Rickey Smiley, the Alabama-born comedian and syndicated radio-talk-show host, may be best known for making prank calls and portraying fictional characters such as churchgoing granny Bernice Jenkins and Lil Darryl, a 7-year-old with thick glasses and a seemingly limited mental capacity. This Friday, Smiley will host Alonso Mourning and Dwyane Wade’s Summer Groove Comedy Jam. Smiley recently talked to us about his comedy, childhood and Sea-Doo obsession.
I understand your mom took you to concerts that inspired you to learn how to play music, but that you were so funny, you had to be a comedian.
I remember going to see Kool and the Gang, James Brown, Funkadelic and the Bar-Kays. I saw Marvin Gaye in concert when I was a kid and I was inspired. I really wanted to do something. My home church was definitely an inspiration in watching our church musicians, so I knew I had to be something. I think my little mind was just trying to gravitate to anything that was entertaining. I started taking piano lessons, which I really enjoyed, and had an obsession with the piano. And then, I ended up in a comedy club on Nov. 13, 1989, and the rest is history.
I guess the church is a big inspiration in your comedy, as well.
Absolutely. I grew up in the church and went to church every Sunday, and whatever extra programs my grandmother attended. I grew up in an awesome church with an awesome pastor and awesome musicians. I’m still a member of that church. I still to this day play sometimes for the 8 o’clock service in the Sunday school at my home church.
How has your comedy evolved since 1989?
We went from doing little gigs, open-mike nights, bars, grills and backyard barbecues to going onstage and performing in front of thousands. I ended up host of BET’s Comic View and did specials on Comedy Central and Showtime, Latham Entertainment Presents, Def Comedy Jam, two appearances at Showtime at the Apollo and three movies — All About the Benjamins, First Sunday and Friday After Next. Now, I’m into radio.
You’re also in a movie coming out in September, right?
Yes, Stomp the Yard 2. I played myself hosting the step show. It was an easy role because that’s what I did pretty much at the beginning of my career. I used to host all the Greek shows, so that was pretty easy to do and a lot of fun.
What’s your favorite memory from making that movie?
It was fun being there with David Banner and comedian Lil Duval. … It was hard work. I was tired because I had done a radio show that day and it was getting late into the night and I had to be on the air again. The most fun I had doing a movie was First Sunday, when I was playing Bernice Jenkins because it was in and out, three or four takes.
Out of all the characters you portray in your comedy, which is your favorite?
Bernice Jenkins, the old lady. She does the church announcements and people lose their minds.
I understand audience members get out of control with their laughter at times.
Oh, yeah, I’ve come off stage a few times and had to comfort and wipe tears. And sometimes, I’d put the mike to their mouth and let the whole audience hear them laugh. I’ve done some crazy stuff.
How many kids do you have?
Biological, two. But I’m raising about six.
How do you escape the stress of your schedule?
There’s a nice lake in Alabama — Lake Martin — and I go out there. I’m obsessed with Sea-Doos, and that’s what I do. I ride my Sea-Doos and I fish. I do everything and anything at the lake. I’ll go sit on the side of the lake and get on Twitter as long as I’m at the lake or the beach.”
Is your family coming to South Florida?
Yeah, I’m bringing the kids and we’re gonna have a good time.
Are you riding Sea-Doos here?
Yeah, I have my Sea-Doos down there. I hate to rent now that I’m a Sea-Doo owner because you have to have them back by a certain time. I can get my Sea-Doos and go to a sandbar and join a party on the Intracoastal and kick it. The only thing about riding a Sea-Doo in Florida is that there are so many rules [and] no-wake zones, and you get pulled over a lot. But in Alabama, man, you’re just free and the lakes are so huge. … I also have a boat I just purchased two months ago that I’m obsessed with. We love the water. When I get off the air, the kids are already ready to go and they’re waiting in the car.
How are your prank phone calls coming and what kind of response are you getting to your online prank phone call submission-request forms?
I haven’t checked in a while because we’re redoing the Web site, but we would get thousand upon thousands. … A lot of people are hip to prank phone calls now so it’s getting harder and harder to find people. You might make 200 calls in order to get 20.
Is this your first Summer Groove?
I did it before, probably about five years ago and I had an awesome time. I think it was me and Bow Wow. It’s always good to come down there. WEDR 99 Jamz is No. 1 in South Florida [editor's note: Actually, the station ranked fifth in the most-recent Arbitron ratings report; the next one is due Friday] and I’m really looking forward to coming down there to touch down with the listeners and fans, and I’m looking forward to raising as much money as possible for Alonzo Mourning’s foundation, and see Zo and Dwyane Wade and all the other NBA players that are gonna participate. I’m really excited about that, and we’re gonna have a good time.
Rickey Smiley will headline the Summer Groove Comedy Jam, featuring George Willborn, Damon Williams, Gary Owen, Rodney Perry, Melanie Comarcho and Red Grant, 7 p.m. Friday at Hard Rock Live at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, 1 Seminole Way, in Hollywood. Tickets cost $45-$100. Call 305-476-0095 or visit Thesummergroove.com.
Contact Colleen Dougher at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story was originally published July 13, 2010.