You've put your stand-up comedy on hold. Do you miss it?
I've retired from stand-up. I'm the Sugar Ray Leonard of stand-up comedy. What do I have to gain from doing stand-up? That's the only time people really take potshots at me. You know, when I did Delirious, I got all this flak for my material being so filthy. The truth is, it's nowhere near as filthy as some of the stuff they're doing now. I'm feeling like an old fucking guy watching Sam Kinison or Andrew Dice Clay. Shit, I'm nowhere near that dirty. I just said fuck a lot. I mean, Kinison does this bit about homosexual necrophilia – fucking a dead man in the ass – which is hysterical. But that's pretty dirty, you know?
Would that be crossing the line for you?
No, if I'd have thought of it, I would've done it. Absolutely. It's hysterical. My thing is, if you're funny, fuck it. If you're watching my show and 19,000 people are laughing, but you think there's too much cursing, then get the fuck out. Why'd you come in the first place?
How do you explain the recent success of your friend Arsenio Hall? What does it say about our times?
That he's very funny. Arsenio offstage is the funniest person I've ever met in my life. He's the only person who can make me laugh until it gets dangerous, where you're going, "Stop or else I'm gonna pee on myself!" He'll make me laugh until, like, two or three drops of pee come out. He just has the faster mind and a knack for recalling obscurities – weird names from the past that make you giggle. I always thought that as soon as Arsenio started being Arsenio, he would take off – and that's what happened. When I first started, I was Richard Pryor. When Richard started, he was Bill Cosby, And Cosby was influenced, if you watch closely, by Groucho Marx: the cigar, the bent-over posture. Everybody gets influenced by somebody. For Arsenio, people like Jay Leno were his heroes – people Arsenio is more talented than.
What do you think of Leno?
I think Jay Leno is talented, but I don't think he can fuck with Arsenio. It's interesting that we're now in an era where comics have sex appeal. In the old days, nobody was ever sitting outside of Lou Costello's trailer, going, "Oh, I gotta fuck you, Lou!" But women sit outside Arsenio's TV studio and want to fuck him.
You've agreed to be on the 'Saturday Night Live' reunion show this fall. Didn't you once swear you'd never return?
In retrospect, working on that show was the most fun I've had in my career. Now there's this onus on me – everything I do is under a magnifying glass. The world is watching. But back then it was new, and I didn't know anything about pressure. I was just having as much fun as I could. I was very creative back then, real hungry. You know the Rocky movies? "You gotta get the eye of the tiger back, Rock!" I had it back then. I don't have the eye of the tiger anymore.
What are your most irrational fears?
Every now and then, I go to bed and sleep with the light on. Is that just that me? Sometimes you feel a little uncomfortable, so you turn on the TV, because something just isn't right in your room. That's one of my fears about having children. They see a monster at night and call you – and you have to go deal with the monster. And Daddy doesn't want to see the monster, either. "Oh, shit, there's a monster in there!"
When you get mad, how do you vent your anger?
I have no way of venting my anger, and I haven't blown up in ages. I walk around with a big, huge knot of tension in the back of my head. I very rarely lose my temper. I haven't screamed at anyone in four years. One of the luxuries of having a staff is that if somebody pisses me off, no matter who it is, with the exception of relatives, I say, "Excuse me," and walk out of the room, and someone comes in and tells that person, "You have to leave." And that's it.
I don't know if this is a blessing or a curse, but when someone's out of my life, I have the ability to wipe them out like they never existed. If somebody fucks me over – that person is gone. There's no sitting back and singing [as Elvis], "Memories . . . pressed between the pages of my mind."
Is that true in the case of your former fiancée Lisa Figueroa?
Gone. Never existed?
Have you ever seen a therapist about how to better deal with your anger?
Nah, I feel like if I went to an analyst, then I must be crazy. I don't talk to many people about personal shit, so I'd probably wind up liking it. But I don't know. I think crazy people go to therapists. I know that a lot of people who've had analysis will read this and say, "Fuck you, I'm not crazy." But I would feel crazy. Every now and then, though, I feel like losing it.
Losing your temper?
Losing my mind. But I haven't yet.
What's your secret to maintaining sanity?
The only way I keep my sanity is the realization that every problem I ever had in my life, no matter how huge, right up to this moment, has worked itself out. Think about it: That problem you thought you'd never get out of – it worked itself out. It's behind you now. It doesn't make any sense to worry about it. The only problem that you can't get out of is kicking, Dying.
How often do you think about your father? How well did you know him before he died?
My mother and father broke up when I was three, and he died when I was eight, so I have very dim memories. Every now and then, I wonder what it would be like if he was still here. My father's brothers are around, though. And I do have two fathers. My father that's alive [Vernon Lynch], he raised me.
Your real father was killed by a woman. Does that give you pause?
He was a victim of the Murphy charm [chuckles]. A woman stabbed my father. I never got all the logistics. It was supposed to be one of those crimes of passion: "If I can't have you, then no one else will" kind of deal. Someone said to me one day, "That's why you don't trust women." Get the fuck outta here. What are you, a fucking psychiatrist?
I don't think the two have anything to do with each other. But I was really fucked up about his death. It was really traumatic.
Can you imagine being offed by a woman?
Will some woman take me out? I doubt it. Richard Pryor's father died fucking. That's a good way to go. I'll take that over being hit by a truck.
How do you think you'll die?
I used to think about death all the time. I guess when things are going good for you, you just expect it. I'd like to die in my sleep when I'm very old, but who wouldn't? I've never heard of someone saying [in high, effeminate voice], "I want to die very young, dancing!"
I don't think it's gonna be cancer or some lingering illness, though. I think I'm gonna go in some horrible crash. It'll be one of those stupid entertainer's deaths. Maybe it'll be a plane crash. They'll be showing the wreckage on the news and interviewing farmers who saw the explosion from three miles away. Fruity and Ray-Ray will be quoted saying, "I told him not to get on that plane!" Eeeh-eeh-eeh.
You've probably heard this before, but you don't smile much for someone with such a famous smile.
People come up to me and ask me to smile all the time. The thing I hear most is "Yo, smile! Why aren't you smiling? Smile. Smile for me!" And it gets irritating. Sometimes in restaurants, I'll see people across the room pressing their fingers into the corners of their mouths, showing me how to smile. I kid you not. When I'm driving down the street, people pull up to me and ask why I'm not smiling. Never mind that if I was driving around with a big smile, then people would think I was a lunatic.
Maybe you're just shy.
That, and I've got a mouth full of fillings. I'm a sugar freak – that's my one indulgence, so I get a lot of cavities, and I have to go to the dentist more often than most.
So the million-dollar smile is fake?
The million-dollar smile is hollow, actually. At any moment, the teeth could all fall out. It's the sad truth: The million-dollar smile is rotten. So I'll fucking smile when I want! Eeeh-eeh-eeh-ehh.
This story is from the August 24th, 1989 issue of Rolling Stone.
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