Earlier this week, the Netflix streaming service premiered the “Def Comedy Jam 25” special, a silver-anniversary salute to the iconic, HBO stand-up showcase where many of today’s funniest, most popular African-American comics got their start.
All the heavy hitters were there: original host Martin Lawrence, Dave Chappelle, Steve Harvey, Tracy Morgan, D.L. Hughley, Cedric the Entertainer.
While it seemed like everyone who did a stand-up set on the show was in attendance when it was recorded earlier this month in Los Angeles, one alumnus was absent.
“I wasn’t invited,” says Arnez J, calling from his Atlanta home. “I was never asked to do it.”
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The Ft. Lauderdale-born comedian had made several memorable appearances on the show, often bringing the crowd to hysterics with his highly charged, highly physical comedy.
So was he upset when he didn’t get the invite to attend the anniversary show?
“Not really, because I felt that’s something that, you know, they didn’t want to do at that moment,” he says. “But that’s OK. I’ve never been a person that clicked in the in-crowd. I’ve always just gone about my business and do my thing. And that’s why I think I’ve had longevity. That’s why I still think that I can sell out the shows that I do.”
The comic, who refuses to reveal his last name or age, has been doing stand-up for a quarter of a century. And “Def” isn’t just his most notable credit. In 2002, he hosted a season of BET’s “ComicView” and, a year later, had his own “Comedy Central Presents” special. In 2013, he dropped an hour-long special, “Arnez J: Racially Motivated,” on Netflix.
For awhile, he called his style of stand-up “truth comedy,” where he claimed most of his material came from what he sees in everyday life.
“I try to always make the real-life comedy the best comedy,” he says. “That’s why I call it ‘truth comedy.’ I don’t call it ‘truth comedy’ anymore, but that’s what I do.”
Arnez doesn’t mind cracking jokes about people, whether they’re crazy, physically distinctive relatives in his family or members of the LGBTQ community. He says if you can make fun of someone without malicious intent, then everyone is fair game.
“I still think there’s a forum for it, because if I can talk about the African guy next to me, I should be able to talk about gay people next to me,” he says. “You know, this world isn’t built for one person. Now, the LGBT community – they’re not stupid people. They sniff out who’s being meaningless or who is trying to demean them, rather than having fun with them. You have to understand, I have gay people around me who I love. So when I talk about the situation of gay people, it’s not to demean them. They’re just part of the world, and you can’t deny it.”
Arnez continues to tour around the country, doing his own brand of comic truthfulness and reminding audiences that everything doesn’t have to be taken so seriously. That’s one thing Arnez wishes audiences had: tougher, less easily offended skin.
“We don’t have the passion for the zest of life that we used to, you know,” he said. “We were built tough to survive. We were built tough to make a go of it. Everything is so cybernetic and everything has gone to the computer age – I have never shook so many guys’ hands nowadays that feel like butter. I mean, like, they lotion every single day! I’m not saying a man’s hands need to be rough, but when you shake a man’s hand, you need to know you’re shaking a man’s hand. We’ve gotten soft, man.”
Who: Arnez J
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday-Sunday and 10 p.m. Friday-Saturday.
Where: Goodnights Comedy Club, 861 W. Morgan St., Raleigh.
Cost: $30 Friday and Saturday, $25 Sunday
Details: 919-828-5233; goodnightscomedy.com