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tv   Tavis Smiley  PBS  October 8, 2011 12:00am-12:30am EDT

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tavis: good evening. from los angeles, i am tavis smiley. if any conversation with an john leguizamo. his latest show is playing in a los angeles following a run on broadway. it traces the ups and downs of his career. also i look at the life and career as a of redd foxx. michael starr is a writer for the new york post to has penned a new biography called "black and blue: the redd foxx story." we are glad you joined us. >> every community has a martin luther king boulevard. it's the cornerstone we all know. it's not just a street or
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boulevard, but a place where wal-mart stands together with your community to make every day better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. with every question and answer, help tavis improve financial literacy and remove obstacles to economic ne o a onetion at t conversation at a time. nationwide is on your side. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television] tavis: i am pleased to welcome john leguizamo back to the program. he has found success with his one-man production "ghetto
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klown." the show is now here in los angeles. here is a scene from "ghetto klown." >> i became the school class clown. that is mean. -- me. me and my sad fro. i would not slip with 3. my dad was like, cut that ugly thing off. you are not black. i am like a number 6 over there. tavis: you're putting all of your business on the stage. >> all of the dirty laundry, the underwear. it is all there for everybody to see. i have control of that. tavis: tell me the construct of
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this show. >> it is a portrait of a young man of an artist like the james joyce story. that whole journey of how i got started, why did i continue, the failures, the people who block to me, who boosted me, i pay tribute lori get revenge. -- or i get revenge. tavis: what is the takeaway other than half laughing? >> total inspiration. i did it because, i saw a statistic that 45% of latin kids drop out of school. that is a tragedy. but then i understood that when i was growing up, i did not feel like i was part of the united states or that -- it was a discounted history. i want to show the kids that i
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came from the same thing and i made it. it was not easy. it is doable if you can find a way to believe. tavis: you came to the country when you were two. as if you remember. your parents told you. when you started to come into your own, and you felt the dream was a discounted extreme, what was happening in new york city that was making you feel that way? so many people came as immigrants. what made you feel like the american dream was discounted for you? >> you did not feel -- you did not see yourself in television or movies. you did not see your software -- the media is a dreamscape. if you do not see yourself there, you do not feel you are
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part of the future. that is how people projects themselves. if you feel like you are invisible, you do not exist. like all of my friends, we did not feel like we were going to make a. i was just the class clown. that was it. i thought i would get a job as a cabdriver. people have to intervene. you have to have mentors. you cannot make it without that. i had a math teacher, the youth council leaves, all of those programs that helped me. then i had financial aid until reagan took it away. [laughter] everything started closing up a for me. tavis: doesn't sound like a tribute to reagan. >> it is not. too many things were disappearing. ketchup as a vegetable. tavis: when did you figure out
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that comedy was your gift and calling? how did you make the turn? there are a lot of people who are class clowns. i know a lot of people, but that does not mean you discover that comedy is your get -- gift. >> my math teacher and said, if they can take -- make penicillin, we can make something of you. become a comedian or an actor. he pushed me. i found an acting teacher and went to study with him. i started studying. i found myself there. i felt like, this is me. this is the thing i can do.
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i found the greatest teachers. i was the only black in kid in the class. they took me in and -- -- latin kid in the class. they took me in. tavis: how has the american dream been diminished? what is the dream for latin americans purses when you're coming out? >> it is interesting. we are in an interesting time. the recession create scapegoats. things had improved. they were improving for many people. we had jimmy spit -- smits on nypd blue. then you feel -- when i used to watch star trek, i did not think we're going to be in the future. now, we have lacked in
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directors, producers, -- latin directors, producers, immigrants are a scapegoat. it is a weird thing. like a schizophrenic situation. tavis: to you think we're making progress or falling back? >> i think we are making progress. definitely, if you are here and you're in the right programs, and your nafta -- athlete, you're going to have all the baseball game you can have. that is the great thing about sports is that you can measure ability. you couldn't -- cannot deny a statistic. everything else is tougher to judge somebody is quality. sometimes it is not about ability, it is about being comfortable with people who are like me.
