All photos copyright Phil Provencio
He is the Mayor of Macdougal Street.
Ardie Fuqua has been a fixture of New York comedy, usually found in and around the New York Comedy Cellar and its sister club the Village Underground, hosting, closing, and holding court. On June 7, 2014, we almost lost our Mayor, when a Walmart truck collided into the van that Fuqua was riding in along with Tracy Morgan, Harris Stanton, James McNair and others. McNair was killed in the accident, and Morgan and Fuqua sustained serious life threatening injuries. Fuqua rarely talks publicly about the accident, and even asked Morgan not to mention his name to the media when bringing up details of that night but he spoke to photographer Phil Provencio and writer Amy Hawthorne earlier this year about the accident, his recovery, and his gratitude at being back on stage.
Ardie started performing in the late 80’s, at the Uptown Comedy Club in Harlem. He says he started doing comedy because he wasn’t good at anything else. “I was always the guy that liked to jump around and crack jokes. Before I started doing comedy I was just that annoying guy. Alright here he comes. Alright we got it. When I actually got on stage doing it, all the people who were telling me to stop before, now were coming to all the shows, hanging out with me, inviting me to all their parties. I had a rough life growing up, I grew up in bad neighborhoods. And I was always the guy who used humor to stay out of gangs, to stay out of bad situations. It kept me out of trouble. The fact that people would pick fights with other people, but they would say naw man, he funny, leave him alone. Or, if they wanted someone beat up, they’d get me to make fun of them. Hey Ardie, go make fun of that dude. He over there.. he think he tough. Go make fun of him. So I was that guy. The joke gangster. I was thugging with jokes.”
Most places that I go, I talk a lot. I have the ability to garner the attention of people around me. It’s the friendliness, the ability to make people feel comfortable. I got that ability as a kid in gang neighborhoods. Everybody was in a gang, everybody was getting shot, getting stabbed, getting killed. I had to stay out of it by being funny, by being cool with people. Oh yo what up man, come here man, I heard you killed a mother fucker last week, I love you man. Big gangsters that had guns would be like dude, you know I love you man. See this dude, he crack any joke you want, he’s my dude and they’d walk off. That’s how I get to know people by cracking jokes. People love funny people. Cold-hearted murderers love funny people. Shy awkward people love funny people. Cops love funny people, gangsters love funny people. It’s the humor. I live by my sense of humor.”
An agent saw Ardie perform and by the time he was 21, he was signed to a huge agency. He was on the black circuit at the time, “or as they call it the chitlin’ circuit.” He described the time as the Black explosion boom. “Def Comedy Jam was the focal point and so many shows came out of that. Black comedy got really hot around that time.”
Ardie is the consummate host. It’s his favorite way to perform.
“I gravitated towards being a host because I would never get off stage. If you told me to do 10 minutes I would do 20. If you told me to do 20, I would do 40. They got tired of dragging me off stage so they said being that you like being on stage so much, we’re gonna make you the host. You like being here all night anyway might as well get paid for it.” He likes that he can work out new jokes while hosting and isn’t stuck with a constructed set. “As a host, I can have a constructed beginning and then throughout the night try new things. So when I go on the road, I always have new stuff.”
After the accident, he wasn’t sure he would ever perform again. His leg was broken in 5 places and they had to replace his femur with a titanium rod. He suffered a severe brain injury and had multiple surgeries. “My first memory of the hospital is Wil Sylvince, Amy Schumer, Ben Bailey and Judah Friedlander. There’s a brief memory of a woman sitting next to me asking if I knew where I was. And I said no. I said what time is the show tonight? And she said ‘the show?’ And she told me I was in a really bad accident and a friend of mine was killed. And I was like okay so when is the show, and can you call me a cab.”
The same sense of humor that helped Ardie survive growing up also got Ardie through his time in the hospital after the accident. And the time in rehab, and the months under 24 hour care once he left rehab as well.
I think Tracy has it too. I see it, I just don’t say anything. Whatever we were before the accident, we’re much worse. I know for a fact that we’re much worse. But I ask every day for humility, kindness and perseverance.”
“What got me through the hospital, what got me through having to stay at my parents house for a month and a half, what got me through having to sit in my own house with 24 hour nursing care was my sense of humor. I would crack jokes at everybody, even the nurses’ aids. When I was in the hospital, they let my visiting hours stay till like 11. And then I would go to the front desk and hang with the nurses. And the nurses outside my room with security would be in my room cracking jokes.”
