by Ryan Meehan
Tom Rhodes is a world traveling comedian. The New York Times describes him as “A mostly natural intellect with a knack for reporting the harsh realities of life with a dark and absurdly optimistic cynicism.” An adventurer forging his own path, Rhodes has built a career that not only includes stand-up specials, a sitcom, a travel show, a late night talk show, numerous live CD’s & DVD’s, his critically acclaimed podcast Tom Rhodes Radio as well as being a travel writer for The Huffington Post. Fresh from releasing his new hour special “Light Sweet Crude” on Netflix and Rhodes has had a long raucous career covering every corner of the globe. In 2012 Rhodes was featured in the Showtime stand-up series “Live from Amsterdam”. His three half hour stand-up specials include two “Comedy Central Presents” (2009 & 2001) and “Raw” recorded in Stockholm for Swedish television (2009). He had his own sitcom television show on NBC called Mr. Rhodes (1996 – 1997), his own Late Night Talk show on Dutch television Kevin Masters starring Tom Rhodes, and traveled the world as a TV presenter on the Dutch travel program Yorin Travel (2004). His latest live recording as a double CD “Colossus of Me” released in 2012. In 2009 Laughspin.com named his DVD Rhode Scholar the Number One Comedy DVD of 2009. As a featured travel writer for Huffington Post his travel story ‘A Travel, A Miracle, and a Brawl…Welcome to Ireland’ got awarded by the Huffington Post one of the Top 10 Best Travel Stories of 2011. His podcast Tom Rhodes Radio was named one of the Top 10 of Best Podcasts of 2011 by Matadornetwork.com and was praised as the best newcomer in The Onion’s AV Club (December 2012). His latest TV recording on Uncensored Late Nights with Dave Attell will be airing in 2014. The International Man of Comedy is currently on his Colossus of Me tour. Catch him while he is in town, and check him out today as our guest today in 7 questions.
RM: I see that you will be spending some time over the next couple of weeks in Europe…What is it about the people on that continent that you like so much when it comes to performing there? Do you ever run into anybody in the Netherlands that calls you Kevin?
TR: People are different in every country and audiences are different every night of the week. This tour of Europe was pure joy even though it was in the middle of winter. There is something about people who have come out to see you when it is miserably cold and heavy winds have smacked rain in their face that you know they are hard core fans who have come out to laugh. London audiences are among my favorite because they are usually multiethnic, multinational and fully informed on every topic and current events. In Barcelona the audiences were predominantly English speaking Spaniards who had lived in English speaking countries and loved comedy.
In Paris half of my audience was French comedians who had come to study what I was doing but they were also great laughers. I have a long history with Paris because the first love of my adult life was from there, and I was maced there on my first visit so I have many stories and thoughts about Paris that I don’t normally get to perform.
As for the Netherlands my love runs deep for that little country. I have such strong connection to it because I lived there for 5 years and was on television there for 3 of those years. Which is remarkable, because I don’t even speak their language – which is a testament to how smart Dutch people are because most everyone you meet there speaks English.
I love Holland because when I had my late night talk show there I was taught everything about Dutch culture and politics and the fact that I was a foreigner experiencing Dutch society I got just as much from the experience as the viewing audience. Needless to say, just being in Holland makes my heart smile. As for being called Kevin, that rarely happens. That show ended ten years ago but I am thankful that there were still a small portion of people who knew me from that show. Predominantly the audiences I have in Holland know me more for my stand up and the many great stand-up comedian podcasts that are currently in full swing. Holland has an abundance of passionate comedy fans and I think the majority of people there know me mostly for stand-up comedy as opposed to that show because it was so long ago.
RM: You met Jay Leno at a very young age and he advised you to move to either New York or Los Angeles because you would have more opportunities there…Was the reason to relocate to New York City for the most part based on proximity since you were already living and working on the East Coast? Given that you have travelled to so many other places, what’s your take on Los Angeles as a city?
