The Man, The Myth, The Force Behind Comedy Legends: Bob Sumner
Updated: Jul 22, 2020
What makes comedy? Is it the satire, combinding realistic relatable experiences with humor? and what determines if a comedian is sincerely funny? With the evolution of social media the narrative and dynamics of comedy has transformed from a stand up to social media skits. Remember when you had to catch the latest episodes of Showtime at the Apollo, or Tv One’s, Coming To the Stage, even BET’s Comic View, just to see what new comedians were being introduced to the industry.
Some of those former shows you vaguely remember, if you remember them at all, but it was one show that was such a game changer, it shaped the future of urban comedy. No matter what generation you stem from, Russell Simmons, Def Comedy Jam, airing in 1992 on HBO network, is still a household name. That house hold name, birthed a new era, a comedic wave that changed the narrative. Many comedians got their start on Def Comedy Jam, such as Bernie Mac, Bill Bellamy, Mo’Nique, Chris Tucker, Dave Chapelle, Cedric the Entertainer, Mike Epps and so many more, evolving into icons. But what’s more iconic than the comedians I named, is one name, Bob Sumner.
Bob Sumner is the Co’Creator of Def Comedy Jam and talent scout, responsible for discovering many comedians, in fact he is responsible of the careers of those perviously named. With over 25 years of experience, he’s often called the “Black Lorne Michaels” (creator of Saturday Night Live), because in 2008 Sumner’s continued to flourish making him a forced to be reckoned with, after partnering with talent manager, Arthur Spivak, to create Laff Mobb Enterprises, LLC.
Laff Mobb would be responsible for shows such as “Laff Mobb’s We Got Next”, which aired on Magic Johnson’s Aspire network and Laff Mobb’s “Laff Tracks”. Aside from the LLC, Bob Sumner is a curator of Comedy at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, NY and has served as a comedy producer for the American Black Film Festival’s HBO Comedy Wings competition, Hall of Famer Alonzo Mourning’s “Zo’s Comedy Groove” charity event, the Soul Train Music Cruise, and the Newark International Film Festival. I had a chance to ask the visionary himself questions about the evolution of his career and what can we expect to see of him and his company Laff Mobbin the near future.
1) How did you get your start and when did you realize comedy was the direction you wanted to focus on?
Comedy has always been a piece of my fabric. I would see all of the greats when I was a kid at the World Famous Apollo Theater, where I presently serve as Curator of Comedy, Moms Mabley, Nipsey Russell, Richard Pryor, you name them, I saw them.
2) Being Hired by Def Jam, What was the conversion like when the idea spark of creating Def Comedy Jam?
It was pretty simple, when I started working at Def Jam Recordings in March of 1990, I had already been on the “underground comedy” circuit for a few years. I had a some weekly comedy rooms in Jersey that I booked aspiring comics, I was also the show’s DJ, that was something that I did, just because. I never thought it would damn near become mandatory in years to come.When the comedy talk started at Def Jam, I was already locked and loaded.
3) As a Talent Scout for Russell Simmons and Def Comedy Jam what do you seek for in talent?
As talent scout, I was mostly in search of originality, stage presence, and great character from the individual talent. You had to be easy to work with no matter how funny you were, or you were not going to be invited back.
4) How did the formula for Def Comedy Jam help shape the narrative for Laff Mobb LLC?
It was never a Def Comedy Jam formula per say, it;s more like the Bob Sumner formula, which mean it’s really about how I identify talent. I’m looking for “star” potential, not just about filling quota’s to provide content. Def Comedy Jam and my TV show Laff Mobb’s Laff Tracks on tru TV have brought something different to stand up comedy.
5) Looking at the new Talent, one of the comedians you are a fan of is Wild N Out Karlous Miller how has the Comedic scene changed? Is it harder to shape and mold modern comedians?
Comedy today and in most recent years have been all over the place, I basically just stay in my lane, and do what I do. I terms of molding comedians, I help them as much as they might want me to, and that’s usually only if I see they have that “IT” factor. That’s basically all I can do. They’re on their own from there. It’s a wonderful thing when I see their “star” rise like Karlous has. I also think it’s up to the comedian to find their voice. They should develop a point of view, so I can figure out who they are on stage. I’m not trying to guess, I’m all about real stand up comedy.
6) How do you bridge the gap between how comedy use to be vs. how comedy is now?
In bridging the gap, for me it’s not like reinventing the wheel, it’s more like updating the furniture. You keep some of the fine pieces, and you find some new one’s, however you keep the same taste. I haven’t changed my approach or formula. I’m really into sports, and I treat comedy, and my selections as if it was the NFL or NBA Draft. I use the “Jerry West” approach, I’m all about winning championships.
7) Laff Mobb LLC has been apart of major platforms from Aspire TV, TruTV, and Showtime what is next for Laff Mobb and Bob Sumners?
I’ve always had a vision to have an entertainment conglomerate like Berry Gordy had with his Motown Empire. that not only gave young up and coming talent an opportunity to succeed, but also able to employ my family and friends who have expertise in various fields that fit the objectives of the company. There’s nothing better than having a job in your field. I would be able to provide that. I would love to have a building that could cover the whole nine. If Tyler can fulfill his dream, so can I