4 Decades In Comedy: Sinbad Reminisces About Military, Bill Cosby & Donald Trump

In a lot of ways, Sinbad owes the success of his career to the United States military. Back in 1981 when the comedian, known then as David Atkins, was in the Air Force, he competed in a talent contest on base. He got some laughs, enough to keep getting back on the stage. But it was his failure to make the Air Force basketball team that prompted Sinbad to develop the style that would eventually frame his 30-plus year career in stand-up, television and film.

“That was the first time I really got serious about comedy,” he says. “Up until then, I was just doing stuff to get me in trouble.”

Sinbad is bringing it back to where it started with a new show July 21 at the Florida Theatre.

Whether it was the energy from the audience, the spark of laughter or just the idea of being center of attention on the stage, young Sinbad saw his future before he could even explain it. “When I was 4 years old, I heard Allen King on TV. I was in my bedroom and I heard these people laughing. I walked out and ‘I said I’m going to be him’ and I went back to bed. I don’t know why. I didn’t know who Allen King was. He was telling jokes about a mother-in-law and I didn’t know what a mother-in-law was. I didn’t know what comedy was. I just heard laughter and felt it. It piqued my interest.”

As he got older, Sinbad shifted his attention away from center stage and focused on center court instead. “I said ‘I’m going to play pro basketball’. It was the 60’s and 70’s. You didn’t know how to get out of the Midwest to LA. Nobody knew how that worked,” says the comedian. “I had all these dreams of what I wanted to do. At the end of the day, I finally realized you can be an actor and do stand-up comedy and you can do that until you’re real old. It’s wild how you go from the guy asking for advice and to becoming the guy that says, ‘Hey man, why don’t you try this?’ Time went so fast, man.”

“Comedy is different. It’s like running down a hill. You got to learn how not to fall. But the first time you run down the hill, you’re going to fall on your face. Then you get back up and say, ‘That wasn’t that bad’.”

Heading into his fourth decade as an actor and comedian, Sinbad is excited to return to the stand-up stage. “It’s the only art form where the learning of it is the doing of it. I’m learning how to play the saxophone now. I can get my books, I can practice, I can try things out, use different notes,” he says. “Comedy is different. It’s like running down a hill. You got to learn how not to fall. But the first time you run down the hill, you’re going to fall on your face. Then you get back up and say, ‘That wasn’t that bad’.”

The 90’s was the decade of Sinbad. He filmed a string of comedy specials for HBO including “Brain Damaged,” “Son of a Preacher Man” and “Afros and Bellbottoms” for which he received the 1995 Image Award. He created “David & Goliath Productions” in Studio City and starred in the 1995 movie “Houseguest” with the late Phil Hartman. Sinbad appeared on a late night syndicated talk show, did voiceover work for the animated film “Planes” and had a guest role on “American Dad!”

Now more than any other time throughout his stand-up career, Sinbad has more material than he can use in a single show. He changes it up every show to keep it fresh and current. But there’s one bit he’s tired of repeating. “You can’t help but be topical now. But you know what? I even think the Donald Trump thing is played out now. I think now it’s repetitive,” he says. “Now I’m like this. I don’t have time for him. He has to top himself. I demand that he gives me better jokes. I demand better tweets. I think he gets off on us talking about him. So now I demand better stuff.”

The Celebrity Apprentice
THE CELEBRITY APPRENTICE — Pictured: (l-r) Carol Leifer, Sinbad, Maria Kanellis, Sharon Osborne, Rod Blagojevich, Michael Johnson, Donald Trump, Curtis Stone, Cyndi Lauper, Goldberg, Daryl Strawberry, Brett Michaels, Selita Ebanks, Summer Sanders, Holly Robinson Peete — NBC Photo: Mitch Haaseth

“It’s like the emperor has no clothes. He’s the only one that doesn’t know he’s naked.”

Sinbad worked with Trump in the 80’s and later during Celebrity Apprentice. The work might be different but the character, he says, remains same. “He was always a con artist but it worked for what he was doing. It worked for Atlantic City but he’s beyond that now,” says Sinbad. “If you holler at a toddler and put that toddler in check, he’ll say ‘Well, that didn’t work.’ Did you see the picture of this man in tennis shorts? Jesus. How did you walk out of the house? It’s like the emperor has no clothes. He’s the only one that doesn’t know he’s naked.”

From 1988 to 1991, Sinbad starred on “A Different World,” the spin-off of The Cosby Show starring Lisa Bonet, where he was also able to work alongside Bill Cosby. He steps lightly, careful not to defend the accusations levied against the embattled comic legend while maintaining his own thoughts on the scandal.

“If you’re really that offended by him, give the money back. Tear the building down and return the money.”

“That was a great time but that’s not the man I know. He didn’t win in court. They destroyed him. I’m not saying these women are lying. I’m not even trying to do that. But I look at it now, his reputation, schools that he gave money to that built buildings then took his name off of those buildings. Here’s where I stand on that. If you’re really that offended by him, give the money back. Tear the building down and return the money.”

At the end of the day, making films, doing television and stand-up comedy is all a product of Sinbad’s military experiences and he goes back to where it all started as often as he can. He has participated in several USO Tours, bringing laughter to the men and women stationed in places like Bosnia, Herzegovina and Afghanistan.

“It was a young brother out of Hawaii named Kenny Hill that’s been bringing me over since the 80’s. He’s been bringing entertainers to the military as long as I’ve been doing stand-up. I was in the Air Force, man and I know what it meant for those guys to come and entertain. We didn’t even have a war going on. During war time, it’s different. You’re separated from everything. It’s unimaginable. The next day, some of these cats might not even be here,” he says.

If he hadn’t taken the leap of faith to put it all out there on that Air Force talent show stage, Sinbad says he would be a different man living a different kind of life. “If I had not done that talent show, I don’t know where I’d be right now. The key was to make the Air Force basketball team then the Harlem Globetrotters were supposed to come and get me out of the military,” he says. “In my mind, I was making my own rules. You got to. Sometimes you just got to make up your own stuff.”

About Liza Mitchell

october, 2021

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