Sun | Nov 18, 2018

Laughter leads Willie Brown back to the Lord

Published:Thursday | January 4, 2018 | 12:49 AMMel Cooke
American ventriloquist Willie Brown and Friends performing at the Christmas Comedy Cook-Up 14th Anniversary show.
American ventriloquist Willie Brown and Friends performing at the Christmas Comedy Cook-Up 14th Anniversary show held at the National Indoor Sports Centre on December 26 2017.

Willie Brown returned to Christianity along the broad dual carriageway of a professional comedian and ventriloquist. Brown, who performed at the Boxing Day 2017 Comedy Cook-up at the National Indoor Sports Centre along with his doll pals - Uncle Rufus and Woody - through whom he speaks as a ventriloquist while manipulating their expression and movement, was raised as a Christian. However, Brown told The Gleaner, “sometimes when you get older you stray.”

He had strayed from not only his spiritual, but also his physical birthplace, in following the professional artiste’s winding, unpredictable path. Brown grew up in Connecticut, New Jersey, on the USA’s east coast. It was on the west coast, in Los Angeles, California, that Brown was asked to shape his act for Christian audiences. He had become “a regular” at the World Famous Comedy Store, where he worked with laughter merchants like Eddie Griffin, Damon Wayans, Arsenio Hall and Martin Lawrence. “We were all in the game,” Brown said. That game led to multiple TV appearances, including on BET.

Then the Los Angeles outfit, Clean Comedians, asked him to do church performances and Brown went chuckling back into the body of Christ.

“God pulled me from the comedy clubs. I started to do churches... I thought I was cleaning up my act for the church, but no, God was cleaning me up for the ministry,” Brown said.

It was from nightclubs to church services to higher education, as in 2016, Brown completed a Master’s degree in Theology at Ohio Christian University in Morrow, Georgia. Brown did his first degree in Mass Media and Arts, at Hampton University, Virginia, which he describes as “a traditionally black college”.

Brown said in his club performances, he did not use profanity “a lot, but I did”, putting that down to the environment he was in.

“After I started doing churches, I cleaned up my act. I renewed my faith in Christ. I was a Christian child,” Brown said. There was also the matter of being true to himself, as Brown told The Gleaner, that he admired Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy before, but “now I wanted to be Willie Brown.”

And Willie Brown is now a minister at the Tabernacle of Praise Church International in McDonough, Georgia. In that role, as well as performing as a comedian at churches, Brown has to appeal to a wide audience – as he did at Comedy Cook-up 2017, where babes in arms through to senior citizens, ladies with somewhat reserved attire and lasses in skin-flashing slinky outfits, mingled at the sports centre.

However, Brown said, “my comedy is not preachy” – which held true at Comedy Cook-up, themed the Praise and Laughter Edition. He sat Woody, a wise-cracking youngster for which Brown uses a somewhat high-pitched voice, on his right knee after returning Uncle Rufus, a more gravelly toned and measured speaker, to his suitcase after speaking from Brown’s left knee.

Woody has been with Brown a long time – at least, in name, as the first doll he was given when he decided he wanted to be a ventriloquist at 13 years old, was named Woody. Of course, the dolls have changed, but Brown’s dedication to projecting his voice through the dolls to provoke laughter and thought, has not. His first performance was at his mother’s office and, Brown said, afterwards he was asked how much he charged for a performance.

He was amazed and delighted that he could get paid to do what he likes and has not looked back, telling The Gleaner, that once a performer has the ventriloquism and comedy together, they are all set.

Doing comedy in clubs is a more frequent job, but per show, the church gigs pay better. Brown has got to the stage where he runs a Clean Comedy Clinic, tagged as ‘The Nation’s #1 Agency for Clean Comedians’.

“I am going to do everything God calls me to do,” Brown told The Gleaner.