Clown. Did he find it as a point of pride? Everything I learned about comedy and life and relationships and style came from both of them. He liked to go on late anyways. That was what Mooney was about and what I’m about, and that’s why we connected and stayed friends throughout our lives. He was a social commentator. Thank you. But he was behind the scenes, and he was pushing them along. Do you remember the last time you hung out or the last memory you had, even when he was still out and about performing?Oh, I mean, I have so many memories of him. He was always there giving material. Whenever Paul got onstage, whatever was happening in the moment, he would be able to totally digest it and just squeeze it through the meat grinder and make it into something brilliant. Do you have any specific memories of those early shows with him in L.A.?Oh yeah, absolutely. I think he liked his anonymity in a certain way. What was so special about it?Just his outrageousness. So when I got up and basically, at that point, killed with my five minutes, I was happy because I didn’t want to embarrass myself. He had already been writing for Richard Pryor and all this SNL stuff. As we were driving or staying in little motels, everything got unpacked. As scared or as frustrated as I would ever get, he wouldn’t let the bottom fall out on my emotions. If you can make a Black audience laugh, engage them and make them feel comfortable — whether you’re Black, white, red, or whatever your skin is — that’s like the ultimate, when you can make a Black audience laugh. He was just always there for me. But there were many nights when people got up and walked out, and they were pissed off, or they were insulted, or they were confused. It wouldn’t have mattered anyways, because the next night he’d go on and do something completely different and totally innovative. You can’t just be a common moron who gets up and says incendiary things just to be trying to stir it up. The music’s better. Yesterday on Twitter, someone shared an anecdote where they were at the Knitting Factory seeing you perform live, and they were standing next to Paul, and during an applause break he said to Paul, “You must be very proud,” and he smiled and nodded. How did he think about those people?No, no. He loved Bette Davis and all of the classic movies, so whenever I called, he’d be sort of breaking down what he was watching. But I think he liked the idea of being in love, like we all do. To Mooney, I said, “Now I know why there’s no Jewish hookers,” and he said, “Now I know why there’s no Negro” — he used a different word, but I won’t use that — “cowboys.” That just sort of summed up everything. No matter what time of day or night, I knew I could pick up the phone and call Paul. You weren’t under a microscope the way you are now with social media. We laughed our asses off and wandered into the night. Over the past day, I’ve seen so many comedians tweet about seeing him live and doing these two-hour shows, and him trying to really push the audience to their limits. How did he think about people who left? We’d do these old road trips together and be in little clubs around the Southwest or California. He allowed me to be the same with him. We came back to the Comedy Store because my car was parked there. Everybody needs, when they’re putting a show together where it’s like a formulated show, somebody there as a sounding board, and Mooney was that person. Fashion and style are such an important part of my work as well. So I would go on at like one in the morning. I guess that was his comfort zone. He was very much ensconced in the Beverly Hills scene as well. I kind of stayed in touch through his cousin because, like I said, it was hard to reach him directly because …

Yeah.You know? So Mooney was his sounding board. We were just playing a clip of it, because I do my shows on Thursdays. There were many nights that the cops pulled us over because Paul had a Bentley, and they’d see this very chic Black man with this white woman, so they immediately assumed that Paul was my pimp. He would go to the secondhand store and get vintage clothing and just wear it out and look amazing. With Paul, you also had a front-row seat to sort arguably one of the most fruitful creative partnerships in the history of comedy with him and Richard Pryor. You then retweeted that. He knew that everybody knew. I knew it back then when I befriended Mooney, and I got to see it firsthand. There were so many nights like that, when we went out and danced and went crazy, and those were some of the nights I will remember forever. On Twitter, you once called him a hopeless romantic, which I thought was really sweet.Yeah. That was the club to go to with Mooney, because he had his friends there and they all knew him. They both became sort of my soul mates. Sometimes we’d go to Black clubs down in the hood. I think he knew, in terms of just straight stand-up, he was one of the best that ever hit the stage — that without him, the Pryors, the Chappelles, the Eddie Murphys, on and on, couldn’t have maintained that level of quality. You mentioned the Black clubs. I was talking about the Kardashians and just the burden of always having to be beautiful and be a woman who basically spends all their time putting on makeup. Music, art, theater — Black culture has informed everything about white culture. That’s something that Paul and I prided ourselves on — of being interested in new people coming up and always cultivating new talent and supporting them. The dirt’s just falling off of them. He predicted all of that early in our friendship when I didn’t believe him, because I didn’t have that confidence in myself. I’m so sorry for your loss.Yeah. I was wearing super high heels and he was wearing cowboy boots. There’s just an inherent sophistication that you won’t necessarily find in a white club. I usually did very well at those clubs. That was just part of my schooling under Mooney. I said, “Don’t worry, everything’s fine. You name the night, and Mooney was pushing it to the limit. We kind of went everywhere together. Then sometimes we’d go out dancing, and we’d drive around. What was it about them coming together that ended up being so special and