Life of Brian
Comedian and KGO AM-810 Radio host Brian Copeland never expected his one-man show, Not a Genuine Black Man, to become a cultural sensation. But his personal story of growing up in lily-white San Leandro in the 1970s became the longest-running solo show in San Francisco history. He has also performed it in Los Angeles and New York, adapted it into a best-selling memoir, and is developing it into a television series.
This month, he brings it to Walnut Creek’s Lesher Center for the Arts. In December, he makes his feature film debut in the Rob Reiner–directed movie, The Bucket List, starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman.
Do you think that one reason people are enthusiastic about your show is that they are looking for ways to talk more honestly about race?
Yes, and in a way that’s not really dogmatic or hostile.
What are some of your memories about being a kid in San Leandro?
I don’t want to give away too much, but we’d be walking on the street, with adults driving in cars yelling “nigger” out the window. That was a common occurrence.
But you still live in San Leandro?
It’s now the fourth-most diverse city in California. The East Bay is a great community. I like the politics and the mentality. There’s no other area in this country where I’d rather live.
You’ve done stand-up comedy. You have your radio show, your writing, and now you’re in a movie. What’s most rewarding?
I like the live performances. There’s something about the immediacy of connecting with a live audience. When I do this show at the Lesher Center, it will be in a 130-seat theater, so we’ll be keeping it intimate.
What is The Bucket List about?
Nicholson and Freeman are both diagnosed with terminal cancer, and they’re sharing a hospital room. One day, Morgan’s character is making this list of “the things I’d like to do before I kick the bucket.” So Nicholson takes it and says, “I’m rich, we can do this stuff.”
How did you end up in it?
It was a fluke. I was meeting with Rob Reiner at his office in Beverly Hills, talking about how to translate my show into a screenplay. As I’m leaving, I joke, “By the way, if Morgan Freeman needs a son, call me.” And Rob looks at his producing partner and says, “You know, he’s the right age.” I ended up in the film. I’m sitting watching them doing a scene, and I think, “My God, I’m watching Rob Reiner direct Jack Nicholson.” How surreal is this?
Not a Genuine Black Man runs Oct. 3–Nov. 24 at the Lesher Center for the Arts, Walnut Creek, (925) 943-7469, www.lesherartscenter.org