Veteran comedian George Wallace

A humorist who’s entertained audiences for more than three decades, Wallace describes his latest project, the book Laff It Off!

Among his peers George Wallace is known as "the guy who can roll the room over if it's dead." Early on, the Atlanta native knew he wanted to be a comedian. After graduating from college with degrees in transportation and marketing, he became a successful businessman, but never lost his interest in comedy. He ultimately decided to pursue his dream and began performing stand-up, using social commentary taken from everyday life. Wallace is a resident Las Vegas headliner, with credits that include appearances on television and radio and several film roles. He's also written his first book, Laff It Off! with lessons on living life with laughter.

TRANSCRIPT

Tavis: (Laughter) Here’s a fascinating statistic. Children laugh an average of 400 times a day – 400 times a day, kids laugh.

George Wallace: Four hundred times.

Tavis: While adults only laugh 13 times a day. Comedian George Wallace has done his best to ratchet up the adult laughter quotient. He has so many credits in his long career that if we tried to list them all we’d be here all night and never get to the conversation.

Suffice to say that he’s now put down much of what he’s learned about comedy and how laughter can help us get through difficult times in a new book. The title says it all: “Laff it Off!” You can’t spell “laugh?”

Wallace: Well listen, that’s the proper way to spell “laugh.” Some people don’t know the right way to spell laugh. Did you pronounce it right? I think you did.

Tavis: How are you going to write a book and you can’t spell?

Wallace: Well you don’t have to spell when you get the word out. The word says “Laff it Off!” The most important thing is “laugh,” and that’s what I want people to see when they see that. The most important thing in life for you to do is laugh. It’s a different way of looking at life.

Laughter is healing; laughter is comforting for the soul. You need to laugh it off. No matter what the situation is, that’s what – it happened to me today in Los Angeles, and it happens just all the time.

People cut you off on the freeway. You’re in a big hurry to get up there and give him the finger to tell him why, ask him why – you know, confront them.

Tavis: Yeah.

Wallace: They’re already in. Let them go. Just laugh it off.

Tavis: Some things ain’t funny, though, George.

Wallace: Well, then you should make everything funny, even death.

Tavis: Come on, man.

Wallace: Even – and I -

Tavis: You can’t make jokes about death.

Wallace: Yes you can. In losing a loved one, think about the good times you had with let’s say one of your parents. Think about the good time you had with your parents, and they will always outweigh the bad times. That recalls a smile on your face. It’s good to laugh.

Of course you can’t stop people – it’s going to happen in life anyways. Eventually we’re all going to leave here, so you just – that’s why funerals should be funny.

My funeral is going to be funny. You’re going to laugh at my funeral. Matter of fact, I’m going to be up on the screen. “Come in here, sit down.” They’ll be crying and laughing and making all that noise. (Laughter) Start laughing.

Tell jokes up here. Don’t worry about me, I’m all right. Don’t open the coffin, because I’m naked. (Laughter) There’s always a reason to laugh. I’m trying to – this – I’m trying to be serious how important laughter is, but you keep laugh at the stuff I’m – but I’m telling you.

As I said at the top, we don’t stop laughing because we grow older; we grow older because we stop laughing. You’ve got to continue laughing. You’ve got to be happy.

Tavis, something is happening all over the world today, and that’s what I love what I do in my job as a comedian. We’re having with the government. In the past month we have shutdowns, sequestering, and all of that stuff like that.

Tavis: See, ain’t nothing funny about that.

Wallace: Yes it is. Let me tell you what’s good about it.

Tavis: What?

Wallace: We started this year off in January.

Tavis: Right.

Wallace: Now it’s all the way at the end of October, going into November, and we’ve been complaining and just angry about the shutdown and things like that. But yet and still we’ve been able to pay our bills, and been able to eat and laugh and we’ve been blessed that we’ve been handling this stuff.

You don’t think about that, how blessed you are. You should be smiling. We’ve gone through tough times, but we still have to continue laughing. If we don’t laugh, we just go crazy.

Tavis: Do you feel like you’re doing a sort of public service when you’re on stage helping people to laugh through the difficult times?

Wallace: I’m the most blessed person in the world to go on stage, and that is my job, is to help people forget their problems, help people forget their relationships. It’s almost like you’re catching hell – you’re catching hell on your job, you’re catching hell in your home, you’re catching hell on the freeway.

Hell, that’s just too much hell. (Laughter) So you just need to laugh a little bit and just start – and everybody wants to laugh. What makes you feel better than anything else? Laughter.

Tavis: Mm-hmm.

Wallace: Matter of fact, I’m going to my doctor. My doctor right now, I’m telling him, “When you give your patients a prescription,” I’m doing this in Las Vegas, “Give them a prescription, get tickets for two to come down to the show to get some real medicine.”

Tavis: That’s good.

Wallace: Laughter is the best medicine in the world. Laugh it off. I’m teaching people even when bill collectors call you, you pick up the phone, laugh it off.

Tavis: George, come on -

Wallace: Pick up the phone -

Tavis: Come on, George.

