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MIA: Good Night Mr. Mooney, Wherever You Are


BY BRIEN ERICK EDWARDS A couple weeks ago the boss man at Phawker HQ assigned me to interview comedic legend Mr. Paul Mooney. The boss man said he jumped at the prospect of landing an interview with the controversial writer and comedian because A) controversy is what makes the Internet go round and  B) Mooney is a fascinating, if self-sabotaging, figure who has worked with some of the best in the comedic world, including Richard Pryor and Dave Chappelle. So we worked up a bunch of questions that spanned his career, including his work with Pryor and Chappelle, along with various controversies, of which there are many. So, I made the requisite phone interview arrangements with Mr. Mooney’s camp — though a variety of circumstances should have alerted the spidey senses, and foreshadowed what would transpire in the coming days.

“Call him this weekend.”

That was the instructions from his people. No time. No date. Just call. Could it be that easy? Of course not. After calling the number, a man not named Paul Mooney answered the phone and told me that Paul was asleep, and to call at 3 PM PST — meaning “Call at 6 PM EST.” Considering the lack of organization heretofore, finally setting a time was a big step forward. The appointed time rolls around, I call, and no one answers. I went back through the PR channels to find out WTF was up and it was suggested that maybe I confused 6 PM EST with 6 PM PST. Sure. Maybe it was just a simple mistake on my part. I had been rushing, so it’s possible.

When 9 PM EST comes, I’m anxiously sitting in my living room thinking: “This is it. I finally get to speak with him. Biggest interview of my young career.” I dial the number and…“Not-Paul Mooney” answers again, and connects me to Mr. Mooney. After introducing myself, Mr. Mooney rambled about not knowing anything about this interview being schedule or for that matter that he had a show scheduled at Helium in Philadelphia the following week. CLICK. Back to the drawing board. I go through the requisite PR channels to find out what’s up. First they said Mr. Mooney must have just woken up and been confused. Ahem. They would look into it and get back to me. Which they did  — to say that Mr. Mooney wouldn’t be doing the interview. No reason given. Just no. Not gonna happen.

‘Did you make it clear that this wasn’t going to cost him anything?’ the boss asked when I told what went down.

I laughed because all you can do is laugh when all of your planning goes to complete shit. So, the boss decided ‘F*ck it, we’re gonna go meta, explain the whole crazy-making runaround we got and run the interview without his answers.’ We would do this, he said, A) in the hopes of guilting Mr. Mooney into answering them B) because we spent a lot of time coming up with questions and C) even without answers they flesh out the narrative arc of Mr. Mooney’s intriguing career. So without further ado…

PHAWKER: Let’s talk about ancient history first. Can we talk about your good friend and creative partner Richard Pryor? Is it true that you wrote all his skits for his SNL appearances as well as Live On The Sunset Strip?

PAUL MOONEY: [sound of crickets]

PHAWKER: Jerry Seinfeld called Richard Pryor ‘The Picasso of our profession.’ Pryor had a rough childhood — his father, a boxer/hustler, was largely MIA, his mother abandoned him at the age of 10 and he was raised by his grandmother, who ran a brothel — do you think he was funny despite all that or because of it?

PAUL MOONEY: [deafening silence]

PHAWKER: Where were you heard the news that Richard Pryor had set himself on fire while freebasing cocaine?

[muffled sound of coughing and a child crying in the distance]

What do you think of Furious Cool, the Richard Pryor bio that came out late last year? Did they get it right?

PAUL MOONEY: [sound of crickets]

PHAWKER: Richard Pryor was for all intents and purposes the first black entertainer to take the N-word back from the white man and use it casually and profusely, as if to dilute it’s power to harm through sheer repetition. He took a word that only white’s used to abuse blacks and turned into a word that only blacks could use, usually as an ironic term of endearment. Which is by and large where it stands today — a word that was once wielded by whites like a cudgel against blacks has been taken off the battle field.  I know you had a hand in that. Can you speak to that?

PAUL MOONEY: [deafening silence]

PHAWKER: And then everything changed, for you anyway, in the wake of Michael Richards’ infamous ‘N-word’ outburst, which you eventually publicly forgave him for and you declared on CNN that you would never use the N-word or the B-word in public again. Where does all that stand?

PAUL MOONEY: [muffled sound of coughing and a child crying in the distance]

PHAWKER: You worked as a writer for Sanford & Son. Redd Foxx, rest his soul, was known for working blue, very blue. What’s the raunchiest/funniest thing you ever heard Redd Foxx say?

PAUL MOONEY:  [deafening silence]

PHAWKER: You were also a writer for In Living Color where you were credited with creating the character of Homey D. Clown. Who or what was the inspiration for Homey?

PAUL MOONEY: [muffled sound of coughing and a child crying in the distance]

PHAWKER: You were great as Sam Cooke in The Buddy Holly Story, which starred Gary Busey as Buddy Holly. Was he as batshit crazy then as he is today? Any funny anecdotes from your work on that film you can share with us?

PAUL MOONEY: [sound of crickets]

PHAWKER: You had a recurring role on The Chappelle Show as Negrodamus, the black equivalent of Nostrodamus, which you were planning to reprise for the third season when, for reasons that remain unclear, Chappelle turned down a huge contract to re-up and the show was cancelled. Why do you think Chappelle walked away from the spotlight at the height of his career. Do you think it was, as Chappelle has said,  a simple matter of going from thinking he was making fun of racism and to concluding that he was actually feeding it? And do you even think that’s even true?

PAUL MOONEY:  [deafening silence]

PHAWKER: Though you are well-known for taking on white racists head on, you are an equal opportunity offender when it comes to making fun of people. You famously made fun of Diana Ross when she got a DUI and more recently you called Halle Berry that ‘Ol ugly half-white woman.’ Did you ever hear from Diana Ross or Halle Berry or their representative about that?

PAUL MOONEY: [muffled sound of coughing and a child crying in the distance]

PHAWKER: In 2006 you were taping a segment for Showtime At The Apollo when you were stopped mid-performance for making fun of George W. Bush — which included saying Barbara Bush looks like quote ‘the guy on the side of the Quaker Oats box’, which is undeniably true — reportedly there was a long discussion back stage and you wound up walking away. Reportedly you were told that you had “offended unnamed officials from Time Warner,” which operates Showtime at the Apollo. Time-Warner denied it. You refused to ever play the Apollo again until you got a ‘straight answer’. Can you explain your side of the story and where things stand?

PAUL MOONEY: [sound of crickets]

PHAWKER: Do you care to clear the air about offensive remarks you allegedly made in the wake of the Boston Marathon Bombing?

PAUL MOONEY: [deafening silence]

PHAWKER: Well, that’s about all we have time for. Thanks for taking the time to do this.

PAUL MOONEY: [deafening silence]


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