Jonathan Slocumb Biography
In an era when it is common for comics to use four-letter words and make sexual innuendos, Jonathan Slocumb is known as "Mr. Clean." "Mixing comedy with gospel messages and music is certainly a unique approach," wrote Janine Coveney in Billboard, "and that's the road taken by newcomer Jonathan Slocumb." The difference for Slocumb is his Christian outlook. "My greatest challenge," he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "is to show people that you can enjoy life, laugh and be a Christian. Besides, your health is better when you laugh." In one routine, Slocumb asks all of the Christians in the audience to raise their hands. Once identified, he asks them to perform the Christian slap test: slap your neighbor and see if they turn the other cheek. "I am gifted with the gift of laughter," Slocumb was quoted on Jewel Diamond Taylor's Web site. "I also have a commitment to the Lord and to myself to always entertain without vulgarities."
Even in grade school, Slocumb possessed a natural talent for comedy, and was voted "Most Humorous" by his classmates. He received the same honor in high school. At home, he entertained his parents and siblings in the family living room. Slocumb also had a talent for music and began serving as a choir director at the age of 12 in a Seventh Day Adventist church. Slocumb credited the church as a positive force in his early life. "Being raised in the Seventh Day Adventist denomination offered one of the most disciplined way[s] of growing up," he told Taylor. "There were many different ministers and other balanced individuals that impacted my life."
Slocumb attended Oakville College in Huntsville, Alabama, but nearly dropped out of the broadcast journalism program because of financial difficulties. During the last day of the term of his junior year, however, his friends presented him with a basket filled with money. Because Slocumb had the ability to make them laugh, they had raised enough money to keep him at Oakville for the next year and a half.
Slocumb started performing as a comic in his late twenties after working as an account representative for AT&T. He was discovered when Gail Hamilton of Choice Management saw him serve as the master of ceremonies for a gospel concert. Hamilton asked him if he had any more material, and soon he was touring as the opening act for Take 6. Later, Slocumb would open concerts for performers like Natalie Cole, Vanessa Bell, and Shirley Caesar, and co-host the Stellar Awards and Lou Rawls' Parade of Stars. His comic work was influenced by other "clean" comics like Bill Cosby, Sinbad, and Arsenio Hall. He admitted to Taylor that a number of comedians make him laugh. "But no one does it like Bill Cosby!!! He and Sinbad are the ones making my life as wonderful as it is."
Slocumb attended and performed at Kingfest in Montgomery in 1989, and appeared on a syndicated radio program, "Inspirations Across America," in 1990. He also made a habit of appearing in churches, including the Atlanta Metropolitan Christian Center, and the Antioch North Baptist and Ben Hill United Methodist churches. Once at a Redd Foxx Talent Search audition, Slocumb used profanity in his routine. The experience, however, left him feeling dishonest: he was attempting to be somebody he wasn't. "One of my ultimate goals is to find more Christian comics and form a Blessed Pack—not a Black Pack or a Brat Pack," Slocumb told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "We're living in the age of Eddie Murphy where any black comedian is expected to be like him. I don't have to be that way."
Many have insisted on seeing Christian comedy as no more than a novelty act. Slocumb and his peers, however, have found their niche in a quickly growing Christian entertainment empire. "Christian comedy, a growing segment of the $4 billion Christian entertainment market, has established itself as a viable genre," noted David Hiltbrand in the Philadelphia Inquirer. As Christians, comedians like Slocumb also emphasize their ability to offer a healthier style of family friendly comedy. "I have some strong moral spiritual standards," he told Jet. "I'm trying to keep the Cosby tradition alive. If it wasn't for Sinbad clean comedy would be dead." Slocumb likewise notes that the use of profanity and racial slurs by many black comedians also negatively impacts the African-American community. "White people love to promote and give as much negativism to our people as possible. That's why they are willing to back all of these people," he told Jet.
In 1997 Slocumb released Laugh Yo' Self 2 Life! on Warner Brothers. The album included the retelling of Biblical stories ("Noah 'Jackson' / David 'Holyfield' & Goliath / Job's Blues"), church humor ("Preachers" and "People in the Pews") and growing up ("Childhood"). "Recording artist Jonathan Slocumb carves out his own recording genre, Gospel/Comedy, with Laugh Yourself 2 Life!, " wrote Teresa Graham in the Times Union, "providing observation humor on a portion of African-American life often overlooked by comedians—the church." Billboard concurred: "Slocumb professes his faith and love for African-American women," wrote Janine Coveney, "pokes gentle fun at some of the church's stock characters, and skewers the family. … Nothing too heavy or satirical, just lighthearted fun."
Through live appearances, TV work, and radio programs, Slocumb's career continues to expand to new audiences. "Everyone says that it is refreshing to know that comedy is making a clean comeback," he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "And adding a spiritual message makes it a rewarding experience." Besides touring regularly, he has made television appearances on HBO's DefComedy Jam, BET's Bobby Jones Gospel, and PAX's Gospel Fire. He frequently opens for Bill Cosby, and has toured with Sinbad. Slocumb has also gained exposure from his role of "Clyde the Slide" on The Steve Harvey Show, and appeared on the popular The Tavis Smiley Show on National Public Radio (NPR). "This is a new age of Christianity," Slocumb told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "The traditional means of witnessing are being replaced by contemporary music, drama and other forces. People should be open-minded."
Laugh Yo' Self 2 Life!, Warner, 1997.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, June 30, 1990.
Billboard, November 1, 1997, p. 20.
Jet, January 19, 1998, p. 30.
Philadelphia Inquirer, July 22, 2004, p. D1.
Times Union, May 14, 1998, p. 27.
Jonathan Slocumb, www.jonathanslocumb.net/home.htm (May 18, 2005).
"Jonathan Slocumb," LoneOak Entertainment, www.loneoakentertainment.com/indexA.htm (May 18, 2005).
"Jonathan Slocumb Interview," Jewel Diamond Taylor, www.donotgiveup.net/ (February 3, 2005).
—Ronnie D. Lankford Jr.
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