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tavis: when you have lived a rich and full life, -- >> i have plenty more to go. i know you mean well. [laughter] tavis: how'd you construct a one-man show? had you find what parts of your life to fit into this narrative? >> it is crazy. i had stopped performing. i am a perfectionist. sometimes that works against you. i got shut down. i got a stock during one of the shows and i did not want to perform. then i got asked to do college stuff. i was nervous and i would drink a little. i would talk and the kids started laughing. i recall certain events. that became the show.
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it was my career, the center. talking about working with al pacino, stevenson got, sean penn, brian de palma, what does it take to be an artist? how would you continue with all of the ups and downs? what is the point of it all? is it a success, fame, finding your own voice? tavis: what is the point of it all? >> i went back to what it was at the beginning -- self expression. i was not in it for money or recognition. self expression. after while you get perverted by the same and the niceties. you want it off. this show got me back to that. i want to be a part of the process. i want to be on stage and give back. that is why the show got to be as a raw and rich as it could be. tavis: i was talking about this
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notion of self expression. i am all for self expression and yet i wonder if we're living at a time where people have gotten caught up with self expression, where everybody thinks they have to express everything the -- everything they think and feel and the evidence of it is social networking. social media. everybody feels they are entitled to self expression. there are no limits. people put everything out there. have we taken it to far? >> that is not true self expression. there is a lot of anonymity. people can be anonymous on blogs as a crazy things they would never have the courage to say to your face. it is a strange expression. sometimes it is just the dark side of people. self expression to me is something that you work on, that
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you have mastered a skill to say something in the most artful way that you can. it is not just blurting stuff out and having verbal diarrhea. self expression is something that you have crafted, man, you practice on the piano for hours. you did not go on after the girls. you stayed in your lonely room. that is self expression. it takes time to go inside yourself and to question yourself and really take yourself to task. the rest is just, what were those books you would pass around and go i like yvette -- that is tavis: i like the phrase of verbal diarrhea. i want to close on that note.
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i was going to ask you a questionrence to teachers. we just premiered on pbs a few weeks ago in a prime-time special called to important to fail. these young folks today are too important to fail. about the crisis in education as it relates to young black boys. the first one was about and black boys. the same stats are true about hispanic cowboys. -- boys. it is hard. the question is, tell me more about the role that teachers play in the lives of young people. i asked because everyone of these boys to a person talked- about the people in their lives
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who did care, who didn't care. the important role that teachers play whether they know it or not in shaping lives. if you remember, you remember it for something good or tragic. teachers play an important role. tell me more. >> teachers are everything. you are a poor kid from the ghetto, your parents are busy and working. working like a mexican. my mom was a secretary by day. my father was a taxi, a doorman, they cannot be there from trying to make ends meet to. who is taking care of the kids? the teachers. if they can inspire or reach a kid and tell them the they are special and find out what they are special act, when private school my kids get that all day
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long. in the core neighbor -- neighborhoods when you have 65 kids, it is hard. you can have those teachers who reach out to the whole class and motivate them. i had a few of those teachers. you need a few to touch you and make you feel like you are worth something and help you to figure out what your past this. you have to figure out how to steer these kids into something that is their specialty. tavis: are you concerned, given where you started and what you have, that these kids you are raising are going to end up jumping off the track because they are given access? >> i create diversity at home. [laughter] i know it is important. tavis: john leguizamo, his new show is called "ghetto klown."
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if you're in the l.a. area, you can check him out. i love that commercial. good to see you, john. up next, michael starr, the new book about redd foxx. tavis: michael starr is a writer whose previous books include biographies of art carney and raymond burr. his latest book is about redd foxx, "black and blue: the redd foxx story." good to have you on this program. my favorite part was learning the nickname that he was given as a child. smiley sanford. because he was always smiling.
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i had no idea. what to do you think people -- when you started researching his life, what were some of the more surprising things about him? >> there were a few things. his relationship with morocco max. i got into it into the book how close they were done in harlem. redd foxx -- they were dishwasher's together. they ran together. they have a lot of schemes, they sold the suits off rooftops. they were very close. that was one of the things. also that he started out to be a singer, not a comedian and cut six r&d sites -- sides. tavis: when i discovered that in the ?, it did not surprise me because he was always singing.