obviously so historic?Well, I think Richard had his point of view, and Mooney understood it and helped him shape his material and gave him a bouncing-off place. We never really got too upset. To me, there was no more valuable lesson than to have that respect and understanding. He was a stand-up that influenced generations — and a mentor. He knew my brothers, he knew my mom. His ability to take culture and just go right to the heart of it, the core of it, and reveal the hypocrisy of white culture, of having worked his way up through all the prejudice and the racism, and to be such a handsome, gorgeous man of color, and to have encountered people who would just automatically assume if you’re Black you’re not handsome or you’re not smart or you’re not this, and he was all those things and more. That ability to just put everything aside and see who you were. And he had enough fame, and obviously enough notoriety and respect, that he didn’t feel like he had missed out on anything, but he always had control over his destiny, and that was important to him. Mooney would always show up. He knew that’s how you cut teeth. We just came from the Comedy Store.” They’d back off. scene, and then perform almost every night. So we’d talk more about the movies than anything, which was nice because it’s just something that he always loved. What was Paul’s advice like?Basically, just to always shed your skin. That’s what motivated him and kept him inspired. It was just funny, because back then, there were still hookers on Sunset, so we’d slow down and say hi to the hookers and chitchat with them, then go to the Playboy Club and go dancing, or the Candy Store, which was a club in Beverly Hills, go dancing there. Well, I think he fell in and out of love many times along the way. There was a place called the Parisian Room, way down on La Brea, which is now a post office. Mooney knew how to temper him and encourage him, because Pryor was very sensitive and often didn’t want to do the shows because it was just too much for him. There’s just a million things. But he saw it and he knew it, and that really helped develop me. Mooney just kept doing it. Just staying interested in life and engaged. He had a real humanity about him. He’d say, “Get the fuck out. We were allowed a freedom to really go underneath and say things that, if you said it now, they’d accuse you of being a racist or a misogynist or a million different things, but you’d be missing the point. It would be hard to rip off Paul, because it was so specific to who he was. When he walked onstage, no matter where you were in the club — in the hallway smoking, drinking — you’d stop and walk in and watch Paul. When he walked onstage, no matter where you were in the club — in the hallway smoking, drinking — you’d stop and walk in and watch Paul. That was always, along with everything else, so important for me. He saw what it did to his friends — like Paul, like Dave Chappelle, like Eddie Murphy. He would check in. Reveal more of who you are.” To this day, every time I get onstage, I think about that. Of course, it’s all a misnomer anyway. He was just a figure that was bigger than life. Despite working with some of the biggest names in comedy ever, from Pryor to Chappelle, Paul’s issues with the entertainment industry were fairly well-known. They’re dead already.” Even when he was sort of not as sharp as always, he still managed to come up with something I thought was very insightful. It was a bit of a shock. “You’re a cigarette come to life.” That was what an already well-established Mooney told a 19-year-old, just-starting-out Sandra Bernhard in 1974 the first night they met, after Mooney saw her perform at Ye Little Club in Beverly Hills. How did he feel about his career? He was always out to prove that a Black man could be more talented, smarter, more sophisticated than anybody white, and could just tear down all the preconceptions of what it was like to be Black in our culture. Paul Mooney and Sandra Bernhard in Los Angeles in 1989. What is one thing that fans might not know or understand about Paul, who might only know him from his public presentation?I wouldn’t call him sensitive, but he was aware of what made people tick. I was really young. We went out dancing and it was very, very late. Of course, you had to be somebody as brilliant as Paul Mooney to achieve that. When was your last interaction with him?We talked a couple of months ago. Whether it was like a funky old place, because there’s a place called Rusty’s Bagels on La Brea that was just a storefront that this guy had. If you can’t handle it, fuck off.” That’s what he would say, just like that. Without going too deeply into it, he had some dementia so it was hard to … But he sounded good. He didn’t give a shit if they left. So there’s kind of no way to really one-up Mooney. Peel away another layer of yourself. Mooney never had to do that. I was working as a manicurist in Beverly Hills, so I would come home and make myself a little simple dinner, then I would take a nap because I knew every night was going to be a late night. This friend of mine, who also performed at the Ye Little Club doing more of a cabaret singing act, had told Paul Mooney that she was bringing me to do my little open mic night performance. He worked as a head writer on In Living Color, creating Homey D. So he would go on, and then usually I would go on after him, or at least one other person after him. I said, “What do you think about it, Mooney?” He goes, “I think they’re all like Dracula. Related

