Sinbad, Comedy Titan Reborn, Wakes Santa Clarita UpSean Malin September 25, 2018 2 Comments
As he bounded onto center stage at The Canyon Santa Clarita on Saturday, trombone in hand and goatee meticulously manicured, the comedian and erstwhile film star known as Sinbad found himself caught in a flurry of goodwill.
Much of that was due to the revelry kicked up by his righteous opening act, Sheree Dunn and her 7-piece rock outfit Sophisticated Soul. Dunn, a sparklingly talented soul vocalist of the Sharon Jones generation, stirred the theater up with well-established classics like “I’m Every Woman” (Chaka Khan) and “I’m Coming Out” (Diana Ross) before the spotlight turned to the headliner.
Sinbad, for his part, immediately turned it back to the stunning all-women band, summoning each to perform a solo before his 2-hour-plus monologue began.
This kind of warm, performative generosity is not typically associated with the comic. If you look into your cultural memory, you may recall that Sinbad’s very presence (he is 6”5’ with the vaudevillian spasticity of Buster Keaton) sometimes swallowed those unlucky enough to be caught in his orbit. You may also recall that in the mid-‘90s pictures that made his name – House Guest, Jingle All The Way, Good Burger – he was forced into the role of comedy driving instructor: grab the wheel, Sinbad, before this car crashes and burns.
In those high-orbit years, only the electric charisma of, say, Arnold Schwarzenegger could match his trademark chew-‘em-up-and-spit-‘em-out energy. It was enough to dare any studio to try to tame him for profit. Watch the trailer for Disney’s First Kid, his first true top-billed lead role, and you see a man struggling for air against the restraints of his fearful, hungry handlers. No wonder he was never handed the reins to his own franchise.
Yet here was our man, more than two decades out from his peak as a cinematic hero, looking stronger than any 62-year-old giant with two knee replacements ought to look. That Sinbad, however – the frantic Sinbad, the exhausting Sinbad, the hammy Sinbad – was nowhere to be found.
Rather, it was a wizened, softened stage veteran who appeared in Valencia in a silky blue and yellow striped shirt, patched blue jeans and bejeweled earrings. In his opening salvos, he reminded the crowd that he had been performing stand up ever since his now-legendary tenure on Star Search nearly 35 years ago. He riffed on mortality and staying in school; he drew two teenagers into a conversation about the generation gap (“when I was a kid, my medication was: go outside and play”); he sweetly mocked the competency of the wait staff. The usual.
Later, however, a more serious tenor emerged.
“America is a racist country,” Sinbad declared, his broad smile receding. He told us about how our nation needed racism to be the dominant force in world politics. He described the hatred he saw in the streets as the everyday, foundationally American problem that it was. He explained that he was scared: he had worked for Trump years before at one of his casinos, and could hardly believe the turn of events since. “I knew he was playing,” he said about the billionaire’s presidential run, “but people believed him!”
After an hour of pure adulation, some in the audience booed this comment. The smile immediately returned. “Don’t worry – I forgive you!” he said.
That this particular comedian – the very picture in his early career of the unbridled, untethered id – was delivering an earnest wake-up call to the citizens of Santa Clarita was more than a novelty. In that moment (and in some strong closing remarks), Sinbad revealed a sense of maturity that few comics of any generation can handle while still going in for the hard laugh.
Make no mistake: his job was to shred his vocal cords so that we might shred ours in response, a goal which Sinbad can hit in his sleep. People paid good money for those tickets, and nobody knows that like Sinbad knows that. He is not interested in providing didactic Bill Maher-style commentary on current events so much as using those events to get Sinbad-sized laughs (which he did).
If his performance went a little long, it was not because of the political detours he took. Maybe he got lost once or twice, sure, but that was not the issue either. Sinbad simply prefers not to stop. Why would you when your crowd is clapping so loudly during the set that it is hard to hear your jokes? Life is short – why not bask in it?
To see Sinbad learn this in real time was to witness a titan processing the unexpected next stage of his life: acclaimed supporting arcs in shows like Fox’s upcoming Lil Rel Howery vehicle Rel, scene-stealing cameos in Netflix’s alt-genius Michael Bolton’s Big, Sexy Valentine’s Day Special, a lifetime’s worth of one-hour specials reevaluated. For those watching this, it felt lucky. It’s hard to keep a good man down.
Tickets for Sinbad’s national tour are available here.
Tickets for The Canyon’s upcoming shows are available here.
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