To Rickey Smiley, comedy today is like strawberry shortcake: The more you eat, the less you want.
Take that from the 35-year-old comedian, who credits his first taste of success to an appearance on BET in 1997. Since then, the cable network has increasingly cluttered its airwaves with comedy showcases, which overexpose comedians as well as their dearth of fresh material.
"You say, 'Grandma makes the best strawberry shortcake,'" he says, launching into his dessert analogy. "But when you eat strawberries on Monday, the whipped cream on Tuesday, more strawberries on Wednesday, and the cake on Thursday, by the time you get to Grandma's house on Friday, what's there to get excited about?"
The Alabama native, a past host of BET's Comic View and The Way We Do It, is now MC of the Crown Royal Comedy Fest, which comes to town Saturday with fellow comics John Witherspoon and Sommore. Smiley says the proliferation of cable comedy shows has made touring even harder. "When people hear [comedy] every night, you go to a club, and nothing surprises them," he says. "The newness is not there. It's worn off."
Smiley keeps the Crown Royal fest fresh by breaking up the program with 10-minute sets woven between Witherspoon's "Bang! Bang! Bang!" routines first seen on The Tracy Morgan Show and Sommore's candid tips on how to seduce a man and his wallet. If he's in the mood, Smiley could roll out his trademark Bernice-the-Church-Lady character, with her "Lord, have mercy!" announcements from the pulpit, or his Coach McClainey persona, with his lack of motivational skills. "People ask me to tell them a joke, but I don't tell jokes," says Smiley, who takes pride in keeping his act clean.
"Whatever comes to me onstage is what I deliver, because my shows are never planned."
The Cleveland stop is a pick-me-up of sorts for Smiley. His family came to Cleveland to find work in 1974, moving into a house on East 105th Street. He attended kindergarten at the old Columbus Elementary School, and his grandparents took him on frequent fishing trips at the East 55th Street pier. Smiley's family moved back to Birmingham the next year, but they returned to Cleveland every summer to visit relatives; his grandmother and others still live here.
Next month, Smiley will release the fourth volume in a series of self-titled comedy CDs. Like his onstage act, the discs come with no bad words. "A lot of guys use that as a crutch," he says. "I don't go for all that cursing. Some guys curse just to be cursing, when there's not a joke involved.
"But I know what works. I know the nuts and the bolts of this game." He knows strawberry shortcake too.
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