Serendipity and Sinbad
I woke up bleary eyed on a Saturday morning ready to relax for the day. The usual suspects awaited me: Facebook, Twitter, and Word Press Stats. I was reflecting on the conversation that I had with Eric about how much we love Bill Cosby and Sinbad (a conversation that brought us to tears) and the legacies they have created with their hard work. So as I reflected on excellent examples of entertainers a little voice inside me said: invite Sinbad to Knoxville. So I did.
I tweeted: “@Sinbad Come to Knoxville and Share your intelligent humor with us.” His instant reply was “See you in two hours.” We then began a tweet conversation as he was on his way to Knoxville to perform his comedy after being on a grueling tour schedule between his stand up and his band “Sinbad and the Stank Nasty Band.” He had breakfast at the Tupelo Honey café, which he said was the best breakfast ever, and awaited me in the lobby of the Oliver Hotel sitting in a chair fit for the king of comedy that he is. When we met, there was no barrier. It was as if I had met an old friend. There is a protective, fatherly quality about Sinbad that just comes naturally. He is a father of two and instantly began to exuberantly tell me about them.
“My daughter sings and writes. My son is a musician and in film school. He is a renaissance man who can do it all. I put a camera in his hand when he was four years old.”
Sinbad has a deep familial connection that has inspired him to be an edgy yet clean comedian. Inspired by his father’s example, he followed a divergent path. “I was dirty when I started and then my dad came to one of my shows. He is a preacher but never would have judged me anyway. He was a Korean War vet, prisoner of war twice and came from the streets. Man, he was no joke. He is a tough man. I am everything I am because of my dad. So that night in Chicago, everybody was trying to do [Richard] Prior’s version of comedy. My dad was in the audience and everyone was cussing. I thought to myself. I can’t do this. I have to do something different. So what I did was be edgy, without cussing and everyone backstage thought I cussed. ”
His path continued traveling from city to city with his unique brand of comedy. He recalls the moment he realized that his life had changed with fame. “My crowning moment was the first time people came to shows to see me. I was working comedy clubs and people would make their vacations to come see me and I had no T.V. time or had done any shows. I had captured the audience just from being funny and working hard. I lived on the road and stayed on the road. I didn’t have a home. I also remember when I did Star Search in 1985. That was the thing that blew us up. I didn’t want people to say ‘I think I saw Sinbad.’ I wanted to make it easy. I dyed my hair funky colors and wore loud clothes. One day this kid saw me across the street and screamed ‘Sinbad!’ and almost got hit by a car. That’s when I knew I made it.”
Sinbad’s integrity is an example that he sets for his loyal followers and has credited him to his longevity without being amassed in scandal. This is why I believe he has been counted among greats like Bill Cosby. He offers the world humor from a clear place without being jaded. “There are certain things I do and certain things I don’t do. One of the main things I don’t do is drink. Drinking is the one thing that gets more people into trouble. In the 70s there was no TMZ, Facebook or Instagram. Now there are no secrets. Now you have to have a second Facebook so that your boss doesn’t see your private life. We’re living in a strange time where everything is public and our kids are posting every aspect of their lives online and they think it’s cool. See? We couldn’t have been parents in the 70s no kids would have ever respected us.”
His appreciation for his predecessors and their inspiration has been the main vein in his continuation of work. His hope is that the next generation of comedians has such a firm foundation. “There’s a new generation of entertainers coming up. It’s not bad or good, it’s just different. Our generation didn’t have the short attention span and we didn’t have much credibility. I wanted to be Bill Cosby. I wanted to be George Carlin. They were such wonderful people; we couldn’t surpass them. There is nobody out there that can beat them. All you can do is say: ‘Hey man, I hope you dig my work.’ Richard Prior got arrested for cussing on stage. Now comedians are rewarded for being dirty.”
There are no signs of retirement in Sinbad’s future. He is helping his daughter Paige Bryan fulfill her dream of being a successful musician, as well as reinventing his work in all ways that he can. “I love what I do. It is important to love what you do. Not very many people retire from this business. You may slow down but you always work. You always want to do something.“
Sinbad has reinforced my belief in his talents with a great conversation and the makings of a friendship that will always be appreciated.