Kevin “Dotcom” Brown: “I Created Def Comedy Jam”
Many people may know Kevin Brown from his role as Dotcom in the critically acclaimed and Emmy Award winning comedy series 30 Rock, where Kevin’s character was a highly intelligent member of Tracy Morgan’s entourage. In real life Kevin Dotcom Brown is also a Wesleyan University-trained stage actor (gosh, I’m already feeling too dumb for this interview), but acting wasn’t this funny man’s first love, he was actually an aspiring rapper, turned party promoter, turned comedy club owner, turned host, turned comedian, turned famous person. I’m exhausted from his ambition.
These days Kevin is hard at work producing the upcoming documentary Uptown Comedy Club: The Birth of Hip Hop Comedy, a documentary that chronicles the journey of black comedians and club owners trying to bust on the scene in the late 80’s. The super nice actor/comedian was gracious enough to stop by my office to give me an interview, as well as make me popular with my co-workers.
Chalaire: Hi, thanks so much for coming in, but you have a lot of names. What the hell should I call you?
Kevin Dotcom Brown: Everyone calls me Dotcom now, but I’m Kevin, Kevin Brown, Kevi Kev, and Doti-com. I get it all, and it’s all fine.
Chalaire: Ok, Kevi Kev. What came first, comedy or acting?
Kevin Dotcom Brown: Comedy came first, but acting wasn’t far behind. Actually, when I decided to make comedy official, I immediately registered for acting classes. The average comic says “I want to be a comedian” then someone tells them to go to a comedy club. The first move should be to go to an acting class, nowadays go to an improv class. If you want to be a successful comedian you can’t just hit the comedy club.
Chalaire: You also recommend improv?
Kevin Dotcom Brown: Definitely. Improv is the thing now. The origin of improv isn’t new, but it’s hot now. It’s the evolution like when beepers were hot and now smartphones are. If you want to get your chops up you can go to some of these traditional improv schools in any of the major cities and you could be working right alongside people who are on popular shows. They love going back to keep that muscle strong.
Chalaire: True! My improv teacher is on a show with John Goodman right now, and he was just as enthused to be in class with us.
Kevin Dotcom Brown: Yes. A lot of people are getting hired for television have that improv background now.
Chalaire: Where are you from?
Kevin Dotcom Brown: I’m from NYC. Born and raised in the Bronx.
Chalaire: I would normally say “uh oh, let me hide my purse” but you don’t look like someone I should joke around with.
Kevin Dotcom Brown: *laughs*
Chalaire: What made you decide to get into comedy?
Kevin Dotcom Brown: Oh, that was a journey. I used to be a rapper. MC-ing came from the Bronx and I was right there when it was getting started. I had my crew and as I got older I started doing parties, and eventually became a party promoter. When I went to college I started promoting huge parties. I was making thousands of dollars off one party. I didn’t even have enough bags to carry the money home.
Chalaire: WOW! Excuse me while I change careers.
Kevin Dotcom Brown: The thing about party promoting, you can work for 3 months to make a party happen and the day of the party there’s a hurricane, or a snow storm, then you lose all of your money in one night. I had one of those devastating loses.
Chalaire: That’s not how you got into comedy right? I wouldn’t be in a jokey mood after something like that.
Kevin Dotcom Brown: My brother [Andre Brown] was trying his hand at comedy at comedy. He invited me to his show called, A Bunch of Black Comedians. I’m sitting there and all of a sudden he comes from backstage to say his host didn’t show up and asked me to host the show. I didn’t know what to do because I’d never done anything like that, but I made sure he gave me back the $20 I paid at the door because I had just lost all my money in party promotion.
Chalaire: So a host was born, huh?
Kevin Dotcom Brown: Yes, I had the time of my life. I had never seen young black comics perform in front of a young black audience before. I had the greatest time ever that I started saying funny stuff. So, the businessman in me decided that we were going to do it again. He handled the creative stuff and I handled the business. I noticed at comedy clubs you didn’t need to waste money hiring security or insurance like you do when promoting parties, because thugs were coming to laugh. It was an amazing thing to realize. I felt like when cavemen created fire.