Wallace: Listen to me.

Tavis: How are you supposed to laugh when you’ve got a bill collector on the phone? It ain’t funny to him.

Wallace: Listen to me. That’s not his money. (Laughter) You pick up that phone and you start laughing, you go, (laughs) “Yeah, I know they’re late. They’re going to be late next month, too.” (Laughter)

See, they’re used to people cursing them out. So they pick up the phone with a little laughter, that could change their whole perspective and they might zero your balance out.

Laugh it off. Bring a little cheer to their lives. That’s not their money. You can make a deal with them sometimes. Can we talk a little; can I pay you a little bit? My cable bill is cut off in New York right now because I don’t live there. But every time I call, I just pay minimum amount due. (Laughter)

So we laugh about that. I don’t – I’m serious. But there’s a reason to laugh at everything.

Tavis: You talk in this book though about the fact that one of the ways to get to laughter is to move beyond your fears.

Wallace: That’s exactly right.

Tavis: Tell me about your own personal experience of how you moved beyond your fears to be a funny man.

Wallace: Well my fears – I’ve actually never had – there’s a few – fears would be can’t and cannot and impossible. People telling you what you can’t do and what’s impossible to do.

If you start believing that, then you won’t get things done. Look at you, how much you’ve – how many people told you you can’t do this show right here, you can’t be, how many books have you written?

You’ve taught me a lot about make sure you do what you want to do. So fear is about doing things in life. You’ve just got to challenge yourself. Go ahead and do it. It’s easier to do it.

How many – what if Oprah had said, “I can’t do this, I can’t do that, it’s impossible?” What if I told Jerry Seinfeld he can’t – you can’t own 1,400 Porsches? Well, he might have believed that, and he wouldn’t even have 400 Porsches today. So. (Laughter)

So you’ve got to get away from can’t and you’ve got to get away from impossible. You’ve got to get out of that fishbowl. Fish just, they just go back and forth, hit the wall, back and forth.

Sometimes in life we’ve got to get out of the fishbowl. Climb over, see what’s going on in the world, and let’s approach our fears and let’s make things happen. You can have – Reverend Ike, many a year -

Tavis: I remember Reverend Ike, yeah.

Wallace: – said you can have what you want to have, you can do what you want to do, and you can be what you want to be. Visualize yourself with what you want to do in life, and when you do what you want to do in life, you’ll be happy.

I love to go to work. I love to go out there and help people. People stop me when they leave the show – it’s not about how much money. I could care less about how much money I make. But when people come up to you – did I say what I just said?

Tavis: Yeah. (Laughter)

Wallace: No, no. But what the – people come up after the show and say, “Mr. Wallace, my husband died two years ago. I haven’t been out of the house in two years. Tonight you have really helped me with laughter.”

“Mr. Wallace, I just had brain surgery three weeks ago and I haven’t laughed this hard in a long time.” “I haven’t laughed with my family.” That’s what I really love, when people bring their mothers and fathers to the show.

Tavis: I’m just laughing at folk calling you “Mr. Wallace.”

Wallace: Well it should be Dr. Wallace, because I do make people feel good. (Laughter)

Tavis: You mentioned Jerry Seinfeld earlier. I should note that Jerry Seinfeld writes the foreword to this book.

Wallace: Yes.

Tavis: You and Jerry have been friends a long time.

Wallace: Thirty-seven years, and I can’t get rid of him. He is so (laughter) – let me tell you something. I wish everybody had a friend like Jerry Seinfeld, and this forward is just not cool.

It is funny, though. I can tell you it’s funny. He says the only thing we have in common is that we both love him. (Laughter) He loves me. I can’t get rid of him.

Tavis: Yeah.

Wallace: Bless his heart. But it’s so nice to have a friend like Jerry Seinfeld, and like he said in the book, if you are feeling down, you’re feeling a little out, get yourself a little Wallace.

That’s what I teach people too. When I finish with you, you’re not going to be a Democrat or a Republican. You sit back, relax, and be Wallaceized.

Tavis: Wallaceized.

Wallace: And I’ll teach you how to live.

Tavis: So that’s what the world needs, to be Wallaceized.

Wallace: Wallaceized. Oh, just think if I were in charge of this country. So many things would be much better. I could just train this – like people are mean for no reason at all. Look at Congress. You know with the negotiations we had with the shutdown.

Tavis: Right.

Wallace: And I always think about negotiations. Whatever happened on the last day that caused us not to have a shutdown could have been done on the first day? We never had to go through that.

See, that’s how I negotiate. Let’s get it done now and let’s not wait. There’s ways we can bridge things together. Let’s just make it happen. Let’s all be happy.

Tavis: So you think on this side of the shutdown there are still things that you could do to make the country run better?

Wallace: Sure. First of all we need to stop people from being so mean. We need to -

Tavis: Wallaceized book.

Wallace: Laugh it off.

Tavis: Laugh it off, yeah.

Wallace: There’s so many people that are mean in our lives, and it’s mostly old people.

Tavis: Why are old people so mean?

