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Exclusive interview with ABC-7's new talk show host Brian Copeland

Actor, comedian, journalist, and writer dishes on his new series of live performances in Walnut Creek, and his exciting new show on ABC-7



Photo from Briancopeland.com

East Bay residents know Brian Copeland from his myriad successes as a stand-up comedian, KGO radio broadcaster, and as the writer and performer of the hit one-man show, Not a Genuine Black Man. Copeland, who still lives in his hometown of San Leandro, is busier than ever these days—he’ll be performing a series of Not a Genuine Black Man shows at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek, and on September 13, he debuts his new daily TV show, 7 Live, on ABC-7 at 3 p.m. Diablo caught up with this jack-of-all-media-trades to catch up on his new gigs and shows.

Let’s start with your one-man show. You just performed your 600th show of Not a Genuine Black Man, at the invitation of the White House, in New Orleans. How did that come together?

The New Orleans show was just one performance and it went very well. It was part of the Fair Housing National Policy Conference, people from all the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) regions across the country came to the conference for seminars and workshops.

John Trasviña, a former San Francisco city attorney who was appointed by President Obama to be the assistant secretary HUD, had seen Genuine and had asked me to be a speaker at the National Fair Housing month kickoff in Washington D.C. in April. He asked me to come back and perform the show in New Orleans in July.

It was the 600th performance of the show. That is amazing, if you realize that show was only supposed to run for six weeks, and I’d be done with it. I had no idea that I’d still be doing it six years later. But it struck a chord.

Has the show changed much between the initial performance and No. 600?
It’s a lot like stand-up in that no two audiences are the same. It’s a roller coaster ride. Some audiences laugh at the funny parts and are quiet during the serious stuff. Others are quiet through the whole show, and I feel like I’m bombing, but then it gets huge applause at the end.
Also, I’ve become a better actor over the years, improving line deliveries and little details like that.

Not only is Not a Genuine Black Man the longest-running one-man show in San Francisco theater history, it has a significant tradition in Walnut Creek’s Lesher Center for the Arts as well.
[Lesher Center general manager] Scott Denison asked me to do the show in Walnut Creek—and I wasn’t so sure at first. Walnut Creek is not as diverse as the major city venues I had been playing. My tickets were not very expensive and you saw this wild diversity in age and race at every show.
But, I didn’t know about the whole Caldecott Tunnel phobia thing, that people who lived on the east side of the Tunnel just would not come out to San Francisco, ever.
So, I went out and did the three shows at the Lesher Center and they all sold out. What was fascinating was that a lot of people who came out to see me in Walnut Creek had grown up in and around the area I talk about in the play. Everyone had a story for me.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve done at least 100 performances in Walnut Creek. The audiences have just been terrific. I love the Knight Stage because it is small and intimate.

You are doing an upcoming series of performances at the Lesher Center for family counselors, psychiatrists, and therapists. How did that come together?
When the show started, I would always go out afterward and shake hands with people. I’ve always been grateful that people would come see my show for two hours. I always noticed that a lot of teachers and educators were coming, and a huge group of therapists. Family counselors, marriage counselors, social workers. So I asked, why they are so attracted to this material.

It turns out that most of the issues that therapists deal with are rooted in childhood trauma. And, most therapists are white. So when they deal with clients of color, they can empathize, but they can’t really truly get it. But in this show, I can give them the perspective of an eight-year-old African American boy.

I thought for a long time, I wonder if there is some way to make this educational, a formal educational experience, for professionals in the mental health field. Then, I was doing the show down in Los Angeles last October. A man comes up to me, Dr. Michael Jackson, and he lets me know that the book version of Not a Genuine Black Man is going to be required in his classes at USC. As we talked, he told me that, in order to keep their license in the State of California, there are certain number of continuing education units that therapists need to take.

So, we thought it would be neat if therapists could attend this show and credits for their license of a seminar. So we sent a proposal to the California Board and, lo and behold, they certified us. What we are doing at Lesher is doing three of these shows (September 11, September 25, and October 2), starting at noon. The show runs two hours, then, we’ll have a Q&A for an hour and an interview with Dr. Jackson. It will be an entertaining and informative afternoon.

The performances are open to the public as well. We just did the first one in Alameda and it was very well received. Several therapists told me it was the best continuing education experience they’ve had.

It’s an interesting target demographic to reach out to.
Want to hear something amazing? I checked out this up-to-date list of licensed marriage and family therapists and social workers in California, and I did a search to see how many lived within 50 square miles of Walnut Creek. You know how many therapists live here? 22,000!

You’re a busy guy—you are on KGO 810AM every Sunday morning from 9 a.m-11 a.m., and on September 13, you’ll have your own talk show on ABC-7 everyday at 3 p.m. What can you tell us about that?
The show will be called 7 Live, and it premieres September 13.
It is the strangest thing. I’m currently working on a new play and another book, and out of the blue I get a call from the news director at Channel 7. I’d been coming through the building for 19 years, but have not spent much time in the TV part of the building.

