Though outside today’s Hollywood spotlight, comic Sinbad is still full of surprises. 

click to enlarge Sinbad | Photo Ian White / provided
  • Sinbad | Photo Ian White / provided

Mention Sinbad to a group of friends and listen as they recite and reminisce about the lengthy list of the actor and comedian’s movies and stand-up specials. Notice their reliance on the past tense. His reputation as the vogue, family-friendly funnyman of the 1990s is known to many and is not lost on Sinbad himself. He counts himself as much more than a relic of pop-culture nostalgia.

The multitalented actor, born David Adkins, has gained relevance beyond movies like 1991’s Necessary Roughness or ’95’s Houseguest. His show starts 8 p.m. Aug. 18 at Hudson Performance Hall, 2820 N. May Ave., and 8 p.m. Aug. 19 at Tulsa’s Brady Theater.

“I wanted a career like Will Smith or Denzel Washington,” Sinbad said during a recent Oklahoma Gazette interview. “I wanted to do those kinds of movies. Some are funny, some are not; some are out there. The smartest thing Will Smith ever did was not get stuck as The Fresh Prince.”

The comic said those who might doubt his ability to deliver a dramatic performance probably haven’t seen his work outside of his prolific comedy career.

“Most of the stuff I write is not made to just be funny. That’s just one side of [comedians],” he said. “There’s not a comic in the world that’s not full of drama.”

Early in his stand-up journey, Sinbad borrowed his moniker from the fictional Middle Eastern sailor — and it worked. A memorable stage name helped people remember the distinctly funny personality that was already there. Sinbad quickly climbed the entertainment industry’s ladder of success, and early in his career, he landed recurring roles on The Redd Foxx Show and A Different World.

The name still carries cachet today, but it has also become a partial hindrance. It is easy to remember Sinbad in a movie like Jingle All the Way, but hard for some to imagine him as anything beyond that.

“In this business, not many people have vision,” he said. “You’re blessed if the powers that be can see beyond the very surface level of you.”

Nasty funk

Sinbad first spoke with the Gazette on his mobile phone as he stood in line at a Guitar Center. He called back after completing his purchase — a Taylor GS Mini acoustic guitar for his daughter — and one for himself.

“You know when you like a present you’re giving to someone else so much that you fall in love with it?” he said. “That’s why I bought two.”

Not many people know Sinbad’s a musician, yet he has enough playing talent inside him to constitute an entire funk or jazz ensemble. He was a drummer in his high-school marching band and now plays bass, guitar, percussion and saxophone as well as some trumpet and trombone. This year, his goal is to become proficient on the keyboard.

For a five-year stretch in the 1990s, he held the popular Soul Music Festival in the Caribbean with headlining acts like Gladys Knight, George Clinton, Chaka Khan, The Gap Band and Earth, Wind & Fire. He started funk act Memphis Red and the Stank Nasty Band in 2012.

Sinbad said he has been interested in music his whole life but was out of practice for more than 25 years before returning to it in the late 2000s. He can be seen playing drums and guitar in his 2010 Comedy Central special Where U Been?

When getting back into music, he reacquainted himself with the drums before trying guitar.

“I didn’t know how hard the guitar was,” he said. “I thought, ‘Man, after I put a couple of weeks in, I’ll be playing like a rock star, a funk star.’ Let me tell you, I was in for a rude awakening.”

Memphis Red enabled his musical reawakening. He pushed himself to match his talented and professional bandmates. Sinbad said he will likely play some music during his Oklahoma City show and might bring his bass with him. A DJ and an accompanying musician or two often share a stage with him during his gigs.

“This way I never have to quit playing music,” he said.

Blurred past

To borrow from an early 2017 Facebook trend, here are five ’90s kid and family movies Sinbad was in (one is a lie): Homeward Bound II: Lost in San Francisco, First Kid, Shazaam, Jingle All the Way, Good Burger.

Those struggling to find the fake in the bunch are far from alone.

Though countless millennial-age fans swear they remember Sinbad in a genie costume as part of a movie called Shazaam, no such film was ever made. It is hard to pin a root cause on the widely held misconception, but the nonexistent project is a frequently cited example of what’s called the Mandela Effect, a phenomenon in which many people believe a similar false fact or event.

Shaquille O’Neal portrays a genie in the ’96 film Kazaam. Sinbad was popular in children’s entertainment in the 1990s, so his movies were no doubt frequently shown alongside commercials and trailers for Kazaam, and vice versa. It is actually a testament to Sinbad’s ’90s prevalence and popularity that so many have subconsciously inserted the tall comedian — who was a basketball player and athlete in his high school days — into O’Neal’s role.

The children who witnessed Sinbad’s ’90s streak of success are now in their mid- to late-20s. Some of them have careers and children. Meeting them after shows, Sinbad savors every moment of his career in all its incarnations.

“We plan on forever,” he said. “We plan on longevity, but God laughs at our plan. I was always like, ‘Let me find a way to make the most of all this right now.’”

Standing out

Sinbad’s work as a comic could be compared to performing free-form jazz. He goes into each gig with topics and jokes in mind, but much of each is built of riffs and what he draws from his audience in that moment.

“I look at it like music,” he said. ”You got your set list, but now let’s see where the audience wants to go.”

He admits that sports, music, comedy and acting arose from that drive to put himself in front of an audience. Sinbad was a name he gave himself to get noticed, but it now also clearly divides a pedestrian past from his bright right-now.

“I was never going to be one of the crowd,” he said. “I was so scared of being a regular person. I was really scared of it. I couldn’t be just like everybody else. ... If you think you know me, I dare you to come find out what you don’t know.” 

Print headline: Star navigator, Though outside today’s Hollywood spotlight, comic Sinbad is still full of surprises.

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