Widely hailed as the godfather of rap and the king of party records, actor, producer, comedian, and singer Rudy Ray Moore broke new ground for explicit comedy with wildly popular albums like Eat Out More Often, The Streaker, and The Cockpit. Those albums also introduced the character of Dolemite, whom Moore went on to portray in a film of the same name. Financed by Moore and filmed partly in his house, 1975's Dolemite was a surprise smash hit, spawning the 1976 sequel The Human Tornado. Several more vehicles followed, including Petey Wheatstraw and Avenging Disco Godfather, which both share the Dolemite films' genre-busting, entertaining combination of martial arts, comedy, and music. Stung by the failure of Avenging Disco Godfather, Moore returned to performing stand-up during the '80s and '90s, gaining a new fan base when rappers like Snoop Dogg and Busta Rhymes began sampling his records and featuring him on their records. Moore's '70s films likewise experienced a surge in popularity, experiencing several video revivals, including a recent DVD box set. Still a busy touring artist, Moore just released a new comedy album (21st Century Dolemite) and completed a new Dolemite movie. The Onion A.V Club recently spoke with the outspoken cult legend about the origins of Dolemite, his golden voice, and why Eat Out More Often is a great title for an album.
The Onion: What was your childhood like?
Rudy Ray Moore: My childhood was all about going to church, singing in church. And later on, after I got a little older, my mother taught me how to do poems for Easter and Mother's Day, recitals and so on. I got attached to that, so as I got older and older, I began to recite poetry. And then I come up on material that was a little bit rough, but was ghetto expressions at the time, and I started doing poetry in an X-rated vein. So I became a poet and a rapper and a comedian. I'm also known as the godfather of rap now, because a lot of rappers paid respect to me by cutting pieces out of my records and dubbing them into theirs, then setting new music to it so it sounds like I'm rapping right along with them. So they give me that respect, such rappers as the 2 Live Crew, Dr. Dre, and the dog of all dogs, you know who he is, Snoop Doggy Dogg. I did a couple of albums with him. And then I came to New York City twice to do albums with Busta Rhymes: One is Genesis, and the other is When Disaster Strikes. I also did one with the late Eazy-E, and I did albums with Big Daddy Kane, and I've been sampled by numerous rap stars, so the title that they give me is quite worthy, and I appreciate it. The godfather of rap, that is what I am known as, and the king of party records, the records I do. And I must say, Steve Harvey and them come out with a show, and they call themselves the Original Kings Of Comedy. I said, "Oh, you might all be the new kings, but you're not the original. I'm still standing. I'm not going anywhere. I am the original king of comedy."
O: When did you first realize you wanted to be a stand-up comedian?
RRM: When I first realized that I wanted to be a stand-up comedian was when I was in the service. I went to the armed forces, and a friend of mine by the name of Caldonia Young out of Cleveland, Ohio, used to take me out to cavalry parties to do shows. She was an outstanding comedienne. She was onstage doing comedy all the time, so when I went into the Army, I still did floor shows, and I would introduce all the boys. I'd get them together and make them sing and dance and a lot of things. So one day I was introducing the show, and one act didn't show up to the stage on time. So people started yelling out, "Do something! Do something, Rudy! Do something!" So I thought about this lady's act. I knew it by heart, so I started rattling off Caldonia's comedy act, and from then on, I wanted to do comedy.
O: What appealed to you about her act?
RRM: It was so real and down-to-earth and ghettoish. It was from the ghetto. The terms of delivery that she made and the flow of her performance, it made me so real onstage when I did it. Totally down-to-earth.
O: What was the process of making your first comedy albums?
