Thursday, 01 December 2016 10:35

Comedy vs. Racism: Alonzo Bodden tackles modern day issues at Dr. Grins

Written by  Eric Mitts
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Alonzo Bodden Alonzo Bodden Todd Rosenberg

If there’s one thing longtime stand-up comedian Alonzo Bodden knows, it’s the healing power of humor. From donating a kidney to his brother to confronting institutionalized racism onstage, Bodden is a big believer in laughter as medicine for those who are hurting in mind, body or soul.

Many will remember him best from his two seasons on NBC’s reality competition series Last Comic Standing, where he won the grand prize during season three back in 2004. 

“I call it my introduction to America,” Bodden said of his time on the show. “At that time, I had been touring around, just doing gigs and headlining clubs and working when I can. That was a huge amount of exposure, and it definitely changed my career.”

The show not only grew Bodden’s popularity, it also changed his approach to comedy. Forced to come up with new material every week, he shifted from a more personal storytelling style to more topical humor. 

“I loved talking about the news and social commentary and what’s going on,” Bodden said. “Sort of the George Carlin style of comedy. I always say there’s basically three styles of comedy: there’s Cosby, Pryor and Carlin. That was the way I always looked at it. And I fell into the Carlin end of the loop where I was doing topical and social commentary.”

Bodden’s first stand-up special for Showtime, 2011’s Who’s Paying Attention?, also tackled many of the issues of the day and helped Bodden launch a podcast of the same name, where he currently continues to rail about current events. Earlier this year, he followed it up with the release of his second Showtime special, Historically Incorrect.

“My favorite thing about being a comedian is we call bullshit when we see it,” Bodden said. “We get to call Donald Trump a racist. We get to talk about the racist coverage on FOX News. We get to talk about bad cops or bad political leaders. That’s our job: to point it out.”

Speaking with Revue shortly before the presidential election last month, Bodden, 53, discussed his strong concerns about a Donald Trump presidency.

“(With a) Donald Trump win, there’ll be a mass exodus to Canada,” he said. “I was there last week and told them there’ll be more black people heading to Canada than there was on the Underground Railroad.”

Alonzo Bodden
Dr. Grins Comedy Club
20 Monroe Ave. NW, Grand Rapids
Dec. 8-10, times vary, $10-$20, (616) 356-2000

Bodden frequently confronts the issue of racism in his shows, while refusing to believe those who claim that Barack Obama is at fault for America’s race relations.

“People are in denial,” he said about the issue of race in America, sarcastically adding, “I love the people who are like, ‘Well there was no racism before Barack Obama.’ You’re right, there wasn’t. There weren’t any problems with the police. He brought it all on.” 

Bodden then clarified that “(his presidency) allowed racists to come out of the closet, and reveal the racist issues that we’ve all been dealing with. It’s unfortunate dealing with the issues with the police, and with Black Lives Matter. I always say black lives matter to me, because I have one.”

Before venturing into comedy, Bodden worked as an airplane mechanic for years. He maintains a lifelong passion for all things mechanical, especially motorcycles and cars, and has shared that love by hosting such shows as Speed TV’s 101 Cars You Must Drive, the Science Channel’s How To Build… Everything, and webisodes of Jay Leno’s Garage.

Outside of Last Comic Standing, however, the television appearance he’s most recognized for is the run of public service announcements he made for “Stroke’s No Joke.”

“It was a funny commercial that ran during a lot of sporting events for some reason,” Bodden said of the powerful PSA spot. “So a lot of people were like, ‘Oh you’re the stroke guy!’ Which isn’t the necessarily the best thing to be saying while you’re in line at Starbucks. ‘Aren’t you the stroke guy?’ And I’m like, ‘Hey, hey, keep it clean.’”

On a more personal level, Bodden has more recently done benefits and other events for the Kidney Foundation and other organizations after donating a kidney to his older brother in 2013.

“As a comic, I love being able to lighten a heavy situation,” he said. “If I can go to a bunch of kidney donors and recipients and doctors and be able to make them laugh about the whole procedure, that’s the gift of comedy right there.” 

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