Comedy

The Godfather of Comedy: Kenny Robinson celebrates 25 years of his successful Nubian Comedy Revue

Celebrating Kenny Robinson as a key figure in Toronto's comedy community and the comics he’s helped make stars.

Celebrating Kenny Robinson as a key figure in Toronto's comedy community and the comics he’s helped make stars

Kenny Robinson entered Toronto's comedy scene in 1983 at a time when there weren't many established comedians of colour in Canada. Just over a decade later, Robinson introduced a groundbreaking monthly showcase at Toronto's Yuk Yuks called Nubian Disciples of Pryor All-Black Comedy Revue, which put a spotlight on Black comedians.

Looking back 25 years later, Robinson recalls how it was a box office hit since from the start. Over the years, it drew comics like Dave Chappelle and Kevin Hart, and also became a hub for people looking for talent, including Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, and Vivica Fox. Many comics have scored festivals and TV shows from being involved, including comedy megastar Russell Peters.

"It got him his first CBC special," Robinson says. "We opened up doors of opportunity that may not have been opened."

The original logo for the Nubian show 25 years ago (Kenny Robinson)

It is still the "Big Daddy" of urban shows, says Robinson. 

"My legacy is in three different waves or generations of comics that have found a home have found support and have found the place where they can shine and rise." he says.

Mentorship and legacy

Many of the country's brightest young comics have claimed Robinson as a mentor and influence, calling him "The Godfather". The Winnipeg born, Chicago bred Kenny Robinson has spent half of his life in the comedy industry. He is known for his groundbreaking one hour special Thick and Thin on the CBC, and edgy late night series After Hours with Kenny Robinson on The Comedy Network.

"Every comic needs an older comic to show them the ropes; it's like anything else," says Robinson.

First and foremost, without Kenny there is no me.- Jean Paul

"Kenny has been and continues to be absolutely unselfish in his time and his knowledge and his education," says Jean Paul, who has been a part of the Nubian show since it's beginning. "I just love the fact that he's all tough love but he's completely honest and he's just a giant, giant teddy bear under that rough exterior."

Montreal-born comedian Keisha Brownie says Robinson will never hesitate in helping and giving comics a stage to perform on. 

Keesha Brownie at Yuk Yuk's. (Keesha Brownie)

"He's been one of the best mentors pertaining to my comedy career because Kenny will always tell you how it is," says Brownie. "He'll never paint a pretty picture for you and he'll get straight to the point and say 'listen, you've got to work on this, you can't do that.'"

Tough Love

The comics in the Nubian show said the club had a cutthroat, old-school Def Jam comedy culture unlike any other in Canada.

"If you didn't like a comic, Kenny would encourage you to 'boo' them so that they would learn the hard way," says comedian Tamara Shevon, who has been on the Nubian show over six times since 2017. "People would escape out the back doors, because they were just so embarrassed of how they've performed on the stage."

"Some comics have literally gotten dismantled by the audience," says Jean Paul, "Kenny would just come up and follow that with 'Man, that was horrible!'. 

"It's a very humbling stage, and a really rewarding stage if you do really well," says Shevon. "You start to realize that you can actually learn from the Nubian stage more than probably any other stage in Toronto." 

Keesha Brownie says she considers the Nubian show to be her home club. "It's the show that made me work, sweat and fret," said Brownie. "No other show has made me so nervous and excited at the same time."

The Nubian Revue: The Next 25 

To celebrate 25 years of the Nubian show's legacy and development of talent, Robinson released the album Kenny Robinson's Nubian Comedy Revue: The Next 25

When deciding which comics to choose for the 25th year anniversary show and album, Robinson says, "It's like how do you make up your invitation to your birthday party?"

The diversity on the album is what makes it stand out. "It includes comics from the Caribbean, dual citizens in the states, and Caucasians because they had a sensibility that the audience was receptive to," says Robinson. 

Album cover for Kenny Robinson's Nubian Comedy Revue: The Next 25 (Kenny Robinson)

Hisham Kelati's 9 Confirmed Kills is a notable track because of the comedian's talented storytelling, while Jean Paul has four different tracks on the album, a snapshot of who he is after 25 years of comedy: with kids, a wife and a vasectomy.

Robinson says he likes comedy that is honest, fearless, pokes at you, and is 'woke.' That's why he chose Kerby Darius's track about growing up in the American South and Paul Thompson's joke about how being a "baller" is about giving money to homeless people. 

You can listen to The Next 25 on Spotify and Apple Music.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of.

(CBC)

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