It hasn’t been easy…for him, or for Tracy. “People in my position who are not here, or are in wheelchairs or don’t have a memory…. In Rehabilitation there were people who said the same thing to me every day cause they didn’t remember saying it the day before. I think Tracy has it too. I see it, I just don’t say anything. Whatever we were before the accident, we’re much worse. I know for a fact that we’re much worse. But I ask every day for humility, kindness and perseverance.”
The comeback kid…..
“I wanted to work out what I needed to do, so I sat down with Wil Sylvince, with Rick Younger, guys who I knew, known writers and we came up with all this stuff.” He remembered the advice he got from his buddy Wil Sylvince. “Just stick to what you know. And then in a couple of months pull out all the new stuff.”
“And then the lawyers came to my first [show], to make sure I wouldn’t talk about certain things, which, I wasn’t going to talk about anyway, cause I kind of questioned myself, like, could I go back to being funny? And everybody was like, that’s only because you’re sittin’ in the house. Once you get back in that environment…”
“When I first started hanging back out, I wanted to go on stage so bad, to the point where they had to put security down by the stage to keep me from even walking by the stage. Liz…and Val, they wouldn’t even let me out…I had to ask permission to go downstairs cause they thought I would try to get on stage. Security would be like Hey Ardie, go back upstairs. No lie. And the big guy Jason, they wouldn’t let me downstairs. If I had to go to the bathroom they would make me go to Cafe Wha.”
The lawyers gave Ardie a date he could perform again, to insure that the settlement negotiations weren’t compromised. ” I’m not going to blow it so I waited till that date. It was October 10th. And Tracy went on October 12th. And I booked myself, so I went up October 16.”
“Wil Sylvince said the second you’re on stage, it’s all just going to come right back. It was strange for me cause as soon as I grabbed the microphone it all just came right back. I even had a joke about it cause he had me closing a couple shows. Not only was I hosting major shows– I mean the main shows– I was closing. When I saw my schedule, I was like, don’t they know that I was out of work for a year and a half? They just threw me back in every night, every night, every night, close the late show, close the late show, close the late show. “
Because of his injuries, Ardie would fatigue easily after coming back to work. His nurse told him that it was because of his brain injury. “It’s your brain healing. As your brain heals you’ll get better,” she told him.
“I have had to change my act a little,” Ardie said. “You know the Salsa stuff I used to do? Spin and spin? I can’t do that anymore. Now I just tell the audience my leg was broken in 5 places and I’ll stand on one leg and move my leg and they’ll go oh that was good. Because I set it up. But I can’t move how I used to.”
Ardie told an incredible story from 2012 about one of the places he learned positivity, a trait he shares openly on his social media pages.
“I have a friend and he has the same birthday as me. He was in college, he would call me… and his uncle was a big drug dealer. His uncle was a marked man. So, he got shot in the back and he was paralyzed. Nice good-looking kid; now his life is completely different. What he did after he got shot was work in rehabilitation centers, teaching people in wheelchairs that there’s a different type of life. He got a good job, he had nice car, everything. He came to see me one day and my son was next to me, and he said, what are you going to do when it happens to you? When tragedy happens to you, what are you going to do? I didn’t sign up for this life, but I got it. I could sit in my house all day and just cry about it. But I decided to change my circumstances by doing everything I could to be a beacon of hope for everybody. What are you going to do when this happens to you? And when he went off, I told my son, see…when something happens to you, you have to make the best of it. I want you to keep that in your mind. Always make the best of your situation, no matter how dire or drastic it is. A week later, my son was dead. Now it’s on me. What am I going to do?”
After his accident, that philosophy served him. “When I sat in the house… what am I going to do in my circumstance? Am I going to sit here and cry? Am I going to go to the liquor store and get alcohol? Am I going to sit here and chain smoke? Or am I going to wait until I get the opportunity to be a beacon of hope for other people because people got hard lives. For me to come back to work, I didn’t come back for the money. I came back to show people that it could be done. that’s why I came back. The only reason I came back.”
He also continues to lean on his comedy friends. “I know the comedy community sticks together. If one goes down, we all rally around to find a way to support that person. And that’s one thing I love about being a comedian. It’s like being in a gang. Ain’t no getting out of this. When you’re a comedian, you’re a comedian for life, baby. You ain’t going nowhere.”
Eddie Ifft gave me a really funny joke. He said he knew I wasn’t going to die because as I was on my deathbed and I saw the white light, I said hey God let me get 10 more minutes. He said when I saw the white light, I just kept…I’m known for going past the light. They call it blowing the light. Now most people don’t know its called blowing the light.”
That’s what Eddie Ifft said. He said when I saw the white light, I just blew the white light.”