Sept. 28, 2011
The phrase "larger than life" usually describes an entertainer's persona on stage, not his physical appearance. For Lavell Crawford, it's the other way around.
Physically, Crawford is a tremendously large man--large enough that I don't have to describe how large he is. But his voice is calm, reserved and almost small. It's an incredible experience to sit with someone who could clearly project if he wanted to, but instead keeps fairly quiet and lets his career do the talking.
With an hour-long Comedy Central special that aired Aug. 12, coupled with sales of his CD/DVD everywhere from iTunes to Walmart, Crawford's career has now gotten bigger than the man himself.
"Can a Brother Get Some Love?" is Crawford's first full-length album. The title is appropriate, as Crawford has spent the better part of the last two decades pursuing love from his fans.
It's been 19 years since Crawford's debut on BET's "Comicview," and four years since he came inches away from winning on "Last Comic Standing." In that time, he has been the definition of a working comic. In between his role on "Breaking Bad" and his multiple appearances on "Comicview," "Laffapalooza," "Comics Unleashed" and "Chelsea Lately," he's played every dive bar, comedy club and theater across the country.
"It's a nice road," Crawford said of the long journey from open mics to theaters. "I just stepped out on faith, and it worked."
Well, not right away. Crawford described his salad days (though they were still filled with barbecue). He often slept in his Ford Escort, and he carried a gun for protection. One night, a woman knocked on the glass to see if he was OK. The half-asleep comedian thought he was being robbed, so he took out his .380 and aimed it at her. When he realized what was actually happening, he apologized, thanked the woman and went back to sleep.
Crawford started his professional career at the Comedy Caravan in Louisville, Ky., after the club owner saw and liked him and offered him two weeks of roadwork. At the time, Crawford was already familiar with the road--he was working as a crossing guard.
"They could definitely see me," Crawford said, joking about his stature. He referred to himself as "a sweet potato in the middle of the road."
When I caught up with him in Baltimore, Crawford and his entourage were staying in four suites in a four-star hotel. It's a luxury he has earned, having steadily climbed the ladder from MC to road dog to special event. Crawford is finally at the point in his career where he can relax and enjoy himself. But his brutal tour schedule is evidence that, while he's fully enjoying it, relaxation will not happen anytime soon.
Crawford's 2011 tour includes stops in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Florida, Alabama, Missouri, Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Texas, California and Mississippi. And that's all before New Year's.
Despite his now-lavish road digs, Crawford has a sense of humor about where he came from--the very premise of his new special. "Can a Brother Get Some Love" features some fantastically self-deprecating sketches, where Crawford walks around his hometown of St. Louis saying "hi" to people while no one recognizes him, or cares to try.
"The guy at the rental car place said, 'I'm gonna hook you up,' and gave me a ratty old Crown Victoria," Crawford said, smiling. "I went to my old barbershop. He claimed I owed him money."
Every comedian knows that the proverbial road to success is long and wrought with set backs and disappointments. Crawford is an example of a comedian keeping his nose down, his head up and his eyes focused on the big time. And no one knows big better than
See Lavell Crawford perform Oct. 5 at Jackson State University. To buy tickets ($15 in advance; $20 at the door), visit http://www.jsums.edu/homecoming.
Steve Hofstetter is an internationally touring comedian who has been featured on "The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson" and "E! True Hollywood Story," among others. To book Steve for your next event, visit http://www.PickSteve.com.