Checking In With the Cast of Pootie Tang

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Whatever happened to predictability, the milkman, the paperboy, evening TV…and the cast and crew of the cult hit, Pootie Tang?

Released 10 years ago this month, Pootie Tang is one of those “how was this ever made?” movies. Which isn’t to say it’s not hilarious, because it is, but the lead character, the aforementioned Mr. Tang, is a blaxploitation-like figure who speaks not in English, but rather…whatever this is: “Cole me down on the panny sty, my damie.” And it’s all written by a white guy named Louis C.K. The movie bombed when it first came out, but has since become a massive cult hit. Here’s what the cast and crew are up to today.

Daddy Tang/JB, played by Chris Rock

Chris Rock has earned enough goodwill that people would still like him if he starred in 12 more movies based on Grown Ups. Here’s a partial list of what he’s done: Saturday Night Live, from 1990-1993; New Jack City, as Pookie; CB4, which he starred in and co-wrote; comedy album Bigger and Blacker; hosting the Oscars in 2005; a slew of stand-up specials; creating and narrating Everybody Hates Chris, about his childhood in Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy; and, of course, HBO’s The Chris Rock Show, where he met many of the people listed below. And there’s also: producing Good Hair, a comedy documentary about the hair of African American women; starring in Head of State; and appearing in The Aristocrats, about the famed joke. Around the time his first daughter, Lola, turned three, he began taking on less controversial roles, such as voicing Marty the Zebra in Madagascar (and its sequel, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa) and Mooseblood the Mosquito in Bee Movie, reminiscent of his previous Rodney the Guinea Pig ways. In April 2011, Rock added a new hat to his head, a motherfucker of a hat, at that: he’s currently playing parole officer Ralph D. in the Broadway play, The Motherfucker with a Hat, which has been nominated for Best Play at the Tony Awards. Next year, Rock will release Credit is the Devil, a documentary about how paying things through credit will destroy us all and how we should stop spending so much money, and will once again play Marty in Madagascar 3, partially penned by Noah Baumbach.

Writer and director Louis C.K.

It’s still endlessly amusing to me that Louis C.K. wrote and directed Pootie Tang — it’s almost as much fun as telling people who don’t know and then seeing their “WHATTTT” reaction. From 1993-2000, C.K. wrote for Late Night with Conan O’Brien, The Late Show with David Letterman, The Dana Carvey Show, and The Chris Rock Show, where he won an Emmy and made fast friends with Mr. Rock himself. The two collaborated on the bland Down to Earth before releasing the much better Pootie a year later (I like to think that it was C.K. who suggested that Shaq’s “You Know How We Do” should be on the soundtrack). The movie was critically panned (at the time) and performed poorly at the box office, but C.K. remained a cult figure, performing stand-up specials on Comedy Central and HBO, slowly building a dedicated fan base. In 2005, he submitted a pilot for a show called Lucky Louie, a conventional-looking sitcom that deals with unconventional topics that made the president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights call it “barbaric,” and it got picked up and aired for 12 episodes in 2006. Since then, his career has skyrocketed, from his first hour-long special, Shameless, to appearing in Parks and Recreation and The Invention of Lying, to writing, producing, starring, and directing FX’s wonderful Louie. The show’s second season begins on June 23, and C.K. is currently on a stand-up tour.

Pootie Tang, played by Lance Crouther

Playing Pootie is the only substantial role in Lance Crouther’s acting career, and I mean that with no disrespect towards his memorable appearance as “Well-Dressed Man” in CB4 and “Street Vender” in Fear of a Black Hat. How many other actors can claim their one starring role is the titular character in a movie about a guy who whoops ass with a belt? Besides, Crouther is a writer by trade, beginning with the comedy troupe Mary Wong and continuing to The Chris Rock Show, Down to Earth, Comic Justice (where he worked with Dave Chappelle), The Wayne Brady Show, Real Time will Bill Maher, and Lopez Tonight. He’s also written skits for the Oscars and the Emmys, created Wanda Does It with Wanda Sykes, and was a consulting producer for Everybody Hates Chris. His last IMDb credit is being thanked by Tracy Jordan in Jordan’s Black and Blue special — anyone know anything?

