Monday, August 16, 2010

Learning From A Living Legend

© 2010 Leighann Lord

There are almost no words to describe what it felt like to watch my comedy idol, Franklyn Ajaye, take the stage Sunday night at the Laugh Lounge in New York City. I’ve been a fan of his even before I became a stand-up comedian. Most people remember Franklyn from the movie "Car Wash," but I recall his comedy album, "Don’t Smoke Dope, Fry Your Hair."

I recommend his book, "Comic Insights," to young comedians all the time. It’s a useful compendium of his advice coupled with interviews with other stand-up icons like Richard Belzer, Bill Maher, and Ellen DeGeneres discussing the craft of comedy.

While I didn’t get to see George Carlin live, I did see Bill Cosby at Radio City Music Hall. He sat down in an easy chair, center stage, and the next two hours flew joyously by. I’ve had a chance to meet and work with a lot of great comics such as: Tommy Davidson, David Allen Grier, Chris Rock, George Wallace and Kathy Ladman, but Franklyn is different.

When people ask me who my comedy influences are, Franklyn Ajaye’s name is said in the same breath with George Carlin and Rita Rudner. If I may be so bold, I feel as though Franklyn and I are cut from the same comedy cloth. He is known as The Jazz Comedian. I’ve had my peers refer to me as the Maya Angelou of Comedy. (And still I rise.) I’m not exactly sure what that means, but it sounds better then being called the Snookie of comedy.

I was convinced more than ever of our common comedy lineage when I watched Franklyn close the first show on this year’s New York Underground Comedy Festival. Unassuming in dread locks that are now more salt than pepper, dressed in a Bob Marley T-shirt and blue jeans, he was the epitome of smooth, and confident. His performance was effortless, unharried and unhurried. He is not the comedy snack our palates have been ruined by. He is the full course meal.

Franklyn began doing stand-up in the 70s. He cites Robert Klein as one of his influences (of course). He’s from a generation when comics didn’t just tell jokes. They crafted routines. Back then, they got seven minutes on "The Tonight Show." Seven minutes! Today we get four.

In an all too brief set he talked about getting older, the American and Russian economies, being a Columbia law school student, doing undergrad at UCLA . . . all to an audience that had already seen 90 plus minutes of comedy. And yet they sat riveted, hanging onto his every word. (And I’m not just talking about the other comics who crowded into the room to watch a master at work.)

I can’t speak for all my peers, but for me Franklyn Ajaye’s performance was validating, empowering and instructive. I saw the elder statesman of bring-your-brain comedy. It was inspiring to watch my comedy hero remind me of the type of comedian I want to be when I grow up.

Leighann Lord is a stand-up comedian, who's style is best described as "Thinking Cap Comedy." She is performing with Franklyn Ajaye on the Attention Span Comedy show at Gotham Comedy Club on Wednesday, August 18th. For tickets go to http://www.gothamcomedyclub.com/ or http://www.nyucf.com/ Check out herother upcoming shows @ www.VeryFunnyLady.com. Join her on FaceBook. Follow her on Twitter.

1 comment:

PEOPLEGOGY said...

Leighann,

What advice did he give you? I can't imagine how magical that one to meet your idol. You described your experience beautifully, and I appreciate you writing about a comedian who's cerebral and not caught up in the Def Comedy Jam persona. Bravo!

Will