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For more information on the website WhatsApp page check out the website underneath. In Black America, reflections of the Black experience in American society. And Black and White customers were different due to a different economic status. White customers come in. Yes, man, I like buy a couple of sport coats, a couple suits, some slacks, some shirts and tie, some belts, a couple of suede coats. Let me have a couple of those leather coats over there. Let me have that plant, that light. You're not for sale, are you? And a Black customer come in.
Say, dude, what's happening? You just to do what I'm looking for, man. Yeah, see? Because I know you can relate, man. See, I'm looking for something bad, man. You know, super bad. So when I fall into a party, man, it would be no doubt there's to who's the cleanest dude, man. You did, man. Right on, man. Y'all sell socks? Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Mm-hmm. Comedian Franklin Ajayi insists that he was funny even as a small child. As a comedian, he is a verbal-seemed painter. A writer who relies heavily on personal experience to find a line of communications with his audience. Franklin Ajayi has started several movies, including Sweet Revenge, Car Wash, and The Jazz Singer. He's also appeared on the Johnny Carson show and other late-night variety programs. I'm John Hanson, and this week I focus on comedian Franklin Ajayi in Black America.
You know, you go to a movie, you read a novel, the language is there. Why does a comedian have to always defend it? That's the one thing I kind of get tired of. You have to always defend it. But, you know, you go to a movie, all these are-rated movies. You know, you pick up some of the great works of art novels throughout history, and they have the people speaking that way. But we have to defend using language that everyone uses in the world. And that's something I really, I don't understand. I really don't. It hinders us. You know, Picasso is drawing all these sexual pictures. You know what I mean? And he's a genius. It sounds like a dolly, all these bizarre sexual images and their geniuses. And if a comedian gets up and talks about sex, we're dirty. You explain it to me. Franklin Ajayi has always wanted to be a comedian. But for the longest time, he could never bring himself to commit to it. Born in New York and read in Los Angeles, Mr. Ajayi, that's his real name, his father's African,
and missed that being funny professionally takes a lot of the fun out of it. His friends don't expect him to be funny every minute, but other people expect him to be funny on cue. Franklin Ajayi has made us laugh by proving what are often the most painful and sensitive realities of our existence. He's in New York City, and I had always been a person who had had the sense of humor, right, in school, in junior high, high school, most sweaty things like that. But I never really thought I would be a comedian. But when I went to law school, I realized at that time, I couldn't really make it through law school. I was bored with it. It was too much work. And I had to start thinking about alternative way to make a living. And so I said, let me try this, because people have always said, I thought I could do it. And it was in the back of my mind, maybe I can't. You know why it's a lot of TV? And I said, oh, I think I'm funnier than that. So I was in New York City, and they had some clubs at that time. Folk Rock clubs that Bill Cosby had started at.
So I kind of said, well, I'll go down here and do that. And that's pretty much how I started doing that. And what age did you realize that you had a talent to make people laugh? I was eight. Eight years old. I was in the second grade, and I told a story. I had seen a Little Red Riding Hood story on TV that had been jazzed up with a Little Red Riding Hood with a machine gun and a wolf flying a plane. And I repeated it to class. Teachers said, let's tell some jokes, and I got up. And I think I embellished it with a few things at that time. And the class really laughed. No one had laughed at any other students, little jokes, eight-year-old jokes. And they laughed when I got up and did that. So that was the first time that I didn't think much about it. I was eight. When I was nine years old, in third grade, a teacher told me I should become a comedian because I really used to like to sacked up a little bit in school
when I would finish my assignments and stuff. But I would finish my assignments and get good grades. So I think the one thing was the teachers tolerated a lot of my stuff because I was, many times, the best student in the class. I wasn't the cat who was getting the F's and disrupting. So they looked at it in a different way. What did your parents think about you being a comedian? Or was they think you being a smart L.A. When I was growing up, my parents did not like the fact that teachers would say that he tells jokes and classes at all they hated that. And as a result, I was very quiet at home. I never talked at home because my parents were very strict. And I didn't feel they appreciated or understood. There was not a lot of humor in my home at all. And so I was very quiet, very, very withdrawn at home. And then I go to school and I act up. And I wouldn't tell my parents about open house even though I was getting good grades because I'd say the teacher would say he acts up.
