Hey, Sinbad’s back! The famously clean comedian rose through the stand-up ranks in the eighties, eventually working his way onto the big screen in family-friendly fare like Houseguest and Jingle All the Way. Then, we all sort of forgot about him. On Sunday, Comedy Central will air his first special in thirteen years, Sinbad: Where U Been (he’s also on Celebrity Apprentice this year). The comedian chatted with Vulture about politics, Sade, and the fleeting nature of modern fame.
So, what have you been up to since you were last in the public eye?
I’ve been on the road since 1983. Nothing ever changed, even when I was doing TV and movies. So I don’t see it as, “Well, here’s my time away from the public eye.” Plus I wasn’t out of the public eye ‘cause I was still doing stand-up, which I guess is one version of it.
When you were doing movies, did you ever get resistance from more classically trained actors because you were a comedian crossing over?
I think actors got issues with everything, man. I know a lot of actors asked me to write a routine for them so that when they weren’t working they could be a comic. I think sometimes people think comedians aren’t serious … it’s not that big a transition. People think comedians don’t do drama. Comics are drama. And what is drama, as opposed to comedy? It’s all the same to me.
How has the landscape changed for African-Americans on television since you first started out?
I don’t think the landscape has changed much at all. We’re in another wasteland. It’s a shame that we’re even having this conversation in 2010. It’s like they’re discovering new colors. Now the new flavor is Latin. Next new flavor will probably be Asian. It’s a shame they can’t figure out that, it’s all, it’s all the same thing. It’s all actors. Look at this country, even with a black president … it sparked a revolution on the Republican side that’s funny as hell. They give themselves code names — the Tea Party, the Real America. I crack up. My thing is this: Not much has changed in Hollywood. Hollywood’s not a progressive place. Everyone likes to think that Hollywood is hip, but it’s not hip at all. Black actors, black actresses, they’re fighting to find parts. Name me five black actresses working right now.
Um, off the top of my head …
Okay. I understand you’re working on some screenplays?
Right now it’s time for me to get back in the game. Not just be in movies but create jobs for other people. It’s funny, [Hollywood] saw me as one way cause I was clean onstage. But I’m just as controversial as anyone up there cussing. To me, you play my comedy when you just call it clean. Those that come to my shows don’t look at it like that, they see it as comedy. And it’s not like, “Oh my God, I can’t do that,” if I chose to go that route.
What do you recall from your SNL hosting gig?
In 1994, at that point, it was one of the highest-rated Saturday Night Live episodes. Dude, that was so much fun. Dude, I was on with Sade, baby. See how much time has gone, how time has come full circle. Here comes her album coming out, you’re talking about Saturday Night Live. This new generation, we’re used to people being in front of the camera every chance they get. I don’t care if it’s a Kardashian who has no talent, known for her booty. I mean, come on man, this is a whole new thing. You go from having a booty to having a purse line, to having a perfume line. It’s a new way to fame.
When you were doing Jingle All the Way with Arnold Schwarzenegger, did you foresee a political career for him?
He was always going to run for some kind of office. I wish he had not! I liked Arnold as an entertainer. He did a lot of things as an activist. He had a fitness program for kids I was involved with because of him. I just think right now as governor, man, he screwed up the education system out here. He cut the summer program. With summer school now, it takes you seven years to finish college.
You sound pretty engaged. Would you ever run for office?
No. I would be an activist but never a politician. As an activist nobody owns you.
How’d you end up guesting on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia?
They called me. I was a fan before they called. I don’t think they thought I would do it because the part was way out there. But I love stuff that’s out there. Just nobody’s offering me the opportunity to do it. I’ve been looking for parts, anything that’s a little bit different than what people think I am.
Were you worried that going on Celebrity Apprentice might be trying to exploit your image?
To me it’s like this, as long as you don’t do anything that’s not you. As first I was very skeptical to do the show. I was like, “I don’t know if I want Donald to fire me.” [Laughs.] Not that I haven’t been fired in my life.
Did you bond with anyone?
My boy, Darryl Strawberry was there. That’s my boy. Holly Robinson Peete, that’s my girl. But she was on the other team.
I read you tried to give Rod Blagojevich some advice.
I don’t think Blagojevich listens to anybody but him. I don’t know if he’s a good, bad person. He’s pretty much gonna do what he’s gonna do. Me, I would not be out there doing shows!
There’ve been reports about your personal financial troubles. Are those accurate?
I wouldn’t know. I don’t know all the stuff that they’re saying. All I know is, I’ve paid for everything I’ve did. I could not find sponsors for some of the things I did, so you pay out of pocket. It’s no different from any other company that tries to survive.
Are you all squared away now?
Dude, I’ll never be down.