Richmond’s brand new Sandman Comedy Club is setting things off right by bringing in former Comic View and Saturday Night Live star Finesse Mitchell for its opening weekend. Gabe Santamaria spoke to Finesse to get the lowdown on what he has in store for us all.
Sandman Comedy Club has it’s grand opening this Thursday. To kick off the many laughs to come is Comic View vet and Saturday Night Live alumni Finesse Mitchell. Known not only as a stand-up comedian but also an actor, author, and podcaster, Mitchell has been making audiences howl since 1999 with his detailed stories, characters, and spot-on timing. The seasoned comic agreed to do a phone interview with me — check it out below.
Gabe: You’re from Atlanta. Did you come up in that comedy scene? What was that like?
Finesse: Atlanta at the time, it was just… my days coming up was during BET’s Comic View.
Gabe: Oh yeah, I remember Comic View.
Finesse: Yeah, so everybody was on Comic View. Earthquake, Bruce Bruce, Sheryl Underwood, Mo’Nique. So, if you like comedy and you’re getting into it then, you couldn’t help but keep going back to the comedy clubs, because you would see the people you saw on TV. So it was real cool.
I started out at Miami, Florida, because I went to school at the University of Miami and I played ball for them. But I used to go to the Coconut Grove, or what we called the Miami Improv. And so, when I finally moved back to Atlanta after school was over with, I started going to the Uptown Comedy Corner and stuff like that. When I saw the people, I knew: “I can do this”
Gabe: I’ve been watching your stuff for a while and I can tell you’re very good at painting a scenario for the audience.
Finesse: I can’t say that I’m a huge joke teller, but I’ve definitely got a funny story that stitches it all together. I was watching my tape the other day. I just got back from Cleveland and I was watching it. And probably the first ten minutes, I don’t think I told a joke, but they were dying. So, I think reached that point in my career and in my stand-up that the delivery is gonna be funny. And that’s half the battle.
Gabe: I was listening to your podcast, the Understand This podcast, and you were talking about Starkisha. That character started out as a bit in your stand-up and eventually evolved into an SNL sketch. What was that process like? Was it something that developed over time or something you had right away?
Finesse: Well, one thing I did learn from Bill Bellamy coming up under him, like we were saying in the podcast, was “instead of talking about that person, become the person.” So instead of me talking about this ghetto girl in the movie theatre, be her. He actually saw me start this story. About four or five months in, it was one of the funniest things about the night. Everybody would be leaving talking about Starkisha. So when I got a chance to audition for SNL, I was like “You think I should do that?” [Bill Bellamy] said, “Uuuhh, dummy. Yeah.”
Gabe: Over the years sets evolve and styles evolve. How has your set updated over the years, up to now?
Finesse: Bro, I feel like I’m a jedi now. I feel like I’m one of the funniest people that hasn’t truly popped yet. Like a Tiffany Haddish or a Kevin Hart. But I feel like it’s coming. These are good problems. Every time you get close, you might book a TV show. There’s a lot of comics that don’t book TV shows or movies, so they stay on the road. The thing about booking a series is that it keeps you off the road and makes you not want to go back, because you get comfortable with just going to work at a studio instead of taking these flights everywhere. But people who can balance that and can stay active end up winning more. So that’s what I’m doing this time. When I come to Richmond, I’m probably going to be three more weekends out before I shoot my comedy special. I’m actually coming to [Sandman Comedy Club] to work on my comedy special, which I plan to shoot in June.
Gabe: How do you feel podcasts have given or taken away from comedy, especially now having your own podcast?
Finesse: I think it’s where everybody is headed. Because everybody realizes now that you can be a Joe Rogan if you do a thousand episodes. You could be a Your Mom’s House, like Tom Segura, or a Joe Budden. And it’s a great way not only to write new material; it’s like having your own radio show. I’m thirty shows in, but it’s getting pretty popular pretty fast, and a lot of people want to come on and talk with me. So, I love it.
Gabe: OK, I have one more question for you before you get out of here. So, you have a good bit of Prince material. I was wondering, has he, before he passed, ever heard your bits about him?
Finesse: I do not know, but I will say meeting him was, of course, one of the highlights of my life. That’s all I can say. He was like [the] musical god when I was a kid coming up. When I was on SNL, he was the musical guest. It was just like, “I can’t believe this is happening. That I’m in this same small-ass room with Prince.” A lot of people think SNL is big, but when you go to the show, you’re like, “This is it?” But it’s literally like — damn, that’s Prince right there. I just waved at him. He just looked at me and turned his nose up. “Oh, this is the best day ever. I just got ignored by Prince.” And I can say that.
But I want to definitely let people know I’m excited to get to Richmond, I’m excited to do the hour. Because I feel like people haven’t been to a good comedy show in a long time, so they don’t have a lot of stuff to compare it to. I’m in the business of making fans for life. So I hope the club lasts, picks up steam, and gains a good reputation for bringing in good talent. And I’m definitely going to set it off right.
It was a pleasure speaking with Finesse Mitchell who is truly a funny and genuine guy. His Understand This podcast is available on all streaming platforms. You can catch Finesse at Sandman Comedy Club April 29 through May 1, doing seven shows throughout the weekend. The shows will feature Matt Rife opening the show and Mu Cuzzo hosting. Doors open an hour before each show; be sure to show up early for dinner and drinks. Schedule and tickets are available at Sandman Comedy Club’s website.