I used to get punished a lot for that. So that gave me a lot of problems. That was some type of thing. It probably gave me a lot of mental problems behind it. I didn't really accept it because I'd always been restricted because it was something I couldn't just enjoy. I'd be in school and it was like I'd be forced, something inside me would force me to express myself that way. It's a gift. It's a rare talent. It's an intuition. But you know, you're young. You don't understand that. I just knew I was getting my parents didn't want me doing it. So I had a lot of, for many years, I had a lot of conflicting feelings about it. Do you find people have a hard time taking comedians such as yourself serious? Yeah. Yeah. Yes, that seems to be if I'm serious and you say you're too serious or you'll be a little disappointed, right? If I'm serious first off. Then if I'm maybe in a good mood and I'm spontaneously funny, they'll say things like you're not on stage now. It's really kind of bizarre the way people relate to comedians. So when I find that most comedians, number one,
are much more serious off-states than people think. There are a few that are on all the time. But many of the people I know are real serious people. It's kind of their job, their profession, and they turn on when they go on stage. So yeah, some people do not take me serious at all when I am serious. It's kind of frustrating a little bit. How do your friends react? Do they figure you or expect you to be funny all the time? All Frank is coming. We're going to have a good time. He's going to tell us a lot of jokes. No, no. Most of my friends, they enjoy that when I go get off on things because I can really make them laugh. But they don't really expect it at all. And I can really relax about them around them that way. I probably can make my friends laugh a lot more than anybody else. Like I have this friend Seattle when she says that she can tell when I'm talking to her husband on the phone, because no one makes him laugh like me on the phone. She can just hear him laugh and know that he's talking to me long distance.
But we have a lot of serious talks. I have a lot of serious talks with my friends. And they don't expect it. And that's really good. They don't say, tell me a joke or anything like that. Which a lot of strangers will just tell me. What has Franklin been doing for the last five or six years? Well, I've been working. I've done a few movies in the last five or six years. Which ones? This is 84. So I did a movie last in 82 called Get Crazy that came out in 83. That didn't do too well. I did a movie called Historical, which was never released. I did jazz thingy, which turned out to be a pretty nice got me a lot of recognition because we've shown on cable a lot. It's a big production. And I've done the television shows, tonight shows. I've been working at clubs. I haven't really been pursuing my career aggressively. I think I'm going to start doing that a lot more this year. I was kind of floating through. You know, I was working.
And I was just pretty much happy to kind of be working. I wasn't thinking about really becoming a superstar, really becoming big. I just was kind of happy to be working. And I'd be able to save my money and enjoy the time off. I was kind of now, as I get older, I'm going to take a little bit more serious look at it. Sometimes I lament the fact that I really wasn't super serious about it years ago. You know, that I was drifting the way I was. But you know, better late than never. So now I feel well. I got a lot of my kind of just laziness out of my system now. Okay. I think that's what I was. Just if I worked fine, if I didn't find, you know, long as I had my bills paid. You know, now I'm prepared to like, maybe I want to work a little bit more, push myself a little bit more than I ever did before. You also appear in sweet revenge and car wash. Is there a difference for a comedian and stand-up comedy versus being funny and a motion picture? Yes, there is a difference that I,
one is at least for me. You know, within, when I stand up on stage, a lot of it is instinct. I'm writing my own material. I'm very familiar with it. I'm doing little things that are a little bit instinctive for my material. Then you do a movie that's a comedy and they give you their material. And they want you to enhance that. And you don't have that feeling of comfort. I have to really think, almost like a very slow conscious effort to try to figure out how to make it funny. That's the difference for me. It's like a problem that needs to be solved, that I need to think about for a long, long time. And I don't feel very instinctive about it. But I have done some movies, which the comedy people have really,
like car wash, for example, probably the big hit. I would sit down and I'd read the script and read the script and think about the character. And basically here's interesting insight. In a movie that's pretty funny, you play it pretty straight. You play it straight. Like in car wash, I didn't really try to be funny in any of those scenes. I thought about, I'd like to give the character some details, behavioral details, maybe giving him a fast walk. Something that would fit the character. And you play it fairly straight. You don't really play it for laughs. I don't think. But the laughs come out. Because you give the character. You make the character serious about this silliness. Maybe chasing the woman, the woman in car wash, and doing all these things. You make him very serious about it. And that kind of added to the humor of it that he was taking it serious. I think that I read something. You can't really try to be funny in those situations. Now I like to work with the instructor with the script.
