George Wallace has been doing stand-up comedy since the average Premium Hollywood reader was in elementary school…or possibly even longer than that. (You make the call: his first TV appearance as a stand-up was on “The Mike Douglas Show,” and it’s fair to suspect that he’d already been doing comedy for a few years before that.) Once in awhile, however, he takes time out of his residency at the Flamingo in Las Vegas to do a TV appearance or pop up in a movie. Wallace took a few minutes to talk to Premium Hollywood in connection with a guest spot on his buddy Byron Allen’s myNetworkTV series, “Comics Unleashed,” which airs tonight at 9 PM EST, and we asked him about his stand-up, his memorable appearance on “Seinfeld,” and several other topics of note. In return, he provided more than enough laughs to remind us why he placed in Comedy Central’s list of the Greatest Stand-Ups of All Time.
Stay tuned for…
George Wallace: Will, how are you?
Premium Hollywood: I’m good, sir. And you?
GW: I feel good all over.
PH: Awesome. Best way to feel, I suppose.
GW: Yes, sir!
PH: So long have you known Byron Allen?
GW: I’ve been knowing Byron Allen for 40 years. No, not that long. Maybe 30 years. Yeah, about 30 years.
PH: I figured you probably went back a fair way because of the stand-up.
GW: Yeah, he was a young kid, 19 years old, doing “The Tonight Show.” Yes, I’ve been knowing him for quite awhile.
PH: So does he just call you up personally and invite you on the show?
GW: Yeah, that’s all he does. He just calls me, and I come on and say, “Hello.” ‘Cause we know each other. Certain comedians you know. They’re your friends. So he says, “Come on over.” Actually, he flew me over. On a private jet.
PH: Even better. So do you enjoy doing the talk show circuit? I know his show is a little bit different from the traditional talk show format, but…
GW: They’re all the same. I’m doing “The Tonight Show” on April 22nd, and it’ll be the same thing. You sit down and talk. My job is just to tell jokes. It doesn’t matter where it is, standing up or sitting down. I just have to get the jokes out.
PH: So had you watched “Comics Unleashed” prior to first appearing on it?
GW: Well, it’s the same thing. I’d watched his show, and I knew what was going on. And Byron and I are good friends. But it’s the same format. All talk shows are the same. It’s like being onstage: there’s a microphone, and it doesn’t matter what city it is, because the people are gonna laugh.
PH: So how much time do you spend on the road nowadays?
GW: I’m not on the road. I’m in Las Vegas, Nevada. I’m at the Flamingo in Las Vegas every night, at 10 PM, Tuesday through Saturday.
PH: Right, and that’s a residency?
GW: Well, I’ve been there for five years.
PH: But do you still do other dates around the country?
GW: Not as much, because I’m there all week at the Flamingo.
PH: So when it comes to doing the various talk shows, do you especially prepare new material, or do you have standard routines that you fall back on?
GW: Always new material. That’s what it’s all about. You have to go with new material, constantly updating and doing new jokes. Otherwise, you don’t get to do the TV shows. (Laughs)
PH: So what’s your methodology for writing? Do you have a specific regiment?
GW: No, I just pay attention to all of the current events and watch what’s happening in the news and to political situations. If you can’t laugh by just living, driving down the street, and just paying attention to what people say… (Trails off) You can watch TV. Over the weekend, Michelle Obama was with the Queen…well, they were both with the Queen…at the Palace, right? I just notice little things like the fact that the Queen was at home in the Palace, ‘cause that’s her house, but she had her purse with her. What the hell…? What women walk around in their own house with their purse at their side? You just notice little things like that, and you think she was thinking, “I might like him, but I don’t trust him.” (Laughs) You watch the news, you go to CNN, and you see Nancy Grace, and you go, “What the hell is wrong with this lady? She’s been on the same story for five months now.” Come on, we miss the little girl, Kaylee Anthony, but it gets to you after awhile. She’s not satisfied unless someone’s been kidnapped or killed, and I…I personally think that Nancy Grace is killing these people. (Laughs) So you just take amusing situations and you go like that. I never mention race, and I never do racial jokes, but I’ll tell you what: I was in Washington, DC, on Inauguration Day, and I never mention race, but I did notice that the white people…all you white people…were laughing at Aretha Franklin’s hat.
