During the nearly three years of isolation, laughter helped the world navigate the pandemic. It kept people’s sanity intact. As growing evidence on solitary confinement teaches us, humans cannot survive without social connections. We turned to artists, filmmakers, writers, singers, and comedians for survival.
Hailed by Detroiters as the first lady of comedy, we couldn’t pass up on an interview with the hilariously quick-witted COCO.
BLAC: How are you doing?
I’m doing well. It has been a serious reset for me to do things differently. Like the doing things virtually, that’s a transition. The world is kind of opening back up, but work is different.
Getting dressed: now, I need a mask to match my outfit. Hand sanitizer, and antibacterial wipes. Then, I need another mask. I’d take some mint.
It’s just a lot of stuff.
BLAC: Growing up, did you always know that you were funny?
I knew I was different. Older people would always say that I had a gifted gab. I really didn’t know what that meant. But, I found myself engaging older people in conversations.
A lot of younger people were told to go in the other room, but the grownups would tell me to come in. I’d reach up there and get that. That kind of responsibility. As a kid I got the chance to hear a lot of stuff I probably shouldn’t have been hearing at that age.
That let me to getting bullied a lot.
Dealing with a bully, I think, “I fought ’em on Friday. But, what am I gonna do on Monday?” ’cause they still may come back. You had to be quick. I’m gonna talk about their momma, and about a fact I heard from grownups. The bully kinda pull back. That was my weapon.
BLAC: Do you consider Detroit your home?
I was born in Highland Park. That’s where I grew up. That’s my claim in fame: Highland Park.
But, I claim Detroit as my home.
BLAC: Looking back through your career, do you have any fond memories you that stand out?
Oh gosh. So many memories during radio and being a comedian in Detroit. When I did Def Jam and Comic View, people would say, “Oh, man. I saw you on TV. You were amazing!” Or, they would go, “I heard you on the radio.”
It means a lot. You feel appreciated. You feel love. You feel a sense of respect.
Sometimes, I’m in the grocery store. People would come up and be like, “Yeah, I heard what you said on the radio today. I don’t appreciate that.” I’m like, “What did I say?” And, they could quote me verbatim. So now, I got to explain to them what went on.
I appreciate those. And, it didn’t stop even when the pandemic hit.
BLAC: They recognize you through the mask, didn’t they?
Oh my goodness. They’ll look at me and they’ll look at the hair. “COCO! Don’t be playing with me. I know its you.”
I had those memories and I play those in my head over and over.
Meeting amazing people becomes the catalyst to just say, “OK, I’m gonna do this one more day.”
BLAC: You have travelled at lot as a comedian. You’ve been to different places. For you, what makes Detroit uniquely Detroit?
Everybody here is a celebrity. Everybody in Detroit got a few stories. Like, how they uncle’s cousin’s best friend was almost one of the Temptations, but, when they had the meeting in the basement, their uncle had to go to work.
Or, how their auntie’s niece’ cousin’s grandmother on their father’s side used to do hair for Diana Ross and the Supremes.
Or, how their grandfather was the first Black man to work at this plant.
Detroit is so self-contained. We have an automotive industry. We got the entertainment venues. We got all the stuff, and everybody who wasn’t from here moved here to be part of what’s going on.
Another interesting part is we are literally 10 minutes away from another country. When I ask people, “Have you ever been to Canada?” They’ve never been.
Another part is we have a whole automotive industry, but there’s a lot of people who got suspended driver’s licenses.
BLAC: If you could live in anywhere in the world, where would you be?
I would live here in the summer, and maybe somewhere south during the winter at some small, off-the-road, off-the-beaten-path city in the south. I would be in one of those model home that they connect, and I would be growing some vegetables in the yard. I’d have a rabbit, a goat, and a yorkie.
You know, somewhere I can just breathe. And, maybe go to Walmart, Piggly Wiggly, Winn-Dixie, or Food Lion for couple times a month. I would have a freezer full of vegetables. And, I’d just sit on my porch, watching the sun up and sun down.
BLAC: And, say no when someone offers you some chitlins?
