D.L. Hughley is a television star — if you’re an HBO fan, you’ll know him from last season’s critically acclaimed “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” created by Aaron Sorkin — and a movie actor. But he always has, and always will consider himself a standup comedian first and foremost.
“Everything else comes as sort of a byproduct of standup comedy,” says Hughley in a phone interview from his Los Angeles home. “A standup comedian is what I am. That comes before any ‘slash.’ I don’t know if there is anyone who loves being a standup comedian as much as I do. Comedy, for me, opened up a world that I never knew existed. I have been all over the world, met presidents and kings. I have had all kinds of opportunities to express myself, and not only do I have the opportunity to express myself; I am getting paid to express myself. It’s a no-brainer.”
He has been a writer and the star for his own sitcom (“The Hughleys,” as well as “Studio 60”), and two movies (“The Original Kings of Comedy” and “The Brothers”), his own talk show (“Weekends at the D.L.”), as well as multiple appearances on other television shows and films. He is a frequent guest on Jay Leno and HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher.”
Hughley will be appearing at Patriots Theater at the Trenton War Memorial, on Thursday, October 4, as part of his “Unapologetic” tour. He has performed in Trenton once before, when he appeared on a bill with comedienne and Trenton native Sommore. “I do remember that. It was a great show,” he says. “I’m looking forward to coming back.”
Darryl Lynn Hughley is 44 now. He was born near Charlotte, North Carolina, but moved to Los Angeles as a young child. He is the second of four children, the son of an airline maintenance worker and a homemaker.
After dropping out of high school, Hughley eventually got his GED and worked as a telemarketer and customer service agent for the Los Angeles Times while developing his skills at open-mike nights at comedy clubs.
His biggest break came in 1992, when, after appearing on the show for several years, he was tabbed to be the host of BET’s “Comic View.” He followed that with two HBO specials which, in combination, vaulted him onto the A-list of black comics, a list which he continues to occupy today.
Hughley is now the host of the newly revived HBO “Def Comedy Jam,” a program which had run from 1992 until 1997 and, like “Comic View,” gave a generation of black comics a venue for exposure and development.
Another project Hughley is looking forward to is his comedy special, “Unapologetic,” which began airing on HBO last Saturday, September 22.
Like with any great comic, much of Hughley’s comedy comes from simply watching the news or observing life around him. “I can’t make up Michael Vick, or Larry Craig, or Don Imus and Rutgers, but I can make observations,” he says. “Comedy to me is all about irony. It’s ironic to me that everyone vilifies rap; you can’t go to Wal-Mart and buy an album with violent content, but you can go there (in some states) and buy a gun. You cannot make up these things.”
So “Unapologetic,” the title of his special and his tour is appropriate. One thing Hughley is unapologetic about is the controversy he found himself in following the well-known Don Imus controversy in March. (If you have been living under a rock, Imus, former morning man on WFAN-AM (660) in New York, was excoriated for referring to members of the Rutgers women’s basketball team as “nappy-headed hos” and saying they were ugly on his show on April 4, which simulcast on WFAN and MSNBC.)
Reacting to Imus’s comments, Hughley did not support Imus. But in his typically un-P.C., irreverent style, Hughley did say that he didn’t think the Rutgers team was very attractive. “Them are some of the ugliest women I’ve ever seen in my whole life,” he said on Jay Leno’s Tonight Show.
To say the least, people didn’t take too kindly to Hughley’s comments either. To Hughley, the comments are what they are. “I personally do not know a single attractive women’s basketball player,” he says.
As for the Imus controversy, as well as his reaction, Hughley says “it was a tempest in a teapot. We say one thing and do another. We pretend in public like we don’t say certain things but we make the jokes in private. A comic’s job is to be consistent. I just don’t trust the notion that people are supposed to apologize, no matter what they have said. Imus will come back, and mark my words, he will be bigger than he was before he left.”
Hughley has been married to his wife, LaDonna, for 21 years. He is the father of two sons and a daughter. During our interview, his teenage son anxiously broke into the conversation, trying to make sure that his dad would be accompanying him to an event that night. The younger Hughley asked his dad if he could take his own car rather than riding with D.L. “Sure,” he cracked. “What’s the point of having a car if you gotta ride with your father?”
Hughley says he is still amazed that his life has turned out the way it has considering the turmoil in which he grew up. South Central Los Angeles, he says, was a rough place to live as a kid, not just because of the heavy gang presence in the neighborhood.
He had dropped out of school and flirted along the peripheries of gang life but decided to abandon that after one of his cousins was shot to death. He met his wife while both were supervisors at the L.A. Times, and it was she who encouraged Hughley to continue working on his comedic skills.
Now he lives in an upscale Southern California neighborhood, has one daughter who is a Congressional intern and a son who is in film school. None of his three children understand the life Hughley endured when he was a young man. “Life has a voracious appetite,” says Hughley, a wise man who seems proud that he, a GED holder, has over the years debated many people about a varied array of issues and always holds his own.
“Most people who come from the inner city have a choice, they are on a thin line between doing things that are positive or negative with their lives,” he says. “I do not know very many people who came from where I came from who are doing anything positive to a large extent.”
When Hughley was growing up, he says, “our scope was much more narrow. We wanted to get a good job and that was it. Now (this generation) believes they can do anything; they can travel, they can earn whatever kind of money they want to, they have no restrictions. I sit back and talk to my parents, and they can’t believe it.”
D.L. Hughley: Unapologetic, Thursday, October 4, 8 p.m. Patriot Theater at the War Memorial, Memorial Drive, Trenton. Host of the upcoming BET series “S.O.B.: Socially Offensive Behavior,” Hughley was the star, co-creator, and executive producer of the sitcom “The Hughleys” and co-starred in the critically acclaimed “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.” 609-984-8400.