PH: (Laughs) Well…
GW: Oh, you’re still laughing, huh?
GW: Black people didn’t even notice that hat. You’ve never been to a black church. We see hats twice that size every Sunday. Sometimes, you think they’ve installed a new chandelier. You just never know. (Laughs) So that’s how I come up with new material. Observations and people saying stupid things. I’m at the airport this morning, in Detroit, and a kid runs up to me and says, “Mr. Wallace, what you doing out here at the airport? You going somewhere?” I just looked at him and said, “What the hell…? Nah, I come up here and do my laundry in Detroit every day.” Y’see? I just pay attention to what’s happening. I read the newspaper. It could be sports, or anything stupid that happens.
PH: So how old were you when you first got into stand-up?
GW: I think I was 23. Maybe 25. Something like that. I’ve been doing it so long, I don’t know. That’s what I do: I tell lies for a living. So…oh, I got into it ‘bout two, three years ago.
PH: (Laughs) So what inspired you to do it? Were you just a fan of comedians and decided to try your hand at it then?
GW: Oh, no. I’d been wanting to be a comedian since I was six years old. I was watching Red Skelton and Johnny Carson. No, you know who I was watching when I was a kid? Red Skelton, Red Buttons, Redd Foxx, and Pinky Lee. All people of color. That’s why I wanted to be a comedian. But, no, really, since I was six years old, I wanted to be a comedian. I heard the jokes all of these guys would tell, and I’d take ‘em back to school and the kids would laugh. And I’ve been telling jokes all my life.
PH: So were you able to meet some of your inspirations as you were coming up?
GW: I think I met everyone. There’s not a comedian I don’t know.
PH: Did you ever train under anyone?
GW: No. I never trained under anybody. I’ve always been myself. Probably in college, I learned a lot from David Brenner’s style. In fact, he’ll be with me at the Flamingo in the last two weeks of April. I’m going to co-headline with him. I produce and direct my show, so I bring in friends every now and then. You never know who’s gonna be with me. For the first time in 25 years, I had Sly and the Family Stone on stage with me, and they just blew everybody away. The odds were 25 to 1 that he wouldn’t show up, but he did, and they blew the room away. Jennifer Holliday has shown up. You just never know who’s gonna be on stage with me. My show at the Flamingo is Vegas like it used to be. My best friend, Jerry Seinfeld, could walk out on stage at any time. Chris Tucker came for two weeks and just goofed off with me on stage. Chris Rock came out. You just never know what’s gonna happen.
PH: You mentioned Seinfeld, and I just mentioned to someone that, in addition to your stand-up, when I think of you, I think of when you played the doctor in the last scene of that “Seinfeld” episode where Elaine tried to make “Witchy Woman” her song.
GW: Oh, yeah. That’s the only episode I did with Seinfeld, because we keep business and friendship apart. That’s why we’ve been best friends for 32 years.
PH: Well, if you’re only gonna do one episode, that’s a memorable one. I can still picture you with your blank stare and your head cocked.
GW: Yeah, he told me to do a look…I used to talk about how, when his first child was born and we had the bris, and I was honored to hold one of the baby’s legs, which is supposed to be for the daddy and the granddaddy. I said, “Whenever I walk into that house, that boy looks at me like, ‘I know you from somewhere.” And he told me to use that same look. (Laughs)
PH: You’ve done several other sitcom roles in your career. Do you enjoy doing them on a once-in-awhile basis?
GW: Yes, I do. I’m just keeping busy. Busy telling jokes and telling lies.
