As soon as I heard the news I went out and got a bottle of Moet in celebration of the life of my friend and mentor, Reynaldo Rey. His was a life worth celebrating. Reynaldo was one of the few comedians who was always upbeat. Even his gripes were more funny inconveniences not life stifling tribulations. The guy was fun to be around. For instance, I interviewed 125 comedians for my first book and when people ask which was the most fun I always answer Reynaldo Rey. 90 minutes of straight laughs and great stories. Man, he had a million of ‘em. All worth listening to; an encyclopedia of comedy he was. Walking history. That’s why I must rejoice that I knew him.
I mourned the passing of the Reynaldo I was familiar with years ago when his stroke sidelined him and removed him from public consumption. Since then I remember the Reynaldo he wanted most to remember and that’s the person I celebrate right now. For those of you who knew Rey your treasure chest of Reynaldo tales is overflowing. For those of you who never had the pleasure, here’s a few printable things about the legend.
Born Harry Reynolds (he didn’t care for that to be public knowledge. He never looked like a Harry, much less a Reynolds) in Sequoyah, Oklahoma, the African-American/Native-American majored in Education, earning a Bachelor of Science degree from Kansas State Teacher’s College. He took that degree to Cleveland, Ohio and taught for seven years. During that period Rey joined the Karamu House Theatre, known for nurturing actors, producers and directors. That’s where he began his comedy career. First gig – going on the road with the O’Jays. He later moved to New York, where he became a member of the Harlem Theater Group and appeared in his first of many movies. The next two years found him performing in Asia, Europe and Africa.
Fortune kept shining his way after Rey went to Hollywood. Two months after arriving Redd Foxx caught his show and became his manager for the next 12 years. He opened for Redd in Las Vegas and around the country spending countless hours being schooled by the master on the pitfalls of show business.
This Renaissance man appeared in 52 films and 32 television shows including BET’s Comic View, 1998–99, 2000-2001, on which he was alternately a judge and then co-host and later on Marla Gibb’s sitcom 227 as Ray the Mailman. Rey recorded three comedy albums and three videos, including his own called “I’m Scared A U” after his rendering of it on “Def Comedy Jam” and the overwhelming response the OG received from the hip hop crowd.
No stranger to the music scene, Reynaldo was also an accomplished song writer having penned the Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson hit “Superman Lover” amongst others along with being a music publisher counting the R&B group the Dramatics as clients. He served as host of the Parisian Room, where he introduced some of the top acts in jazz and held court with thunderous laughter in between sets. And unlike many entertainers who make it and leave the stomping grounds that nurtured them, “Red” continued to grace stages in the hood. Sometimes to his detriment; like the time he was mugged exiting the Page Four (a ghetto spot) after hours and had his proudly displayed diamonds ripped from his fingers. Aside from inconveniences such as getting ripped off by the patrons you just entertained he loved the hood.
I had the privilege of editing many of Reynaldo’s best bits for an LP compilation over the summer and it was a re-education on how significant was the comedy contribution of Reynaldo Rey. As long as I’d known him he always talked about young comedians ripping off bits from his previous albums, but like a lot of comedians younger than he I had never heard them. A lot of people weren’t up on Reynaldo and many comedians from the party record days, but there he was along with Redd Foxx, Slappy White and LaWanda Page and just as funny as the best of them.
Reynaldo was always theatrical in style. He’s got a bit where he tells us he’s been married three times, but all of his wives died mysteriously. The first two died from mushroom poisoning and the third one from a fractured skull. “Bitch wouldn’t eat the mushrooms.”
Reynaldo confides in us about the time his wife went to the shoe store wearing no panties and the clerk looked up her dress and said if her crevice was filled with ice cream he’d eat it all up. Insulted, she slapped the clerk, went home and told Rey. She wanted him to go to that shoe store and beat that guy up. Rey’s response was, “Honey, he was just joking. Ain’t a man alive can eat that much ice cream.”
Being a trained thespian Reynaldo used those skills in most of his material, mixing characterization with imagery. A hillbilly is suing his wife for a divorce, but forgot to put the grounds for why on the petition. In this bit, like numerous ones in his repertoire, Rey mangles words for comedic effect. The judge asked, “Was she a nagger?” The hillbilly says, “No, she was a white girl, but I still want a divorce.”
Guy goes to the doctor with a bad elbow. The doctor wants a urine sample. He doesn’t even look at the guy’s elbow. He sends him home and tells him to bring it back the next day. The guy was mad he didn’t get his elbow examined. So he got pee from his dog, wife and daughter, mixed it all together with his and takes it back to the doc. The guy asks the doctor what’s wrong. “Your dog’s got rabies, your daughter is pregnant, your wife has the clap and your elbow would be alright if you would stop jacking-off.”
Rey tells the standard about the man who came home drunk, accidently eats some dog food and gets addicted to it. The doctor tells his wife it’ll kill him. Stop feeding it to him, but she says there’s nothing she can do. He loves it. 12 cans a day. Then the doctor sees her coming out of a funeral home and tried the old I-told-you-so routine, but she’s having none of it. The dog food didn’t kill her husband. He was sitting in the middle off the street licking his balls and a truck hit him.
A stutterer goes to the doctor. If he doesn’t stop stuttering his wife will sue him for divorce. Doctor has him pull down his pants and discovers that his overly large penis must be the problem. Pulling on his vocal cords. So he takes off ¾ of it and the guy talked normal. He goes home happy, but returned the next day because his wife liked the way he talks, but she liked the big chunk of sirloin more. He wants it back. Doc says, “B-b-b-bbullllshiit. Atatata-too-late now!”
Reynaldo Rey was the epitome of a night club comedian. He was always well dressed. He was always decked out in his finery. He was always smiling. But most of all he was always a connoisseur of fine champagne cocktails. He accepted no substitutes. One time we were working for some cheap promoters in Texas and they bought Reynaldo Rey Andre’s. He was furious and threatened to cancel the gig if they didn’t get the fine quality liquor he had requested in his rider. How dare they bring him that bullshit? Their ears are probably still ringing from that savage cursing out. Some of those words Rey flat out made up.
The thing about getting on Reynaldo’s bad side was that everybody knew it. He was loud and his voice could fill a room. That’s why I, like anybody telling a Reynaldo Rey story, loved to imitate him. He was easy for us amateur impressionist, but he was also so damn identifiable. Nobody sounded like Reynaldo Rey and I’m sure his vocal tones will now become a standard imitation amongst masters and hacks as well.
So raise a toast to Reynaldo Rey. Relish that fact you lived during his era. Then do a Reynaldo impression as you tell your favorite Reynaldo Rey story and be glad that his gregarious and wonderful soul will grace the universe now that it’s free of its mortal coil. That’s why Reynaldo always looked like he was about to burst at the seams. There was so much of him to give no suit could contain it. RIP buddy and thanks for everything.