Comedy with Finesse at Fat Fish BlueWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
“It’s comedian Finesse Mitchell, man,” the voice mail said. “‘SNL,’ ‘Tyra Banks Show,’ ‘Chelsea Lately,’ ‘Nick Swardson’s Pretend Time,’ Comedy Central, the ‘Today’ show, the movies ‘Mad Money’ and ‘Who’s Your Caddy.’ I’m coming to Toledo! Again! Toledo! Don’t ask me why, but I’m coming! I murdered it last time I was there, and I’m coming back!”
Rarely does an individual announce themselves so thoroughly and enthusiastically — especially when they are just leaving a message. But Mitchell is a very passionate guy. The hilarious comedian brings endless energy and talent to every aspect of his performance, which will be on display at Fat Fish Blue Home of the Funnybone in Perrysburg on Jan. 20-22.
So how did the über-cool and smooth “Finesse” get his nickname? “I was in college, and girls just started calling me ‘Finesse.’ And I didn’t wanna go to the locker room and tell everyone my name was ‘Albert.’ So the football players started calling me that, and all the sorority girls started calling me that,” Mitchell said during a phone interview.
The college, by the way, was the University of Miami, Florida. Yes, he was a Hurricane, back when that was a great thing to be. He was a walk-on with the football team, with a desire to go pro.
“And then one day, this dude hit me so hard where I didn’t wanna play football no more,” Mitchell said. “I changed my mind, looked for something else to do.”
That “something else” didn’t come easily. He rode out the rest of his college days basically waiting to graduate. Afterward, “I got into the financial services industry, where I was selling insurance,” Mitchell said.
But always on the back burner was stand-up comedy. He had begun performing in college, through his fraternity Kappa Alpha Phi (which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, Mitchell proudly noted).
“I tried to be a rapper, but I was wack. And then one day, I got on stage and I did comedy, it just went great, man. I never heard so many screams. So I thought I was a comedian. And the very next week, I went back for the open mic night, and invited all my friends. And I got booed so hard. And after that, I was hooked.”
He continued to refine his act during his years working in insurance. One day, his boss saw him perform and gave the young Mitchell a great vote of support. “He said if I ever needed time off to go do college shows, he would let me do it.”
After a few years on the circuit, he got his first big break performing on BET’s “Comic View,” leading to a number of appearances on a variety of late-night shows. But his biggest break came almost by accident, as Finesse wandered by the Laugh Factory in Los Angeles one night. Out front, Dane Cook and Jay Mohr stood talking.
“And I heard Jay tell Dane that Tracy Morgan was leaving ‘SNL’ and they were looking for the new black guy. And I just happened to be walking by, and I went, ‘I’m black!’ And they were like, ‘Hey, Finesse, send your tape in.’”
He did, and after a series of auditions, Mitchell landed a role as a featured player for the 28th season of the late-night comedy institution. He rose through the ranks to become a full-fledged cast member, before being dropped from the show in 2006.
“It was just big turnaround, because the cast was so huge, and NBC was not doing great, and they were looking for cutbacks, every show,” said Mitchell, who noted that he regrets that he didn’t have more time to grow into his own on “SNL.”
“To be honest with you, I really didn’t ‘get’ the show, and know where I was, until I was gone.”
In the years since “SNL,” Mitchell’s visibility has grown through his film roles, ongoing appearances on “Chelsea Lately” and more. He’s also expanded into written humor, with a regular column in Essence Magazine and a book, “Your Girlfriends Only Know So Much.”
“I just wrote a couple sitcoms I’m excited about, there’s a lot of stuff that’s about to go on in LA.,” Mitchell said.