fD Interview

tim reid, tom dreesen, tim and tom comedy

fD Interview: Tim Reid and Tom Dreesen

September 20, 2008
by Isabel Cowles
FindingDulcinea’s weekly feature offers interviews with intriguing people on the cutting edge of business, the arts, technology and journalism. This week, we talk with Tim Reid and Tom Dreesen, America’s first interracial comedy duo.

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Tim Reid and Tom Dreesen worked as the first (and to date, the last) black and white comedy duo in America. From 1968 to 1972, the pair visited comedy clubs across the United States, despite the violence and threats often directed at them. When the pair eventually separated, Reid became an actor and starred in a series of television shows, including “Sister, Sister.” He and his wife founded the production studio New Millennium Production studios. Dreesen continued his stand-up career and expanded it to include motivational speaking and sports announcing. He has appeared on “David Letterman” many times and recently traveled to Iraq to do comedy for the troops. Several decades after their partnership, the two men have reunited to write a book about the experience. “Tim and Tom: An American Comedy in Black and White” was published in September. 
fD: Can you describe the feelings you had during your first official gig?

TR: It was all I could do not to throw up.

TD: Extreme nervousness. Wondering, “Will I remember my lines? Will the audience laugh? Will the owner like us? Why are we standing in a kitchen waiting to go on? I found out later that you spend half of your career waiting in the kitchen to go on.

fD: What were some of the challenges you faced in the early part of your careers?

TR: Keeping the dream alive and trying to convince my family and friends that I wasn’t nuts.

TD: Being America’s first black and white comedy team. We took on the nation’s fears. If a black guy in the audience wasn’t fond of white people, he wasn’t mad at me; he was mad at Tim. If there was a white guy who wasn’t fond of black folks, he wasn’t mad at Tim; he was mad at me.
fD: How do you think “Tim and Tom: An American Comedy in Black and White?” is relevant today?

TR: It’s a primer for anyone who wonders what it would be like to follow a dream.

TD: We were the first black and white comedy team and we were the last. Even today, Obama and McCain are appearing on national stages trying to talk about issues, and race is constantly the undercurrent, whether they like it or not.

fD: What were some of the benefits and challenges of working in a pair?

TR: It’s a constant battle between selfishness and sacrifice.
 
TD: The benefits were having someone to hang out with before and after the shows. The challenges were not getting on each other’s nerves from being so close.

fD: Tom, do you have a way of determining what roles you will take?

TR: I refuse anything that would dishonor the legacy of my family.

fD: What inspired you to create the New Millennium Studio?

TR: A touch of freedom, a dash of arrogance and a full load of foolishness.

fD: Tim, how did you transition into motivational speaking?

TD: I’ve always loved to read self-help books and I developed some strategies of my own. I began to write jokes in my nightclub act that had motivational value. I did a few for free to any who would listen and soon companies and universities invited me to be a motivational speaker.

fD: What was it like doing shows in Iraq?

TR: Because I’m an ex-GI, anytime I perform in front of the troops, it’s always special to me. They were so appreciative, as I was when I was in. Just before I went onstage, the first sergeant pointed to a bunker stage left and said to me, “in the event of incoming dive in there.” I said, “Whatever happened to “Have a good show?”
FD: Do you think the Internet has changed entertainers’ ability to reach an audience?

TR: The Internet has torn down the imaginary curtain between audience and performer. It has destroyed the magic. Anyone with a camera or cell phone is a producer now.

fD: How do you think the Web will affect the careers of budding comedians?

TD: If you learn to use it properly, you can get famous. Dane Cook is a classic example. He picked up legions of fans using the Internet. Then he went to HBO specials. It was brilliant marketing.

fD: What advice do you have for up-and-coming performers?

TR: Read, take a history course, travel, expose yourself to as much life as possible. Throw away all world crutches and most importantly, have a sense of humor. Thinking you’re funny is not enough.

TD: Get up on stage anywhere, any time, any place you can. Do it. Do it. Do it. There is no substitute for experience. Watch others who are further along in their career. Study them. Ask them questions. And last, don’t ever give up. Bertrand Russell once said, “There are people in show business who become major stars simply because they didn't have sense enough to quit when they should have.” That’s my story and that’s Tim Reid’s story and that's why you should read the book.
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