TR: I was 16 when I met Jay Leno and he told me that. I had snuck in to his live show at a jazz club in Winter Park, Florida. Believe it or not, Jay Leno was once a very edgy political comedian who most every comedian looked up to. When he discovered me back stage after he finished he was kind and answered all of my questions about being a comedian. Because of that I am always careful when I give a young comedian advice because they just might implement it in their lives the way I did. Yes, it was because New York was closer to Florida that I moved there first and also because I had a friend who lived in Queens who let me stay with him while I looked for a place of my own. That turned out to be a very tough year for me and it wasn’t until I moved to San Francisco that things really started to come together for me as a comedian.
As for Los Angeles I have mixed feelings about the place that I should probably get over. I lived at the top of the Hollywood Hills with a beautiful actress while I had my NBC sitcom and all we did was walk around naked drinking wine from goblets. Then after Amsterdam I lived there again on Wilshire Blvd. in Koreatown. I think some of the most talented people on the planet are living in Los Angeles and I enjoy visiting it now because some of my best friends in life are there. Venice Beach/Culver City are my favorite areas to stay, as well as Burbank/Glendale.
Ridiculously good food and pleasantries can be found there. I enjoy Los Angeles greatly now that I do not live there and knowing that I will be leaving there. Something about living there I find irritating as hell. Maybe it’s the traffic and goons in 100,000 dollar cars who think they have the right of way, tossing cake to the homeless as they drive on to their production meetings for shows that deplete the souls of human existence.
I look at Los Angeles as the Home Office of Show business and every once in a while you need to go to the home office to show them your receipts and show them what you have been working on.
RM: Do you have any good drug stories from hanging with Stanhope down there in Bisbee? And do you feel like you’re able to find experiences with mind altering substances more pleasurable when you’re out in the open as opposed to in a crowded city? In your opinion is there a “proper way” to manage drugs from a personal standpoint?
TR: The best drug story I have with Stanhope can be heard from both of our perspectives on episode # 1 of Tom Rhodes Radio. We did mushrooms and were holding on to the side of the earth in fear that we were going to be spun off into the universe. Yes, most certainly you should be outside in nature if you are on mushrooms. You also have to be in the right head space to do it. If you are worried or are having troubles it could really do you irrevocable harm. It has been many years since I have done them. It should be approached as a religious experience. Presently I have too much going on in my life to be rolling around on the ground crying tears of laughter. Remembrance of bad experiences of being on mushrooms will keep you away from them just as strongly as the good experiences will make you run to them. Be careful with that shit. Not every member of the tribe was meant to be the Shaman who interprets the meaning of existence.
RM: How in the world did you end up opening for James Brown? What was that whole experience like for you and what does a comedian who is going on stage before a musical act need to know to make sure they can warm-up the audience for a headliner?
TR: It was 1994 and I was living in San Francisco. James Brown was playing at the Konocti harbor and resort about an hour north of San Francisco and I was asked to open up for him. I have a strong connection to James Brown as I started out on the Southern circuits and his music has always been a steady constant in my life. I joyously read his autobiography and know practically every detail of his life. Once when I was very young I was in Augusta, Georgia doing a horrendously shitty one-nighter while James Brown was in Prison there. After my shit gig I drove my car to the edge of the prison property and sat on the hood of my car smoking cigarettes listening to his greatest hits cranked up on my stereo system. As for opening for acts like that it can be very difficult because the audience is not there to see you. Since it was Northern California the audience was very kind and there were no troubles. One of my few regrets in life was that I didn’t meet him after the show. He was such a true hero to me that I didn’t want to tarnish my impression of him. I wanted to always have the young virile James Brown in my mind when I listened to his music and not the memory of him as an old man back stage in his dressing room after the show. Just for the record, he was mesmerizing that night. Even in his 60s he was doing splits on stage and dancing like the sex machine that he was. I am very proud of the fact that I got to open up for him and I still listen to his music religiously.
RM: Could you tell us a little bit about the Elvis doll? How did that idea start and what is the most bizarre picture you have with it?
