The actor talks about playing Overton Wakefield, comedy and his passion for stand up.
John Henton is the kind of person you want around you. Always quick with humor but open for a heart to heart, this actor, in the role of Overton “Obie” Wakefield Jones, infused the show Living Single with his own blend of comedic skill and thoughtful wisdom. Since that show, Henton’s talents can be seen on such TV fare as The Hughleys and most recently The Parkers.
To celebrate the upcoming release of Living Single: The Complete First Season on DVD, MovieWeb had the pleasure of making this congenial actor’s acquaintance.
Tell us about the character of Overton “Obie” Wakefield Jones?
John Henton: It was my first role. Overton was very sweet, like an old soul. Sort of like country roots, even though he was from Cleveland, because that was my hometown so I asked if he could be from Cleveland, but he had a real old soul. He just hung around a bunch of grown people so he had a lot of wisdom, but he had a weird way of saying it. He was pretty much right about everything, but you just had to figure out exactly what he was saying.
What was it about the character that made you want to play him?
John Henton: Well, number one it was my first acting role so I just wanted to be an actor. (Laughs). Number two, I enjoyed that he was the sweet, lovable one. Like I said, he just had a lot of wisdom. He ended up solving a lot of problems and he was just a really good person, you know? Always there for everybody in the group. So, I liked that about him.
You mentioned that it was your first role... how did you get cast on the show?
John Henton: Just auditioned. They had a big cattle call at first, there was a bunch of people hanging out at Warner Bros. . Then Yvette Lee Bowser, the producer, she kind of liked me so I got a callback. And there was less people waiting outside and I think I went back about three or four times and eventually I got it. So it was just a cattle call and I kept getting picked to go to that next level, and finally it was down to myself and another person and I just told the guy, “Man, I need this money, I’m sorry, you ain’t getting this role.” I was broke man... I got to have it.
And that’s a great attitude to have because you were hungry and you went for it and you’d do anything to get the role.
John Henton: Absolutely.
What was the atmosphere like on the set between yourself, Queen Latifah, Kim Fields and the rest of the characters.
John Henton: It was fun. It was a bit overwhelming for me. I was a comic and this was my first gig and I knew Queen Latifah. I was listening to her tape on the way to the audition. She had had a new tape that came out. I loved Kim Coles, Erika... so I knew everybody else there and nobody really knew me. So I was kinda like the odd man out but everybody made me feel right at home. We bonded like right off the bat. We hung, the whole five years we did it we were there for each other the whole way. It was a great atmosphere. It was like the best five years of my life.
What’s it like being a part of something like Living Single that has a five year run and is etched in TV History?
John Henton: It’s a great feeling. The show started in ‘93 and we’ve been on the air ever since. Going through airports and people come up and tell you about the episode that they saw last night, and they still watch it even in reruns. They’re watching it all the time. People, they don’t know my real name, but they know Overton. So I’ll be Overton forever so it just means I must’ve done something right.
How did you get started acting? Was it all through stand up comedy?
Movie PictureJohn Henton: It was stand up. I just came out to LA to do The Tonight Show. That was my goal. Once I got that, everything just kind of bloomed from there. I got an agent, manager and then I started doing a bunch of auditions. I did The Tonight Show in ‘91. I got a pilot in ‘92 that didn’t get picked up. Then in ‘93 I did one pilot and that was Living Single and the rest is history. I was off and running.
When creating comic characters do you have a process? Will you take what’s written and only follow that? Or, will you use that as a jumping off point for further comedic possibilities?
John Henton: That’s the thing about comedy, you can write a joke, and if it’s a popular topic or something you’ll see how eight different comics are doing it a different way. Everybody has their own spin on things. So, I would have ideas for things, especially if it’s on tape and you’ve done it two or three times and the joke has fallen flat, then it’s like, “Hey, let me try something, you got it your way... .” I always try it the writers way because I never wanted to be an enemy of the writer, because they make you, you know? You wanna use their words if possible, but if something’s not working than I try something else. If I get a bigger laugh... it’s up to the editor which take they’re going to use. As a comic, I wanna be funny.
Are you currently doing stand up? What are you currently working on?
John Henton: Right now, I’m doing stand up. I kind of got away from doing stand up when I did Living Single, and I got a chance to just be normal for awhile, so I didn’t do as much stand up. And then I went right from Living Single to The Hughleys, so I kind of took a little hiatus from comedy. The past two years, exclusively, I’ve been doing a lot of comedy and waiting for the Reality Shows to go away, so maybe we can get a sitcom on the air?
So even while you were doing the TV shows, you still had that hunger and desire to get up and do stand up comedy, is that correct?
John Henton: Oh absolutely, absolutely. There’s the pros and cons to both but I always enjoyed stand up because I was my own producer. Whatever I felt like saying, I just did it. Just the fact that the joke... it was immediate. You only had one shot at it and if you messed up the punchline that joke didn’t work. There was no retakes, there’s no five or six takes, you just do it. Either it works or it doesn’t and you move on, but you got the chance where you’re the producer and whatever you feel like talking about you just go. If somebody in the audience says something, riff on that. I enjoyed the freedom of doing stand up.
Living Single: The Complete First Season hits DVD shelves on February 14th, 2006 through Warner Home Video.