Chalaire: So, what you’re saying is we should just put more comedy clubs in the hood?
Kevin Dotcom Brown: Right. I brought my DJ and it was on. This is why the documentary is called The Birth of Hip Hop Comedy. Nobody was mixing hip hop and comedy before that. I created Def Comedy Jam. Russell Simmons visited our club and spoke to me about working together, and shook my hand on a deal. Next thing you know Def Comedy Jam was on TV, but I wasn’t a part of it.
Chalaire: Is Russell Simmons in the documentary?
Kevin Dotcom Brown: No, that was a Milli Vanilli type of deal. It never happened.
Chalaire: Do you see a lot of the comics that were coming up at that time on TV now.
Kevin Dotcom Brown: Yes, Tracy Morgan, Nick Cannon, Ellen Cleghorn, Dougie Doug, Flex [Alexander], so many black comedians. Mainstream comedy clubs were not letting black comedians on their stage. That’s why Uptown was so successful because it gave a platform to upcoming black comedians. We became the enemy.
Chalaire: Were you given credit for basically giving them their start?
Kevin Dotcom Brown: Wow! That’s the thing. Many of the comics we were giving an opportunity to would forget about us once they caught a break. They wouldn’t even mention us in interviews or anything. Not only were we giving them a place to perform, but I was booking deals for them, negotiating payment, my brother taught comedy workshops. The theory of the club was to make stars so we could be successful as a club. I would tell the audience about different TV appearances that our comics had booked.
Chalaire: It wasn’t in the comic’s best interest to talk about Uptown?
Kevin Dotcom Brown: That’s the way it appeared because we were a threat to the industry since we were doing so well. Our comedians started booking so much that they wouldn’t show up to Uptown gigs anymore, so I decided I would try stand-up. I felt like I couldn’t depend on other comedians anymore. We were making these guys stars then they would get successful and leave, so I decided to make myself a star. At least if I leave I will take my camp with me.
Chalaire: Did you kill it right out the gate?
Kevin Dotcom Brown: Yes, thanks to a heckler. I was introducing a comedian, telling the audience where they’ve seen him, and a heckler shouted out “Forget him, where have we seen you?” Everybody starts laughing, so I said “You’ve seen me at your house last night, #^@&*, you’ve seen my name on your birth certificate, and you’ve seen me with your mama because I’m your daddy.” The crowd goes wild. After that I worked hard, and put in a lot of work.
Chalaire: How did 30 Rock come about?
Chalaire: So Tracy Morgan didn’t know you were going to be on the set?
Kevin Dotcom Brown: No, and I was nervous because I hadn’t seen him in 8 years. He was one of the people who forgot about Uptown Comedy when he made it. They just happened to sit me next to his spot. All of a sudden I hear “ Kev? Oh Kev.” Then Tracy started to give a speech about how we knew each other and that I gave him his start. He introduced me to everyone. Once the show got picked up they came to me and said they wanted to write me into the show from time to time. The first season I was in 17 episodes. The show is in syndication now and I’m on TV about 30 times a week.
Chalaire: That’s a great reunion, and the recognition from someone you helped came at a great time. What do you want to achieve with the documentary?
Kevin Dotcom Brown: I was on an Emmy Award-winning show, and I created hip hop comedy, now I just want to bridge the gap between those two audiences. A lot of those young kids who come across the Uptown Comedy videos or even a lot of the comedians like Nick Cannon don’t even realized that the guy who played Dotcom on 30 Rock was the same guy who gave them their start on stage. I want to make the connection as well as educate the masses on the evolution of black comedy.
Chalaire: Well, I look forward to the documentary. It sounds like we can look forward to a lot of good stories and comedy history.
Kevin Dotcom Brown: Yes, that’s the whole goal of the documentary, and my book will follow.
Chalaire Miller contributes to Us Weekly, E! Fashion Police, MTV VMA’s, and is an improv artist, stand-up comedian, and comedy blogger. You can also check her out on Twitter @laire and That’s What She Said.
Chalaire aims Man Cave Daily’s Comedy Spotlight, most recently when she interviewed SNL‘s newest addition, Sasheer Zamata.