I know Richard Pryor doesn't. He'll give him the script. He likes to just kind of like, look at it and kind of throw it away and go off. And that's the way he works. I learned that. Working in stir crazy. I had a scene with him. And we had to shoot it by eight or nine times. And I had these. It gave me the script. And I had to say these words. And I'm comfortable with saying other people's words. If they're not bad, I can change them a little. Richard likes to just really go for himself. So we did about eight or nine takes. And I got to really watch the way he worked, which was he pretty much improvised. Every take. And it was totally different. Every take. Which puts a lot of strain on him. Because he likes to hear the crew laugh every take. He told me. And they won't laugh the second time. So he'll do it differently each take. And for me, I had to play off his improvisation. And I stayed with my lines. Because what I like to do is, if the crew laughs the very first time,
then I say, okay, that's the right way to do it. Maybe I'll change it a little bit. But if they laugh, you'll get the first time I realize that the audience will be seeing it for the very first time. And they will laugh. So I will stay with it instead of trying to change it up totally. Maybe if I have a better idea, maybe three or four takes down the road, I may say, hmm, let me try this. But I won't try every take like Richard does, which I talk to him about. Because I feel it puts a lot of pressure on you and keeps you kind of nervous going for that laugh every time. You know, if you're going to be disappointed, if you don't get it. What comedians influence you growing up and today? Well, my favorite comedians over the years growing up, I was always a big Jonathan Winner's fan. I was a big big Bill Cosby fan in 1964. I saw his first television appearance on it tonight. So I remember I was in high school and I was a real big fan of his. I still am a tremendous. I'd say probably who influenced me most to get into comedy was when Richard Prior went to see Richard Prior
when I was on my 21st birthday. And he influenced me a hell of a lot, the idea, because he was doing a more black-oriented comedy. The first comedian I'd ever seen to do a real black-oriented comedy in terms of street characters. So that kind of let me know that a lot of things I was seeing in my life could be presented to the country. So that was a very big influence. Then Robert Klein probably became my next big influence because he was the first, you know, a real college-oriented comedian who'd come out and was doing a lot of really college-oriented material and I had a college background and I could relate to that. So I kind of feel that I kind of mixed those two as I was growing up into comedy. I mixed Robert Klein's street and the intellect type thing was I feel it would Richard's street commentary and the intellect, the college-oriented material of Robert Klein
was what I tried to go for kind of a balance in my own act without copying any of them. You know, just these were my interests lied. You know, I'm black and I feel I have, you know, I'd seen a lot of things that the black experience, but I had also had that college experience I had a lot of it. And I had to fuse my own diverse experiences and those two comedians seemed to typify those two type of experiences. And George Carlin influenced me some watching his presentation I liked the looseness of it. Those are my major people that I have in comedy that I really like. Jonathan Winters I've always felt was incredibly brilliant but no one could do what he does. He's so rare that total improvisational comedy that he used to do. Correct me is my wrong. A lot of black comedians use profanity in their acts with the exception of probably Bill Cosby.
Is that good for black comedians or is that the only way at that time for black comedians to obtain recognition? Well, first off, almost all comedians use profanity, not just the black ones. I feel that Cosby, it doesn't use profanity and that's the choice that he made that is really a natural thing for him. He's a genius in that respect because I feel he does very, very, he does mundane material, not mundane material. But he does mundane subjects brilliantly. He'll take little family things. No one else does family humor as well as him. As clever as him, that's where his genius is because he's really super clever. A lot of people who could take that same material and make it very boring. But he can do that real super clean material and really come up with a lot of images and voices and he's just a genius that way.
With the idea of profanity, I have learned, see first off, most people go to a club and they want to hear something that they want to see on TV. Most comedians are better in a club than they are on TV. TV is the unnatural thing. TV is the thing that makes you clean up that Richard couldn't do, nine tenths of his material on television. But then you'd lose the essence of what makes him great. Cos he would use profanity in a way, first off, he captured the way people talk. I feel that you walk down streets, you know, you have people who are rich, poor, very moral, immoral. Everybody uses a little profanity to spice up their language at times. And it's not shock value, you know what I mean? You're just, you get mad, you say this word, you know, or you try to point out something and make a point and everybody picks up on it then. They want to commit a good comedian supposed to recreate reality, all right? And you can't take that away because language is a part of reality. You want to capture the attitude of a person and tell somebody about it. You have to say this way he was talking and people then will say, yeah. So you can't take that away.
