“I used to talk about sex,” says comedian James Stephens III, but the stand-up is now attending a seminary and studying to be a pastor and has taken soap and a scrub brush to his act, which he will bring to the Improv at Harrah’s February 10-14
“Barack Obama says we got to make a change,” continues Stephens, whose credits include appearing in the 1991 comedy film Talkin’ Dirty After Dark and frequent live shows at New York City club Comic Strip Live. “We got to be clean! I don’t use the “N” word, the “F” word, the “B” word. At the end of the day the audience is like, ‘He did all that and he didn’t even swear!’”
“All that” is a lot of straight-up improv plus a series of spot-on impressions of everyone from Bernie Mac and Eddie Murphy to T-Pain and Lil Wayne. It’s all mixed with a heavy dose of singing, dancing and piano.
“Ne-Yo’s got a new song out, so I’d like to make it funny. I like to make songs funny,” says Stephens.
Over the phone his voice smoothly morphs into Lil Wayne’s charming stoner rasp, followed by a few moments of classic MJ and then a sonorous Sammy Davis Jr. rendition.
“Prince, Bill Cosby; that’s the old school stuff. If you got a younger crowd you do younger material. I’m a great improviser. That’s what I do. I gear all my shows to the audience.”
Next week, expect Barack Obama to pop up: “The White House is going to be The Bill Cosby Show for the next four years!” Stephens observes. At his Valentine’s Day show he plans to play love songs on the piano and serenade the audience Lionel Richie style.
Stephens, the youngest of seven, grew up wanting to be a singer. He sang in the gospel choir every Sunday and performed old-fashioned classics for his “mama.” He established himself as a comedian in college before enrolling in law school.
But his inner entertainer would not be suppressed. Stephens moved from Washington to L.A. and appeared in a succession of films, television shows and live comedy acts.
Currently, he is shooting a pilot for a television show called The Moses Project and starring in Da Funny Man, a movie slated to screen next week at the North Carolina Film Festival. He is also writing screenplays and commercials, acting, producing, directing and working on a documentary called The Truth. Stephens also chairs a scholarship foundation that has handed out laptops and college money for the past twenty years.
“God has been kind,” he humbly remarks.
During his off time in Vegas, Stephens may pal around with Carrot Top at Pure or hang out with fellow funnyman George Wallace. He also counts Katt Williams and Jerry Seinfeld as friends.
But most of his energy will go into giving the audience a good time without bringing up his wild past: “I had a girl over to my house and I told her, ‘You don’t have to take your clothes off to have a good time, but now that you got them off, we gotta party!’”
“There will be lots of improv,” Stephens promises. “Every show is different. We’re gonna have fun. What the people like, I’ll make that happen. It’s gonna be great.”