News Column

Comic comes home to KC

August 17, 2013

YellowBrix

Aug. 17--Talk to Rodney Carrington for any length of time and the comedian is bound to slip, effortlessly and often, into his exaggerated onstage Southern caricature.

That persona hadn't fully revealed itself when he was on Kilgore College's campus more than two decades ago, but it was itching to break out.

"It all started in this little room, me coming in and meeting Mr. Caldwell," he said Wednesday in the Texas Shakespeare Festival founder's office in the Anne Dean Turk Fine Arts Center. "Whatever the reason for the decision I made to walk across that bridge, I walked in here, I walked into this office."

It's unusual for a young man at that age to come in and say, 'I want to be an actor,' Caldwell told the cameras of the documentary crew filming Carrington's homecoming for an upcoming comedy special.

"I was happy that he wanted to do it," Caldwell said. "We signed him up for classes."

Through the theater instructor's classes, Carrington said, he discovered reserves of emotion and ways to express it that most people seldom encounter.

"You never knew what was gonna happen, but you knew you were gonna get something. It was gonna be something powerful," Carrington said. It may have been staring into another person's eyes, studying how to emote, and it was always revealing. "You'd be with these people each and every day exposing and exploring each other's emotions together.

"I'm being serious -- I just think about how meaningful that was now."

More than 20 years after they first met, Carrington and Caldwell fell back immediately into their old rapport Wednesday under the watchful eyes of two cameras.

"Every moment is a representation of your life," Carrington said during the ranging, frank-but-usually jovial discussion. He was one person when he made his albums, a different person when he shot his short-lived TV show "Rodney." He's a different person now -- newly single after 18 years of marriage, raising three teenage sons. "At 25 and 35 you're just in a different place. Between 25 and 45..."

Through documentary vignettes spliced into his new show, Carrington expects to answer a question for his audiences: "Where did this comedy come from?"

"The idea is to take people who were close to me in my life, who were influential in my life and revisit them," he explained.

Besides theater, Carrington also took modern dance while at the community college, trying to find new ways to rid himself of any inhibitions. Caldwell offered the young man his first stage role, in playwright Michael Frayn's "Noises Off."

"I loved it," Carrington said, finding acceptance in the theater. "This is where the misfits come. You come in here and everybody gets that."

Granted, his boisterous personality didn't quite jive with the rules of the stage: "You can't ad lib in the middle of a play."

Carrington could, however, riff on a different sort of stage -- it was during his time at KC that the Longview native discovered the freedom of a comedy club stage.

"One thing about stand up comedy, you have that total autonomy to be whatever it is you want to be. There are no rules in stand up comedy," he insisted. "Nobody tells you in the beginning of stand up comedy, 'This is what you need to do.'"

Nowadays, the 45-year-old is accustomed to flying to his shows, playing packed houses with thousands of people laughing in a single venue -- the past two weeks on the road shooting the documentary (its working title is "Who the Hell is Rodney Carrington?") has allowed the comedian to get up close and personal again, executive producer Jeff Medders said.

"He's kind of returning to his roots," Medders explained, spending three days in East Texas. In the new, still-developing comedy production, "We get a lot of his new stuff and a lot of his new comedy but this will be the heart and soul of that show. He wanted to come back and talk to people who influence him. Raymond is at the top of that list.

"I think he's enjoying coming here, reminiscing, remembering what life was like growing up in college -- thinking about why he's made the decisions he's made."

Post-production on the documentary footage is scheduled for completion in mid-October; the new show will likely debut in the spring or summer of 2014.

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(c)2013 the Kilgore News Herald (Kilgore, Texas)

Visit the Kilgore News Herald (Kilgore, Texas) at www.kilgorenewsherald.com

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