Star Lance Crouther talks about babbling, belt-whipping, and Gwyneth Paltrow's sipi-tai

As if keeping the whole Puff Daddy/P. Diddy transition straight wasn’t tough enough, the R&B-crooning star of ”Pootie Tang” is now in movie theaters to further muddy the waters of urban slang. Fortunately, the fictional Pootie (as played by ”The Chris Rock Show” writer-performer Lance Crouther) isn’t even trying to make sense with dialogue like ”I’m gonna sine your pitty on the runny kine” and ”Sepatown!”

What began as a one-shot sketch on Rock’s HBO show featuring a slick ladies man with a gift of incomprehensible gab will now test the limits of movie audience endurance. The big-screen Pootie battles an evil CEO intent on selling cigarettes, alcohol, and junk food to kids. Though mumbling gibberish throughout a feature film might seem easy (just ask Sylvester Stallone), Crouther discovered that getting laughs is mighty tough when you don’t have a single punchline at your disposal. ”On some level, you’re like a silent movie character,” he says. ”It was fun, but I’m a writer. I like to say funny stuff in English.” talked to Crouther (in his native tongue) about his first starring role, obsessive Pootie fans, and why the loose-lipped lothario always scores big. Sipi-tai!

Tell the truth: Would anyone even notice if you screwed up your lines?
It’s word for word. I never ad-libbed. The absolute accuracy of this is the fun part. A lot of people have attempted to write Pootie Tang dialogue, and they don’t get it. It really comes out of a cadence in [writer-director] Louis C.K.’s brain. When he writes it, it’s ridiculous, but it doesn’t sound ridiculous. So it was more fun for him to write a word and for me to try to say it than for me to improv. Because, honestly, if I made up the dialogue, it would sound about as silly as anyone else who tried to write it.

Two scary words for you: ”It’s Pat!” Any worries about following in the footsteps of other sketch-comedy flops?
I was completely out of the loop on all this movie stuff. When somebody walked in and said Paramount and MTV were considering doing a Pootie Tang movie, I was like, you’ve got to be kidding. But I never thought we’d do the sketch more than once on the show in the first place. I guess I’m just worried about being famous only as Pootie Tang. My goal has always been to be a performer/writer, whereas here I’m primarily an actor [Crouther has won an Emmy for his writing on ”The Chris Rock Show” and cowrote ”Down to Earth”]. I want to be able to do stuff with me talking and not have people saying, ”No, we want you to speak the Pootie way!”

How did Pootie become a crime-fighting superstar, anyway?
On ”The Chris Rock Show,” the Pootie skits kept getting wackier and wackier. Initially he was an actor who wore these crazy clothes, then he was a novelist, then he was a singer, then he ran for Congress, and in the E! parody, he was just a big huge celebrity. So for the film, Louis reinvented the character and decided to make him a superhero, which was an entirely new thing.

So how many of those superfly pimp-daddy outfits did you steal from the set?
Oh no, I don’t dress like that. I’m all about shirts and shorts. When I first had to do it on the show it was rough, but when I got over it I was pretty much over it. You just hold up the clothes and go, oh God, I’ve got to do this. But I did get some gasoline and some matches in case anyone tried to ship that stuff to me.

Pootie uses his belts to whip his adversaries into shape. Did you learn how to belt fight, if there is such a thing?
Oh yeah, I had to spend hours in a corner with belts smacking myself in the face. They told me they were going to put all the belt scenes towards the end of the movie, and I said, ”Yeah, you’re going to have to put them way, way back, because I’m having trouble here.” But by the day we had to do it, I was going, ”Man, I’ve got this thing down!” If I had kids, that’d be it: ”You’re acting bad, huh? Let me go get my double belts!”

How the heck did you con Gwyneth Paltrow into appearing on the E! parody?
You know the world wants Gwyneth, so if Paramount asks if they can get that clip for the movie, they do. But it’s cool that people like her loved Chris’ show and wanted to be a part of it. We got Bob Costas to interview Pootie in the movie, too. We needed someone to interview him to introduce the character to people who hadn’t seen the show, and I was writing ”On the Record” with Bob for HBO, and he was a big fan of Chris’ show.

Do you get a lot of weird Pootie fans?
People come up and yell. Most recently, I’m getting blinds in my apartment, and the blinds guy from Sears is measuring my window. A very nice brother. I tell him, ”Yeah, that’s great,” and he looks at me and says, ”Sepa-tai, sibi-ta, sepa-ta!” And I think, oh God, even the blinds guy.

Pootie Tang
  • Movie
  • 82 minutes