At such a young age, Nick Cannon has accomplished a lot, he’s written for sketch TV shows, starred in movies, produced TV programs, and spends time as a morning DJ in NY. He also happens to be married to one of the biggest pop stars ever and just became a new father. However, before all of that, Cannon was a stand-up comedian, opening for the likes of Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock before he was old enough to vote. Though his life has taken some really diversions since his teens, Cannon never forgot one of his first loves. His stand-up special, Mr. Showbiz just premiered on Showtime, and was the second most popular comedy special the network ever had. The CD of Mr. Showbiz will hit stores on May 31st via New Wave Dynamics and is already available digitally. We caught up with Nick right after the special premiered to talk about life, comedy, and what it’s like to actually be Mr. Showbiz.
The Laugh Button: First off I am going to congratulate you for probably the millionth time on the new kids…and extra congrats on Mr. Showbiz premiering this weekend.
Nick Cannon: Thanks man, I appreciate it.
TLB: I’d imagine it’s been a hectic few weeks?
NC: Yeah it has but it’s all good, it’s been a good time.
TLB: Tell me about the writing process that went into Mr. Showbiz? Was it something that you put together in one chunk with the intention of making it a special? Or was it the culmination of a bunch of different bits and pieces throughout your stand-up career?
NC: I was on the road with this act for a year and a half. I was on the road with this act for a year and a half. I trimmed down a two, or two-and-half hour act. But it was all kind of seamless, stories with one punchline would lead into another joke, and I had certain ones I could move around or finish with. By the time I got to the special I knew what I could play with and where to put the strong bits, so I could give it a cinematic journey.
TLB: A cool thing I noticed about the special was while it was definitely stand-up, it had this great conversational aspect to it. It wasn’t punchline, pause, joke. You were telling a lot of interesting life stories. It was something I almost didn’t expect from you, almost like Richard Pryor or Eddie Murphy.
NC: Yeah, absolutely those are comics that I look up to and obviously, they are two of the best to do it. It’s definitely where I tried to focus my chops. Bill Cosby as well, he’s been someone who I always admired. They are kind of the forefathers of what I try to do.
TLB: Cosby can just sit down and make you laugh. You don’t even feel like he is doing an act anymore.
NC: Yeah definitely.
TLB: Now you started the tour in Montreal last year right?
NC: Yeah, that was the first time I jumped on stage with this act.
TLB: You’ve been a comedian since you were fifteen, but this was your first tour as a stand-up comedian while being “Nick Cannon.” What did you learn during that one year of stand-up leading toward the special?
NC: What I was doing while I was living in LA or whenever I would be in NY, I would go up to the Improv or The Comedy Store in LA or go over to Caroline’s or Gotham and do a 7-15 minute set every once-in-a-while just to show I still got it. But jumping out there and headlining across the country, sometimes colleges even, and even comedy clubs. Doing six shows a weekend and sitting up there and talking for an hour/hour-and-a-half was something I’ve really never done before. My longest sets up to this were probably twenty five minutes and I found that I really tore into the craft of just really finding out what makes me funny as opposed to things I can think of that are funny. I was still finding this out in the last year. And I always kind of did that being in improv and that world; and knowing how to think quick on my feet when everything I do was just zoning into that a little bit more. I’ve always been that guy no matter what you throw at me I can make it humorous. So then it was about, “how does that apply to my life?” And, “how does that apply to my point of view and perspective on what’s going on in the world?”
TLB: Would you say you are the kind of comedian who changes with the audience? Or are you more adamant about delivering what you want?
NC: It’s all about just being me, but again to the idea of improv where my act, can change with every audience but I don’t change perspective in who I am.
TLB: Yeah, a lot of comedians change their act from time to time. Just to keep from boring themselves.
NC: I was on the road with Dave Chappelle opening up for him a couple of years back, and that is what amazed me about him every single night, it’s where I learned it from, he would do something different nightly. He would do the jokes in a different order or punchline. One punchline would kill one night and he wouldn’t even use it the next night. And would think “that’s amazing,” and he just said he does it for himself so he doesn’t get bored.
TLB: You’ve been around the stand-up world for a long time, do you think there is a certain backlash that comes with success?
NC: Oh absolutely, but it’s been that way forever. Comics are the darkest individuals ever. I’ve experienced it all my life because I’ve always been something different to everyone else. Starting when I was fifteen, adult comics didn’t like me because they thought, “Why is this kid here? He’s a gimmick! He gets on stage and he says a couple of clever things and gets a standing ovation.” I used to get all of that hate, especially when success happened.
Casting directors and producers, all those people would come to see me and I would start to get jobs, a lot of people I grew up with in the stand-up game who were my friends turned on me when success happened. So now I’m used to it, because it’s the younger comics don’t understand, they kind of want to throw their negative jazz like, “how can he just come out of nowhere and do this?” When if they were around fifteen years ago they would have seen I was on the grind just like them.
TLB: Who are some of the comedians that left lasting impressions on you?
NC: Oh, that’s definitely Dave Chappelle. Being on the road with Dave helped tremendously, I learned a lot as a comic from him. I met him when I was like fifteen and he started out when he was fifteen, he helped me through so many experiences when I was on the road with him. I remember getting booed at a college going on before him, the reason why was because I tried to change who I was and change my act for the crowd. He told me how you couldn’t do that, you have to go out and just be you. Because if you fall flat on your face, you at least did you, instead of trying to be something else. From that day on, I just always remembered that hands down. Chappelle and Dick Gregory actually, just because he is one of the funniest most intelligent guys I’ve ever met and he’s still doing it.
TLB: You created and starred in Wild ‘N Out, one of the most successful improv TV shows out there. That show helped showcase a lot of comics, including Katt Williams. Who were some of the funniest guests on that show?
NC: Snoop Dogg’s episode was a funny show, Cedric the Entertainer was funny, Pauly Shore. Those would probably be three of my favorites. Kanye West also was probably one of my favorites also.
TLB: I grew up with you on the show All That. I still consider it one of the greatest shows ever, and you were a large part of it. What did you as sixteen year old Nick learn from being on a major television show?
NC: I actually started as the warm up comic on that show at sixteen. Then, at seventeen, I became a writer for All That, and the show means so much to me because it opened so many doors for me because as a seventeen-year-old kid I was in a room with adults, getting paid to write jokes. It just taught me so much, and once I got on the show, it allowed me to exercise my comedic muscles. It was weird because I had always been used to hanging around adults and doing adult humor and I was about eighteen when I was on the show and had to do younger humor. It was fun, it was kind of freeing.
TLB: Tell me what are your future plans with stand-up?
NC: I am actually hitting the road in a couple of months to get ready and tape my next special at the end of the year.
TLB: You will be hitting all of the major cities I hope?
NC: Yeah, we are going to all the major cities and even out to the country.
TLB: And nickcannon.com is where fans can go for all of the details?
NC: Yeah, they can get all of the info there. I am just ready to get back out on the road.