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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Finesse Mitchell interview

Finesse Mitchell – November 6, 2008
"The SNL cast was huge and it was hard getting my sketches on. I started losing confidence in what I thought my funny was. You'd throw so much stuff up against the wall and felt you hit a homerun but they just never made the show. And then things that you were just never that passionate about ended up making television. I don't know, it was just a tough year for my last year." – Finesse Mitchell

Finesse Mitchell: Yo, yo, yo.

Guy MacPherson: Yo. Finesse, you're back.
FM: I am back, sir. Sorry about that.

GM: Did you get your bag, or whatever you needed?
FM: Got me this big, gigantic hockey bag. If I can't fit stuff in that, something's wrong with me.

GM: So you got a few minutes?
FM: Yeah, I'm ready.

GM: How's Canada treating you so far?
FM: This is Vancouver, right?

GM: I'm in Vancouver, yeah.
FM: Vancouver. I can't wait to get to Vancouver.

GM: Have you ever been here?
FM: Yes, I have. For a bachelor party.

GM: You have friends here?
FM: No, I had a friend in L.A. who decided to go up to Vancouver for his bachelor party.

GM: What did you do?
FM: We did absolutely nothing! We went clubbing but I don't even think we went to an adult bar or anything like that. We just went clubbing. Hanging out.

GM: The current JFL tour started in the maritimes. Have you done the whole thing?
FM: I joined the tour in Toronto. Hamilton, actually, and then Toronto, which was probably our biggest show. Man, I tell you, this thing is funny. It is funny. We have been leaving people in stitches, crying, wiping tears. The good thing about it is the show is actually funny. Every comic, from Ireland, London, Scotland, U.K, and me from America, everybody is representing really hard.

GM: Just For Laughs always puts on a solid show. Professional. Starts on time...
FM: (laughs) This thing has been running like clockwork. It starts at 7 and out by... It depends, sometimes I run long. It's hard for me to stick to my time. I've got a lot to say. (laughs)

GM: How long have you been on the tour?
FM: Since the 29th.

GM: How much time had you spent in Canada prior to this?
FM: I'd been to Just For Laughs in 2002 and 2005. In 2002 I was in New Faces and in 2005 I was doing a gala and I was in my second year of Saturday Night Live.

GM: I saw you at that one.
FM: Oh, okay. Was I funny?

GM: Yeah, of course. That's why I chose you to interview.
FM: (laughs) I hate interviews. Sometimes I'm funny and sometimes I'm just informational.

GM: Hey, both are good.
FM: I did a couple of movies: Who's Your Caddy?, the movie Mad Money with Queen Latifa and Katie Holmes. I have a new book out called All Your Girlfriends Only Know So Much. I've been tapped as the relationship guru now.

GM: Kinda like Greg Behrendt.
FM: Yeah, Greg. Except I'm funny. He's not funny.

GM: Ooh!
FM: He's okay.

GM: It's a smackdown!
FM: I stopped liking him when he started wearing glasses.

GM: Yeah, there's something wrong about that.
FM: Yeah (laughs).

GM: You did a relationship column in a magazine, right?
FM: Essence magazine. For all you ladies out there, you guys know about Essence. Go to

GM: Is the book a collection of your columns or were they specifically written for the book?
FM: The book is a no-holds-barred, everything-women-want-to-know-about-dating. From dealing with themselves and their own issues to putting together a list of what they think they want in a guy and then scratching some of those things off that list because that's unrealistic, and how to be approached and who's saying what when they approach you, all the way to when you start dating when not to have sex and when it's okay to have sex.

GM: When is it okay?
FM: It depends on how much you like 'em! I always tell women that if you have sex with no expectations and you really like somebody, usually the guy will pick up on that. Because if it's just a mutual understanding, like a one-night stand type of thing, nobody can get upset. And I think if it's really, really good, that's when the trouble starts because then people want to see more of each other. And if it's really, really bad they can't wait to put their shoes on and get outta there. So it's sort of like a double standard.

