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Earthquake’s Jokes Are Like a Debate Class

Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images

While his peers were finding success in TV and movies over the past 30 years, Earthquake has built his reputation completely onstage. He developed a distinct style of joke writing and an unrelenting stage presence; you didn’t want to have to follow him in a lineup. Now, decades later, he is finally finding Hollywood success with a special fit for his talent: Legendary. Brought to Netflix by Dave Chappelle, the special, which premiered in February, has resulted in opportunities both onstage (his first headline theater tour, starting in a few days) and off (hobnobbing with Ted Sarandos and the biggest comedians alive at brunch).

On Vulture’s Good One podcast, Earthquake talks about developing his signature style, what patriotism means to him, and his big break. You can read excerpts from the transcript or listen to the full episode below. Tune in to Good One every Thursday on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Overcast, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Talking a Lot But Still Getting to the Funny Quickly

I don’t believe in elongating. I don’t have fillers. My jokes are like a debate class: Just get to the subject, make the point, and move on. I come up with what I want to say, then: How do I compress it into something funny and say it with as few words as possible?

Coming from a big family, when you get to speak to Mama, there’s no “You gotta know I was going outside and it was a … ” because she’d say, “What the fuck?” Just: “Can I go outside?” That’s it. Don’t beat around. Some comedians put a whole 30 minutes into what I compact down to two. It’s more work for me, but that’s why only me and Dave Chappelle came to the point where we gave you more than 36 years. They’ll do an hour, but I don’t need to do an hour. That’s quality over quantity.

Jerry Seinfeld said, “He’s a fucking machine the way he continues.” I said, “Jerry, please put that on tape. If my woman tries to leave, I can at least say, ‘Jerry believes in me now.’” It comes from the innocence, the insecurity of I cannot deal with the quiet. I keep on hitting you like a train. Some comedians, if you don’t get on at the beginning of the show, you ain’t gonna get none of the show. I keep mine quick so that wherever you come in, you can get on the ride.

His God Is an On-time God

If my God and my maker has already passed on the gifts that he wants from me, I just have to get up in the morning and live through what he wants me to do, and he’ll show me what he wants me to have.

What we do is subjective, so what’s funny to somebody is not funny to others. I try to tell young comedians this all the time. The only difference between me and Kevin Hart, Dave Chappelle, any of the superstars, is that they were given the opportunity and they cashed in on it, which led to more opportunities. But you can be human and see people that started with you getting a shot, like, Goddamn. It’s really very discouraging when you see somebody that doesn’t have the chops, or you know you’re better than, get an opportunity.

But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I can really sit back now and say I’ve made it. I’m at the highest level. I see why God didn’t give me it then: Because I’d be dead now. This level that I’m seeing, you need your body, your mind, your soul, your support system. You need all that to survive. If you sell 14,000 tickets, and I’m selling 300 tickets, I still don’t think you have a better show than I got. It’s just that more motherfuckers know about you than they know about me. And if they love you, wait till they can see me. I always had that attitude, and I still do.

These interview excerpts has been edited and condensed.

Earthquake’s Jokes Are Like a Debate Class