Royale Watkins, co-founder of the Mixtape Comedy Show at the legendary Gotham Comedy Club, a show which has featured comedy stars such as Chris Rock and Amy Schumer, now takes the mic as the solo host. He’s overhauled the original show format to supplement the comics with a classy, talented band and deejay that are perfectly paced and not over-portioned, and he’s detached from friend and co-founder, actor Anthony Anderson.
Mixtape’s myth of birth, a well-documented quasi-accident escalating from online rap battles between him and Anderson, provided the founding principle of variety, an alchemy which Watkins and his staff have mastered over time. “For me, it’s about trying to engage the audience. Give them the comedy but give it to them in a completely different way,” said Watkins. At the October show, they incorporated a ludicrous Key and Peele clip as a warm up, as well as the ever so talented Mixtape Allstar Band and the intense DJ Diamond who “took his vitamins,” the man was spinning records with his knees and elbows. He’s probably proficient using every part of his body but Mixtape is a clean show. The comics were diverse and powerful, well ordered and contrasting. “To be able to open a show with Michael Kosta who was hilarious and to be able to close with Roy Wood, Jr., the show has an ebb and flow to it, it makes sense.”
Watkins is right about Kosta, who delivered bits about his life having lost its pep and excitement in an ironic state of contagious exuberance. After he was introduced, he began ridiculously designated attractive female audience members by pretending to fire a Mega-Man-like arm cannon at them. He was a force of energy and excitement and great lead-off for the show.
James Davis followed, adlibbing well when confronted with the scrupulous, on-point language policing of DJ Diamond. He described his life growing up a few blocks away from the real troubled neighborhood, thus making him almost, nearly, but truthfully anything but hood. To round out a solid set he relates faux-paux methods of receiving fashion advice.
Third on stage was Michael Somerville, who may have a dating advice column and impart humorous wisdom on Lifetime, but he approaches his own life with a crushing sense of realism. Hear his heart-warming contentions on true love and splash around in the self-gratifying fountains of his flourishing self-image. His bits on manliness and dieting were excellent, and like Davis, improved well with what arose.
Following Somerville and staying true to the exciting and varying lineup at Mixtape, the booming personality Hadiyah Robinson took the stage. Energetic and warm, she described the trials of being a black woman with a “regular ass.” She describes how the shamelessness of men would survive a zombie apocalypse, and how a truly ghetto baby shower is apocalyptic in its own right. Profound in her strong topics, she also spectacularly and unexpectedly burns an audience member out of the blue.
The final comic to take the stage, veteran of Conan and Def Comedy Jam, Roy Wood, Jr., had a great set about some modern hypocrisy we are all guilty of, the financial strain of veganism, and the apparent impossibility of a black man to wear red, even with a blazer.
Watkins himself was definitely experimenting with some new material. He likely pattered in a couple sure success bits like one about being blamed for providing too much sexual stimulation, which may have been the biggest laugh all night. Watkins’ go to topic and the start of many jokes through-out his career has been infidelity and playing the field. If one digs through YouTube they can find him giving advice on a relationship show, which, to one familiar with his onstage persona, is the most severely obvious casting error in the modern millennium.
A bit Watkins was probably first experimenting with in preparation for his own 30-minute set he is rounding together, was a hilarious piece about a wife detective in an interrogation room, but it went down a tangent and Watkins’ had to cut it off.
Watkins relates that he is now helping other comics with specials while gathering material for his own. His abundant TV credits tapered off a couple years ago. Research of Mixtape yields great sets on YouTube and excitement on sites like this one, but all, again, dating to some years ago. Watkins’ personal site is frozen in time, boasting his new appointment to UPN’s All of Us back in 2007 (He would go on to be nominated for an NAACP Image Award for his writing on the episode “The N Word.” But it takes only short time talking to Watkins and one night at Mixtape to reveal that he is not content to only run his NYC show, and he’s never laid down the gloves either.
After rattling off his impressive list of upcoming projects, he humbly verifies a change in his intensity. “I’m in go mode, ya know, because again for a while I wasn’t really doing anything, and then I got aggressive and now I’m busy again.”
While sustaining Mixtape over the past couple years and having TV sidelined, Watkins kept the engine purring. But now with the revamped Mixtape show, a forthcoming Mixtape Comedy TV special and national tour, a sitcom idea being shopped and plans of his own half-hour, Royale Watkins is looking to enter a higher gear and get back in the prize fights.