By Monique Jones
The Birmingham Times
J. Anthony Brown is not a newcomer to The StarDome Comedy Club in Hoover; in fact, he’s one of its earliest performers.
“I was probably one of the first comedians to perform at The StarDome when it was downtown,” he said, adding that the club moved two times before landing its third and current location. “…I was one of the first comedians to start there. [StarDome Owner Bruce Ayers] owned a bar and we performed there…That had to be 30, 35 years ago.”
“I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: The StarDome is one of the best comedy clubs in the country,” he said. “Seating-wise, operation-wise, the way the fans treat you, and Bruce is just an all-around good guy. It’s great to come back to Birmingham.”
Brown will perform at The StarDome from March 10-12.
Tom Joyner Show
Most radio listeners probably know Brown from “The Tom Joyner Morning Show,” where he worked for 20 years. It’s only been about four months since his departure from the show.
“I want to say this because a lot of people think I quit because of money. I did not quit the Tom Joyner show because of money; the money I was making was very good money. I quit because I wanted to advance. I wanted to have my own weekend radio show,” he said. “They didn’t see fit to get behind me and give me that. So, I made a decision and the decision was very simple. I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I knew what I wasn’t going to do, and I wasn’t going to sit there another day and help make this better if [they] didn’t see fit to give me something of my own after 20 years of service.”
“Sometimes, you have to make that decision,” he continued. “You can stay there and sometimes people start treating you like a piece of furniture and it’s just [what] happens when you’re on something or do something for a long time; they overlook you. I just got tired of it,” he said. “It wasn’t money, it wasn’t a dispute or hatred towards Tom or anything like that. It was just the powers that be just didn’t see fit to give me a two-hour weekend show.”
Now, Brown hosts his own two-hour countdown show, “The J. Anthony Brown Show,” which broadcasts to 18 markets each weekend on Accelerated Radio. He also works week days on “The Sheryl Underwood Show,” which is broadcast to 95 radio markets. He hosts the podcast “The Drink Tank,” which features comedians discussing politics and is broadcast from Brown’s own J Spot Comedy Club in Los Angeles. The club has been business for 10 years and is one of the few that is black-owned and black-operated in the country.
Brown always wanted to be a comedian, but was first a tailor.
“On my way to designing school, my grant was cut short, so I wasn’t able to start. But I ended up getting a tailoring job in Atlanta and worked at different clothing stores… I just loved comedy. I love the power of making people laugh.”
His move to Atlanta jumpstarted his comedy career. Brown tried out at a gong show competition held at Mr. V’s Figure Eight, a local club.
“[I] didn’t get gonged—I didn’t win, but I didn’t get gonged. But I did get the job as the host and that really launched my career. It allowed me to have a place every week to work,” he said. “If you’re an entertainer or [with] any field you’re in, if you can do it consistently, if you have a place where you can do it consistently, it makes a big difference…And the fact that he was paying me $100—that was great money back then. So, that was the launch of my career in terms of doing stand-up and it’s been very successful. I’m really happy with it.”
Name a popular comedy and variety show from the ‘90s and he has probably written for it or participated in it in some way. He wrote for “The Arsenio Hall Show,” “The Parenthood” and “Me and the Boys,” as well as perform warm-up acts for the audiences attending the live tapings of “Martin,” Sister, Sister,” “Roc,” “In Living Color,” and “Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper.” He’s also had acting roles in “Moesha,” “Living Single,” “The Parenthood,” “The Parkers,” “Sparks,” and several films including “Def Jam’s How to Be a Player,” “Drumline,” and “Mr. 3000.”
Brown’s job with “The Arsenio Hall Show” and “Me and the Boys” came through friendships.
“Arsenio was the first person to give me a writing job [and] it was because a friend of mine, who was actually writing for Arsenio [named] Paul Clay…invited me to come over there and…hang out,” he said. “As you know…spelling and typing is always important when you’re trying to be a writer, [but] I could do neither, so I hired somebody to write my jokes for me and sent them in to Arsenio and that’s how I got that job.”
“Steve Harvey [‘Me and the Boys’] … Steve was just a friend of mine. All of us had started out [in] comedy together,” he said. “Steve insisted that me and [current Harvey’s executive producer] Rushion McDonald would be on his writing team when he got ‘Me and the Boys.’ That’s something that’s unheard of. He said ‘If you want me, you’ve got to take these two guys, too.’ Him standing up and speaking for us really made a big difference[.]”
Brown also worked as a warm-up comedian while working as a writer. “It’s so weird—at one time, I had three warm-up jobs,” he said, adding that the job entailed keeping the audience entertained while the cameras set up for each new scene.
“Martin” and “Roc” were great shows to work, he said. “The absolute worst show to do…was ‘In Living Color’ not because the skits weren’t funny, but because they’d do them over and over again.”
The tapings for “In Living Color” sometimes lasted until “12 or 1 o’clock in the morning,” he said.
“By that time, the audience is down to six homeless people!” he said. “And the producer is coming to you going, ‘We’re losing the audience.’ Don’t blame me! You guys did the same damn bit 14 damn times!”
But, the hard work paid off, Brown said.
“Writing taught me how to get to the joke quick,” he said. “…It just made me a better radio personality and I’m definitely sure it made me a better stand-up.”
Brown’s career in radio has led to both an NAACP Image Award and Peabody Award for his work during the LA Riots in 1992.
“Hello!” he said. “I know writers that don’t have the NAACP Image Award and the Peabody Award. I got both of them…by the grace of God. It wasn’t that I’d put in a lot of field work[.]”
Brown started radio while working on “The Arsenio Hall Show” at KGLH, a radio station owned by Stevie Wonder. He convinced the morning jock, Rico Reed, to let him come on the show for free.
“[O]nce the riots broke out, the first I did was go to the radio station and it was just talking to everybody and helping everybody get calm during the riots because at that time, [KGLH] was the only radio station in town,” he said.
Brown said got into radio “because I took the attitude—and I still take this attitude—if it’s something you want to do…find a way to learn about it so you can do it for free.
“Once you become good at it, trust me, someone will pay you to do it,” he said, adding that he worked at KGLH for five years without getting paid a dime. “[B]ut I got an education as to what radio was and how to be quick on radio,” he said. I’m beholden to Rico Reed and to Stevie Wonder’s radio station for giving me that opportunity.”
Brown has been able to achieve his success by working his way up.
“Sometimes it’s not always going right to the top. You’ve got to start at the bottom and have a passion for it,” he said. “Pretty much, everything I’ve started and got involved with I had a passion for it. I would have done it for free. For me it makes you better at it.”
There’s only one thing left for him in radio, he said. Be on Isis Jones’ radio show on 98.7 KISS FM.
“I’ve got a big crush on Isis,” he said. “Shout out Isis; I’m her biggest fan.”