Tommy Davidson was in his 20s when his boss gave him an ultimatum. The Washington-area native was working as an assistant chef at a hotel in Crystal City at the time. By night, he did stand-up comedy shows. “It became a conflict,” he says. “So the chef told me I had to choose.”
Davidson went with comedy, and it wasn’t long before he decided to make the big move to Los Angeles. He saved enough cash to cover two months worth of rent, stuffed all his clothes in a Nissan Sentra, and drove across the country.
That drive marked the beginning of a successful, nearly three-decade career, which involved starring in In Living Color with Jamie Foxx, Jim Carrey, and Damon Wayans, as well as working in films with the likes of Spike Lee. Now Davidson is returning to his roots. On May 10, he comes to Washington to celebrate Mother’s Day with a comedy show at the Howard Theatre.
His life would have probably turned out differently if it wasn’t for his own mom. Davidson grew up in Silver Spring, near the Rosemary Hills Drive area, where he says kids had an upbringing that was neither suburban or metropolitan. But when he was 14, he started hanging out with “bad boys.”
“We were into selling drugs and hustling,” he says. “My mom threw me out of the house, cause I was trying to be a little criminal, and she didn’t agree with that.”
Davidson had to grow up fast. He got a job busing tables at an IHOP in Wheaton then moved on to Roy Rogers. “I ran into a lot of people who believed in hard work,” he says. “My thinking started to change.”
He made his way into the kitchen and landed a job as a prep cook at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, followed by that job in Crystal City. While he was working there as a chef, a childhood friend convinced him to take a stab at comedy. So around 1986, Davidson began performing standup between topless shows at the Penthouse, a strip club now known as the House, located on Georgia Avenue, Northwest, near Howard University.
He became a household name and started opening shows for big names like Luther Vandross and Patti LaBelle. Soon enough, he caught the attention of a talent manager, who promised to support him if he moved to Hollywood. So Davidson did exactly that. He went on to star in In Living Color and made his film debut in 1991 in Strictly Business, starring opposite Halle Berry. He’s had three Showtime specials–including one filmed in Washington–starred in multiple films and documentaries, and earned a reputation for his fantastic impersonations of Barack Obama, Sylvester Stallone, and Sammy Davis Jr.
Now Davidson is preparing to make another leap. He’s developing a movie about Davis Jr., which is scheduled to go into production this summer. His transition into production hasn’t been without setbacks, however.
“It’s really hard to get a movie made,” says Davidson, who is also starring in the film. “You gotta find the right deal, get the people who are going to get behind it, and help you do it how you want to do it.” His aspiration? To become more than just a comedian and film star. He wants to do it all: produce, act, sing, stand up–a little bit of everything.
Which is exactly what audiences can expect when Davidson takes the stage on Sunday. “I don’t really do one thing,” he says. “I’m political like Chris Rock. I’m spontaneous like Robin Williams, and I’m a storyteller like Richard Pryor.”
There’ll be something for moms, too: “I’ve got a whole segment on moms and kids… I’m gonna talk about growing up in DC, the real DC.
Let everybody know I’m coming home.”
Tommy Davidson performs at the Howard Theatre on May 10 at 7 PM and 9:30 PM.