For over 25 years, Washington, D.C. native Royale Watkins has been one of the hardest working people in comedy and entertainment. He is a renowned comedian, television writer and producer, director and actor, having worked on television projects such as Def Comedy Jam, BET Honors, and Are We There Yet? His Mix Tape Comedy Show in New York—which he initially developed with friend and fellow acclaimed comedian Anthony Anderson—has been keeping audiences laughing heartily for several years and has attracted support from comedians such as Chris Rock, Tracy Morgan, and Jerry Seinfeld. Equally important is his role as a loving husband and father, and he manages to handle both family and fame with ease. With other projects in development, Royale Watkins is taking his career to even greater heights.
SoulTrain.com: Growing up with 13 siblings, what inspired you to want to go show into show business—specifically, comedy?
Royale Watkins: I think at a very early age just being one of 14 children, you find the need to stand out and get some attention. I found that making people laugh and entertaining them was a way to do that without stirring up trouble.
SoulTrain.com: Did you make your family laugh?
Royale Watkins: Absolutely! Early on, cracking jokes and dancing while imitating Michael Jackson were some of the things in my repertoire. Those two things combined didn’t get me in trouble. They actually helped me learn to become a performer. I found there was a response to those things that was enjoyable.
SoulTrain.com: Which comedians inspired you?
Royale Watkins: Certainly early on Eddie Murphy was a huge inspiration. After Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor and Bill Cosby, and then Damon Wayans became an incredible influence and still is today. These guys were the biggest influences on my career.
SoulTrain.com: I also understand you pursued comedy while you were in college, doing standup routines.
Royale Watkins: Right. I was fortunate enough to go the University of the District of Columbia in Washington, D.C., and while I was there I was a fixture in the game room. There was a crew of us that hung around and cracked jokes and entertained each other. A gentleman named Aldean Pearson, who was a year or two ahead of me, actually took some of the jokes that we were doing at the lunch table and performed them during a homecoming fashion show that he was hosting. It blew me away that he was able to take those same jokes and put them on stage and perform them in front of an audience of about 1,100 or 1,200 people. I found out shortly after that he actually got paid a decent wage for the performance, so that really inspired me to kick my career as a comedian into high gear.
SoulTrain.com: You also fought during Operation Desert Storm. What do you recall about that experience?
Royale Watkins: I had signed up to go into the Marine Corps reserves out of high school, and in my third year at the University of the District of Columbia was pulled out to go into Desert Storm. During my time in Desert Storm, there was a part of me that wanted to perform but there was only so much of that I could do—especially when you’re in a space where people are losing their lives.
SoulTrain.com: What was your first big break in the entertainment industry?
Royale Watkins: Def Comedy Jam for sure, where I performed shortly after coming back from Operation Desert Storm. I was very fortunate to be on Def Comedy Jam; I stood out because most of the material I was talking about was being one of 14 children and my mom being a stern disciplinarian while being the size of a fire hydrant.
SoulTrain.com: You worked with Anthony Anderson in 2009 for the Mix Tape Comedy Show. How did that union come about?
Royale Watkins: Anthony and I have been friends for a number of years, and we were both actors running around Hollywood trying to break into show business. In late 2008, work was slow and I had flat-lined in my career. Anthony was on Law & Order, which was taping in New York City, and as a friend I went to him and said that it was slow getting work now and I could use his help. He said anything I wanted to do, he would support me. I used to live in New York City before I moved to Los Angeles and I had contacts there, so I figured if I put together a comedy show we could get something going. Before that, we were actually on Facebook goofing around and the fans who were supporting us said that we should do a comedy show. Shortly after that, I suggested this to Anthony. From there we put that comedy show together in New York City, and we had such an overwhelming response to it that we decided to do it once a month; I couldn’t fly back and forth weekly to do the show, but I knew I could sustain doing it once a month. What is now the Mix Tape Comedy Show is the liveliest music and comedy show in New York City!
SoulTrain.com: You have a very diversified career, being that you are also the executive producer of the Centric Comedy All Stars. I believe you won a Silver Telly Award for that.
Royale Watkins: I was very fortunate in that a gentleman named Paxton Baker, who was running Centric at the time, gave me an opportunity which actually was born out of the Mix Tape Comedy Show experience; Paxton had come to the show and was interested in doing some business with Anthony. At that time, Anthony and I were partnered up so Paxton saw what we were doing with the Mix Tape Comedy Show and was interested in trying to bring that over to the channel. But my business acumen led him to believe that there were bigger opportunities we could build. Paxton was producing the Soul Train Awards in Las Vegas and was looking to build some other events around it, and I pitched him the Centric Comedy All Stars and he fell in love with it and he gave me the opportunity to produce and develop three volumes of it in Las Vegas as part of the Soul Train Awards weekend. I’m hopeful we will go back this year to produce a fourth one.
SoulTrain.com: You’ve done several movies, including Deliver Us From Eva and Speed 2.
Royale Watkins: Yes. I also did Dancing In September and a couple of other short films. On the television side, I starred in a short-lived sitcom for NBC, Built to Last. I had also written for television programs such as Will Smith and Jada Smith’s All of Us. In fact, I actually have a script entitled The N Word, which was the first script Will Smith directed, so there’s a relationship there that ties me to Will that has been very special and meaningful to me. That script was nominated for an NAACP Image Award as well. I have also written for Brad Garrett’s ’Til Death, and wrote ten episodes for Ice Cube’s Are We There Yet? In addition, I have written for a number of awards shows and right now I am in the process of developing a sitcom as well as taking a reality show out to pitch.
SoulTrain.com: You mentioned Soul Train earlier. Were you an avid Soul Train watcher?
Royale Watkins: On Saturday mornings I lived on the Soul Train experience! I loved watching that show and looked forward to the Soul Train line, the Scramble Board, and who the guests were going to be. Don Cornelius was just a genius for creating that show.
SoulTrain.com: What would you say is the most challenging part of what you do?
Royale Watkins: I would say the most challenging part of what I do as a comic writer, producer, director, husband and father is trying to maintain the balance of it all and keeping everybody happy meaning my wife, my kids, the people I create shows for and trying to stay original and relevant.
SoulTrain.com: What advice would you give to up and coming comedians?
Royale Watkins: Work hard. At the end of the day, put all of your energy and effort into being original and work hard to give yourself the opportunity for the widest audience to give exposure to your talent.
SoulTrain.com: What word of wisdom do you want to share?
Royale Watkins: Follow your purpose and your passion. Also stay hopeful, prayerful and determined and do your best to make everything you come in contact with better by spreading love and being open to sharing.
Royale performs The Mix Tape Comedy Show every third Sunday in New York, 8PM at Gotham Comedy Club. West Coast fans can catch Royale’s gifted brand of humor at Xen Lounge in Studio City, where he hosts his weekly Supa Funny Tuesdays. For more information, visit Royale Watkins’ website, and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
Journalist, actor, filmmaker, dancer, performer, writer, poet, historian, choreographer. That’s Stephen McMillian.