For his hourlong ABC special, Sinbad makes up material as he goes along

December 27, 1991|By Chicago Tribune

It has been a little while since Sinbad last appeared on TV, so he decided to return in a big way: his own hourlong special on ABC.

"Sinbad & Friends All the Way Live . . . Almost," which is scheduled to air at 8 p.m. tomorrow on WJZ-TV (Channel 13), is the comic's first appearance since leaving NBC's "A Different World" and "It's Showtime at the Apollo" earlier this year.

Sinbad had been on "A Different World" for four years, playing counselor Walter Oakes of fictitious Hillman College. He also spent two years as host of the syndicated "Apollo" variety show.

Sinbad, a native of Benton Harbor, Mich., calls "Sinbad & Friends" a hybrid of TV variety shows from the past and his own special brand of stand-up comedy.

"I grew up on variety shows," said Sinbad, 35. "I'm from the '60s and '70s. I loved watching Flip Wilson, I loved watching Sid Caesar's 'Your Show of Shows,' 'The Ed Sullivan Show.' I love all of those variety shows."

So in coming up with a format for his special, Sinbad looked back at those programs and added his stand-up talents, which include more than a little improvisation.

"A lot of stuff we just made up while we were taping," Sinbad said in a phone interview. "And that's why it was sort of scary, I think, for ABC. We went out on the edge a little bit."

Networks are hooked on such mundane conventions as beginnings, middles and ends for programs they're putting on the air. That Sinbad wanted to improvise some of the skits made the network brass skittish.

"For what I was going to do, I told them that a lot of my stuff would come as we taped it, and they would just have to trust that I can do that," he said. "If I can do it on stage, I could do it there."

Sinbad's comedy career started in 1983, when he performed in shows while in the Air Force.

After his discharge, he toiled in comedy on a self-styled "poverty tour," where he slept in bus stations and the homes of strangers.

A combination of appearances on "Star Search" and warming up studio audiences for "The Cosby Show," which caught the eye of Bill Cosby, netted Sinbad "A Different World."

Leaving a top-rated show such as that one would sound like a disastrous career move, but for Sinbad it was simply a matter of moving to another phase in his career.

"You know when it's time to go to the next level," said Sinbad, who never reveals his real name.

"And for the last year I had felt like I had accomplished as much as I could there."

This year, Sinbad released a comedy album, "Brain Damaged," and a well-received HBO special of the same name.

He was also featured in a not-so-well-received movie (at least, not by critics), "Necessary Roughness," which co-starred Scott Bakula of NBC's "Quantum Leap."

He's planning to film a stand-up comedy concert in February and has other movie projects in the works.

Along with rap group Heavy D. & the Boyz, the special also features Kim Coles, formerly of Fox-TV's "In Living Color"; Mark Curry, who has been a co-host of "Showtime at the Apollo"' and John Witherspoon, who has appeared in "House Party" and "Hollywood Shuffle."

Both "Sinbad & Friends" and his planned stand-up movie will contain another staple of Sinbad's act: clean, inoffensive material.

"I like the fact that you can sit down after Christmastime and the whole family can watch the special," said Sinbad.

As for the movie, "I don't think there's ever been a G-rated movie of this type. I hope we can do a movie that the whole family can go and see."

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