GM: How did you learn all this?
FM: Uh, you know, trial and error. I'd been single for a while before I got hooked up and on the road all the time, living in four of the best cities in the States: I live in Miami now, L.A., New York and Atlanta. I mean, those are some great cities to become socially advanced as far as being on the dating scene and making mistakes and having some successes. I just basically took all my experiences and the experiences from my boys, who were thugs, professional athletes, doctors, lawyers, teachers and unemployed Playstation dudes – I put all those guys' opinions out in one book and made a hit, man.

"As long as everybody stays in like then everything is simple. You're always happy and giddy. But the minute you fall in love and become boyfriend and girlfriend, it's all of a sudden, 'Where you going? Why you going there? Who's that?'" – Finesse Mitchell

GM: Do you think that all guys, from thugs and unemployed Playstation dudes to lawyers and professional athletes and actors have the same problems when it comes to relationships?
FM: Oh, no doubt. No doubt. Everyone's the same when it comes to love.

GM: We just don't understand women.
FM: It's not that we don't understand women. I just think sometimes people lose their common sense when it comes to falling in love. Because as long as everybody stays in like then everything is simple. You're always happy and giddy. But the minute you fall in love and become boyfriend and girlfriend, it's all of a sudden, "Where you going? Why you going there? Who's that?" But in the beginning it's never like that. It's always like, "Alright, well give me a call when you get home. Let me know you got home safe." That's all we say. (laughs)

GM: Being a relationship expert, does that put pressure on you in your own personal relationships?
FM: No, me and my lady, we're pretty chill. I picked somebody that pretty much gels with my personality and I think that's the key to it, where a lot of people pick somebody because they're lonely or just for the sake of having somebody or there are kids involved or whatever the case may be. But I think there are a lot of incompatible people that are together.

GM: Is your act relationship based?
FM: It depends. Because I'm doing about 20 minutes: ten up top and ten in the middle. Sometimes it can go by so quick. And I'm always messing with the crowd in the front row. So, Vancouver, if you don't want to get messed with, don't sit in the front row. Especially with the wrong type of shirt on.

GM: Funny how those people always end up in the front.
FM: They're always in the front! So I'm always messing with the crowd. And then people always want me to do the Prince joke, so I'm always talking about the Prince concert or maybe [doing] Starkisha from SNL. So I just never know. And then in the second half I'm usually talking about relationships and getting a little bit more adult in the second half of the show because people have settled in, and maybe talking about some sex stuff... in a very, very professional comedic way.

GM: They don't put any restrictions on you, do they?
FM: They try not to but they want us to use our best judgment. They don't want to take the show too blue because Just For Laughs has a brand that's unparalleled in comedy. They have a certain image. And we have sponsors and everything. A big shout-out to Capital One.

GM: Whoever they are.
FM: Yeah, right. So, you know, we try to keep it clean. But everybody's so funny. Danny Bhoy is the last act. Everybody loves Danny Bhoy. He gets up there and tells these crazy stories and has people in stitches.

GM: And you can understand him?
FM: Oh yes, no doubt. And he can do every accent, too.

GM: You don't get to spend much time in any one place. It's kind of like a whistle-stop tour.
FM: Oh, man, it feels like one-night stands every night.

GM: At least you're going by plane, not bus.
FM: And it's really first-class, too. I've been really impressed with the tour.

GM: You live in Miami, and now here you are in Saskatoon! It must be a bit of a culture shock.
FM: Just the other day in Miami they had a Barack Obama bikini contest. It was like 80 degrees. So they gave me a call. They were like, "Hey, Finesse, we want you to come down and be a judge. You in town?" I'm like, [weeping] "I'm in Saskatoon!" They're like, "Where is that?" "Somewhere very cold."

GM: Is it freezing there now?
FM: Yeah, it's pretty cold out here tonight. It's really cold. It's cold for me.

GM: What are your impressions of what you've seen so far?
FM: Man, honestly, I have been doing a lot of casinos late at night. I get my work done during the day. I eat, work out, I go to the local mall, and I get ready for the show. Then if I'm not back in the room tired or in the hotel lobby – because sometimes I'll shout out where we're staying and there'll be a ton of people at the hotel so we'll have drinks and mingle with folks and I'll end up at the casino later that night. One thing I like about Canada is that you guys have casinos close by.