He asked, “Have you ever though about coming back to daily television?” Now, I did five years on Mornings on 2, and it was not a good experience for me. When people come up to me and say they liked it, I feel like I know what Tom Hanks must feel when people come up and say, “I loved Bosom Buddies.”

So, my initial instinct wasn’t enthusiastic. But the news director quickly turned that around. 7 Live will be unlike any other talk show that’s on the air. This will be a host –driven show. The host picks the topics the content. It will always be live, with a live audience, plus I will be taking Tweets, Facebook, etc. The show will happen now—there will be an immediacy to it that you don’t get on a news cast. We have been in pre-production for three weeks, so we’ve been doing shows, you just don’t see them yet—it’s been very exciting, really electric.

You’ll hear about news stories that you just won’t get elsewhere. We have the resources of all the ABC owned stations across the country, so we can do live interviews all over the country. I’m also going to do live commercials—you haven’t seen that since the early days of television. But I won’t endorse anything that I don’t believe in.

The show is debuting just as the political campaigns go down the home stretch—how will you be covering the elections?
Well, we’ll be doing lots of interviews. I want to get Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman and Barbara Boxer and Carly Fiorina in the studio for a debate.

We’ll be having some unexpected people on the show. I just saw an interview with a fringe candidate for the Republican governor’s nomination in New York. He wants to convert prisons into housing for people on welfare. They give you job training. And teach hygiene. He thinks people on welfare don’t know about hygiene. I’d like to speak with him about that.

I’d like to get some of the Tea Party folks on—people like Rand Paul from Kentucky and Sharron Angle from Nevada

I’d love to see that. But the problem with candidates like Sharron Angle is that they won’t do interviews with mainstream journalists, out of fear of being “ambushed.” Like, when Katie Couric asked Sarah Palin what newspapers she reads. How can you get these candidates to come on your show when they will only do “friendly” interviews?

As we close to the election, they need all the attention they can get. And I’m going to give them free TV? They will come on. If you have heard my radio program, you know that I have strong opinions but I’m very fair. This show has got to be fair. And if we set up a debate, and you choose not to come on, there will be an empty chair with your name on it.

What other Bay Area news stories will we see on the show?
Let’s see. The pitt bull story in Concord—that’s one I would have done on the program It is reprehensible that these people had this vicious animal, bred to fight and kill. I’m sorry, those dogs don’t belong in a civilized society.

Here’s another one: (San Francisco police chief) George Gascon recently gave a bizarre press conference about local residents not being more upset about the murders of two German tourists. There have been 35 murders in San Francisco, and there wasn’t tremendous outrage about any of those. Is he the chief of police or the president of the convention and visitors bureau?

Another is (State Senator) Leland Yee, who wants the America’s Cup race to come to San Francisco. He says it will bring jobs and money to the city. I think it would be good for the image, but we have a double-digit unemployment rate, and lots of 99-weekers whose unemployment benefits are running out…and Lee wants to have people gather to watch billionaires race their yachts.

The October issue of Diablo is going to have a story about Proposition 19, the initiative to legalize marijuana use by adults, and to tax the revenue from pot sales at local dispensaries. How do you think this vote will go?
I think it’s going to pass overwhelmingly, for two reasons. One: the money. A new revenue source in these times? People who don’t care about smoking pot will vote for that. By the way, do you know who does not want to pass it? Humboldt County—they’re lobbying like mad against Proposition 19, because If it passes, they are screwed.

The other reason it will pass is the fact that we have limited resources of law enforcement. Look at the Phillip Garrido-Jaycee Dugard story. We couldn’t catch this guy who has a girl held hostage for decades, and we’re using our law enforcement resources to lock up people for selling pot? Ridiculous. Pot is not heroin—the gateway drug argument is nonsense.

So, I say it passes overwhelmingly, but the problem then will be about how tough the feds want to be. If they challenge Prop. 19 in court and it goes to the Supreme Court, they will win—because federal law trumps state law.

Finally, I’d love for you to share your own Best of the East Bay picks—you favorite places to eat, take your kids, or have fun in the area.
I love Lake Merritt. I run around it all the time. Children’s Fairyland is a wonderful place to take young kids.

I think Doug’s Place in Castro Valley is the best place for breakfast in the entire East Bay. I eat there once a week. I also love Vila Cereja restaurant in San Leandro. It used to be called Jake’s Lion—it’s been around for 45 years. I like Massimo in Walnut Creek, there's a great crew there. (KGO’s) Michael Finley and I had dinner at Vic Stewart’s to celebrate my new show. I had been reading about Vic Stewart’s in in-flight magazines for years and finally got to go—we really liked it.

And, of course, Oakland's Paramount Theatre is an absolute treasure. I graduated from high school on that stage. I opened for Bill Cosby and Smokey Robinson and James Brown on that stage. Two of my three kids will graduate on that stage.

For more about Brian Copeland's one-man show, as well as his television and radio programs, go to Briancopeland.com.