TR: Years ago when I was traveling by myself I used to take this Elvis doll all over the world and take its picture everywhere. Partly because I think that Elvis would have lived a longer better life had he traveled the world more instead of doing all those mediocre movies and spending so much time in Las Vegas. One of strangest places or things that happened while I was taking his picture around the world happened at a Hindu temple on the island of Bali. Thousands of monkeys live in and around this temple running free and they are considered sacred. When I pulled the Elvis doll out the monkeys ran away screaming. You can see that moment on my YouTube video of Bali.
RM: Since you were around Comedy Central in the very beginning, what’s the biggest change that you’ve noticed about the way that network is currently being programmed as opposed to what it was like when you first started out there? Do you think that with shows such as “The Daily Show” or “The Colbert Report” that it’s become more focused on politically oriented comedy?
TR: I like that fact that Comedy Central is so politically comedy oriented in the majority of their hit programs. When the network started and I was the face of it I was incredibly spoiled, in that they let me film whatever ideas they came up with. It started with them filming two series of my jokes as if they were rock videos. Then they sent me to cover lots of major sporting and cultural events. All this led up to me doing the one hour special Viva Vietnam! where I was one of the first Americans to go there after it became legal for Americans to travel there. It was very special to me because my father had flown helicopters there during the war and was shot down. He survived and saved some of his crew’s life which made him a decorated war hero. The thing that was great about Comedy Central for me at the beginning was that they were so experimental and I got to do so many great things with them which established me on American television.
I always try to not be perturbed when I see young good looking comedians on the network because I remember when I was the young good looking kid on the network. I have to give Comedy Central huge amounts credit because they are putting older great comedians on the network now. Brody Stevens’ new show is hilarious and I just filmed Dave Attell’s “Adults Only” uncensored show that will be airing in the next few months. I have nothing but love for Comedy Central because they really put me on the map and they continue to be the beacon of what is the best in comedy worldwide. Now if they would just turn my podcast and the podcast of Greg Proops into series than everything world be perfect.
RM: What’s the best part about being a travel writer for the Huffington Post? Do you feel like that gives you a little bit more creative freedom than doing a travel show on television?
TR: It inspires me to think in long story form and express some of my true feelings. I haven’t written that many stories for them but writing the ones I did got me motivated to spend more time writing up stories from my life of traveling the world as a comedian as well as my earlier triumphs and defeats.
For the past few years I have been trying to produce enough stories properly woven together that I want to eventually come out with as a book. I’m grateful to Huffington Post for asking me to be a travel writer for them because in that process it inspired me to get my shit together and focus on my own thing. As for a television show I don’t know why my life traveling the world with my beautiful Dutch photographer wife isn’t already a TV show.
Entertainment is America’s greatest export to the world. The one thing we never have to be ashamed of is the spread of our original art form of stand-up comedy as the true litmus test of any worldwide democracy. I’m fortunate to have comedian friends from every corner of the globe and to perform in other countries not knowing if certain material is going to work, kill or die is the greatest rush. The world is an interesting place covered with crazy beautiful funny people on it, especially in the comedy world. If the president of Show Biz ultimately decides that my life isn’t entertaining enough to turn into a TV show then that’s the way the cookie crumbles. In the mean time I will film, record and write about as much of my experiences as my brain and modern technology will allow.
RM: What’s up next for Tom Rhodes in 2014? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
TR: I’m hitting it hard in the states for the next few months. Scottsdale, Las Vegas, Dallas, Ft. Worth, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Los Angeles. Then off to Costa Rica Comedy Festival, Seoul, Shanghai, Hanoi, Ho Chi Mihn City. July is Portland, Vancouver, Amsterdam. August is the Edinburgh Festival. From there who knows? I put out a weekly podcast Tom Rhodes Radio gabbing it up with comedians, lunatics and artistic geniuses. I just filmed Dave Attell’s Adults Only Comedy Central series that should be airing in the next few months. I’m excited to see how this year unfolds. Busting out the new hour is the most important thing. A 1968 Mexico City Black Power Salute to you all!
Official Website: http://www.tomrhodes.net/
Tom Rhodes Fan Page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TomRhodesComedy
Tom on Twitter: https://twitter.com/TomRhodes
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