have to ask, you don't think that's a contradiction? Well, this argument that you're saying that....
HUGHLEY: I don't - I think my life has been a contradiction.
MARTIN: ...black women is - the only black woman you could be married to is your wife.
MARTIN: ...black women are so messed up? I mean what - or because she's so great?
I mean I'm sure she's great but...
HUGHLEY: Well, in her ability to kind of tolerate my - it's her ability to tolerate me, A) and B) I've never met an angrier group of people. Like black women are angry just in general. Angry all the time. My assessment, out of, just in my judgment, you either are in charge or they're in charge, so there's no kind of day that you get to rest(ph).
MARTIN: I have to ask whether is it because black women are an easy target?
MARTIN: And so you can say these things because nobody is going to...
HUGHLEY: Do you think black women are an easy target?
MARTIN: Well, I mean I'm thinking you or - one of the ways you came to public attention is your defense of Don Imus for calling the Rutgers women's basketball team nappy headed ho's...
MARTIN: ...and I understand that your defense was free speech, which I think many people understand. But if you think he'd said that about another group of women, that that would've been considered funny?
HUGHLEY: I can't, really, that's like, I can't disprove or prove a negative, but I can say this: that I have defended any number, I have defended Michael Richards for the N-word. I've defended Tracy Morgan for his comments. I defended Rush Limbaugh. You know, to me, you know, what people are talking about has never really kind of worked its way into my mindset. It is the idea that they have the right to say it. So I think that's really kind of an unfair - optically, that looks different than the way I see things. But...
HUGHLEY: ...I don't think black women are easy targets at all. I respect them great - a great deal. I think that to pretend like I don't see things the way that I do is to do a disservice to them.
MARTIN: Before we let you go...
MARTIN: You've got a new comedy special called...
HUGHLEY: I do
MARTIN: ..."D.L. Hughley: The Endangered List." And tell us about the premise of it.
HUGHLEY: If you take the requirements for a species to be declared endangered, a black man, first of all, he fits all of them. Predation, societal neglect, large percentage of males in captivity so there's no procreation, encroachment on the habitat, so virtually all of that kind of can fit into the idea. But I will say this, I think we have a lot more compassion for animals and things than we do people.
MARTIN: The piece premieres October 27 on Comedy Central, just want to mention that.
HUGHLEY: It does.
MARTIN: I'm going to play a short clip.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "D.L. HUGHLEY: THE ENDANGERED LIST")
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Hey, we're collecting signatures to try to get black people on the endangered species list.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I'm sorry, what?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: It's to put the black man on the endangered species list.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: The black man?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: You've never heard of the black man?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: No.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: No?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: No.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Really?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: No.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Oh. It's majestic. Do you want to see yourself...
MARTIN: OK. How many signatures did you end up with?
HUGHLEY: Seven. Seven. Actually, seven.
MARTIN: Did you sign?
HUGHLEY: Of course I signed.
MARTIN: Just making sure.
HUGHLEY: But that as one scene where we sent people out to collect signatures.
HUGHLEY: You know, like in front of these art houses you'll always see somebody having you save some species that you've never heard of and how invested people are in that. It was just kind of an ironic look at that.
MARTIN: Hmm. OK. Well, as we said, it premieres on Comedy Central on October 27. Before we let you go, and thank you for talking with us, we've been talking to a lot of people this election cycle, like leading up to the conventions - both political party conventions - and other thought leaders about this question. It seemed like the issue of success, and what a successful country is, was really kind of at the core of a lot of the of what the campaign is about. So I wanted to ask you that question. Do you mind?
HUGHLEY: If we are in essence lifting people out of poverty, if we are becoming a leader - I mean all the things (unintelligible) America holds great, if we can actually look at ourselves in the mirror and say that we actually value those things and hold, and not just in some political rhetoric and not in just some town home speech, that we start to see that in action, indeed, then I believe that we will be successful nation. I think that we don't know how we sound and we don't know how we look. And I just would like that to be more congruent.
MARTIN: D.L. Hughley is an actor and a comedian. He's author of the new book "I Want You to Shut the" - fill in the blank - "Up: How the Audacity of Dopes Is Ruining America." And as we said, he's also the producer of a forthcoming special on Comedy Central called "The Endangered List."
D.L. Hughley, thank you for speaking with us.
HUGHLEY: Thank you so much. I had a great time.