Trucky, played by J.B. Smoove

J.B Smoove, real name Jerry Brooks, who Louis C.K. once called a “wild goofball” has played a wide variety of his characters in his decade-plus career, including narrator/sidekick Trucky (Pootie Tang), little Big Brother Kenny Westchester (‘Til Death), and, in his most recognizable role, scene-stealing Leon “Ass is Ass” Black on Curb Your Enthusiasm. His career began in late 1990s, when he appeared on MTV’s The Lyricist Lounge Show, followed by The Chris Rock Show, Mr. Deeds, and Cedric the Entertainer Presents. In 2003, he joined the writing staff of Saturday Night Live (even occasionally appearing on the show), and stayed there until 2007, when he was cast on both Everybody Hates Chris (as Manny) and Curb. His profile has grown considerably since, and he can be seen in Hall Pass, Date Night, and Castle, and heard in American Dad! and The Simpsons. He also appears in C.K.’s still-unreleased film, Tomorrow Night, alongside Steve Carell, Amy Poehler, Todd Barry, and Wanda Sykes.

Dirty Dee, played by Reg E. Cathey

Saying someone was great on The Wire is about as obvious as telling a friend, “You know what band I’m hearing good things about? The Beatles,” but whatever: Reg E. Cathey was great on David Simon’s The Wire, where he played Norman Wilson, Tommy Carcetti’s administrative aide (he appeared in the Simon’s pre-Wire miniseries, The Corner, as a different character, too). He was also great as villain Dirty Dee in Pootie Tang, and has been a wonderful character actor throughout his career, including dramatic roles as Warden Martin Querns on Oz, a Klingon commander on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and a homeless man in American Psycho. On the comedy side of things, he’s appeared in The Mask (as Freeze, Dorian’s bodyguard), What About Bob?, and Airheads (he played “Oh. My. God.” Marcus). In 2010, Cathey popped up on 30 Rock as Rutherford Rice, host of Right On, an African-American talk show that Liz gets thrown off the set of, and this year, he had a big-time role on the much-loved, quickly-cancelled boxing series, Lights Out.  He’s done theater work, starring as Red (Morgan Freeman’s character) in a West End production of The Shawshank Redemption and in the upcoming musical The 8th, which will premiere at the Manchester International Festival, and can soon be seen in Stefan Schaefer’s My Last Day without You, about a German business executive being shown around Brooklyn by a native.

Froggy, played by J.D. Williams

Speaking of The Wire: J.D. Williams played one of my favorite characters on the show, Bodie Broadus, who starts off as a simple corner boy for the Barksdale organization before…well, I won’t spoil anything for you. It’s too good. He’s done the requisite Law & Order appearance, but Williams also appeared on that other greatest drama ever, The Sopranos, as hired goon (hired goon?) Special K. If that’s not enough good TV for you: there’s also The Good Wife, Homicide: Life on the Street, Sex and the City (as Sweet Sauce), and Oz. Plus, The Warriors video game, which is just awesome. He recently starred in the South by Southwest-beloved movie Happy New Year, about U.S. soldiers dealing with post-traumatic stress order, which just screened in, yup, Baltimore.

Biggie Shorty, played by Wanda Sykes

I feel like Wanda Sykes is one of those comedians you either love (like Entertainment Weekly, who called her one of the 25 funniest people in America) or hate, and there’s very little middle-ground; I happen to enjoy her, Nanny-level voice notwithstanding. In the mid-1990s, she opened a comedy performance for Chris Rock, and by 1997, was writing for his Emmy-winning show, as well as The Keenan Ivory Wayans Show, which, alas, was not Emmy-winning. She’s had three TV shows with her name as the title (Comedy Central’s Wanda Does It, for six episodes; Fox’s Wanda at Large, for 13 episodes; and Fox’s The Wanda Sykes Show, for 21 episodes), making her this generation’s Bob Newhart, except she’s black and a lesbian and doesn’t stammer. She’s also made recurring appearances on Curb Your Enthusiasm (as Cheryl’s friend/Larry’s enemy, Wanda, of course), The New Adventures of Old Christine, and lent her voice to Back at the Barnyard, playing Bessy the Cow. She’s a published author, became both the first woman and first openly gay person to be the featured entertainer at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, and played Miss Hannigan in a theatre production of Annie in Pennsylvania. She still tours the country, performing stand-up dates, and is set to have a role in the new Muppets movie and the fourth Ice Age film, Ice Age: Continental Drift.

