Tommy Davidson learned a lot during his three decades of performances at Baltimore comedy shows. One particular lesson stands out: “You got to really be funny.”
That sounds painfully obvious, like the kind of condescending non-advice that a jaded veteran comic would give a bright-eyed neophyte in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” “Crashing” or any other television series about the pitfalls of performing stand-up. But Davidson, who grew up down the road in metro Washington D.C., insisted that Baltimore audiences know when a comic phones a joke in.
"You can get away with some stuff in the Midwest, but Baltimore is going to hold you accountable,” he said on Tuesday. “You got to really give it to them.”
Davidson made Baltimoreans laugh for more than three decades since he started performing here, as well as in his native D.C. and at other clubs throughout the mid-Atlantic. He brought it back around this week for a string of gigs at the Baltimore Comedy Factory that began yesterday and continue every night through Sunday.
Davidson’s big break came in 1990, when he starred on the popular sketch show, “In Living Color." Acclaimed for its predominantly black cast and sensibilities, “In Living Color” showcased Davidson’s talent for impersonating celebrities as varied as Sammy Davis Jr. and Sugar Ray Leonard. He also created several memorable recurring characters, including one—an inept fast food worker named Chillin—that he performed with an exaggerated Baltimore-D.C. accent.
Television fame didn’t stop Davidson from performing at some less-than-ideal venues, though. He recalled one especially strange gig at a Baltimore school auditorium-turned-temporary-club around 1992.
“I go to what what is supposed to be my dressing room or the green room, and it’s where the janitor stays,” he said. “And it was just ravaged, trash all over the place. And a big giant TV, like those old TVs that look like a fish tank, they had one of those sitting there. I spent half my night down there in the basement, in the janitors room. I thought that was interesting.”
He remembered most of his Baltimore experiences more fondly than that one. His early career saw him playing “cabarets,” or parties with DJs and comics in spaces for rent. He performed at the club of another local comedic superstar, Mo’Nique, in 1997. Even after all of these years—during which he cemented his comic reputation with dozens of roles in movies and TV series like “Bamboozled,” “Black Dynamite” and “The Proud Family”—he feels most comfortable performing in Baltimore and D.C.
“In Baltimore, I can start by just talking,” he said. “They talk like me, you know, because I’m from D.C. D.C. and Baltimore are the only places where I can really sound like my true self.”
This familiarity lets him perform his mix of stories and impressions with more flexibility and realness than anywhere else.
Tommy Davidson plays five more shows this weekend—8 and 10:30 p.m. on Friday, 7 and 9:30 p.m. on Saturday and 7 p.m. on Sunday―at the Baltimore Comedy Factory. The venue is located inside the Best Western Plus Hotel & Conference Center at 5625 O’Donnell St. Purchase tickets, ranging from $23-$25, at baltimorecomedy.com.