If you take that away, then a lot of times you get bland material. You know, I've learned that people go to a club, they drink their adult, you know what I mean? And sit back and want to have a good time. And they don't want to see the real super clean television material, which the people on TV make you do. You know, so I don't think that, I don't use profanity for shock. Most some comedians do. I don't know if they use it for shock, but they may use excessive profanity. Okay, and sometimes when you are scared, you will curse more. Has Frank and Ajay gotten caught up in the Hollywood facade, the Mercedes bands? I haven't, yeah, Mercedes. I haven't Mercedes. I see some Mercedes here in Austin. But, you know, that's an interesting thing. You know, people have an image of Hollywood which is, I guess, you know, whenever they think of phoniness, they think of Hollywood. And, you know, it's funny,
it's like a catch-22. We're professional personalities, which takes a while to get used to. If you go on television and you're there to entertain, and you may be depressed that day. Your life's not going right, you know. And that's maybe really the way you feel. But you can't walk out on a tonight show and be depressed, all right? Or you'll never get on that show again. So you have to present this up personality to entertain the people at home. All right, now maybe that's phoniness. Sometimes I used to have problems with it thinking, well, gee, that's being very phony, okay? But that was the reality of the profession, okay? And so maybe, so in terms of, you know, the lifestyle, you know, I've met a lot of people in the show business who I think are really good people. You know, you have your phonies in every profession. You know, you have your...
But in Hollywood, you have your crazy people. You have your nice people. You have your phonies. You have your very real people. That's about the best way I can describe it. I've met some really good people in all professions. And being an entertainer is a profession that's a little bit of an offbeat profession. You know, we're a little bit offbeat, where most of us are pretty rebellious, or she wouldn't hit into that type of profession. You take a nine to five. Okay, great. We can't conform, you know, a lot. So we get into that. And we have our neurosis, which we kind of wear on our sleeve, which kind of... It's funny. How else can you cry in a movie on cue? All right. If you can't pull up those type of things. I used to even myself be a little bit scared to get into what quote unquote, Hollywood scene. Say, like, so they say, like, you know, do you go to those Hollywood parties? And they'll try to put you on the defense about, do you realize that almost all business in America is done in a social setting? All right. And naturally, who you know plays an important part
because friendship plays an important part in getting jobs. And once you work with someone who's your friend and they know they can trust you, they'll ask you to come back to work again. And you have to develop those type of socializing contacts, which for a long time, I didn't because I felt, well, this Hollywood thing that a lot of people have this image, and I bought it myself. And then I had to realize one day that I was neglecting my peer group, okay, which is possibly the only group of people who can really understand you without you having to explain yourself because they come from the same type of inner restlessness. You know, I have a lot of friends who are outside show business and I found that I started having a very difficult time relating to them because their lifestyles were more settled, more conforming. And here I was traveling eight, nine months a year and I didn't have a lot of experiences to share with them that we could.
And then I went to this club, the improv, and I could sit up and talk to people who knew exactly what I was going through, okay, and I said, well, this club is like a club full of misfits and maybe I have to accept that in a way I'm a little bit of a misfit, a societal misfit, but this is my environment. That's the best way I can kind of describe as far as a Mercedes. I don't know, you know, we all, I have old Mercedes, you know, and I like it, you know, it's a nice car. Thank you. I'm a comedian. I was not as a comedian, I used to work. I did a job out in Century City, working in the clothing store selling men's clothes. You ever notice how people change voices on homosexuals? They talk deep to them. Like a dude would come in, you know, I said, hey, man, what's happening? What can I do for you? I'm a comedian. I was not as a comedian, I used to work. I said, hey, man, what's happening? What can I do for you?