PH: I have to say, I also particularly enjoyed it when you popped up on “Scrubs” in one of J.D.’s fantasy sequences, as the minister at his funeral.
GW: (Laughs) Yeah! Thank you!
PH: You’ve just got that instantly recognizable face. I’ve seen your stand-up on talk shows so many times that I can spot you pretty quickly when you turn up elsewhere.
GW: Yeah, it’s been a pretty busy month for that. I just did Craig Ferguson last week.
PH: What do you think of him as a host? He’s a little different from the average.
GW: Some people don’t like him, but most people do like him ‘cause he’s so natural. I think he’s wonderful. I just love him and what he does. I like his style more than anybody else’s, to be honest. He doesn’t look like he’s reading cards. His jokes are written for him, but he doesn’t look like he’s reading them…and I think he does off on his own a lot, which is nice.
PH: So what was your very first TV appearance as a stand-up?
GW: Um…Merv Griffin, I think? Could’ve been Merv Griffin, could’ve been Mike Douglas. In fact, yeah, Mike Douglas, that’s what it was.
PH: Do you remember how you felt going on the air?
GW: Oh, you’re always nervous when you’re a young kid. You don’t what’s happening?
PH: Do you still feel that way once in awhile?
GW: No. This is my drug. I love to go to work.
PH: How can you tell when to retire a joke from your routine?
GW: Mine are retired because I’m weeding in so much new material. Every week, somebody comes and says, “You used to do this joke. Why don’t you do it anymore?” Because you weed it out. “But that’s a good joke!” Like, somebody just…I was just thinking the other day about a joke I used to do two or three years ago, and I said, “I want to put that back in.” Do you remember the commercial… (Launches into an imitation of the Polander All Fruit commercial) “Would you please pass the jelly?” (Laughs) What happened to that? I just want to bring it back and say it! “Would you please pass the jelly?”
PH: I wanted to ask about the fact that you’ve been in a couple of Adam Sandler’s movies.
GW: He just calls, and I just show up. He’s got a new one coming out pretty soon, “Funny People.”
PH: Right. You’re in that one as well?
PH: And you were in “The Ladykillers”?
GW: Yeah, Tom Hanks called…no, wait, that was the Coen Brothers who called on that one. But they’re somebody who, when they ask you to do something, you do it.
PH: When it comes to film and TV work, is that something you particularly enjoy, or do you really just prefer to stick to the stand-up?
GW: Oh, I love it all. But stand-up is my number one, and it always will be.
PH: Do you have a favorite of your appearances?
GW: Nope. Just the next one.
PH: So what’s it like being in a residency in Vegas like that? Is it more relaxing because you don’t to travel anymore?
GW: Oh, it’s a blessing. It’s the toughest crowd in the world, from all over the world. Last night, I had people in the audience from Singapore and India and Hong Kong. And, y’know, if you’re making those people laugh, you know you’re doing a good job. It’s a beautiful thing.
PH: Do you find that the routines translate pretty well, even for people who don’t necessarily speak English all that well?
GW: Well, I figure they speak English, or they wouldn’t be coming to the show!
PH: Right, but it’s certainly not always their first language. I guess I’m just wondering if your comedy proves international.
GW: Yeah, basically, my thing is that you can understand what I’m talking about. Simple things, from hotels in the city to Criss Angel doing a $100 million dollar magic show. I’ll say things like, if I’m gonna see a $100 million magic show, I don’t want to see no rabbits being pulled out of no hats. If he’s gonna pull it from somewhere, he better pull it out of his ass. Everybody can understand a joke like that. (Laughs)
PH: And, lastly, if worst came to worst, could you ever return to working as a salesman for an ad agency, like you did before you got into comedy?
GW: I could do that tomorrow, but I don’t think that would ever happen.
PH: Nor do I. (Laughs) All right, George, it’s been a pleasure talking to you.
GW: Okay! God bless you, and thank you so much!