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St. Louis, Missouri native Joe Torry has brought the funny for two decades and today, the 47-year old father, businessman and philanthropist is still on top of his game taking his stand-up comedy routine around the country from small towns to large metropolitan cities.
Talk2SV caught up with him by phone at DFW Airport on his way to Minden, Louisiana to perform at the Barksdale Army base, and from there, he would travel to Houston, TX, to do his comedy thang.
Your career has endured and your comedy is still fresh. How do you remain relevant when the world constantly changes on a dime, it seems?
Torry: Um, for one, it’s a blessing; two, it just proves that hard work pays off, a lesson I learned from the late great Robin Harris who was a mentor of mine. He always told me, “… never forget what the streets are saying, never forget what the community is about, and never forget your neighbor even though you move out of the neighborhood and go to Beverly Hills or you move away. People forget what the pulse of the community is about and how to be funny. So he always told me to always remember to keep your ear to what’s going on, to the everyday people in life.”
I’ve done that for 20+ years and people still enjoying me. I always make sure I put the work in that’s going to have longevity and it’s going to reminisce in people’s psyche for generations; some of the work I’ve done has done just that so I guess that’s what keeps me alive.
I have people come up to me and say they grew up on me; their mother grew up on me, you know. For the young people who are just getting to know me and my comedy, it’s good to have that span of audience all the way from age 80 to age 10.
Speaking of today’s climate, what still keeps us laughing, particularly African Americans in light of the pain and pressure of life? Does laughter indeed cover the pain and what do you think we tap inside ourselves to keep us laughing?
Torry: I guess you tap into your pain. I mean, that’s what I think. I think audiences feel that somebody else is going through the same pain as they are and turn that dark moment into a funny moment to overcome some of your personal problems. That’s what I do, I just put my problems right on stage. When I do, some people they come up and say, ‘… wow, you must have come right into my house. I had the same problems with my kids or my spouse or my job.’ So we (comics) are kind of like heroes to each other in the audience. We feel heroic when we make them laugh, when we speak their stories.
On any other day, I think our conversation would have taken a different tone. We just happen to be talking on the day that President Obama addressed the press following the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman verdict…
Torry: Because I was stuck here in the airport, I didn’t get a chance to hear him up close but I sure wanted to hear what he was saying. I mean, that changes my whole tone now as far as what I will say tonight when I perform. I know I have to watch what I say.
Given the verdict, what if people start to think, “I’m going to move to Florida, I’m going to buy me a pistol and I’m going to track Zimmerman down because he’s a killer. He stalks little kids. So why can’t he be stalked down, confronted, and if he gets confrontational, causing someone to fear him, then that person can haul off and bust a cap in that motherf**ker. So that’s how it’s going to be. It sparks the conversation about this man who basically was out of control with his actions and with the legal authority which he thought he had; he disobeyed legal authority.
This brings us full circle in this conversation about laughter that helps us cope with our collective pain. What are you currently talking about onstage that gets the most laughter?
Torry: My kids.
Oh really, what about them?
Torry: I’m sort of like the “blue” Bill Cosby. Mostly, my jokes now are about my kids. My 19 year old and my 10 year old, the way life switches around and I’m the parent now.
You describe yourself as the “blue” Bill Cosby; what exactly does that mean?
Torry: Bill Cosby was to me, a family comedian and a comedian that brought family issues to his comedy with a plethora of subject matter that wasn’t offensive. I’m the same way; I just like to add a little hot sauce on mine.
A little hot sauce…
Torry: I get to use aggressive adjectives. I’m going to say mother**ker and things like that; that’s what I mean by that description.
Torry: I hold Bill Cosby and his comedy in the highest regard as far as being one of the greatest comedians out there that I pattern myself after. I just don’t like to keep it clean all the time.
Speaking of your portfolio that includes risqué roles among its diversity, you are cast in “The Jump Off,” from best-selling author, Zane, the adult novelist turned cable TV show producer. I happened upon one of the episodes while channel-surfing and recognized you.
Torry: Did I have my clothes on at that time?
You were busily doing what they hired you to do.
Torry: You had to catch that one, you didn’t catch me when I had my suit on…yeah, and that kind of got a little challenging. I’ve been in that situation before but the subject matter was not the intent.
More on Joe Torry’s charitable work—
“Giving Back the Love Foundation”, a non-profit charitable organization, was founded in December 1996, as Joe's vision of giving back to the community, which supported him since his departure for Los Angeles over 10 years ago. It is a vision he embraced the moment he was in a position to make a difference. His commitment to providing stimulating, healthy choices that encourage young children of the St. Louis community, much like he had as a child, is directly addressed through the foundation.
Since its inception, the foundation has sponsored children from the Eagles Track Club- Herbert Hoover Boys and Girls Club to the AAU Track and Field Nationals. It has made generous contributions to St. Paul Saturdays, (a manhood leadership and development group), provided school supplies for over 10,000 inner-city youths, and Joe has personally visited many youth groups and organizations in the area. Funding for the foundation is supported by personal contributions from Joe, private donations and a variety of fund-raising ventures.
The foundation has assisted in mentoring over 30,000 children and families on the importance of health care awareness and education. Major celebrities have given their time, including Shaquille O’Neal, Terrell Owens, Shia Lebeouf, Vivica Fox, Taraji Henson, Moses Malone, Olden Polynice, Raven Symone, MC Lyte, Cedric the Entertainer, Shemar Moore, John Sally, Nelly, Kimora Lee Simmons, Lisa Raye, Meagan Good, Adam Lamburg and Ali Woodson who sang the national anthem each year.
The former host and one of the most memorable comedians of HBO’s Def Comedy Jam, Joe Torry was inducted into the hall of fame in 2006 with legends such as Richard Pryor, Jerry Lee Lewis and Bill Cosby. His off-the- cuff brand of comedy is authentic and has made him a living legend allowing him to have a solid career over the past 20 years. Torry garnered this title, because unlike most comedians, Torry doesn’t pre-rehearse his scripts, he uses the audience to unleash his raw and unfiltered comedic style.
Torry can be seen in the new television series entitled, “The Jump Off” airing on Cinemax, which is a spin-off of the Zane Chronicles, several upcoming films, Soul Ties, Pawn Shop, Act like you Love Me and King James Kitchen. Torry currently travels world-wide on his tour “Joe Torry Live” to sold-out audiences. His 60-minute stand-up comedy television special will be filmed live this year in Florida.
Prior to achieving world-wide acclaim from his days as the formidable host of Def Comedy Jam, Torry had already made his mark in the world of comedy and the big screen. Torry starred in many box office hits including: House Party 1 & 3 with Martin Lawrence, Strictly Business with Halle Berry, Tales from the Hood, Motive 1 & 2, Mansfield 12, Sprung alongside Tisha Campbell and most notably from his role in John Singleton’s Poetic Justice featuring Janet Jackson and Tupac Shakur. Torry has also made a name for himself as a stellar actor appearing in television shows such as E.R., NYPD Blue, Dangerous Mindsand Navy NCIS.