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Tags: Fifty years into his career, he became a Chappelle’s Show breakout star. What was it about comedy that felt like the ideal venue for him to get his message across?I mean, he was a comic. Because we keep evolving, and there’s more and more and more underneath as we grow as people, in every way. He had kids, he had a family, but his first love was being out, being with people. He was interested in people’s families. The comedy clubs were, and still are to a great extent, places where people … Well, more then than now, because you really could say anything. He would just hang out. That was just before you made it to the Comedy Store or the Improv; there were all these other ancillary clubs. When you were doing comedy, can you tell me what it was like when he would have you come play for Black comedy audiences where you might be the only white person in the entire room? I think he was a romantic. I think that maybe his work eclipsed his relationships and his marriages. A behind-the-scenes giant, he had his hands in so much that would define the art form: He collaborated with Richard Pryor during the stand-up’s creative peak, maybe most famously writing the “Word Association” Saturday Night Live sketch. I always just push myself to that limit of revealing who I am in that moment, and that was, to me, the essence of what I learned from Paul. Can you remember a favorite day or night with Paul that didn’t involve comedy?Yeah, I can think of a really funny story. He was satirist. Lotus was my Jewish soul sister; Mooney was my Black soul brother. He would just be there. I knew that I was going to meet Mooney, and I was nervous with having him be in the audience. Mooney mentored Bernhard, who he was certain from that first meeting was going to be a huge star, teaching her how to do stand-up right. They’d pull us over, and we’d laugh and talk to the cops. I think he knew who I was. The story of how you met is almost a legend at this point: He came to see you perform at the Ye Little Club in Beverly Hills, and he told you you’re “a cigarette come to life.” What did his endorsement and advocacy mean to you as a comedian, as an artist?Well, you know, Mooney already was a legend when I first came to L.A. What does that mean to you to know that he was proud of you?That always meant everything to me because that meant that I was on track, that I stayed the course of not only being an honest performer but being a real friend and not becoming another Hollywood phony. He just always had a sense of how to dress me, and he believed in me as somebody who was beautiful and would become part of the fashion world. He was a big old movie buff. He was on my radio show five years ago. We just went everywhere and danced and got to know each other and got to know the whole L.A. His friendships, I think, came before anything. As you mentioned before — you also put this in your Instagram message — you learned everything you knew about comedy, honesty, friendship, and style from Paul. These people all paid a price for their fame, and at different points had to walk away from it because it was just counterintuitive to why they got into it to begin with. Mooney was one of the most influential figures in the history of modern comedy. He introduced me to Black culture. He worked for these people; they paid him. At the same time, we connected with our other friend Lotus Weinstock, who was also a legend at that time; she was a comedian and a singer. He was the godfather of the so-called “Black Pack,” working closely with Eddie Murphy, Keenen Ivory Wayans, Arsenio Hall, and Robert Townsend. Photo: Time & Life Pictures/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

On May 19, Paul Mooney died from a heart attack at the age of 79. Night after night he would say, “Just go up and be like an onion. That happened almost every night at the Comedy Store when Mooney got up. He was always like my rock. Also, the vibe and the energy of a Black club is totally different. I mean, he’s had some cognitive issues over the past two years and a few health issues as well, but nothing that I anticipated being life-threatening. If I was freaked out or needed to have a good cry, or somebody broke up with me, or I was feeling frustrated, he was just always there. Mooney knew exactly who I was and vice versa. In terms of style, Paul Mooney was one of the best dressers in Hollywood. What do you think Paul exposed you to, either culturally or about the world, that you wouldn’t have been able to see otherwise?Without a doubt, being immersed in Black culture for me was something that was invaluable and gave me another layer and sense of myself and the world, and an empathy and a compassion and a respect for Black culture, because without it, white culture would not exist. I think they just got a kick out of me. He liked being able to prowl around and not have people tracking him and exploiting him. How do you feel like he thought of his legacy and his influence?I think he was very clear about it. He could have been a clothing designer. From Mooney, as she posted on social media earlier this week, Bernhard learned everything she knew about comedy, honesty, friendship, and style. I don’t think that Paul’s goal was to be the superstar. Then we’d go to Ben Frank’s, which was a coffee shop on Sunset, and basically have breakfast at two in the morning. You’ve got to have a point, and Mooney always had a point and a purpose to his comedy. He’d buy me stuff all the time and help me. Can you think of any memorable Paul shows?Listen, I’ve seen Paul perform probably 500 or 600 times, so no, I can’t tell you there’s one specific night. We’ve talked about comedy, but can you talk a little bit about what you learned about honesty, friendship, or style from him?He was somebody who stood by me through thick and thin. Did it feel like he didn’t want people to leave, he wanted to find out exactly where the line was? Because with a limited budget when you’re first starting out, he’d get me tuxedo pants and I’d wear them with high heels. But Mooney just really took me under his wing and helped me develop my style and my sense of myself. Did he wish for celebrity?I just think that Paul was somebody who didn’t mind staying behind the scenes. The day after Mooney’s passing, Bernhard spoke to Vulture about their special friendship. What did you love about Paul’s comedy? By the time we got to the club and got on … Because at first, they didn’t give you a time, you just had to show up and wait to be put on. They bonded instantly and remained, as Bernhard puts it, soul mates from that point on. It’s funky, it’s groovy. He lived with his cousin up in Oakland, so when I got the text, I was totally shocked and devastated. I was 19, 20, 21 years old, and then sort of already into the vibe, the Black vibe, and they felt comfortable with me.