Actor and comedian John Witherspoon

John Witherspoon

You might remember John Witherspoon as Pops on "The Wayans Bros." sitcom or Lloyd in “Black Jesus.”

Or perhaps you remember his antics as Ice Cube's funny, dog-catching dad Willie Jones in the smash urban trilogy “Friday,” “Next Friday,” and “Friday After Next.”

According to Witherspoon, who will be appearing at the Helium Comedy Club May 24-26, “a fourth 'Friday' is being talked about. But we're still waiting.”

But this funny man is hardly out of work. In fact, over more than four decades, his many film and TV roles have made him one of the best-known comics in the nation.

Witherspoon, born and bred in Detroit, was one of 11 children. He grew up looking for a way to make a name for himself.

“One day I found out one of my brothers and his wife were taking acting lessons. That sounded interesting to me, so I picked up a telephone book, found the name of an acting school, and called to make an appointment,” Witherspoon said.

Suddenly, fate stepped in.

Although the students were taught classic acting, even Shakespeare, once a year Witherspoon's acting coach would host a comedy show with all his students taking part. Hesitating at first, but encouraged by his teacher, Witherspoon donned a cowboy hat, did some impersonations, and got a standing ovation.

That did it. This would be the way to stand out in the crowd. He tried his luck first in New York, then back to Detroit, soon in Las Vegas, and eventually in L.A. But he was anything but an overnight success. Over the years he held many unglamorous jobs. The fledgling actor/comedian has been a shoe salesman, cutlery salesman, a construction company estimator among many other jobs.

“Until I finally landed at the Comedy Store in Los Angeles where I got to emcee the second show,” Witherspoon remembers. “All kinds of people come into the Comedy Store looking for new talent, and that's when it all came together for me.”

Today, while waiting for some more good acting roles, Witherspoon spends anywhere from 35 to 40 weeks a year on the road doing standup.

“I write my own material and talk about things like how I'm growing old, about shopping at Coscos. I even do a little 'Hamlet' from my acting school days,” he says.

And if you ask him what brings him the most joy today, Witherspoon answers without hesitation and with laughter: “Getting paid.” 

“Today I get to buy all kinds of things I could never buy before. You know, when you're in a family of 11 kids, somebody's not going to get what they want. And today, that's not me!”

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