While Sundays on FOX have been all about "Animation Domination" for a while now, last week the network stepped back into a similar kind of sketch comedy it did in the early '90s with "In Living Color." In said offering, "In The Flow With Affion Crockett," the YouTube sensation who has been called 'the next Jim Carrey' (who, ironically, saw his career launch with "In Living Color") brings his spot-on impersonations of such notables as Barack Obama, Tiger Woods and Dave Chappelle to a weekly sketch-comedy format.
Our Jim Halterman rang up Crockett earlier this week to talk about doing comedy in at a time when being 'P.C.' is in, the amount of time he spends getting his impersonations just right and how he's been able to get big names like Samuel L. Jackson, Damon Wayans, Jr., and Russell Simmons to appear on the show.
Jim Halterman: We're in such politically correct times but does that make your comedy easier or more difficult?
Affion Crockett: The brand of comedy I like to do is more respectful anyway so it kind of tailors to my brand of being politically correct. I like to be funny, of course, and go right up to the envelope without pushing it too far.
JH: Even with the Tiger Woods skit in the first episode. It was funny but didn't seem offensive to me.
AC: At the end of the day, I want it to be something that the subject themselves can actually laugh at and say 'That's kinda true.'
JH: Backing up, how did the show come about and how did Jamie Foxx get involved as an Executive Producer?
AC: I was on YouTube for awhile and I did a show on MTV called 'Wild 'n Out' and I would do these characters onstage that eventually, in my mind, could be fleshed out in a sketch. After 'Wild 'n Out' ended, I got the idea to start producing my own videos on YouTube and 40 million viewers later - I had a pretty huge fan base - I pitched the idea to Fox and I gave them some footage from YouTube and they were all about it. Unbeknownst to me, they had already met with Jamie, who also had an idea for a sketch show but didn't have the content so they merged the two ideas and that's how it came together.
JH: Your impersonations are so spot-on. How much time do you spend on them?
AC: It's kind of weird. Since I was a kid, I had an ear for certain things like I was able to play music by ear. Every now and then there is a character that will stump me. Barack Obama kind of stumped me. He seems like he'd be an easy one to get but the way his cadence is and his voice register is also a little deeper so I had to work on that for awhile. But I had to spend some time on him because he's relevant, I already resemble him a bit and I wanted to do sketches about him that are different from everything else that you see about him.
JH: I love in that sketch when Bill Clinton enters the room and he's just one of Barack's homies.
AC: Throwing a little jam, a little party. [Laughs.]
JH: How are you dealing with the restraints that come from being on network television?
AC: Yeah, it's always different when you're used to being the Lone Ranger and you have all the freedom to make your own decisions and all of that. You do have to compromise when it comes to network because there are other people to consider in their opinions and expertise. It's not a bad or good thing, it's just a change.
JH: You have cameos on the show like Samuel L. Jackson and Russell Simmons. Is that a regular part of the show that we'll see more of?
AC: Yeah, I have working relationships with these guys. I did the movie 'Soul Men' with Sam Jackson and I was really proud that they were fans of my work and were very supportive. It was literally only a phone call with each one of those guys - with Sam, Russell Simmons - as soon as I picked up the phone and asked them to do a cameo on my show, they were all game for it and showed up ready to play.
JH: Who else do we see coming up?
AC: Chris Brown, Michael Strahan, Harry Shum from 'Glee' and Cat Deeley from 'So You Think You Can Dance.' It's sort of a nice list.
JH: With someone like Chris Brown, he's been fodder for a lot of jokes because of his recent past but how do you utilize him?
AC: In the show, I don't make fun of him. We come together to do an impromptu dance battle with a twist, if you will. That's coming on this Sunday. I've made fun of him on YouTube or parodied him but it's one of those situations where he can laugh at it. It's not disrespectful. There's comedy in it.
JH: With the 'Blu-ray-ray' sketch in the premiere (a faux-ad for watching a Blu-ray with a track of people shouting at the screen a la some movie theater experiences), there's so much truth in that! Is that the key to your comedy?
AC: That's 100% my philosophy. To me, if you don't have the truth there, what are you making fun of? The truth transcends any race or culture. We've all experienced things the same way and we all feel essentially the same way about it. When you get down to the human element, that's where comedy lies. I almost get offended when I start hearing people say 'That's not going to translate with that audience' or 'That's not going to translate with that audience.' I've been doing comedy for years and I also am an army brat who grew up in Germany so I know different cultures; I've lived in them and experienced them. We all laugh at the same stuff so I don't draw lines with my comedy and I don't separate.
JH: When did you realize you were funny and could make people laugh?
AC: It had a lot to do with the army brat thing and moving around to 14 different schools. I was the new student 14 times so I had to figure out a way to not feel grossly uncomfortable every time I walked into a new room full of people so eventually I started doing cartoon character voices like 'The Simpsons' or Tony Montana from 'Scarface.' The voices were the icebreaker.
JH: Since you've lived so many places, if you could pick one place to live, where would that be?
AC: Wow, Jim, I would have to pick a couple places. I would have a place in Germany for the nostalgia of me growing up because I really spent my formative years there so I have a love for the place. I actually love LA. A lot of people are so jaded when they live here and I guess they experience bumps in their career and now they hate the place but for me I separate the two. I love the energy of LA and the career is going to do what I put into it and it's all about that positive outlook. And somewhere tropical, too. My mother is from Trinidad and Tobago so I wouldn't mind having a place there. I love the island and I love the beach.
"In The Flow with Affion Crockett" airs Sundays at 9:30/8:30c on FOX.