GM: What's your game?
FM: Texas Hold 'em. I can sit there for four hours, lose all my money... I can play brilliantly for four hours and then get restless and lose all my money and go, "Okay, that was worth it."

GM: Do you like being away from home this long?
FM: I hate it.

GM: How long will you be gone all told?
FM: I think we do Vancouver and Victoria and then we're done. I'll be home on the 16th. Then I'll be back in New York doing something on the Today show on the 17th, then I have a show in Miami on the 18th, then I will be in Norfolk, Virginia, on the 22nd.

GM: Constantly on the go.
FM: I'm always on the go.

GM: You missed your big election.
FM: Ah, tell me about it.

GM: Did you get to vote?
FM: Yeah, I voted. I voted early. I put Barack in. I turned Florida blue.

GM: Oh, you voted for Barack?
FM: Oh, no doubt. Of course I did. I tried to vote for McCain but I couldn't raise my arm high enough to reach the lever.

GM: Was it emotional for you?
FM: Oh, yeah, it was. I cried. I cried and I cried watching other people cry. Every time I stopped crying they showed somebody who was crying and then I started crying. And I was getting all these text messages and e-mails. Had I known I was going to win I would have probably not done the tour because I wanted to be in the States. I thought Hillary was going to win; I'm like, "I'm outta here. I'm going to Canada." I'm so happy. It's only because he's so over-qualified. All you need to do is just be smart and have a good judge of character. And you need to have self-control. You can't be on television like John McCain making all those faces and calling people "that one".

GM: Even Elizabeth Hasselbeck was saying what a great day it was.
FM: (laughs) Yeah, she had to eat her words. Shari Shepherd is a good friend of mine. We did a movie Who's Your Caddy? together.

GM: She was crying on the air.
FM: Yeah, I think I started crying when I saw her crying. I was just happy for the country. I'm happy for the world. We just need somebody that looks like they care about people instead of big businesses. It does not work if you keep rewarding the rich and the middle class becomes the poor. Because the poor have aspirations of becoming the middle class, and the middle class is working their butt off to get somewhere. But we're giving all the breaks to ten percent of the population in our country. Everybody's broke. Nobody's buying anything. But the big boys are making money. That's my politics.

GM: Do you do political humour?
FM: Oh, yeah. Yeah. I'm killing Bush in the first five minutes.

GM: Kick him when he's down!
FM: No doubt, man. Stomp on him.

GM: He was such an easy target for the last eight years. Do you expect comics to go after Obama?
FM: With stereotypical jokes. You know, Kool-aid, chicken, watermelon.

GM: You think?
FM: Yeah, it's funny, man. This guy couldn't even say Barack Obama. He was taking me to the casino last night. He was an Indian guy. He was combining his names. He was saying, "Mr. Bahamas". Now, who is Mr. Bahamas? He said, "You do comedy?" He kept going on and on: "I love comedy! I want to do comedy. I have a joke." I was like, "Oh, my God, it's like a bad movie." I said, "What's the joke?" He said, "Mr. Bahamas" – and that made me laugh already because when I figured out he was trying to say Barack Obama I was already in the back seat dying. But he thought he was hilarious. And then he said, "Okay, now that Mr. Bahamas is president, weed is legal!" And I was like, "What the hell?" Where's the joke? And he said, "Marijuana is legal now." And he was cracking up. And I thought to myself, "Okay, I guess there'll be a lot of those jokes."

GM: He was Indian from India?
FM: I guess. I said, "What brought you to Canada?" He said Canada needed 3 million people and his name was on the list. Is that true?

GM: I haven't heard.
FM: He said you guys needed 3 million people. The way he was describing it you guys put out what you actually need, like more beauticians, construction workers or whatever. And there are certain people that you allow into the country.

GM: Everyone is so on board with Obama and he'll screw up like everybody does, or he's going to do something that maybe placates the rich guys and his hardcore supporters will be like, "What are you doing? You've become one of them!"
FM: I think he's in a no-win situation and I think what he should just do is just make the best decision according to what he thinks and fulfill a lot of the campaign promises, like getting health care thing going and these tax breaks going for the middle class and then use common sense and good judgment when it comes to everything else. I think that was Bush's problem. He was always just so one-sided and then turned to God at the end of the day. You can't pray everything is going to work out. You've got to make some sound decisions.