Ireenie, played by Jennifer Coolidge

In 2001, the year Pootie Tang was released, Jennifer Coolidge appeared in: American Pie 2, Legally Blonde, Down to Earth, Zoolander, and, well, Pootie Tang, where she played, in Trucky’s words, “the most dangerous woman in America.” Coolidge is almost impossible to dislike, and she’s impossibly good in Christopher Guest’s Best in Show, where she played an Anna Nicole Smith-esque character who owns a poodle named Rhapsody in White (she has a much smaller, but still great, role in A Mighty Wind, too). She’s been in a little bit of everything since 1993, when she got her first gig as Jodi the Masseuse on Seinfeld, and has recently had a recurring role in The Secret Life of the American Teenager, as well as Party Down (as Bobbie St. Brown) and Nip/Tuck. She’ll reprise her MILFness in American Reunion next year, along with the rest of the original cast, and will also soon go on an international tour for her Yours for the Night comedy act.

Dick Lecter, played by Robert Vaughn

Looking back on his career, a career that includes all-time movie classics like The Young Philadelphians and The Magnificent Seven; famous TV shows like The Man Called U.N.C.L.E. (in which he played Napoleon Solo) and The A-Team; and Emmy and Oscar nominated performances, I wonder what Robert Vaughn will think of his time spent on the set of Pootie Tang, playing a character named Dick Lecter. Then again, he was also in Joe’s Apartment and C.H.U.D. II: Bud the C.H.U.D., so maybe it’s a highlight? Since 2004 and up until February 2011, Vaughn had a starring role on BBC’s con artist show, Hustle, and he will soon appear in Excuse Me for Living, alongside Wayne Knight, Jerry Stiller, and Christopher Lloyd, a film about a “charming, suicidal druggie [who] must obey his rehab-clinic’s demand to lead a seniors men’s group or face incarceration and lose the love of his psychiatrist’s daughter.” That’s followed with The Magnificent Eleven, a modern re-imagining of the Western, but about an amateur soccer team.

Frank, played by Dave Attell

The Queens-born boy got his big break in 1993, when Lorne Michaels saw him on The Late Show with David Letterman and asked Attell to join Saturday Night Live as a writer for the upcoming year. He accepted, stayed a season, and following two HBO stand-up specials, began a long-term relationship with Comedy Central, including Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist, The Daily Show (he had previously written for MTV’s The Jon Stewart Show, too), a Comedy Central Presents special, and his own show, Insomniac with Dave Attell, where the comedian would visit late-night locations across America and, later, worldwide. In the past few years, Attell has mostly continued his stand-up career, including his current Anti-Social Network tour with Jim Norton, Jim Breuer, and Bill Burr, but he’s left enough time to voice “The G.P.S.” in Scooby-Doo! Abracadabra-Doo and write for 2010 Adult Video News Awards Show.

Young Pootie Tang, played by Cole Hawkins

Here’s the scene: Louis C.K. sits down to watch some TV with his daughters. They turn on Nickelodeon, because that’s just what little girls do, and it just so happens that a repeat of The Naked Brothers Band: The Movie is on. Louis’ watching out of the corner his eye, probably thinking about what Gretchen Egolf looks like naked, when he sees Cole Hawkins, who played the pre-tween version of Pootie Tang in his movie from a decade go. He tries to tell his daughter about this coincidence, and they say, “We know, Dad. We have Google’d you and your movies, y’know. He was also in The School of Rock. Can you write something for Jack Black next? Also, what does ‘dick is bigger than a monkey’s paw’ mean?”