Wake-up Call 

click to enlarge art39_comedy_mooney_100.jpg

Paul Mooney has probably been making you laugh before you ever heard of him. Mooney was a writer for sitcoms like "Good Times," "Sanford and Son," "In Living Color" and "The Chappelle Show," as well as for comedian Richard Pryor, and his racially charged observations have been on the cutting edge for decades. Recently, his pledge to purge his act of the n-word, a term he embraced for years, landed him on national news programs.

"I had a white friend say, 'There goes half your vocabulary," Mooney says, laughing.

The comedian's change of heart was brought about by Michael Richards' infamous tirade at a comedy club in Los Angeles.

"Everybody gets their wake-up call," Mooney says. "The Jews got theirs with Mel Gibson. They were running around thinking they were white folks. I love wake-up calls."

Mooney said that as he watched Richards' act implode on stage, he thought about the years he spent using the n-word to make people laugh. What was happening to Richards wasn't funny.

"It drove me crazy. I felt responsible for him," he says.

Despite its being a crutch in his act for years, Mooney says it hasn't been hard to leave the word behind and claims to have slipped up just once, at Washington, D.C.'s Lincoln Theatre. But Mooney hasn't let up with his biting observations of popular culture. When asked about Britney Spears' uninspired exhibition at the MTV awards, he responds with concern, but without restraint.

"I'm a parent. I feel sorry for her. She's going through a lot. I watched her for about three hours in a club. She's got major problems. And it's serious," he says. "And that little ex-husband of hers -- keep it real — he pimped the drawers off of her."

Spears isn't the only one to receive a critical glance from Mooney. President Bush is one of his favorite targets. Mooney claims some television executives didn't appreciate the jokes about the commander-in-chief he made from the stage of the Apollo Theater and halted the taping of a show he was part of. One of Mooney's alleged comments likened the president's mother to the man on the Quaker Oats box.

"They shut it down like we were at the Mexican border," he said. "They shut everything down. Then they denied it."

But Mooney's humor is undeniable. He recently signed a deal with BET for a reality show that will air several times a week. He will also appear in a soon-to-be-released movie with Whoopi Goldberg. After years of making people laugh through the characters and stories he created, America will now have to deal with Paul Mooney face-to-face. S

Paul Mooney plays Richmond's Funny Bone Sept. 27-30. Tickets are $17-$20. 521-8900.

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