GM: You played football for the University of Miami. Were you a funny football player or did that come later?
FM: That came after I finished. It's hard being a pretty boy and on the football team like the University of Miami, because they were winning championships with a bunch of thugs on the team. I had a name. Finesse was my name and all the girls was liking me. So it was hard just trying to squeeze in there and carve out a spot on the team. Before I knew it I was flunking off so I had to make a decision. Was I going to try to graduate or continue to play football? You can't play football without the grades.

GM: What position were you?
FM: Strong safety and cornerback.

GM: Did you have dreams of turning pro?
FM: Yeah. I think every guy who goes down there, or any guy who plays college ball, wants to go pro. And that just didn't work out for me. After graduation I was selling cruise tickets for about two weeks and then I went into financial services and started selling insurance for about three years, and then moved to L.A. and got involved in the comedy at the Laugh Factory and The Improv out there. We heard Tracy Morgan was leaving Saturday Night Live and they was looking for the new black guy and I was like, "Hey, I'm black. Where do I send my tape?" I sent the tape in, got a call from Tracy: "What's up, Finesse? Heard you wanted my spot." So the next thing I know I'm in New York auditioning and I'm on SNL.

GM: It happened pretty quick, didn't it?
FM: Yeah, man, it happened really quick. I auditioned five times but they couldn't make up their mind then the next thing I know they told me on a Monday when I was in L.A. that I had to be in New York that night; I had the job. So I got my butt on the plane and got my stuff later. Whew! And it was the first week of work. Jack Black was there and then the second week it was Halle Berry. Halle Berry!

GM: You must have been in heaven. You sold insurance, you say. Cedric the Entertainer did that, too, didn't he?
FM: I think so. Cedric sold insurance, Steve Harvey sold insurance. It might be a great job for people who want to go into comedy.

GM: Do you have fond memories of your SNL days?
FM: Yeah, yeah. When I was there, my first two years I felt like were awesome. My last year was a bit of a struggle and challenge.

GM: In what way?
FM: The cast was huge and it was hard getting my sketches on. I started losing confidence in what I thought my funny was. You'd throw so much stuff up against the wall and felt you hit a homerun but they would just never pick or just never made the show. And then things that you were just never that passionate about ended up making television. I don't know, it was just a tough year for my last year. And then when we heard that Horatio was getting let go and they were going to make other cuts, I knew I was going to be one of those other cuts. So I was just preparing myself. And that's when I started back on the standup scene. Also, they would never let me do a Comedy Central half-hour special. Then in my last year Comedy Central offered it to me again, so I went to them and I was like, "Yeah, they want me to do a half-hour special" and they went, "Yeah, go ahead." I was like, "Oh ha, okay."

GM: So you could prepare yourself a bit, but was it still a huge disappointment?
FM: It was disappointing. I left New York and went down to Miami instead of going back to L.A. because I didn't want to have that feeling of going to L.A. and getting back in the rat race. ... That's what I did. I took a personal time-out and now I'm back. But when I was taking that time, I wrote the book. So I had the book deal, which was great. That was another great thing. Even though SNL was ending, I had just gotten a huge book deal to write this relationship book so that made me feel a lot better. It also gave me a sense of purpose; something to do. Then I started touring and doing a whole bunch of fundraisers. Because I thought the phone wasn't going to ring. That was my problem. You get terrified when you leave a show like SNL: "Man, what's going to happen next?" But the phone was ringing and I got two movies: this movie called Who's Your Caddy? and another movie called The Comebacks. We shot those back-to-back. And then I booked a big movie that we thought was going to be huge called Mad Money. And it didn't do the numbers. It got creamed by this movie called Cloverfield. It got creamed by Cloverfield. But things keep happening. Every time I think I have nothing to do, Just For Laughs comes along and they want you to host a comedy tour this fall.