RRM: When I first started doing comedy in nightclubs, there was a fellow from a record company, the one Redd Foxx was on, he saw me and wanted to cut a record. So I said, "Of course, I'll cut one." I did a comedy record for him that's not so great in my opinion, called Below The Belt. And then we did another one called Let's Come Together. I did those two albums, but I couldn't make it. I went to work in a record store. And in this record store, there was a wino who would come in and tell all these raunchy toasts, named Rico. He would come in there and want me to give him money for soup, 'cause he had all his teeth knocked out for messing with people. He'd mess with them and they'd knock the shit out of him, so he had no teeth. He'd say, [adopts high-pitched wino voice] "Rudy, give me some money for some soup." I said, "Rico, I want you to crack some things for me here in the store, while all these people are here." So Rico did the monologue "Dolemite." And the people just fell out. So I thought, "Since I'm a professional, what if I recorded that?" I got Rico some reefer and some wine and invited him to my house and taped material, and then I recorded it. So this was the first beginning of my career, which goes on today. The same records that I recorded then, they're selling better today than they did when they first came out. They're now on one of the world's finest record labels, which is Capitol/The Right Stuff. And I will say that the career that I started from the record store, with the wino doing that, when he did that, the people laughed so, and I said, "Well, I better try to record this." I recorded it, and overnight, the people just fell out. It hit overnight. A natural, instant smash was the album with the explicit cover on it. [Speaks slowly for emphasis.] Eat Out More Often. Eat Out More Often. You'd think it was a restaurant commercial. It was not. [Laughs.] It was just an explicit way to present my album where it would be legally able to be put on the market. When you say, "Eat out more often," people think about going to a restaurant and eating out instead of going home.
O: As one of the first comedians to use explicit language...
RRM: I was first. I was the first one on the face of the earth. Redd Foxx did it, but his words had double meanings to them. I was the first to use hardcore four-letter-word phrasing. When Redd Foxx did it, he'd do things like the racetrack and he'd name his horses. He'd go, [imitates Foxx] "Pussy Willow is on My Dick. And My Dick is running very hard, but Pussy Willow has a slight edge on it." So it had a double meaning to the risqué terms. But when I came out, it was not so legal, but I used the four-letter words even though I thought I wouldn't get away with it. They put my albums under the counter at the record stores, and by doing that, I set the trend for today's comedians. I set that trend.
O: Did you encounter any censorship?
RRM: No. I wasn't stopped but one time, and that was in New Jersey. I come there to do a show. And when I did the show that night, I only did one show, but it was so heavy that the manager came out and said, "Rudy Ray Moore does not have to come on and do a second show." I was too much for him, not the audience. But he was a little frightened, so he said to me, "Here's your money. You do not have to go on a second time." That's the only time I ran into that. But they still didn't stop me; he just didn't want me to do another show.
O: Why do you think Dolemite was so popular?
RRM: Well, the reason why Dolemite was so popular was because the terms that I used were pedigrees. "Dolemite, at the age of 1, he was drinking whiskey and gin. At the age of 2, he was eating the boxes and bottles that it came in. Dolemite had an uncle named Sudden Death. He killed a dozen bad men with a huff and a puff and the smell of his breath." See, the terms of the material wasn't just ordinary material; it was what you call something very heavy, which I call pedigree. I used hard pedigrees like I will be using tonight. I will be using some X-rated pedigrees.
O: What kind of places did you play at the beginning of your career?
RRM: At the beginning of my career, I played mostly ghetto clubs. We called them black-and-tan clubs. Black-and-tan clubs had chorus girls doing shows, and comedians would come out, tap dancers would come out, shake dancers would come out, a singer would come out, and a blues singer would come out. So therefore, that was the kind of show that we did, and the clubs were described as black-and-tan.
O: You're known as the king of the party records.
RRM: Yes, the king of the party records and the godfather of rap, those are the two titles. And now they're calling me something else. There's a new side to my career. It's called "the soul singer for the 21st century." The reason that I'm doing that is because that is the career that I first wanted to do, to sing. I lay back in a mellow groove. I sing with power and strength and soul and a baritone voice that's beautiful. I have to say that. I'm not conceited. I'm convinced that I do have a great voice. I use that voice in the clubs to really thrill an audience with such ballads as "Need To Belong To Someone" and another song that Sam Cooke did, called "Bring It On Home To Me." I reach for the heavens when I do that song. It just electrifies my crowds.
O: For the benefit of younger readers, what were party records?
RRM: Party records are records that are made with a lot of risqué comedy on it. And people gather at the house for the weekend sessions with their beer, and each one brings something elseliquor and whatnotand they sit up and get together and play these records, and they have a ball with them. That's what a party record is.
