One of veteran stand-up comedian and actress Adele Givens’s first comedy accomplishments was when she was crowned the winner of the Crown Royal Comedy competition in 1990 in her hometown of Chicago. But one of her first comedy letdowns came just a couple years prior and almost made her quit entirely.
Givens, who was considering getting on stage to do stand-up for the first time, got dressed up and went to the Catch A Rising Star comedy club on the southside of Chi-Town to talk to one of the night’s headlining comedians about what she would have to do in order to do stand-up.
She recalls instead of offering her advice, he offered her the chance to join him in his hotel room, causing Givens to leave in tears.
Cut to 1995 and Givens was playing The Sands at Las Vegas with fellow comedian Joe Torry to a sold-out crowd and the show promoter said a fellow comedian and admirer wanted to meet Givens. Turns out, it was that same comedian Givens first encountered in Chicago. She told him how they met. It didn’t go well for him ... or his wife, who Givens said got word of his previous proposition.
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“His own energy came back to him inadvertently,” she recalls. “It was beautiful karma.”
Givens’s attitude and approach has helped her find stand-up success quickly and maintain it for coming up on three decades. Her ability to say oftentimes vulgar, profanity-laden jokes and honest takes about sex, relationships and real-world observations were seen as somewhat shocking coming from a female comedian at the time.
“I always had this need to put myself on the same level with guys when it came to different things. I kind of had this rebellious energy.”
The energy initially helped her gain even greater exposure when she made her debut on HBO’s “Def Comedy Jam” and later led to her joining up with fellow female comedians Laura Hayes, Mo’Nique and Sommore for the hugely successful “The Queens of Comedy” tour and DVD.
Acting opportunities followed where she had co-starring roles alongside Mo’Nique in “The Parkers” and fellow “Kings of Comedy” like Steve Harvey (“The Steve Harvey Show”) and D.L. Hughley (“The Hughley’s).
Now, in addition to frequently popping up on stand-up stages across the country, like she’s going to do on Nov. 23 and 24 at Comedy Off Broadway, she’s found her comedy making an unexpected cameo in a song from two of hip-hop’s biggest current stars.
A few signature lines from her 1994 “Def Comedy Jam” debut were sampled at the beginning and end of the song “I Love It” by Kanye West and Lil Pump, which became a top-10 single on the Billboard charts and in multiple countries when it was released in September. The video, which features Givens, now has more than 321 million views on YouTube as of this publication.
Givens said Kanye West definitely has a “quirky way about him,” but she is flattered the Chicago-based musical artist was an admirer of her work and helped expose Givens’s blunt style to a new audience.
“That was actually another time that I felt validated,” she said. “For him to think it was worthy or even inspirational to make even a jingle about, it felt good.”
When Givens isn’t performing comedy, she is persistently trying to get a film she is writing in front of an audience. The film, which she described as “a spoof kind of Blacksploitation meets ‘(The Real) Housewives’” is titled SCANKHOSE and will give people a surprising look into the mind of the comedian.
Audiences might be surprised to find out if they looked into Givens mind, they wouldn’t find a comedian who believes she is fully developed. She loves stand-up both for the self expression and humility it provides, knowing that even if she had a great set last weekend, she still has to deliver for the audience that’s in front of her.
But Givens still feels like she has plenty of buttons to push, plenty of joy to spread and plenty of growing that is still left to be done.
“I tell you what, I’ve been doing this almost 28, 29 years and I feel like the more I do it, the more I learn,” she said. “I go, wow, no wonder George Carlin and Richard Pryor were so great. They hung in there. I promise you the best is probably yet to come.”
If you go
When: 7:15 and 9:45 p.m. Nov. 23 and 24
Cost: $22 Friday, $25 Saturday
Where: Comedy Off Broadway, 161 Lexington Green Circle