What: He impressed audiences with his performance on the 3rd season of HBO’s Def Comedy Jam (All-Stars Vol. 12). He has enjoyed a career as an actor, director and screenwriter. He is a recent Pushcart Prize nominee for his creative non-fiction piece Forever. In an Instant., published by Literary Orphans Journal. A NEGRO AND AN OFAY is his first novel.
Where: Los Angeles
Interview conducted by email. Some questions and answers have been edited.
I just finished your debut novel, A NEGRO AND AN OFAY. Elliot Caprice is a flawed and troubled character, but I rooted for him throughout the story. How did you come up with the concept for this character and story?
Elliot Caprice came to me a long time ago, when I first tried my hand at screenwriting. Early on, he was almost a novelty—a setup for culturally-referential, purposefully anachronistic comedy. That never saw the light of day. It was all just exercises, really. Then, as life grew more and more serious for me, he became more and more serious. It’s been suggested that he’s an amalgam of me from a few different periods of my life. I’m not so sure about that, but perhaps there are parallels in our emotional fields.
When I was very young, and my life was ill-defined, I got off to a big start in stand-up comedy. Through all of that, I grew up a lot, and realized I wanted my creativity for me. Not to impress anyone else. Not to become rich, or famous. Yay me! Except then, I had to reconcile real life against desire. After doing television and a few movies, I wound up back in Chicago sitting on a help desk, not doing what I felt I was meant to do. I felt things were over for me before I really got started.
In an IT support capacity, there’s a lot of waiting around for the phone to ring. Left alone with my own thoughts in my own cubical, I’d write screenplays. The one that stuck in my wakeful consciousness was about Elliot. Elliot’s world is very real, visual. Palpable. I’d retreat in there when life was really roughin’ me up. Perhaps that’s how I built it. Seeking emotional solitude.
The story unfolded moment to moment. I make loose outlines about situations, but the rest comes from visceral experience. There are some realtime current events that influence the plot, of course. It just kind of folds in, like ingredients in a cake. Otherwise, it happens for me experientially, not empirically. I’m a witness. I hope that makes sense.