Dropping out of high school isn’t the best choice for teenagers, but Aries Spears has no complaints. Spears was a sophomore when he last attended class. It gave him more time to work on material since he was already delivering standup at some gritty clubs in New Jersey and New York and developing his acting chops.
Spears, 46, beat the odds and landed a part in Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X” at age 16. Months later, he co-starred in the dramatic series “South of Sunset” with Glenn Frey of the Eagles. Spears played Cuba Gooding Jr.’s brother in “Jerry Maguire.” That same year, 1997, Spears joined the cast of “Mad TV” and was part of the sketch show until 2005.
Since then, Spears, who will make his debut at the Spokane Comedy Club this weekend, has been a working actor and standup. Spears called from his Los Angeles home to chat about early success and career trajectory, who has taken exception to his impressions and his take on the legacy of his childhood hero, Bill Cosby.
Sorry about the loss of DMX, who you impersonate so well.
It’s unfortunate about (rapper) DMX (who passed away April 9.) It is what it is. It’s a struggle to put it all together, but I celebrate his life.
How are you so adept at mimicry?
I think it’s hereditary. My mother is a jazz and blues singer. I’m not a singer by any means, but I have a feel for tones and inflections. I think that all comes from my mother.
You’ve impersonated everyone from Redd Foxx to Jamie Foxx. What celebrity has given you the most grief for your take?
Probably DMX. It wasn’t that bad, but he struggled with his feelings and decision-making.
Who loves your impression of them?
Shaquille O’Neal. Shaq is a closet comedian. Shaq is always fun.
That’s what your comic pal Bill Bellamy says about Shaq, who is his cousin. All three of you come from New Jersey.
There’s no place like Jersey. If you can make people laugh there, you can make them laugh anywhere.
A lot of famous people from Jersey played pro sports or became entertainers. Why did you go with the latter?
I would have loved to have played professional basketball, but I don’t fit the stereotype. But I knew I wanted to be famous and creative.
What was it like working as a teen with veterans such as Sherman Hemsley and Abe Vigoda in the film “Home of Angels”?
It was more impactful for my parents. They were part of their generation, but it was great for me as a kid since I learned so much from them.
What was it like landing a role in a blockbuster starring Tom Cruise and Cuba Gooding Jr. when you were just 21?
It was unbelievable. You wondered what would be next.
What was it like when you didn’t get the offers in order to reach the next Hollywood echelon?
You want to take that next step, but that’s the way the Hollywood cookie crumbles.
It’s got to be tough. I asked Sandra Bernhard, who was so great in Martin Scorsese’s “The King of Comedy,” what it was like to not be offered challenging film roles after that, and she waxed about how disappointing it was to not have another chance to work with Scorsese or her co-star, Robert De Niro.
Anyone who works in the entertainment business is living off God’s good humor.
Comics can’t help but deliver COVID-19 material. I get it, but will you riff about other topics when you perform?
I will address the elephant in the room when I come to Spokane, but I’m going to try and keep it as normal as possible. I’ll talk about relatable life struggles. What I’ve discovered is that people want it to feel as normal as possible even if it’s not normal yet. I won’t be talking about just COVID.
I just want to make it as fun and real as my podcast (“The Jew and the Jerk,” with comic Andy Steinberg). We live in this mostly politically correct time, but we don’t do that with our podcast. We give the people what they really want. Our podcast is like bootleg liquor. Everybody wants it. I get raw with my live show, too.
You have three children, but you don’t talk about your family much with your standup.
No, I don’t, but I would like to incorporate that into what I do.
You do a great Bill Cosby. What’s your take on your comic hero?
What has happened doesn’t change his legacy. You can’t sweep his accomplishments under a rug. Before “The Cosby Show,” all African-Americans had was “Good Times.” That kind of life, that struggle existed, and it still exists, but there’s another side that exists. There are African Americans who are doctors and lawyers. I can’t denounce Cosby’s legacy.
But what about how Cosby called out Eddie Murphy for being obscene during his early days as a standup?
I guess he was on his high horse about how to behave. How ironic is it that the guy who told us all to pull our pants up was pulling his pants down?
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