Collins headlines night of comedy at Schwartz Center

DOVER — Perhaps you know Wali Collins from his roles in films like “Coyote Ugly” or Chris Rock’s “Top Five.”

You also might recognize him from more than 30 national commercials or as host of Comedy Central’s “Stand Up, Stand Up.”

But what he’s best known for will be on display Friday night at Dover’s Schwartz Center for the Arts in “An Evening of New York Standup Comedy.”

Wali Collins joins two other comedians for a “An Evening of New York Standup Comedy” Friday night at Dover’s Schwartz Center for the Arts. The show starts at 7:30 with tickets still available.

Wali Collins joins two other comedians for a “An Evening of New York Standup Comedy” Friday night at Dover’s Schwartz Center for the Arts. The show starts at 7:30 with tickets still available.

He’ll be joined on the bill by fellow New York funny people Clayton Fletcher and Carrie Gravenson.

“I’m at that place in my career where I’m recognized by people but I can see it their eyes that they’re not sure where they know me from,” he said in a phone interview last week.

“I was at a Renaissance fair in upstate New York with my wife last weekend. I was eating a turkey leg and a woman came up to me and said ‘You were in “Coyote Ugly.’ I remember you. Well, my husband did at least.’ ”

A touring comic for about 20 years, Mr. Collins began his formative years as an architect.

“I was sitting at lunch with my mother one day and she said ‘If you could be anything in the world, what would what you want to be?’ I said ‘I’d love to be an actor.’ And she said ‘So why are you designing buildings?,’ ” recalled Mr. Collins.

“But being from Springfield, Massachusetts, I didn’t know where to start.”

Always someone who would keep a notebook and write down funny things, Mr. Collins hit on being a standup comedian, which would hopefully parlay itself into an acting career.

“I did one open mic and walked to my car and figured ‘Well I tried it and it didn’t work.’ The manager came up to me and told me I had great stage presence and to come back next week,” he said with still a note of surprise in his voice.

One gig led to another and a comedy career was born.

He also mixes the laughs with a musical career.

An accomplished drummer, he is a member of the Central Park Djembe drummers and a band fronted by actor Dominic Chianese, who portrayed Uncle Junior on “The Sopranos.”

He toured with the award-winning Lawrence Bagwell Gospel Choral before graduating high school and was the youngest to join the New England Jazz Society.

Carrie Gravenson

Carrie Gravenson

But he says his first love always will be comedy.

Whether he’s talking about life as an African-American, living in New York City or the eccentricities of Michael Jackson, Mr. Collins says his goal is to keep it “clean and clever.”

But that wasn’t always the case.

“When I first started out, I thought to get a laugh you had to be as blue and dirty as you could possibly be,” he said.

“One day my military dad asked me to do my act for him and my mother. I started and mid-sentence he cut me off. ‘Why are you doing this? Is that really the way you want to represent yourself? Don’t you want to have us in your audience? Don’t you want to be proud of what you’re saying and have your children and grandchildren be proud of what you’re saying?’

“He made valid points and it really hit me. After that, I started writing and expressing myself in a way that I could

Clayton Fletcher

Clayton Fletcher

truly be proud of myself.”

Along those lines, in 2008, he started the Y’NEVANO movement, designed to teach people to live a regretless life.

“My mother used to say ‘You never know’ and I condensed it into one word and kept that as my mantra. The website (www.ynevano.com) has a series of blogs urging people to live their dreams because you never know,” Mr. Collins said.

A digital book comprised of the blogs hit No. 8 on the Amazon list of worship-based books and he has become an “encourager,” giving talks across the country .

Performing with Mr. Collins Friday, Mr. Fletcher headlines the weekly Saturday night show at the New York Comedy Club. Ms. Gravenson won the 2009 New York Underground Comedy Festival’s Emerging Talent Stand-Up Competition and was a runner-up in a Catch a Rising Star standup competition.

Tickets for the 7:30 show are $27-$30 and can be obtained by visiting www.schwartzcenter.com, calling 678-5152 or at the theater at 226 S. State St., Dover.

Reach features editor Craig Horleman at chorl@newszap.com

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