Rick Younger is a cool-ass-dude—a “Classic Man,” like in that song by Jidenna from a few years back. He’s a comedian, actor, singer, and he hasn’t committed any major crimes. Yes, to say that Rick Younger is gifted and talented is putting it mildly. He is a gentleman, and there just ain’t many gentleman left in the world.
I sat down with Rick a couple of weeks ago when he was in town visiting. Currently he lives in New York City and plays Mr. Duvall in the Broadway adaptation of Mean Girls. We talked about sharing gifts, aging in today’s world, and being middle-aged black men. Rick has a phrase that he talked about turning into a one-man show: “Being black is hard work.” The idea behind it, he said while laughing, is that there’s “something the fat cats in Washington don’t want you to know. That there is a zero percent unemployment rate in the black community. Most of us have two jobs. One job is the job that we do for a living. The other job is being black, and that’s 24-7 cuz being black is hard work.”
Rick is from Baltimore and he got his start as a stand-up comic in D.C. in the early 1990s. He is from a musical family, and he’s constantly posting videos of him and his family members singing and performing classic hits, like The Isley Brothers’ “Who’s That Lady” or L.T.D’s “Love Ballad.”
We also talked about growing older in today’s world. Rick is 50, to which he says: “Today’s 50 isn’t like my father’s 50. My grandfather died at 50! There’s this guy who is a very important part of who I am, who I’ve never met, who 50 represents.”
In a business that isn’t very kind to aging performers, Rick Younger is making his own way. “There’s gifts and there’s talents,” he says. “My talents are my ability to sing, my ability to act, my ability to do all of these things that you can look and say, ‘Oh man, Rick is a talented guy.’ My gifts are what my talents allow me to share with the world. So my gift is the ability to touch people doing the things that I do.”
That’s cool. It’s also the American way to be able to inspire others to be their best selves. That’s what makes Rick Younger a Classic Man. That, and his fondness for singing a David Ruffin tune or two mid-conversation. Who does that?!
What’s good with you, Rick?!
I … you knoooow, I’m in therapy now. [laughter]
One of the things that we talk about in therapy is that I can’t escape blackness. So a lot of my therapy is about being black in America. One of the things me and my therapist talk about: It’s like I got PTSD, post traumatic slave disorder. [laughter] I simply have PTSD from being black. We laugh about it, but it’s true. The fact that I have never committed a crime, well no major crimes that we’re talking about, right. Me stealing a sweatshirt when in college, or some M&M’s when I was hungry in college, that was all youthful exuberance. [laughter] The fact that with no criminal record, everytime I react the way I do, when I see a police car… The fact that I have, when coming to a block where there’s a police precinct, considered changing my route, and sometimes I have because I’m like, “I’m not going to run by a police precinct.” Why would I run down the street where there are police?! Being black is hard work. [laughter]
Ain’t that the truth. My Great-grandmother used to say sometimes, “I don’t feel like being black today.” [laughter]
That’s how you say it. I say it as: Being black is hard work. That may wind up being the title of my next one-man special.
Speaking of special, you’re currently portraying Mr. Duvall on Broadway in the musicalMean Girls. Mean Girls was nominated for 12 Tony Awards last year. How was that experience? How was it being in “the room?!”
We got 12 nominations and zero Tonys [laughter] … It’s good to be in the room, when you ain’t never been in the room. [laughter] It’s good to be in the room when you get nominated once. When you get nominated 12 times [laughter] … when you get nominated 12 times you start looking around like, “Wait a minute. You mean to tell me that The Band’s Visit got to get another award? Out of 11 nominations they gotta get 10. Man…” [laughter]
Mean Girls had its initial run at the National Theater here in D.C. You’re from Baltimore and got your start as a stand-up comic here in D.C. What’s good to you about performing in D.C. and the greater DMV area?!
D.C. and the DMV will make you good. Here’s my class, my crew, these folks we came up together [as comedians] in the D.C.-area: It was me, Joe Clair, Donnell Rawlings, Red Grant, Dominique, Todd Rexx. We came up after Tony Woods, Dave Chappelle, Martin Lawrence, and Teddy Carpenter. I remember we would be at the Comedy Connection in Greenbelt, and the Comedy Cafe, all of the D.C.-area spots, and we’re doing our thing and we get laughs. Eventually you start going out on the road and when we get out on the road it’s like, “Yo! These jokes that we do at home, that people kinda laugh at, are killing on the road!” [laughter]
It’s just something about D.C. that makes you stronger. And it’s a combination of things, one of which is that it’s an international city. So you have people who have a wealth of experiences and knowledge. You can’t just come with mundane things; you gotta have some layers to your stuff. The other thing is, everybody in the audience in D.C. thinks they can do what you can do. If you’re a singer, there are people in the audience going, “I can sing better than that.” If you’re a comedian, there’s someone in the audience going, “I’m funnier than that,” especially on Friday nights because Friday night people don’t realize the Friday night show is always hard because people have worked all week. They’ve stayed up and out for your show. That [energy] makes you tougher and makes you stronger. I love it. I love the fact that I came up here, a place that made me have to be good. That’s it. It made me have to be good.
