George Wallace’s entrance into the world of stand-up comedy was anything but conventional. Before becoming a legendary comedian and entrepreneur, the Atlanta native obtained degrees in transportation and marketing from the University of Akron (OH) and then went on to a successful career working in New York City’s advertising industry.
Using his corporate advertising skills, George has not only become an award winning comedian, but he’s also recognized as a radio personality, actor and Las Vegas entertainment mogul. Here, George shares his passion for the business of comedy and teaching young up-and-comers the importance of knowing their worth.
Where are you from and what inspired you to pursue a career in comedy?
I was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia; Brookhaven to be exact. I went to college at the University of Akron in Ohio. That’s why I’m Lebron James’ daddy. [laughs] I’ve always wanted to be a comedian; since I was six-years-old. My parents were well known in the local church and my daddy was a deacon, but they still had the party records around, so I listened to folks like Red Foxx and Moms Mabley. I also watched comedians on TV like Johnny Carson, Richard Pryor, and Red Skelton and would take their jokes back to school and use them to make people laugh. That’s how I became a comedian, just watching and listening to the greats who did it before me.
So after college, you worked in the advertising industry in New York City. Tell us how you went from that to doing comedy?
When I came out of college I sold rags and then after that I moved on to become the Vice President of one of the world’s largest outdoor advertising agencies, Metromedia. A lot of the billboards and spectaculars in Times Square, well, that’s what I used to do. I also handled the ads on over 5,000 buses in the top 10 markets in America. After that, I moved to California and started writing for the Red Foxx Show and I’ve been doing comedy ever since.
With advertising being so different from comedy, how was it making that transition from one to the other?
It wasn’t a hard transition because I understood that it’s show business. I don’t think people like MC Hammer realized before they got into this (entertainment) that there’s a business side and you have to have some business sense. You see it all the time with boxers and all kinds of other athletes and entertainers. These guys make millions of dollars and by the end of their career, they’re broke! I think it’s something like 80% of the NFL football players go bankrupt because they have no business sense? I don’t know if very many of the guys in entertainment went to school or not, but I did and so I got to work in advertising and learn different things that you won’t learn if you’re not educated. Education is so important these days because if you’re looking for a job today without a degree in something, how do you expect to get it (job)? You’ve got a guy who’s educated and has his degree, and he’s looking for the same job you want, so how do you expect to get it over him? You just have to be smart and have some business sense if you want to make it out here.
Tell us a little about your Vegas show and what do you love the most about your job as a comedian?
It’s a blessing because I love going to work every day. I’m in beautiful Las Vegas, Nevada and I’m the only African-American who produces and directs his own show. I’m one of the very few in the Las Vegas strip who doesn’t work for anyone else. I’d say 99% of the folks in Vegas work for the hotels, but I don’t. The room I do my show in seats 750 people and I’m there every night with a crowd full of people. I’m actually in my eighth year at the Flamingo and have actually made history by headlining a major show in Las Vegas for more consecutive years than any African-American in history. That goes back to Red Foxx and Sammy Davis, Jr., God bless them, because they paved the way for me to be able to do this. Just to think, the same stage at the Flamingo that they had to go through the kitchen just to get on stage, and if they were still alive they’d be surprised that we still have to go through that same damn kitchen. [laughs]
Initially, I went out to Vegas for 30 days, but because my show did so well, they asked me to stay. I have the most diverse crowd at my shows as well. Young people, old people, white people, black people, you name it and they’re at my show. I do all my own marketing and advertising and I don’t work for any of the hotels. I’m blessed, I love it, and I enjoy life.
A lot of comedians these days want to be actors more than stand-up comics. What’s your take on that?
People are entitled to their dreams no matter what it is. This thing with Vegas is what I want to do and that’s my choice. When Seinfeld and I started out early in our careers, I always said that I didn’t want to be an overnight superstar; I just wanted to enjoy life. I tell people that I’m the most successful comedian you’ve ever met, because success has nothing to do with how much money you make. Being successful is doing what you want to do, how you want to do it, and being blessed enough to be happy in the position you’re in. At this point in my career, I’ve got enough money to retire if I want to and go anywhere in the world, and I’m very happy with my life.