Wallace: Well tell me tell you, I’m teaching. In this book it’s teaching young people to confront their fears. First thing I want young kids to do, get out of high school, get out of college, is get on an airplane, go to another country, see how other people live.

There are good people everywhere. Everywhere. You give me 10 young kids from Africa, 10 young kids from Jamaica, 10 young kids from South Africa, 10 young kids from China, Shanghai, 10 young kids from Cleveland, Ohio, and 10 young kids from Montréal, Canada, all speaking different language.

I give them a keg of beer; I give them a boom box. I come back one hour later, what’s going on? It’s a party. Old people are mean. Who start wars? (Laughter) Who start wars? Old, mean men.

In all countries, young people love to have fun. So that’s why. You need – young people, travel while you’re young. Go to the nude beaches; get all of that crazy stuff out of your system. (Laughter)

I’m telling you that now because when you get – life is backwards. That’s what I’m teaching the young kids in this book. You hear old people say, “When I turn 65 I’m going to retire and travel all over the world.” For what? You’re too damn old. (Laughter)

I see old people in Paris all the time looking at the Eiffel Tower, they’re (gasps). (Laughter) I’m teaching the young people to travel. This is serious. Don’t – stop laughing. Don’t laugh again. (Giggling) I’m teaching young people to travel while you’re young. Travel while everything is working.

Tavis: I should leave it right there. (Laughter)

Wallace: I’m sorry.

Tavis: I should – no, I’m going to – before you get me in trouble, yeah.

Wallace: Right, right. No, it is important to travel while you can enjoy your life, because when you get old, there’s not too much you can do. I’m teaching old people how to enjoy their lives too, simple things in life old people do. My Aunt Ruby in Atlanta, she keeps her good silverware up in the attic.

Tavis: For what purpose?

Wallace: I said, “Hey, Ruby? Take that silverware down. Use it every day. Let company eat on the plastic stuff.”

Tavis: And you use the silver.

Wallace: Yeah. Enjoy your silverware. I said, “You’re going to die, your kids are going to sell it. You’ll never be able to enjoy it.” We have stupid habits we’ve got to confront.

We’ve got habits like – you may have grown up in a house like I did. Towels in the bathroom, you’d better not ever, ever touch.

Tavis: Yeah.

Wallace: We had to wipe our hands on the walls. (Laughter)

Tavis: Don’t touch them towels, though.

Wallace: No, don’t touch those. Towels are for company. You think, but I live here and I can’t – it’s just habits like that. Start enjoying your life. I got brand new towels in my house right now.

I’ve got to start using that stuff, because that’s why you bought it. You have been blessed and you will continue to be blessed, and you’ll be happy -

Tavis: If you laugh it off.

Wallace: There’s laughter in the Bible. You need to laugh off everything. It’s amazing. Just laugh it off.

Tavis: “Laff it Off!” That’s the new book -

Wallace: Because no matter what the situation is, sometimes worrying about the situation -

Tavis: Makes it worse.

Wallace: – is worse than the situation itself. (Unintelligible) no matter what you’ve gone through. Look at you today. You’ve gone through lots of things, but look at you today, sitting here laughing.

Tavis: That’s cause you here.

Wallace: Well this is true. But look at you, you’re dressed, you got on a – well, I don’t think it’s a new shirt, but it’s a decent shirt. (Laughter)

Tavis: You know what, all right – “Laff it Off!” It says “Laff it Off!” but it doesn’t say “At Tavis’s expense.”

Wallace: Oh yes it does, Tavis.

Tavis: No it does not.

Wallace: You’ve called me. I want to thank you so much. This book is available now on Amazon.com or you can go to GeorgeWallace.net.

Tavis: You can go everywhere and get it.

Wallace: You can go everywhere and get it. It’s about – I hope it enhances your life a little bit, but it’s good to laugh. Nothing makes us feel better than laughter. You know when you see – and do me another favor.

Tavis: What?

Wallace: If you see someone without a smile, give them yours.

Tavis: I like that.

Wallace: All right?

Tavis: The book is called “Laff it Off!” by George Wallace, foreword by his long-time friend who he can’t get rid of, Jerry Seinfeld.

Wallace: Jerry Seinfeld. Don’t know who he is. I think this is around your birthday. Tonight is around your birthday. I think it’s around Halloween. We’ll – (laughter)

Tavis: See? Goodbye. Get out of here. Get out.

Wallace: I got to -

Tavis: Security.

Wallace: I knew I would cross the line somewhere.

Tavis: Security.

Wallace: I knew I would cross the line. (Laughter)

Tavis: That’s our show for tonight. Thanks for watching.

Wallace: God bless you. I love you and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it.

Tavis: Don’t take my line. Keep the faith.

Wallace: That is my line -

Tavis: Security.

Wallace: You know that’s my line. Let me -

Tavis: Security!

“Announcer:” For more information on today’s show, visit Tavis Smiley at PBS.org.

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“Announcer:” And by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you. Thank you.

Last modified: November 1, 2013 at 2:23 pm