O: How did you make the transition from records to film?
RRM: Well, you've got to keep your career going doing different things. After I did Dolemite the album, I decided to see if I could advance my career. So I got my writer, Jerry Jones... I like to speak his name because he is responsible for my career going where it did. He wrote Dolemite. So I took the money that I had made off of my party records and shot my own film, that I was made fun of with. That's how I got into film, on my own. If I hadn't did it myself, I'd never have gotten onto film. So I'm on film purely because of my own doing.
O: In the documentary The Legend Of Dolemite, one of the interview subjects talks about [Dolemite director] D'Urville Martin dissing Dolemite after it was made. What was his problem with it?
RRM: Well, he had worked [as an actor] with [blaxploitation star] Fred Williamson for so long. And Fred Williamson had carried him along as a star. Jerry Jones got him and said, "Rudy, I got you a director. He hasn't directed a film before, but he knows direction, and he'll be good for us." We got him, and I said, "The only way I'll take him is if he co-stars with me." I felt that co-starring over a man who was already a star on film would be another plus. D'Urville Martin starred in the film with me, but when he was directing it, he thought that it was not going to happen. I know he'd tell other people, but never me to my face, that he thought the film was a piece of shit and wasn't going to happen. So when it did happen, he was very hurt. He knew, with his knowledge, that he could have done a lot better. But I pieced the thing together in the studio and made it work. And then I went and had somebody else direct another couple of scenes that I added to it, to give it some extra strength. But D'Urville Martinhe's dead now, he's been gone almost 20 yearshe would have done better, should he have known that he would have to take credit for the film. People who know film would look at him and say that he's not a great director. And I think he would have liked to have added that to his résumé, being a great director, but still to this day, he has to receive the credit for directing me in my first performance.
O: Was it difficult getting Dolemite distributed?
RRM: No. I took it out and four-walled it at a theater in Indianapolis, Indiana. People lined up against the walls in the theater for a midnight showing of it, and they couldn't get everybody in. And they carried on so in the theater while it was playing, I knew it was a hit then. Then I carried it back to Hollywood, and Dimension Pictures picked it up. We carried it to American International Pictures, and there was a black fellow there who told them that he liked the film, but that he felt they should pass on it. The man who told AIP that they should pass got fired later on, since they could have had it if they wanted it. They let him go because he lost the picture for them.
O: Did Dolemite's success open a lot of doors for you?
RRM: Yes, it did. Then I started doing other films and opening doors for other people. I opened the door for one of the great stars of today, Mr. Ernie Hudson. I put him in Human Tornado. It was the first film he ever made. I put him in the film and gave him a break. That's what I've been doing. Giving new directors breaks, getting new people to act onscreen, opening doors for people.
O: One of the films you did after Dolemite was Avenging Disco Godfather, which had a pretty strong anti-drug message. Were you at all concerned about alienating your fans with that film?
RRM: It was a message. My co-partner wanted to try to straighten my image up by having something with a great message to it, so he came up with what we called The Disco Godfather at the time. And probably one of the faults of my career was to change. Maybe I should have stayed hard-hitting, because the film did not do as well as the others. It was a strong message, and it should have done a lot for me, where people would say, "Well, he does have a message along with the crudeness of his films."
O: Were you immersed in disco culture at the time? Were you a fan of disco music?
RRM: Well, we wanted to come out with what we didn't come up with. We wanted to be a black version of Saturday Night Fever. That was the idea, and also to have this great music. But The Bee Gees created the soundtrack to end all soundtracks for Saturday Night Fever. We did not have that in Avenging Disco Godfather. Maybe if it had better music, it would have been a monster.
O: In the '80s, you stopped making films. Why?
RRM: The career just went down the drain after Petey Wheatstraw, which was one of my great films. Now, my beginning again is The Return Of Dolemite, which is a hard-hitting film, and very rough. I don't know whether it's better done, but it does have special effects in itlaser beams and so forth, the technology of today that we didn't have in the earlier films. And this film, we look for it to do fairly well.