What can be more challenging than standing on stage and coming up with the right joke at the right time? Comedians are the ultimate communicators. They know more about what makes us tick than most psychologists. No one knows more about opinions that fuel misunderstandings more than Comedian Wali Collins. As America’s Most Lovable Comedian, he knows the ins and outs of what makes great comedy as much as he knows what mistakes people make when they’re trying to tell the truth.
As of late, Wali has been taking a look at what is going on with America. Take Racism. As a black man, he’s seen racism up close and personal. It all boils down to what people say and how they say it—the things they say that fuel misunderstandings. “You have to understand what you’re saying,” Wali said. “You can’t deny what is real and true. You can’t say there is no such thing as gravity when you throw the ball in the air and it comes back down.” The spotlight is shining on racism these days. It’s the ball that has come back down to earth.
Sometimes feeling discrimination can just be the certainty that it’s happening, but there’s no concrete proof. There is so much that is left unsaid. Admittedly, Wali experienced racism when he was growing up in Springfield, Massachusetts, but he didn’t really understand what it was until he moved to New York City. He never thought twice about it. Then one night around ten he was returning from a comedy gig, standing on the street, hailing a cab. And the cabs were just passing him by. All of them were empty. From across the street, a black man called over, “You’re standing on the wrong side of the street,” he said. “They think you’re going to Harlem. They don’t want to go to Harlem. You have to stand on the right side of the street, going downtown away from Harlem; then they will pick you up.”
As for racism and how it inspires comedy, that’s another matter to ponder. Wali is quick to acknowledge that the audience also expects a black man to do a set or two on the plight of being black in America. “People have these assumptions. What they know of black people. I tell stories about me being the only chip in the cookie.” Great comic material springs from what’s true in your own life. Long ago, Wali learned that when he was at his happiest, those are the times when he had his best shows. Many comedians let out their anger or insecurities and that’s when they shine. Not so with Wali Collins. “When I come out on that stage, my personality is just being happy. I think the audience picks up on my happiness.”
Wali Collins’ life story is about being the other kind of black. He grew up in the ‘hood, had it rough and all of that, but he had two parents. He grew up in a thirteen-room house set on an acre of land. Both of his parents worked and they loved each other. His neighborhood was multi-racial, ethnic: Italian, Irish, Puerto Rican. They were even Jehovah’s witnesses. When he started to travel, he realized his life growing up wasn’t bad at all. He thought about that a lot. “I’m a happy person. I enjoy performing. The material for my work is drawn from my sense of gratitude for the life that I’ve had.”
Standing on the right side of the street has deeper ramifications that go back to his childhood. It’s all about positioning his right foot. His father was his source of strength. Every time he goes out on the stage, he remembers his father. When he goes on the stage, he always leads with his right foot. His father was right-handed. “Here we go, Dad,” he says. “That’s me, knowing that my father’s got my back. No one’s going to harm me. I’ve seen him step up and protect me. If I’m nervous or uneasy, once I put that right foot on the stage, I’ve got nothing to worry about.”