Saturday, July 13, 2013

A chat with Godfrey

I've attended every Just For Laughs festival since 1986, and in the 28 years that I've seen my share of galas, themed shows, solo shows and theatrical productions, I somehow have developed an instinct of seeing an up and coming comedian make their festival debut and once they completed their set, would realize that they would be on the road to fame and a big career in stand-up and beyond. I had that feeling when I first saw Drew Carey, John Pinette, the late Patrice O'Neal, Marc Maron, Russell Peters, Sugar Sammy, Tommy Tiernan, the late Mitch Hedberg, Bobby Slayton, Dom Irerra and Kathy Griffin, as they first stepped on a Just For Laughs stage. And that feeling continued when I first saw Godfrey perform at Club Soda a few short years ago. Last year, he became a full fledged festival favorite with his killer sets at the Ethnic Show. At this year's fest, Godfrey will assume the hosting duties for The Relationship Show, as well as perform his own solo show at Place des Arts. A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of doing a phone interview with Godfrey (he had me laughing throughout the entire 15 minutes; I could have stayed on the phone with him for at least another hour). The end result is the item below, which originally appeared in my Grapevine column in the July 13 edition of the West End Times.

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When American comedian Godfrey was chosen to host this year’s edition of “Date Night: The Relationship Show” at the Just For Laughs festival, he never saw himself as a true expert when it came to dating, mating and relating.

“I don’t know if I am a relationship expert, but I know how to make it funny, because I have a girlfriend for the past seven years and I am in it for a very long time,” he said during a recent phone interview with the Grapevine from Tampa, Florida.

Godfrey will be sharing the Relationship Show stage with four other comics -- Bob Marley, Debra Di Giovanni, Tom Papa and Robert Kelly -- who will be giving their comic perspective on what it’s like to be a romantic couple for the long haul. The show will run from July 17-20 at Club Soda, and July 24 and 25 at Metropolis. As well, he will be performing in a solo show called “The Godfrey Complex” from July 22-27 at the Studio Theatre of Place des Arts.

And Godfrey credits his girlfriend for making him not only a better person, but also how to appreciate other people’s faults and respect their habits. “Comics are very self-centred people and only think about themselves; they are filled with narcissism and insecurities,” he said. “With my girlfriend, we get to laugh a lot, we get to know each other better and know what crap we want to deal with.”

“Communication is also very important when it comes to having a healthy relationship, and my girlfriend is a great communicator. In fact, she is a better communicator than (Winston) Churchill; in fact, she could beat Churchill,” he added. “However, she has made me a better listener and I have become much smarter about money and judging the people around me. I used to be an observer and jump the gun a lot. She has taught me to try and have a little more cynicism and doubt. But thank God she’s there to show me how a relationship works, because I suck at it.”

One obvious key to a successful relationship, Godfrey believes, is a good sense of humour. “Humour is what keeps the links strong to the relationship chain. You got to have a sense of humour,” he said. 

Born Godfrey C. Danchimah, Jr. in Lincoln, Nebraska 44 years ago to parents who fled the bloody civil war in Nigeria, Godfrey got his start as a comic when he was a rookie with the varsity football team at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he performed at the annual talent show for new members of the team. “When I was a rookie with the team, the custom was to have my head shaved and do the talent show. I had to do the show, or I would have faced the prospect of getting beaten by a bunch of 300-pound dudes,” he said.

From there, he honed his comedy skills at open mic nights at comedy clubs in Chicago, and made his New York debut in 1995 at Caroline’s Comedy Club and The Comic Strip Live. Godfrey has been seen in a variety of TV shows and movies, such as “30 Rock”,  “Soul Plane”, “Zoolander” and “Louie”. He is currently taping the second season of a video comedy show called “Upload with Shaquille O’Neal”, which airs on the American reality cable channel truTV.

Last year, after killer sets on the Ethnic Show and a Juste pour Rire gala, Godfrey became the breakout star of the 2012 festival. His new status as a Just For Laughs fan favorite is quite surprising to him. “I never thought I would be that guy, but I’m just there and I’m loving it,” he said. “Winning over Montreal audiences at Just For Laughs was a tough nut to crack, but now I got my groove there, and it’s great to be considered a part of the Just For Laughs family.”

“I am now consistently getting my Canadian groove on,” he added. “Canada maybe a little different culturally speaking, but now I am used to you. It’s like I’m your friend now, and it’s awesome.”