That’s an awesome point. Starting here in this area made you have to be good. What’s good to you about growing older as an entertainer?!
Well, one of the things I love about being an entertainer, I would say I’m living the dream. If you’d asked me what I wanted to be as a kid, everything I ever said I want it to be—yeah, I’ve already achieved it. You know?! I’ve been on television, I’ve been in the movies. Yes, I make my living as an entertainer. Now at this point, it’s just a matter of levels. Of course I want to keep striving. I’m just not a person who gets complacent. I want to keep creating, you know?!
I like to touch people and I like to test my limits and I like being a part of something where there is no limit. Like in Mean Girls, it says, “the limit does not exist.” The job you have, you know what the limit is: the CEO. And you kind of know that, if by a certain age I haven’t done this, that’s pretty much where I’m going to go. Because now you start to deal with ageism. But [in entertainment] you could be Clara Peller. You’d be 80 years old and suddenly you’d get out of it, “Where’s the beef.” [laughter]
Here’s the thing about being black: Just living to 50 is an accomplishment. Part of me is in a field where you keep your age hidden—like in acting, it’s about what I can play. But another part of me is in stand-up comedy which is all about being open, so yeah, I’m 50. I mean 50 today is way younger than my father’s 50, definitely younger than my grandfathers 50. My grandfather died at 50, so for me, 50 is a major accomplishment. I never met my grandfather. There’s this guy who is a very important part of who I am, who I’ve never met, who 50 represents. I’ve lived longer. You know, I’ve lived longer than my grandfather.
It seems like they want to give all the stuff to the young folks, but you keep on doing your thing, and plus making friends with young folks. [laughter] They might give you a job. [laughter]
That’s hilarious. What inspires you!?
When I want inspiration, like creatively, I go to music. I don’t really get that inspired by watching other comedians, and I’m not trying to say it in an arrogant way. But there’s only a few comedians I can really watch. And when I go to a comedy club, I really don’t want to be there unless I can get on stage. When I go someplace where there’s music I can sit in the background and never let them know that I can sing. Just sit there and be inspired, you know? And it’s something about [music], you can take things from watching other people do with music that you can’t take when you watch another person doing comedy. With comedy you can’t say, “Oh yeah, I’m gonna do that.”
I would like to consider myself a jazz comedian in the sense that I like the way that jazz is about being in the moment and creating there. Right off, you play the melody and then the second time through you do a little something more to the melody.
Who are some of your jazz inspirations?!
Thelonious Monk. I feel like I kind of have a Thelonious Monk thing because—I gave you some names of some of the people that I started out with. I remember when I first started and all of them were getting Def Jam and getting all these things. And a lot of people got to know them as comedians. People don’t know me as a comedian, they know me as an actor and a lot of times are surprised to find out I’m a comedian. And then further surprised to find out that I’m good at comedy when they finally hear it. Cause they’re like, “Well, if you’re so good at it, how come I haven’t seen you as a comedian?” Well I can’t speak on that. I know that Thelonious Monk came up with all of these great things and you know, at one point where he lost his license to be able to perform—all the things that said, “All right Thelonious, you need to go get a job doing construction or something.” [laughter] He stayed at home and he kept working on his thing. And then he got an opportunity to record, and when he came out it was like, whoa, Monk!
It’s like, he stayed with his thing. It was like he knew that even if “I’m not getting the acknowledgement for coming up with others, this is my thing, these are my peers, you know, and I, I’m one of them. I’m just going to keep on doing my thing until you realize it.”
The other person is Miles, Miles Davis. It’s because of something that I learned about him through Herbie Hancock, who used to play with him. He was very big on rehearsing and learning the stuff—“learn your stuff, learn your stuff”—so that when you perform you could break free from it. So it’s like, my way of developing my material is through repetition and then adding on to the stuff that I repeat. So it’s just like I want to be able to break free on stage, to go wherever I need to be in the moment, which is what Miles was talking about, being able to be in the moment. So yeah, those two are great.
That’s great, man. Two things that America has embraced and created are stand-up comedy and jazz music—both teach about going through changes. So when I hear “Let’s make America great again,” when was it great for us?!
It’s great now. Anytime, everytime we move into the future, America is a little bit greater for black people. Not great-great, but a little bit better. Black people’s problem with “Make America Great Again” is that you don’t need the “again” on the end. Because even with the advances and everything we have, we still have fears that no white man in his right mind really has.
That’s very real, Rick—very true, and very good. I think we’ll end it right there. Thanks for sharing some of your time, and talking to us about what’s good with you!