Oh, where are your pants? Oh, well, they're over there, man. There we have bag here on you. It comes here with that smile. Would you like to come over to my apartment and listen to some albums? No, that's smile. It's the same smile I used to get to girls over to my place. I just tell them what the women tell me. No, man, not this week. I'm on my period. Women use that. Oh, no, not tonight. It'll be messy. I'll burn the sheets, baby. I used to work there as this cat used to work with me. Alan, try to break your concentration when you were talking to a girl. If a chick was standing in front of you
with big bosoms, he'd be behind you going, oh. Smacking his lips. You know, you had to laugh. I'm really sorry your father died. Can I come to the funeral, please? Then weird things would happen here. I was one time I was writing up a order. I had my head down. Cat came in. I heard the voice. Could you call your tailor up? I like a little work done on the crotch of my birthday suit. What I looked up to do was butt make it. I said, I'm sorry, sir. Your tailor's kind of busy. You'll have to leave it here. And female customers used to bug me because they never knew their husband's sizes. They'd always try to describe him and you'd have to try to pick something out. Say, yes, ma'am. What can I do for you? Well, I'm looking for a sport coat from a husband's birthday.
Do you have anything to fit in? What is he wearing, ma'am? You know, what size? Oh, I don't know. I forgot to look in his closet. What if I describe him? Well, I'd help. Yeah, that's cool. I might be able to work something out. Well, he has gray hair. And he doesn't have all his toes. And black and white customers do a different economic status. White customers come in. Yes, ma'am. I like buy a couple of sport coats, a couple of suits, some slacks, some shirts, some tie, some belts, a couple of suede coats. Let me have a couple of those leather coats over there. Let me have that plant, that light. You're not for sale, are you? And a black customer come in. Say, dude, what's happening? You just to do what I'm looking for, ma'am. Yeah, see? Because I know you can relate, ma'am. See? I'm looking for something bad, ma'am. You know, super bad. So when I fall into a party, ma'am,
it would be no doubt there's to who's the cleanest dude, ma'am. You did, ma'am. Right on, ma'am. Y'all sell socks? It's hard to get into college. Well, you need those sometime. Jesus Christ couldn't have gotten into UCLA if he didn't have a B average. But I'm the Messiah. I'm sorry. Your grades are just not high enough. You didn't get a good score on your SAT. Oh, but I couldn't concentrate that day. The crucifixion was coming up. I was trying to get the menu together for the last step. I had all kinds of things to do. Just because I'm not religious, doesn't mean I'm intolerant of people who are. One of my good friends goes to the Princeton Theological Seminary. He's studying to be a pimp. And he used to tell me things like, Jesus is black, ma'am. I got proof. He took me to his church in that community and they were serving wheat bread. And Kool-Aid instead of wine. I said, hey, ma'am. I liked him better when he was white. He would go up on Hollywood Boulevard.
You see a lot of interesting things. There's a lot of Jesus freaks up there. You know, always bother. You pass not just legal things about Susan and Tony Alamo. Wherever the hell they are. And, you know, they came up with one. I came up with one. I came up to me. He said, ye who fornicate will not get into heaven. I said, man, I think you got it wrong. Because when I fornicate, I am in heaven. And you better start fornicating so those pimples are clear up. Comedian and actor Franklin Ajay. If you have a comment or would like to purchase a cassette copy of this program, write us. The address is in Black America, Longhorn Radio Network, UT Austin, Austin, Texas, 78712. That address again is in Black America, Longhorn Radio Network, UT Austin, Austin, Texas, 78712. For in Black America's technical producer, David Alvarez, I'm John Hanson. Join us next week. You've been listening to in Black America.
Reflections of the Black Experience in American Society. In Black America is produced and distributed by the Center for Telecommunication Services at UT Austin. And does not necessarily reflect the views of the University of Texas at Austin or the station. This is the Longhorn Radio Network.
In Black America
Franklyn Ajaye
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KUT Radio
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KUT Radio (Austin, Texas)
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Career in film and stand-up comedy
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This record is part of the Comedy section of the Soul of Black Identity special collection.
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Race and Ethnicity
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Copyright Holder: KUT
Guest: Franklyn Ajaye
Host: John L. Hanson
Producing Organization: KUT Radio
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Chicago: “In Black America; Franklyn Ajaye,” 1984-12-20, KUT Radio, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 16, 2024,
MLA: “In Black America; Franklyn Ajaye.” 1984-12-20. KUT Radio, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 16, 2024. <>.
APA: In Black America; Franklyn Ajaye. Boston, MA: KUT Radio, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from