Oh, baby. Growing up, I have three passes when it came to food: chitlins, pig feet, and I’m extremely allergic to iodine and shellfish.
But, baby, listen to me. If somebody gimme some chitlins, I might bite them, or fight them. It’s not going down.
I don’t understand how they’re supposed to taste. I always ask my family, “What is this supposed to taste like? ’Cause they look like boy rubber bands to me.”
And, they tell you, “You gotta have some coleslaw, some hot sauce.”
I’d say, “That’s not even a good color combination.”
And, the preparation to clean it.
I would watch my mother bring four or five buckets in Saturday six o’clock, and by Saturday evening the house smells like, oh my goodness. It’s would be 16 degrees outside, and I’m wrapped up, sitting on the porch ’cause that smell is taking me down.
BLAC: Thank you for that sidebar. Is there a moment you look back on and say, “I would do that differently.”?
Back then, comedians took a mass exodus and they moved to California. They either wen to L.A. or New York. I was kind of hesitant to make that move. I’m like, “I don’t wanna do the move, yet.” So, in my mind, listening to these voices saying, “Oh, you missed your opportunity.”
I did miss my opportunity because being here gave me the responsibility of taking care of my mother. I was here and be a hands-on grandmother.
I stayed here emotionally because I knew what my responsibilities were. And every now and then, I’m like “I should have went to L.A.”
But, I also believe that, whatever’s for me, I will get it.
BLAC: Is there someone, during your career, that you’ve interviewed that stuck with you?
It’s been quite a few people: Dick Gregory, Rick James, Carrie Washington, and other amazing women.
After Rick James came outta jail, it was his whole “I’m gonna get back out here and do my thing. I haven’t lost it. I’ve been working. I’ve been writing.” He was ready to go, go, go and do, do, do. He was transparent in his interview.
Dick Gregory was like an oracle. He was sharing all jewels and information: his social consciousness; his perspective; his view on life, body, people, and relationships.
BLAC: What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I wanted to be regular. I wanted to fit in. I wanted to not be so different as I was. But, I knew that wasn’t who I were gonna be.
I became a nurse for about 13 or 14 year. And in 2000, I let my license expire.
When jumped into entertainment, I wanted to be a singer with a band in a hall. Singing, and jazz hands.
But when I really got into it, I realized I had a sense of humor. I had this gift the elders had told me. So, I got into it as a comedian.
And, here’s the crazy part. It requires so much, but a singer can go on stage, and say, “Hey, Detroit. I’m having a bad day. I’ve been travelling all over the world. My voice kinda raspy.” And the people would be, “Yeah, COCO, we gonna sing with you.” They will sing every song with you. And when they leave, “Oooh, that was the best concert ever. Girl COCO was sick, but that was worth the 250 dollars, am I right?”
As a comedian, I can’t go on stage and say, “Hey, y’all. I’ve been travelling all over the world. My voice is messed up. Y’all gonna help me?”
People would yell, “Hell no. You better be funny.” And, they’d think, “She better have some new jokes. ’cause I’ve seen her 20 times, and she better have some new jokes.”
BLAC: What advice would you give to someone who’s just getting in the business today?
Be authentic. Be yourself. Do you. Your life is relatable no matter how we grew up or where we grew up. There’s something in our life that crosses all the lines that an audience can relate to.
Be able to work with different audiences. Don’t say you can only perform in front of a Black audience, older audience, or a younger audience. Be able to perform in front of all audiences. Be able to do corporate events, community event.
Learn your craft. Study what you’re doing and analyze yourself. If you had a great show, dissect what you did. ’Cause your only as great as your last show.
Don’t think that you need to be high or drunk to perform. Don’t have crutch. That’s gonna become a problem.
And, don’t listen to voices from behind you. They’re behind you for a reason.
BLAC: What would you like your legacy to be?
That she was honest, and pure. She was fragile, but she was tough. She pulled no punches. She didn’t play no games.
From six o’clock in the morning to six o’clock in the evening, she was the same person. She was approachable.
That, I was the same person with a strong spiritual foundation. That’s the number one thing. My faith is really important to me.