Friday night I saw Rudy Ray Moore perform at The Funhouse in Seattle. If you’re not familiar with Rudy, he’s a legendary comedian, maker of x-rated comedy records, who paved the way for his contemporaries like Richard Pryor and Redd Foxx to do their thing by carving words like pussy and motherfucker about ten thousand times into vinyl. But it was his string of self-financed, low budget blaxploitation comedies like Dolemite, The Human Tornado and (my favorite) Petey Wheatstraw, the Devil’s Son-in-Law that put him on the map for most of us. Those movies are built around his persona, the arrogant, unbelievably shit-talking chauvinistic badass with a knack for hilarious insults and rhymes. Like his movies, his act is mostly built around the traditions of the dozens and toasting. He tells stories in rhyme and picks out people in the crowd to talk shit about (which most people take as a great honor).
I never saw Rudy Ray in his hey day, but I did see him here a few years back. That was a polished, old fashioned show with a band of local musicians who he probaly hadn’t met, but he handed them sheet music and they knew what to do. He did all his classics (Dolemite For President, Signifyin’ Monkey, Shine, Petey Wheatstraw, etc.) to the music and even sang a few songs. At first the pure filthiness and sexism of the whole thing was almost overwhelming, it kind of felt like he had gone around slapping people at random, everyone was in shock. I remember there was a young woman playing in the band who didn’t look too happy at all this talk about pussies and dicks. And there’s a joke he does about “a deaf and dumb bitch” that is about the worst thing anybody ever said. But then slowly it seemed like that woman in the band started to get to a point where it was so ridiculous she started to laugh and by then most of the audience couldn’t stop laughing.
This show was pretty different. The Funhouse is a weird place for Dolemite to show up. It’s right across the street from tourist central at the Space Needle, but they say it’s “Seattle’s oldest surviving punk club.” It looks like a shithole from the outside, with a big, ugly evil-clown head on the front. But inside it looks like a ’50s diner, complete with stools and checkered tiles. The stage is maybe a foot tall, probaly less, with a small area to crowd around and do whatever you do as a card carrying member of a punk club.
But word is the owner or booker or somebody is a big Rudy Ray Moore fan, and he was booked to play there a few months back when he fell and cracked his hip. He’s been in the hospital alot lately and stays in an assisted living home, but he still tours and does his thing. Some garage rock kind of bands (some of them wearing ape masks) played, then a pretty funny local rapper who stopped at midnight when it became Rudy Ray’s 80th birthday. The last opening act was Rudy Ray’s son, a 44-year-old Son of Dolemite trained in the family trade. His voice is higher than Rudy Ray’s, he yells alot louder, and every once in a while he laughs in a way that seems to reveal he’s shyer than his dirty poems pretend he is.
There was no band, just a backing CD being cued by an unseen soundman, and there was some miscommunication about which track was supposed to be playing. The Son of Dolemite introduced his dad, who because of his hip came out on an electric cart wearing sunglasses with blinking lights on them.
This was a shocking sight. Dolemite himself, the man who put Monday in the hospital, incapacitated. Man, he really is 80, isn’t he? So it was a relief when the same familiar, booming voice came out asking what the fuck was wrong with “this young DJ” cuing up the CD. He might not be able to do any of that fake karate now, or jump naked down a cliff like in the classic “that’s right, I really did that shit” scene in The Human Tornado, but he still has that deadly shit talkin’ mouth.
It’s always good to hear Rudy Ray’s voice and the rhythm of his rhymes. And maybe being in a wheelchair makes it even funnier when he picks out people in the crowd to talk about their crooked dick, to accuse them of buying up all the pussy, or to talk about their alleged sweater with a V that stands for “virgin” so it “must be an old ass sweater.”
But I gotta admit, there were alot of young, drunk idiots in this crowd who helped make the whole affair almost as sad as it was fun. Now, I’m no rube, it’s not news to me that Dolemite doesn’t exactly represent the proudest elements of African-American culture. He’s representing some serious stereotypes there. I thought I had made peace with that, but this mostly white crowd seemed intent on turning it into nothing but a minstrel show. I never in my life heard so many drunk white dickheads yelling out “Mothafucka! Mothafucka!” in their worst stereotypical-black-guy voices. They didn’t seem to know any of his routines, so when Rudy started ramping up for “Dolemite For President” some guy thought he was going to talk actual politics and had to yell “Fuck George Bush!” But most of them just wanted to hear an old black guy talk jive so they could yell out “BEEEITCH!” and “YEEEEEAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!” at inopportune moments. This is Dolemite though so he could handle them, saying “Young man, quit hollerin at me!” at one moron who was tripping up his rhythm.
