"I say 'nigger' a hundred times every morning," Paul Mooneyclaims, and then demonstrates. "Niggerniggerniggerniggernigger." He pauses dramatically. "Keeps my teeth white."
Mooney, who'll stop by the Improv this week, is more racially and politically confrontational than any ten other comedians combined. And it's no exaggeration to say that if there were a Mount Rushmore of African-American comedy, his face would be jackhammered into it. Best known to current audiences for his "Ask a Black Dude" and "Negrodamus" segments on the über-hot Chappelle's Show, Mooney has had a long career in comedy. A founding member of the 1960s Bay Area improv troupe the Yankee Doodle Bedbugs, he was later part of the same Second City touring company where Everybody Loves Raymond's Peter Boyle got his start. Mooney was a writer for Good Times, Sanford and Son and "pretty much all the black shows," he says. Later he worked on Saturday Night Live and was the head writer for In Living Color. But his most significant contribution may have been as Richard Pryor's main creative partner.
"If you listen to Richard's albums, I guarantee you can hear me on every one of them, right up front, laughing my ass off," he says today. "Our writing process was totally collaborative. I would watch him every night, then he'd come offstage and we'd sit down and go over every little thing, every nuance."
Mooney's own stand-up act can be disturbing -- perhaps even more so than Pryor's -- to those with delicate sensibilities. He deals with only two subjects, race and politics, which has at times rendered him invisible in an industry that thrives on the innocuous and often panders to timid audiences. At one point in his career, the race-baiter was surprised to find that his audience was becoming predominantly -- and inexplicably -- white. "For a minute there, I thought I'd lost the magic," he says with a sigh. It was ironic, considering in the '80s and early '90s, it was common for white people to storm out of Mooney's relentless monologues in a huff. But that doesn't happen much anymore. "No more walkouts since Bush took office. People these days are so used to being lied to that it's like I'm just out there waking people up, and they love it. Nothing's funnier than hearing the truth, especially when every day we all have to deal with so much lying from the so-called authorities."
The result of that lying, says Mooney, is that nowadays people are "playing dumb" about what's going on around them. "But with stuff like the Internet and cell phones, there's no excuse!" he says. "We all find out that some little girl got eaten up by a shark at exactly the same time."
It'll be damn near impossible to play dumb at Mooney's show, as his job is to make sure people walk away educated -- especially on his favorite topic, race.
"Oh, I'm never going out of business." He chuckles. "Race is not going anywhere in America. I could be Rip Van Nigger and go to sleep for a hundred years and wake up and still nothing will have changed."