Capone… the Gangster of Comedy opens up about life and his road to success

"I can't speak for anyone else, but prison was the best thing that ever happened to him, it saved my life!”

In our lifetime, we have been blessed to see a variety of great comedians like Richard Pryor on down to Eddie Murphy, But when it comes to that raw, tell it like it is talent, there hasn’t been anyone more prestige than the great Derrick Lee aka Capone, the Gangster of Comedy. Capone has appeared in multiple films, has been on Def Comedy Jam, Apollo, New York Kings of Comedy, and many other major comedy platforms. Capone was born and reared in Bronx, New York. Unlike most people that were born in poverty, Capone stated he had the best of both worlds. He says his childhood was great because he was raised by his Grandmother and his Mom. They were like his Yin and Yang, “My mom was a street chick, who taught me everything about the streets.”  He states his grandma raised him on the values of life. “My grandmother told me, If you got a chick pregnant, you better marry her.”  She taught him not to have an ego, to stay down to earth, be humble and be a man of  integrity.

Image credited by Sam Tabachnik

In high school, Capone was heavy into music. He went by the rap name Count Busy D. He and his friends Microphone Prince and Al Ski recorded their first album together.  Later, Microphone Prince got signed.  After cutting a decent album, they went their separate ways.  Capone went on to sign to Vintertainment. After his album got put on the shelf, he got discouraged and went to the streets.  Once he started living recklessly, he says his mom told him, “I can’t stop you from selling drugs, but be responsible and do it for yourself and nobody else.” One day the police caught him and he engaged in a fight with one of the officers, the other policemen let them fight and Capone became the victor. Capone eventually bailed out but luck wouldn’t be on his side the next time. One day, he saw that same officer and his girlfriend at a food spot. Capone took out a wad of money, threw it in the officer’s face saying, “Next time take your girl to a better restaurant.” History did not repeat itself, the officer got his revenge.

In 1991, Capone did a nine-month stint in prison. He said he can’t speak for anyone else, but prison was the best thing that ever happened to him, “It saved my life!” I asked Capone what was his experience like in jail? He simply stated, “The fact that I was there…I realized the streets weren’t for me.” After his stint, he came home, opened up a barbershop.  He was making a legitimate income while honing his comedic craft. While at the barbershop he would snap on people and get many laughs. He kept saying he was going to be on Def Comedy Jam. He had a dream and a goal and nothing was going to stop him. No one took him seriously. He met a guy named Rob Bradley, who helped him get booked for his first show at Columbia University. The show was sold out. “The whole hood came out because people wanted to see me fail.” They were waiting to boo him, but he was actually funny. After the show, people came up to him showered him with compliments.  “I knew I was going to do well because I studied the art of comedy before touching the stage.”  After that moment, it was full steam ahead. He accomplished his goal appearing on Def Comedy Jam and many other widely known comedy platforms.

Image credited by innovative Artists

I asked him why he hasn’t had a mega career and appeared in more big things like Katt Williams and Kevin Hart. He stated, a lot of comedians were afraid of him. He said Charlie Murphy said it to him best. “As much as I love you as a friend, I can’t keep you on the stage of these shows.”  Comedians didn’t want to go on stage after him. When he hits that stage, he becomes a beast. It’s about that audience, not the comedians.

One day, Dame Dash came to one of his shows and enjoyed his performance so much he made him an offer.  “Dame said to me, I want you and that little guy to be in this movie.” The little guy he was referring to was Kevin Hart. Capone would go on to play Dame Dash in the movie Death of a Dynasty. He also acted in Paper Soldiers and was supposed to play the role of Suge Knight in Straight Outta Compton, “The money wasn’t what I thought it would be.” 

When asked about the controversy some years ago between him and Steve Harvey. Capone states. “Till this day, I have respect for Steve.”  He believed they clashed for one reason. At that time, Capone was the crowd warmer. He felt Steve saw all the love that he was recieving and didn’t want to share the stage with him. “Steve Harvey even addressed this in an interview. Even though he didn’t mention my name, he stated that he saw all the love that the crowd warmer was getting, so he prevented the crowd warmer from coming out as much as he could.” Capone was always told once comedians make it big, they don’t care about the culture. That’s not him though.  “I want to see our people elevate.  Comedians steal his jokes and switch them around all the time.  That’s a part of the industry.” 

One of the challenges Capone faced in the industry was that he allowed people to dictate his growth. “I don’t have to be in every situation to be successful. I don’t have to be in everyone’s household. As long as I have great health and eat right, I’m great.”  I asked him when it’s all said and done when you are long gone from this earth, what is it that you want people to know about you? “That I was a humble man. I made a lot of mistakes but I grew from them.  And, I had an opportunity to live life the way that I wanted to.”

Check out my interview with Capone
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