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that did not surprise me. it is wanting to wants to be a singer and end up in comedy, happen -- when did he know he was gifted enough to be a comedian? >> he was always a funny guy. he was always the class cut up in school. when his music career was going nowhere, and he got an invitation from a friend to come to a club in baltimore that was by the docks. it was there that he discovered this a gift for interacting with the audience and making them laugh. he was the don rickles of his day. in a way that was funny and not and mean-spirited. he discovered he had this gift. that stent lead to another at another clap and on and on. before you knew, he had met sloppy white and they started a tour. tavis: one of the things i did
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know, the absolute success he had with records. he did not do well singing but his comedy albums, and he sold millions. >> the estimates range from 10 to 30 million. he was one of the first guys to put his stand-up act onto wax. there were sold under the counter for the most part. the cost -- crossed over from a black audience. after a few years they started to make their way to college campuses. people would pull parties to play his records. everyone would have a good time. really getting his name out there. tavis: you mention his relationship to malcolm x. dick gregory is on the same
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circuit, unafraid, his comedy is based upon social observationsredd -- observations. redd stayed away from that. >> it was not his style. he was more about the interplay between men and women. i thought if he felt he might get too political, it would get him in trouble. it was not his thing. that is one of the reasons why his friendship with malcolm x diverged because he started to take a political path. redd foxx wanted to make people laugh curious they stayed in touch vaguely with each other through the years but never got close. tavis: gary shandling -- the last time he was here we got in a conversation about how he started as a writer.
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i was joking with him about all of these jewish guys on sanford and son made the show a work. we got into a conversation about that. what i did not know is that sanford and son tried an italian cast. they ended up settling on a black cast because it was a british show. i will let you tell the story. they were not the first one stop. >> the producers of the show had had a lot of success the year before with all in the family which was borrowed from a british show. they took a british show called -- about a junkman and his son. they tried it as a jewish caste, italian, they tried reporter wreaking task -- puerto rican cast, -- he had played a
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junkman. redd foxx did not want to do the show. he was more interested in a cooking show with his wife. he had to have his leg pulled it to do this. once he heard the money, and he said, i am an. and the addition him, he was great. i think they were surprised because there were not sure he could learn a script in a few days. they flew out and shot this pilot with the cast of all in the family watching. people were rolling on the floor. i think they knew that -- nbc said as you are on the schedule. tavis: you mentioned the money in the show, he jumped out the opportunity. he was so bad with money.
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why? >> he did not have a head for business. once he got famous, he had a string of -- he started a production company. he had a beauty parlor. he had a business where he would of all the ties cards. i think he was being robbed by people who worked with him. he put $40,000 down to buy a club but then he was not there because he was on the road. bill cosby came in as a partner. when he saw what was going on, he said, i am out of here. i'm not going to make any money. redd lost that club, he had bartender's stealing from him and his on mismanagement. he did not take advice. we should also mention he never paid his taxes. he did not believe in it. he all -- he says i will pay my
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taxes when there is a black president. tavis: he would be paying now. he is original wesley snipes. i watched sanford and son every day. my favorite episode was on the other day with be the king. -- b.b. king. watch to sink his legacy is? >> first of all, as a huge tv legacies. he was a guy who was not afraid to do his own brand of comedy. he opened the door for guys like richard pryor, chris rock, the use of language and the use of what you can talk about onstage, breaking the door of what you're allowed to talk about with sex and bodily functions.
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a lot of guys odette to him. tavis: if you go to our web site, i am going to tell it my own way. my famous -- favorite redd foxx joke. i'm going to tell the joke. he told one political joke that i think it's hilarious. " to pbs -- go to to hear me tell it. good to have you here. that is our shared -- showed tonight. thank you for watching. as always, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at tavis: hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time for a focusing on the poverty tour with cornel
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west. >> every community has a martin luther king boulevard. it's the coe erstone we all know. it's not just a street or boulevard, but a place where wal-mart stands together with your community to make every day better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. with every question and answer, help tavis improve financial literacy and remove obstacles to economic eer .onversation at time. nationwide is on your side. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. thank you.
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