By Je’Don Holloway-Talley
For The Birmingham Times
Birmingham native Henry Welch has a perspective of the city that few can offer. The comedian and actor is an East Thomas native who attended A.H. Parker High School and plays Mister Walter the landlord, in rapper, T.I. ‘TIP’ Harris’ first independent film, ‘Da’Partments’.
Welch was in Birmingham last month for the film’s pop-up movie showing at Premiere Luxe Cine` on Lakeshore Parkway and he’ll be back in the area to headline two shows at The Stardome Comedy Club in Hoover, on Saturday, November 25.
“The Birmingham people are real people, we got style, we got class… Birmingham spends a lot of money on entertainment, and I noticed that [Birminghamians] support live entertainment and love comedy,” Welch said.
“Birmingham is booming, and I try to tell people that a lot of things [entertainment opportunities] that got offered to ATL were offered to Birmingham first … But the young brother [Mayor Randall Woodfin] over the city now is not playing. There’s a lot of big things going on and I appreciate him for [expanding the city’s opportunities] and getting Birmingham the shine, the light, and the money, it needs to go forward,” Welch said.
The Alabama State University alumnus is as familiar with the Stardome as he is with his hometown.
Getting His Start
He got his start in 1987 at The Comedy Club, now known as the Stardome when it was located in Homewood on Green Springs Highway after a series of stand-up performances in student talent shows at Alabama State University, his alma mater.
“I always had my sense of humor and I wasn’t scared to get on stage, I just had to learn how to deliver [the material], speak clear English, and make [the crowd] laugh,” he said. “So after taking public speaking, and voice and diction [courses which went] towards my degree in psychology, I was ready for amateur night,” Welch said.
Welch was waiting tables at a Mexican restaurant called Cucos during college when the company’s district manager heard Welch had been performing standup on campus and offered to connect him with Comedy Club owner Bruce Ayers in Birmingham.
“Tuesday nights was amateur night, and I would leave Montgomery and drive to Birmingham to get on stage,” Welch said. “That’s how I built a relationship with Bruce, and once I came out of college, I had a job at the Comedy Club waiting tables, so it was like I was going to night school learning how to be a comedian.
“I would wait tables and go on stage, and I learned a lot from the comedians… Then I’d come off stage and say ‘would you like to order another drink?’, and because I just got through making them laugh I’d get bigger tips.”
Welch stopped waiting tables to become an educator and worked as a first-grade teacher at Inglenook Elementary School in Birmingham in the early ‘90s when he began getting his first breaks in television with performances on BET’s Comic View, and HBO’s Def Comedy Jam.
“I did Comic View in 1991, and in 1992 I Def Comedy Jam [in New York] on Super Bowl Sunday,” Welch said. “That was one of the best nights of my life… I got back to [Hotel Macklowe, in New York and realized I was staying next to Kid Capri [Def Comedy Jam’s DJ], and Martin Lawrence [the comic, actor, and show’s host], and we had the biggest after-party in history, I still remember, we were on the 57th floor.”
That began to open doors. Welch made the rounds on the New York Comedy circuit and quit teaching to pursue comedy full-time. After several years on the road doing stand-up around the country, Welch moved to Atlanta, Georgia for more opportunities.
“I left Birmingham in 1999, it was New Year’s Eve, I played the Stardome, and the next day on January 1, 2000, I was in ATL…” he recalled.
Welch is a middle child with an older sister, Veronica, and a younger sister, Yolanda, one of his biggest fans along with his grandmother.
“My mother, Janie (I call her Mother Theresa) thought I was crazy for quitting teaching, but my grandmother really believed in me and my sister Yolanda was always laughing at my stuff. Veronica was hater,” he joked.
“My dad [George Daniels], me, him, and my sister Yolanda are all Sagittarius, so he understood.”
Welch said the competition was fierce in Atlanta, but it suited him. “I wasn’t worried about it, everybody in Atlanta that does comedy got a big ego.
Atlanta’s hip-hop world would give a boost to his career. He connected with rap legends OutKast and performed skits for their albums Idlewild, and double-album Speaker Boxxx, Love Below.
“That’s the best-selling rap album of all time [Speaker Boxxx, Love Below, certified 13 times platinum as of October 2023] and I got skits on there… I never thought I’d be getting [royalties] from that to this day, and I didn’t expect [my skits] to be on there because I didn’t even know they were working on [the double album] when I went to the studio that night… my friend told me ‘Big Boi and Dre said come to the studio’ and the rest is history.”
For his role in ‘Da’Partments’, Welch said he didn’t have to audition for the part.
“TIP and Tiny [Tameka Cottle, an R&B singer/songwriter, and Harris’ wife] have always supported comedy, even before [T.I.] got into comedy himself, and he just walked up on me [at a show] and said ‘I got a part for you, my guy’, and he hit me up and it was on from there,” recalled Welch.
Welch is cast as Mister Walter the Landlord.
“Playing Mister Walter was easy because I knew how to take from my own experiences of dealing with a landlord when I was young and broke,” Welch laughed. “I knew how to duck and dodge landlords when it was time to pay my rent, and that’s what I pulled from.”
Welch’s character is central to the storyline because “I get to intertwine with everybody in the movie. They all gotta deal with Mister Walter. I know everything that’s going on in Da’Partments, I know who’s trying to do illegal stuff, I know who shouldn’t be staying in the apartments and who’s letting somebody stay with them,” Welch said.
“I’m the bootleg landlord, but I’m also trying to gentrify the neighborhood… “
The film was shot on location in one month, in June of 2021, at an apartment building on Joseph E Boone, in Atlanta’s Bluff area.
“The people that lived there turned into our family. It was like a family reunion being on the set every day because a lot of us comedians already know one another, and even on days when we didn’t have to work, we still went on the set,” he said.
Later this month, Welch drops a new project. “I got a cartoon coming out with Big Boi from OutKast called Camp Bucktooth [to be released the week of Thanksgiving on the Adult Swim network],” he said.
“Me and Big Boi always do a lot of projects together… I lived across the street from OutKast’s studio and a lot of late nights me and Big Boi would be the last ones there and he would tell me to go in the booth and talk trash and he would take it from there.”
But stand-up is where he continues to make strides. He’s toured with and opened for some of the biggest names in comedy like Cedric the Entertainer, Bruce Bruce and Mike Epps.
Being the opening act or comedy show host can be challenging for some comics, but not Welch.
“To walk out there and your name ain’t [on the marquee] while the people are still coming in and you have to try to get their attention ain’t easy, and a lot of comedians can’t do it,” he said. “The crowds are cold, but I don’t care nothin’ bout it. I don’t care what spot I am, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, or last, it don’t matter to me. My motto is any stage, anytime, anywhere, let’s go.”
Welch will be performing two shows at Stardome Comedy Club in Hoover, on Saturday, November 25, at 6:30, and 9:15 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at: Stardome.com.