There were a couple spots where Rudy said rhymes he had already said. It was hard to tell if he just lost where he was because of the assholes yelling at him, or if his memory was going. But during his ABC’s routine, where he tells you in rhyme what each letter in the alphabet stands for, he suddenly skipped over a bunch of letters without seeming to realize it. And then he started to say them out of order. He realized he was losing it so he asked the crowd to call out the letters to him. But these fuckers, I don’t think they were intentionally being mean to him, but they decided that he did not mean to remind him of the letters in the alphabet, they thought he meant to just yell out random letters. Like say your favorite letter is M, or perhaps H, then you will yell that out instead of yelling them in order. And even after Rudy scolded them saying to call them in order, still they kept doing it, tripping him up more. If only Rudy had that magic cane from Petey Wheatstraw he would’ve been able to take care of these no business born insecure rat soup eating motherfuckers without encouraging them by calling them no business born insecure rat soup eating motherfuckers.
But what made up for this sad realization that Dolemite’s memory isn’t what it used to be was the family atmosphere of the whole thing. Rudy kept his son on stage and kept asking him to do certain rhymes. He wouldn’t always remember the whole thing but Rudy would prompt him. At one point Rudy interrupted his son to start trash talking his son’s wife, and his son couldn’t stop laughing. He also chastised his son for using the N-word all the time, and proudly talked about not using it. And he never once mentioned Michael Richards. He stopped way back when Richard Pryor stopped, after going to Africa. On his web sight it says he convinced Pryor to stop saying it, but on Friday I thought he said Richard was the one who inspired him. Anyway, it was nice.
He also asked for “the young man who was on stage before” to come out and do a song for him, which was obviously very touching for King Dro, the local rapper he was talking about. It was like Rudy was our grandpa trying to share all his favorite stories and jokes with us, but sometimes he has to ask us how they go. Grandpa, tell us “Put Your Weight On It” again!
After about an hour of performing, like usual, Rudy set up at a table to sell merchandise and sign autographs. He still had the custom Dolemite backscratchers he had the last time I saw him. I didn’t stick around, so I hope those drunks were nice to him. Apparently he had to pack up and head for Wisconsin where he was scheduled to perform the next night. Not something most 80 year olds with cracked hips are willing to do.
After the show I was talking to a friend about the proposed Dolemite remake from years ago. Every once in a while they try to remake a movie even though the appeal of the original had to do mainly with the actor in the starring role. Like when they were gonna do Billy Jack starring Keanu Reeves, or now doing Escape From New York with Gerard Butler. Dolemite with LL Cool J seems like the most misguided of all these though because Dolemite is not even much of a story, it’s all about the personality and the rhymes and jokes of this filthy comedian. Bringing the boasts from the party records to shitty handmade cinematic life. Luckily that remake must’ve died, I haven’t heard anything about it in years.
Ah, shit. Like one of those mummy curses where you say the Pharaoh’s name out loud, or maybe like some evil devil voodoo from Petey Wheatstraw, I must’ve brought that remake back to life. A couple days later it’s summoned back into existence in the form of a Hollywood Reporter article.
Rudy and his manager are producers, and apparently they got Charlie Murphy and Wayne Brady in the cast, which isn’t bad. But how do you make a Dolemite movie without Dolemite? There’s nobody on earth like Dolemite. To figure out how to pull that off you’re gonna need somebody really smart and talented masterminding the whole thing. That person was not available so they got the guy who directed Car 54, Where Are You? and the team who wrote Once Bitten.
Oh well. They haven’t gotten too many movies off the ground so maybe I shouldn’t worry about this one getting out of the ground. Time rolls on, Dolemite turns 80, the alphabet changes order, but at least we have the memories.
Thanks for stopping by, Rudy. Long live Dolemite.
Originally published at Screengrab: http://www.nervepop.com/nerveblog/screengrabblog.aspx?id=107e9922#9922
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.