Coming Clean: How Comedian Jonathan Slocumb Got His Start

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It wasn’t a hard decision for Jonathan Slocumb, ATT&T account representative, to become Jonathan Slocumb, full-time comedian, professional host and actor. He already had been known as that choir director in Atlanta, Georgia who emceed his choir’s gospel concerts and made people laugh. His gospel–friendly humor led to him hosting concerts for other groups on the weekends while keeping his day job.

One of those weekend gigs paired him with the then up-and-coming jazz-and-gospel sextet Take 6, whose members he had met in the early 1980s while a student at Oakwood College in Huntsville, Alabama. By then Slocumb wasn’t just an emcee. He had begun to pioneer a new art form: profanity-free, church-oriented, stand-up comedy.

“I looked at the check for being funny for 15 minutes, and then looked at my check for being cussed out by customers at AT&T,” Slocumb told Message. “And I made a wise decision to let AT&T go.”

Now the comedian known for not cussing and being a super-sharp dresser has opened for Aretha Franklin. He’s played a preacher in the Tyler Perry film “Meet The Browns.” He had a recurring role as an old school funk musician on the “The Steve Harvey Show.” He’s also hosted the NAACP Image Awards, the Stellar Awards and the Essence Music Festival. And NBA legend Michael Jordan called him personally to invite him to host the Las Vegas launch of one of his shoe lines.

“Yeah, right,” Slocumb said he responded, according to an AL.com story. “Seriously, who is this?” Jordan’s assistant got on the phone and told Slocumb that Jordan had enjoyed Slocumb’s performance as the host of the 1996 NAACP Image Awards. He wanted the comedian to host the launch of his Jordan Brand in two days. “Will you be available?” the assistant asked him. “Uh, give me one second. Yes.”

Another career highlight for Slocumb happened earlier this year when he was named a 2016 Stellar Honors award recipient, along with Yolanda Adams, Marvin Sapp and – much to his delight – Tramaine Hawkins. In college, other guys had pictures of the Hollywood-type starlets on their dorm room walls. Not Slocumb. “I had a picture of Tramaine on my wall, because in my mind Tramaine Hawkins was the most beautiful, sexy woman alive,” Slocumb told Message. “I thought I was going to marry her at some point, but it never happened.”

All kidding aside – assuming Slocumb was joking about wanting to marry the gospel diva – one of the most touching moments in his career came this past Easter weekend while hosting a concert at his alma mater, now Oakwood University. He was surprised when Take 6’s chief arranger Mark Kibble went on stage, gave him a very warm tribute, and then the concert producers gave Slocumb a special award recognizing his achievements as a comedian, host and actor. Slocumb, usually very verbose, was speechless for several seconds before expressing his thanks.

A few days later, during an interview with Message, he retold a story that he had shared with the audience that night about another special Oakwood moment that was pivotal in his life. After two years in college, his scholarship money had run out. He couldn’t afford to pay the tuition required to stay. His last night on campus, some of Slocumb’s friends at one of the female dorms invited him to say his good-byes during the evening worship service. After he finished, they had a surprise for him.

“These two girls came down the aisle with one of those outdoor garbage cans filled with money,” Slocumb said. “The student body took up enough money for me to stay.”

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“Clean” comedian Jonathan Slocumb tried cussing in his act, once. Never again. “I just can’t do it.”

As Slocumb considered the impact that his humor and personality had on his fellow students, he began to sense that something special was going to happen in his life. And certainly many amazing, memorable things have happened. Aside from Bill Cosby–before the rape allegations at least–and Sinbad, no performer has been more recognized for doing profanity-free, stand-up comedy than Jonathan Slocumb. And Slocumb is perhaps the first nationally known performer to do clean comedy routines that can be performed in either a church or a club without changing one word. But he also knows that he’s paid a price by keeping his act clean and church-friendly.

“One of the Kings of Comedy once told me, “Slocumb, man, you just got to do a little bit of cussing’,” he recalled. “ ‘You’ll get so much money. Just do a little bit.’ ” “I just can’t do it,” Slocumb confessed. Later, to explain his resolve, he quoted gospel singer and fellow Oakwoodite Wintley Phipps: “I won’t compromise to be recognized.”

Jonathan Slocumb will be headlining at the Atlanta Comedy Theater, April 14, 16 and 17th.

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