Paul Mooney is getting old. For an African American man in today’s society, that is something to brag about. For an African American male in today’s society that ran with an anti war theater group and Jane Fonda, while spending his whole life as a vocal activist for black America? Well that’s just a goddamn miracle. This week, two articles came out discussing Paul Mooney’s career. The first was from Vulture entitled “The Curious Decline of Paul Mooney” and the second was from Madame Noir entitled “There is Nothing “Curious” or ”Declining” about Paul Mooney”.
The first article is an in depth analysis of Paul Mooney’s career, well, as in depth as you can get on a cover story without actually speaking to the subject. Mooney declined an interview with Vulture. The author was able to get quotes from Mooney’s friends and family though. The second piece is a breakdown of the first article and points out how the Vulture writer’s opinions might stink of latent ageism and/or racism. In my opinion, they are both a little right.
To my knowledge (what a quick google search told me, so I might be wrong), neither of these writers are intimately familiar with the industry Mooney literally helped to mold. I thought I would take a minute to jot down a different perspective. The comedy perspective.
I met Paul Mooney in June 2013. I was the GM of Helium Buffalo and Mr Mooney was playing the club. My favorite part of being a GM was morning press runs. I would take comedians to radio interviews, to grab breakfast or any random odds and ends stuff they needed. Honestly, it was a pretty sweet gig. You can win a lot of “I have the best story” contests when you get to talk about buying condoms with DL Hughley.
I was excited about meeting Paul Mooney, and knew that the first five minutes we spent together were going to determine the next three days. That’s what happens with brilliant comedic minds. They can look at you, sniff you out and decide almost instantaneously whether or not they want to spend time on you. That is what happens when your career is made on stages where heckling is part of the game. Comedians onstage have about three seconds to hear, process, decide what to say and respond (not too harshly of course, lest the audience turn on you) to a heckler. We have refined spidey senses. I suspect this is what happened to the Vulture writer. He made a point of saying he showed up at Mooney’s shows and was declined an interview. No shit man, this guy is a legend. Would you just “show up” to a Don Rickles show and assume Don was going to stop his life because you drove down? I understand the ambition behind getting a story, I do. I also know that if this guy really “got” Paul Mooney, he would know that Paul Mooney jumps for no one (especially not a white guy) and has earned his right to be ornery.
Mr Mooney and I spent a morning together and we got along splendidly. I picked him up at some ungodly hour and we headed to our first radio interview. Yes, he was a little disheveled, but his state of mind seemed to line up with that of a seventy something year old man. I will admit, the first night I was a little concerned when I dropped him off at his hotel, exhausted from a day of travel, interviews and performing. I sat out front and watched him shuffle inside through the lobby until he disappeared inside the elevator. At first I thought “why isn’t there anyone with him?” and “are people just running this guy ragged and making their cut?” And then I went ahead and remembered that this was Paul fucking Mooney. Maybe he didn’t WANT anyone with him. Maybe he knew clubs made a killing off of him and he would be damned if he was going to pay someone to tend to him when there was a club that could and should make sure he was alright. That made the most sense to me.
After reading both articles this week, from a comedic point of view, here are the questions I was left with. Why isn’t Paul Mooney playing theaters instead of comedy clubs? One theater show a week makes as much as a weekend at a club. Maybe he dislikes them. Maybe he has a reputation for being difficult, so no producer will work with him. I don’t know the answer but I do know that one theater is a lot less work than five club shows, and a comedian with his resume has earned that right. Why didn’t anyone write this article about George Carlin? I distinctly remember rumblings amongst lay people that Carlin had started being less funny and more ranty. I did a few internet searches this morning, no one ever wrote about the “curious decline of George Carlin”. It was understood that George Carlin got to be George Carlin. It wasn’t questioned and analyzed. His family and team weren’t scrutinized and George wasn’t condescendingly patted on the head. It was assumed that people who bought tickets to a George Carlin show, wanted to get authentic George Carlin. Paul Mooney deserves the same respect, if not more. He did all of that in a black body. I am going to assume that people who buy tickets to see Paul Mooney want authentic Paul Mooney.
Charing Bell summed it up pretty well in Madame Noir with one line “So therefore, he was going to sit his self-aware magpie behind on stage, eat all of some random (probably White) ladies’s delicious ass french fries and collect a check.”
I hope he gets to collect checks for years to come.
PS: If you don’t know that Paul Mooney loves to say “There are no mutherfucking refunds at a Paul Mooney show” almost as much as the audience loves to hear him say it, don’t write about Paul Mooney. Anyone with an eye for comedy knows that was a professional giving an audience what they wanted. Painting a standard stage tool as a declining mind, well that is just irresponsible.
PSS. If Mr Mooney ever wants to sit down and talk, the chunky white dyke from that Buffalo club is interested.