Comedy scene: John Henton was already sheltered in place

Howie Nave
Special to the Tribune
Comedian John Henton (left) with a clean-cut Howie Nave

My ongoing series on how comedians are coping while being sheltered in place both at home and with no gigs continues with comedian and actor John Henton.

Hands down Henton is probably one of the best comedians to work with, not just on stage but also on the radio. His dry delivery coupled with hilarious material makes him one funny dude. Henton has made appearances on “The Arsenio Hall Show” and “Bob Hope’s Young Comedian’s Special” as well as “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”

Henton starred in his own half-hour comedy special for Showtime, “John Henton: Comedy With An Attitude” and performed on Comedy Central’s “Premium Blend” to an overwhelming audience response.

In April of 1993, Henton was cast in the FOX TV series “Living Single” starring Queen Latifah, Kim Fields and Kim Coles. The show received stellar ratings and TV Guide selected Henton’s character as one of the “break out” characters of the 1993-fall season. Henton’s work didn’t go unnoticed and he was recognized in 2001 and 2002 with an NAACP Image Award nomination for best supporting actor in a comedy series.

When I asked him how he’s been holding up he said, “I’m good. I don’t need to get on a plane right now. It’s scary times man, so yeah, I’m good being sheltered in place because I don’t like people anyway.”

Like most of us, we didn’t know mid-March was going to be the lock down for entertainment. “The last show I did was like February,” he said. “I had a week scheduled in March but I had to go see my daughter so I missed that but I thought I could make it up in a few weeks (laughs) so I didn’t know that that was it. I could use the break anyway, staying at home and trying to write some new stuff. I definitely have a new perspective on things now. We’ll see how it all works out when I finally do get to hit the stage.”

Henton seems to be handling it as best as anyone can and is fortunate to have his family close by where he lives in Cleveland, Ohio. I think he’s been handling it okay because he never liked hanging with people much anyway. I can relate. He’s also not in a big hurry to get back on stage but knows it’s going to be a whole new set of rules.

“I know it’s gonna be different from what I’ve been doing in the 80s,” he said. “That’s going to be a big change for me and I’m not looking forward to it, not at all. I mean, I haven’t shaken anyone’s hands in months.”

Speaking of which, Henton has been following all the guidelines pretty religiously that’s for sure.

“I’m washing my hands for 20 seconds and man, that’s just like crazy because I realized my hygiene was really lacking. I was nowhere close to washing two ‘Happy Birthdays.’ I wasn’t washing nearly as much so I feel a lot cleaner now.”

Personally, for myself I’m anxious and ready to perform in front of a ‘live’ audience again. I’ve got a good 30 minutes of pandemic material and the best part is when I do get to perform again I’ll be going on first as the host/emcee of the show so the spaced out, 6 feet apart crowd will get to hear my stuff first.

“That’s the thing that’s been messin’ with me, I gotta write something different because every comic in the country is gonna be doing some pandemic stuff,” Henton said. “I mean, you gotta follow like an hour of pandemic jokes so you gotta have something different because as a headliner, I gotta have some new stuff or not even talk about it at all.”

Oh, man I didn’t think about that, plus the odds of having some cross-over material could be high given the similarity of experiences we’ve all gone through as a country of sheltered in place occupants.

One thing is for sure, Henton is not exactly a Zoom kinda guy. I’ve done it three times and it’s just weird performing to these small squares on the computer and in mute mood til it’s my turn to perform.

“You gotta have that audience interaction. That’s what comedy is all about right there. I haven’t done anything on the Zoom I mean, I heard that a couple of people are doing stuff that are successful but, like I said this stuff is just all too weird for me right now. I’m just too old and set in my ways (laughs). These young kids with their little Zoom shows. I’m not having it.”

Hey, at least he’s been working out I gotta give him that. He’s got a weight room in his basement so he’s developed a routine to keep both his mind and body well toned.

“My goal is to come out of this better than when I went in. I’m reading, I’m listening to music, trying to write, trying to be creative and just stay away from people but that’s easy for me. Did I mention this is a good time for me being away from people? I’m in my element and realized my life hasn’t changed that much because I never go out so I wasn’t around people anyway. I saved some money on the Uber rides ‘cause there was nowhere to go. I don’t go to the cleaners anymore because I wear the same sweatpants. All I gotta do now is like wash once-a-month.”

Of all the comedians I’ve interviewed, Henton is probably the most pragmatic but grateful too. He’s respectful of others wearing the face mask when need be but again, doesn’t sound like he has to because he’s always avoided people. When he does shop he acknowledges those who work at the grocery stores and that’s nice.

“Yeah, Howie all those frontline essential workers at the grocery stores, I was going up to them thanking them like police officers and firefighters after 9/11 saying, ‘thank you for your service I appreciate it. Now can you get me a box of peanuts up there? Thank you very much.’”

I’ve obviously worked with Henton up here in Tahoe but also in Las Vegas too and hopefully they’ll get their comedy venues open soon. It sure seems to be lagging in that department down there. I asked him if he misses working The Strip, all those people coming to the shows. “There’s no reason for me to go to Vegas anymore, Howie. When they killed the buffet they just killed my desire to go to Vegas.”

As with all my other interviews I wanted to keep it consistent focusing on the pandemic but wanted to know if he’s had an opportunity to protest at all and sure enough, Henton kept it in line with avoiding people once again.

“We shelter and we protest in place, Howie. I got a sign up in my living room but it’s nobody’s business.”

I wish you could hear John’s delivery when he’s talking it just cracks me up.

Like the other comedic buds I told him I’m going to stay in touch as I just miss hanging with them.

“You have to have that release,” he said. “We gotta stick to just being funny. I mean, when things get this crazy you gotta have some outlet. Some of the best jokes I ever heard was at funerals. You need that release so somebody’s up there (laughs). I’ve done time, man. I’ve done 20 minutes at funerals.”

Oh, man I can’t wait to get back on stage and kill it.

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