Comedian Tommy Davidson Talks New Book, 'In Living Color' NPR's Leila Fadel speaks with comedian Tommy Davidson about his new book, Living in Color: What's Funny About Me.
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Comedian Tommy Davidson Talks New Book, 'In Living Color'

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Comedian Tommy Davidson Talks New Book, 'In Living Color'

Comedian Tommy Davidson Talks New Book, 'In Living Color'

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LEILA FADEL, HOST:

You might remember comedian Tommy Davidson from his '90s sketch comedy show "In Living Color."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "IN LIVING COLOR")

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL GROUP: (Singing) You do what you want to do...

FADEL: It was a groundbreaking series, one of the first primetime TV shows to appeal to a young, diverse hip-hop generation. But in his new memoir, Davidson takes readers inward and tells the story of his own life. He explores his rise to fame, his struggles with identity and addiction. It's called "Living In Color: What's Funny About Me." And here to tell us more about it is comedian and author Tommy Davidson...

TOMMY DAVIDSON: Hey.

FADEL: ...Who's with us from NPR West.

Hi, how are you?

DAVIDSON: Pretty good. Pretty good.

FADEL: So why this book, and why now?

DAVIDSON: My sister called me, and she said, you never talk about mom. And it had been probably a year since she passed away. And I had to think about it for a little while, and I realized I was kind of embarrassed of my mom. Not now, but it's something that subconsciously locked into me years and years earlier because of my situation.

FADEL: Explain for people who don't know the history, your relationship with your - adoptive mother, right?

DAVIDSON: I was abandoned as an infant in a pile of trash.

FADEL: Wow.

DAVIDSON: Unconscious, didn't know how long I was there, contusions in my skull.

FADEL: Oh, my god.

DAVIDSON: I'd been starved, near death. And my mother who raised me found me out of a miracle of coincidence. My family is white, so that's where it all starts. We moved from Denver to Washington, D.C., and it was a culture shock for me as a 5-year-old because I remember we walked to the swimming pool, and the black kids kicked our ass, and they were calling me white cracker lover and calling my brother and sister white cracker. So it just got really bad to understand which side I was on.

FADEL: Yeah. So I wanted to get back to "In Living Color" for a moment. Lots of famous people got their start on that show - you, Jamie Foxx, Jim Carrey, Jennifer Lopez, Rosie Perez, part of the Fly Girls. But you write that you were doubtful that the show was going to get off the ground.

DAVIDSON: Yeah. We were all doubtful because it's so hard to get something on TV.

FADEL: Yeah.

DAVIDSON: And we waited six months after we did the pilot. And suddenly, we got a phone call saying this thing's going to happen. And we were elated because we knew that we were going to change the world.

FADEL: Because it - you knew it was something special...

DAVIDSON: I...

FADEL: ...Something different.

DAVIDSON: I knew it.

FADEL: What was your favorite impression of that time, your favorite sketch comedy moment for you?

DAVIDSON: Probably MC Hammer...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "IN LIVING COLOR")

DAVIDSON: (Singing, as MC Hammer) Can't touch this.

DAVIDSON: ...Because he was so hot at the time.

FADEL: Yeah.

DAVIDSON: And it really defined me as one of the primary players on the show.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "IN LIVING COLOR")

DAVIDSON: (Singing, as MC Hammer) My, my pants so baggy when the moving ain't hard. Make you want to say, oh, my lord. Hey, Hammer, do you really have a weenie? With pants like that, you look like a genie.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVIDSON: Just imagine me doing Drake right now. You know, he's so hot.

FADEL: What can you do for us right now? What about MC Hammer? You want to revisit?

DAVIDSON: Well, we - I'd have to start sweating and get some genie pants.

FADEL: (Laughter).

DAVIDSON: But I can do - I could do a lot of lot of impressions. I could do Elton John, but you can't understand his words. (Imitating Elton John).

FADEL: Oh, my God. That's good.

DAVIDSON: I could do Stallone.

FADEL: Oh.

DAVIDSON: (Imitating Sylvester Stallone) Wait. Wait. Look. We're in the house, Mick. House stinks. A right stink, Mick. I didn't ask you for no favors. There ain't going to be no rematch.

FADEL: What is the secret to a good impression? How do you hone this?

DAVIDSON: It's just natural. Like, I studied Obama.

FADEL: Uh-huh.

DAVIDSON: You know, I just watched him, listening to his speeches. And I just start doing it. (Imitating Barack Obama) You know, and the thing I love about him is that he can take something and - that's not important and make it sound immensely important.

FADEL: (Laughter).

DAVIDSON: (Imitating Barack Obama) Like, let's say, for instance, Kellogg's Frosted Flakes. Now, they're a part of an essential breakfast.

FADEL: Right.

DAVIDSON: (Imitating Barack Obama) Now, when I say they're a part of it, it comes with a carafe of orange juice, milk, bananas and apples and all kind of fruits around the one bowl of cereal. So they're a part of that complete breakfast. Then you've got to consider that he's fashionable. He's got a nice blue bandana on him. Doesn't make him a Blood or a Crip - it just makes him look tight.

FADEL: (Laughter) That does sound actually really vital.

DAVIDSON: (Laughter) Exactly.

FADEL: So we are running out of time. But what...

DAVIDSON: No.

FADEL: (Laughter) What would you - for a young person who's looking to get into this, what would you tell them?

DAVIDSON: I tell them don't hesitate because the only way you're going to see if it's not going to work out is to do it.

FADEL: That's comedian Tommy Davidson. His memoir "Living In Color: What's Funny About Me" is out now.

Tommy Davidson, thanks so much for joining us.

DAVIDSON: Thank you. That was a great interview.

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