GM: There have been so many cast members over the years and some you never hear from again. Ellen Cleghorn... what's she doing now?
FM: She was doing radio for a little bit but I don't know what she's doing. You know, she's one of the people that just gets lost in the shuffle. You get so frustrated because they bring you on and then they don't use you. But me, they treated me great. My first year I had a great year. My second year I was happy. It was just that third year.

GM: How did they tell you you weren't coming back?
FM: They were like, "Uh, Finesse, you're not coming back."

GM: Just like that? Right to your face?
FM: Uh, no. I just knew when I left for that summer. They called my manager.

GM: Have you seen Lorne Michaels since then?
FM: No. We talked on the phone a couple of times and I went by there before I hit the tour because I'm always in New York. I did the Today show a lot and that's the same building. I've been doing a lot of the daytime morning shows, being the funny relationships guy. Doing Fox's morning show, CBS's morning show, and NBC's morning show. I've been on Tyra Banks' show a lot. So I've still been popping up on television here and there and then doing standup at night. I did the Byron Allen Comics Unleashed show. I don't know when that airs, but it's pretty funny.

GM: Do you get in some of that Bush material when you're on the Fox morning show?
FM: It depends. Sometimes we're talking more about relationships. I always try to throw in my opinion if they ask for it. I hope to have some sort of type of show in '09. So that's what we're working on right now. That's what I'm doing in the daytime. I'm always on the computer going back and forth with producers and writing stuff.

GM: Would it be a sitcom or a talk show?
FM: That's what we're going back and forth on. So we wrote both. And that's what we're pitching.

GM: Good luck with that. Do you think growing up with the name Finesse gave you that sense of humour? Or were you picked on?
FM: Both. Both. But it was always a conversation piece. People either called me 'Nesse or they call me Fin. I very rarely heard dudes say, "What's up, Finesse?" And it wasn't until I actually got to college that people started calling me Finesse. And that helped out. It actually helped out on the football field. It helped out just being popular at school. And I'm a frat guy so we were always throwing parties. So my college experience was probably the best time of my life. And SNL was second. (laughs)

GM: What was The Rock like back then?
FM: Well, I knew him our freshman year because we all came in together. Just a quiet guy. He was really quiet. And he was going through a couple injuries himself. And when we went into our junior year I was off the team and I guess that's when he was this other personality. Because the guy I see on TV was not the guy I knew our freshman year. He was a little quiet. But I guess you had to really know him.

GM: How many years did you play?
FM: Just two. My freshman and sophomore year.

GM: Is this tour kind of like travelling with the team?
FM: Yeah, we've become a small little family now. And it's so funny to have somebody from Ireland, Scotland, London, because they're always talking about their history and who invaded who and who owes who what, who's in debt to who, and all that type of stuff. But it's so funny and so witty, everywhere we go we're cracking jokes. And we're not even really trying to, it's just happening. Because you know we're meeting normal people and we're always playing off of them. And it's just a funny situation. We could be at the airport. Danny Bhoy, they broke the handle of his bag. So he was like, "You guys broke my bag. You owe me a new bag." And they were like, "No, look at the sign. We don't cover handles." He was like, "But that's the only part you touch." Hilarious.

GM: And you've got a Canadian on the tour, too.
FM: Pete Zedlacher. That guy is funny. For 20 minutes he has you crying. He has this joke about the Canadian bird. The state bird or whatever you guys call it. The goose. Oh my God. It has people dying. It's a very funny tour. I can't wait to get to Vancouver because I had a great time the last time I was there. And I love the fact that your flowers are so colourful.

GM: Well, I hope they're still out when you're here.
FM: I don't know when I was there last. I know it was for the bachelor party. But I remember it being kinda cold. It wasn't warm. But I would say, "Man, look at those flowers, they're so blue and pink and orange and red and white!" They were all-colours type of flowers the neighbourhoods we were going in.

GM: Well, I look forward to seeing the show.
FM: All the beautiful women of Vancouver, come on out to the Just For Laughs comedy show. This is your boy Finesse Mitchell. Google me, find out who I am. It's gonna be hilarious and we definitely want you to come out. I think we added another show so it's been well received out there. I can't wait to get out there.

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