Greensboro’s ‘King of Comedy’

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- It’s like a story out of Hollywood – with the emphasis on, “out of.”

Walter Latham moved from Brooklyn, New York, with dreams of a basketball career, starting at East Carolina University. When that didn’t work out as planned, he found himself in Greensboro, where family told him there was opportunity. And when people say, “Funny how that works out …” they really mean funny. Walter wanted to produce funny shows, so he’d call the agents of young comedians he thought were talented.

“I would say, 'Hey, I want to book a comedy show in Greensboro, I want to book a comedy show in Columbia, South Carolina, who do you have?'” says Walter, of those early days in the first half of the 1990s. “Or, 'I watched this guy the other night, I saw him on TV, real funny, who represents him?' And then I would book him and they were making $500 a night, $1,000 a night, I was making $250, and we just did it, together. And we did it together for years.”

Together with the likes of those other – at the time – unknown talents that are now household names: DL Hughley, Cedric the Entertainer, Steve Harvey and the late Bernie Mac. But Walter never wanted to be on stage with them, he loved what it took to put them on stage.

“You have to enjoy the process because, if you're just looking at the end result and all you want to get to the end result, you'll never get there,” says Walter.

Walter might not have gotten there, either, the way things were going at first.

“Chris Tucker changed that, for me,” he says.

Tucker was filming his movies, “Friday,” with Ice Cube and told Walter, “When the movie comes out, I'm going to be a big star and I want you to do my concerts, all over the country,” meaning producing his stand-up act.

Tucker was good to his word, as both "Friday" and, later, the "Rush Hour" series with Jackie Chan, indeed made Tucker a star, Tucker’s agent got hold of Walter.

“He called and said, 'I don't know who you are, but my client wants you to do all his dates, can you do it?' And that was it, that changed everything,” says Walter, with a smile.

Walter took it from there – continuing to use his not-so-secret weapon of outworking most of his competitors – and became one of the biggest producers of comedy acts in America.

See his story, in this edition of the Buckley Report.

To watch more of the work Walter Latham has produced, click here.