Since 1977, George Wallace has been one of the classiest stand-up comedians around. His affable demeanor and instant charm have made him not only a crowd favorite, but also tremendously respected, and even revered by his peers. In 1995, Wallace won Best Male Standup Comedian at the American Comedy Awards, and since then has gone on to play supporting roles in film and television. But even though he has branched out, standup comedy is still his love. He currently has a long-running show at The Flamingo Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, where he constantly performs. Wallace even regularly walks through the hotel to make sure guests are having an awesome time. I recently got on the phone with Wallace to ask him questions I’ve always been curious about.
You grew up in a religious family yet you still wanted to be comedian. How did your family influence your comedy?
My show is about faith, family, the whole thing. I just translate from things that have happened in the family. My parents, my upbringing, my community, my schooling, everything. Family is totally involved in the show, and has been for 35 years.
You’ve worked with squeaky-clean Jerry Seinfeld and dirty-mouthed Red Foxx. Were either of them influences on your style of comedy, or did you always have your own style?
With Jerry Seinfeld, we’ve been best friends for 35 years. You learn something from everybody. Richard Pryor, Red Foxx, Robin Williams: I’ve worked with everybody. There are all different styles out there, but funny is funny. Nobody did it better than Richard Pryor. But today, we have different outlets and avenues and ways to work, with HBO and Showtime and BET and cable television. Kids can say what they wanna say, and express themselves differently, which is good. I like that and I like to see all kinds of kids working—dirty, clean, whatever. If it’s funny, it’s funny. Be true to yourself, and make sure that you enjoy your life.
That’s great advice. Can you talk about your relationship with Jerry Seinfeld?
Well, we’ve been best friends for 35 years. I was the best man at his wedding, and we do a lot together. He’s just the best. I wish more people had friends like Jerry Seinfeld. And he doesn’t have a better friend than me, either. [Laughs]
You’ve collaborated with some great comedians and artists throughout your career. Is there someone you’ve always wanted to do something with but just haven’t gotten the chance yet?
Oh, I was thinking about that the other day. Bill Cosby’s probably a guy I need to work with. We’ve done some shows together, but I want to sit down and chat with him. But he’s one of the greatest forces of my life. I’d like to do another show with him—actually, on stage and talk with him. He’s a good guy. And I’ve worked with everybody, from Tom Jones to Aretha Franklin to the President of the United States. But Bill Cosby’s the guy I need to see now.
Of all the old school as well as new kids performing today, who do you admire the most? Who do you think has contributed the most to comedy?
Well naturally, Richard Pryor. George Carlin is the comedian that I just always admire—I didn’t even watch him. I didn’t watch George Carlin because he was so good. I’d write a joke and whatever I’d think of writing about, George Carlin has already covered it. He was wonderful. And from Eddie Murphy to Jerry Seinfeld to the new kids today to—JB Smoove is my new guy. A lot of the shows he’s on are just fantastic.
What is the highlight of your career? Is there a defining moment?
Well, probably last Monday night, hanging out with the President of the United States, so that was a highlight. We talked about some comedy, and he did a joke about me. He said, “You look a lot younger tonight than the last time I saw you.” I said, “Well, I wish I could say the same thing about you.” [Laughs]
Can you ever see yourself retiring from stand-up comedy?
How do you retire from doing nothing? I don’t do anything. I just walk on stage every night. “How ya doing?” “What’s going on?” “Tell me something. What do you wanna talk about?” I usually do an hour and thirty, and it’s a different show every night. I’m ready to go to work right now. I just love what I do. So no, I do not see myself retiring.
To read more about how you can watch Wallace perform in person, check out his Flamingo Resort and Casino schedule here and visit his interactive website GerogeWallace.net., which features an extensive video vault of his recent television appearances. You can also follow Wallace on Facebook and Twitter @GeorgeWallaceLV.
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About the Author: Daniel Berkowitz is a Los Angeles-based graduate student focused on nonfiction writing and popular culture. He's currently working on a book about how comedy affects democracy. He also really likes baseball. Follow him on Twitter @DanIsPrettyCool.