You may have seen him on the David Letterman Show, or on P-Diddy’s Bad Boys of Comedy on HBO. Perhaps you have seen him imitating Denzel Washington or former President Bill Clinton at any number of comedy clubs across the U.S., or you may have seen him at Saviours’ Day, but do you really know what drives comedian and impressionist Reggie Reg? He sat down for a brief interview with The Final Call’s Ashahed M. Muhammad.
Final Call (FC:) Many of us have seen you perform. We have had the opportunity to see you in many venues, many different locations. As it relates to comedy and what you do, why is that important?
Reggie Reg (RR:) Well you know it’s important because for everybody, Black, Brown, Yellow and White, comedy is a medicine. Everybody needs to laugh. Everything that happens with human beings; sadness or when you cry, when you laugh or have some kind of happiness or enjoyment it’s only temporary. Now, I am talking about the members of the Nation of Islam and in general now with people who have jobs or are working hard 365 days out of the year and eight hours out of each day, there is a lot of stress out here. And looking at the country, the economy, for a guy like me there is a demand to make people laugh and bring some kind of temporary enjoyment to them.
FC: How did you get started?
RR: I got started officially at a comedy environment that used to be called The Cotton Club here in Chicago. Jimmie Spinks, from the movie ‘Car Wash’–the real big brother–along with Larry Byrd put together an “open mic” there and Bernie Mac was the host. That was the first time I had gone to an official comedy club to do what you call “open mic.” It’s like only about 3-5 minutes worth of material. I didn’t know what I was doing, I had to learn.
FC: How old were you?
RR: About 18 or 19
FC: Prior to that, when you were young did you know that you had that talent? Were you the guy who could make everybody laugh at school?
RR: Well, I don’t know if I was the guy who could make everybody laugh, but I was the person that when the teacher would leave out of the room I would get up and I would imitate the teacher. I wasn’t interested in school. I didn’t become interested in school until I heard the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan and was invited to come out to the meetings. My mother was instrumental in that because I was kind of going another way.
I would get up and imitate my teachers. I really didn’t know what the gift was until I just started doing it.
FC: Some of your comedic influences?
RR: Watching Saturday Night Live, John Belushi, Dan Akroyd, Eddie Murphy and a lot of influence from Richard Pryor, Red Foxx, Bill Cosby the list goes on. There is a brother that is no longer with us that was a mighty soldier in the F.O.I. and that was Brother Amir Muhammad, that was a great influence and encouragement. Amir was the one who told me, ‘you should be at the comedy club’ and that’s where my journey started.
FC: Now as a member of the Nation of Islam, a member of the F.O.I., typically, that’s not something that somebody reading this interview would think that a member of the Nation of Islam would have as a profession; we are seen as very serious people.
RR: You’re right. I used to do shows for the community and I would imitate a lot of the Nation of Islam officials and Minister Farrakhan. So the community of the Nation of Islam has seen me grow and develop. It was Minister Farrakhan who encouraged me to go and improve on what I do. So people who maybe reading this interview, there is a lot about the Nation, a lot about Islam and a lot about the community that they will begin to learn. This is a cultural environment as well and according to what I understand a Nation has everything and everybody. So you have doctors, lawyers, actors, writers and comedians. So a bit of history is being made now. I hope that for others who want to take a run at doing standup comedy or getting in the comedy business this will inspire them.
FC: Now you do an excellent and respectful imitation of Minister Farrakhan and people reading this may have heard of situations where people have made fun of the Minister at a comedy club and there was a problem afterwards. The F.O.I. don’t really like people making fun of the Minister–a very sensitive area. So for you, how was that? Developing the skill. Were you afraid? Were you hesitant at first?
RR: That’s a good question. When I first started on the professional stage it was Ted Koppel, Rev. Jesse Jackson and Minister Farrakhan and during that time they were always in the news. So, it was risky because this is going out in the public. When I got the opportunity to perform for the community, I had asked his permission and he granted the permission so it was like a thin line so you better have it right. (Laughs) So I practiced with tapes and video clippings to make sure the voice was right, the mannerisms. I love Minister Farrakhan and I love everybody that I do, but there have been comedians that have kind of tried to run that thin line with the Minister and it becomes disrespectful, when you are making mockery. Minister Farrakhan is nothing to joke with–so when I do routines, I’m very careful. In my routine, he is always the person that pretty much does what he does and that is to guide. So yes, it really is treading a thin line.
FC: At first, did somebody go to him and say: ‘Minister Farrakhan, there is a brother who does a really wonderful impression of you?’ How did that come about?
RR: It’s a funny story because on security post one night, I was working on my impressions. Minister Farrakhan was up around 4am in the morning and here he is watching me doing something that he didn’t understand what was going on so he thought I was crazy! There I was working on material and (some time later) he was talking with his family and he had mentioned “I met this particular brother and I don’t think he should be around the house; he might need some medical help.” They said “no, dad, that’s Brother Reggie and he does imitations and impressions” and he put it all together. That’s how that happened.
FC: When your career is over and you’ve made it all in the movies receiving all the royalty checks from your DVD’s and everything, and there is a period put to the end of your life. What would you like for people to say about Reggie Reg?
RR: I would like for people to say that … not really to look at what I’ve done in entertainment, because to me that is second. I would just like them to know that I helped a man that is doing a (it’s hard to find the words for) what the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan is doing. What a friend we have in Jesus … because to me that is something that is worthy to be known for. That I have helped to make that come into reality. A world where people can live and there is no racial bias or racism. A world where finally there is peace in the Black community. We are eating better; we have our own businesses, our own schools. We are involved in what is going on in the world and for other people to experience that as well, that I had a hand in that. That is what I would like to be known for. That I walked with the boldest Blackman in North America and that is the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan and the members of the Nation of Islam. That’s it.
FC: Thank you.