Ron Artest displays playful persona during comedy routine [Video]
He repeated it for emphasis in case someone in the room didn't hear it the first, or even the second time.
In a small room outside the Brea Improv Comedy Club on Friday night, Lakers forward Ron Artest sat huddled with a small group of friends, his publicist and myself moments before he went onstage. There was one thought he couldn't get out of his head.
"If there was a perfect time to do a comedy show," Artest said, "it would be this week."
Naturally, I asked Artest why. "I'm not going to tell you," he said sheepishly.
Of course. In the previous week Artest had found himself in the headlines even more than usual. That takes a pretty big effort considering Artest tweets constantly, plays pickup sandball with fans and even filed a petition last month to legally change his name to Metta World Peace.
But last week beat them all. TMZ reported that Artest was in talks to join the cast of "Dancing With the Stars," a prospect Artest rejected when I asked if he was interested. Another TMZ story quoted Artest as saying he had been divorced from his wife, Kimsha, before even joining the Lakers, a notion he may have confirmed when he revealed he planned to remarry her soon. A Deadspin report also published alleged sext messages he had with a fan from Oklahoma City and an apparent picture he sent showing his private parts, a story he brought up unprompted and actually used in his show.
There was no delay, with the Improv emcee beginning the night this way: "He is the least respected member of L.A.'s losing basketball team. He is one of the worst rappers ever. And he shares pictures of his [expletive] on Twitter ...."
Artest took it all in stride. He playfully said his Twitter exploits were false and that he wanted to talk to the audience without spewing vulgarities or sexual innuendo. When an audience member asked him if he had had sex with his therapist, Artest boastfully said he only would have if she were Jennifer Lopez. And after an audience member wanted to know if he smoked weed before games, Artest replied it might be a good idea to get a medical marijuana card so he can "blow smoke in Craig Sager's face" after a Lakers win.
Yup. Artest's platform in making a four-city comedy tour where he introduces acts and answers audience questions fits his persona perfectly, even if it involves showing him in an embarrassing light.
"I know there's going to be something I'm not ready for," Artest said. "So I'm ready for any questions, whether it's a tough question or easy question. If it's a tough one, I'll just call you a [expletive]."
Those tough ones usually include questions about his infamous involvement in the Brawl at the Palace. In 2004 as an Indiana Pacer, Artest waded into the Pistons crowd after beer was thrown at him and punched a fan. The incident sparked an 86-game suspension, the longest penalty for a physical altercation in NBA history, and he received a year's probation for pleading no contest to assault charges.
"A couple years ago, I hated that question," Artest said. "A couple of years ago, I couldn't talk about it. Now I just make fun of it."
Yes, there he was onstage, poking fun at his different personas as Metta World Peace and Ron Artest, or his "two egos" as he called them. To illustrate his contradictory and complex personality, Artest moved back and forth on stage to act out the different personas. After calling Metta World Peace a name consisting of a vulgarity and homosexual slur, Ron Ron then turned around and called Artest another expletive for "jumping in the stands," claiming "everyone hates you," and "you shouldn't even be in a society."
Make no mistake. There were questions that even Artest couldn't handle. He declined to spit out a freestyle rap, later saying backstage, "I can't bust out a real rhyme at a comedy show. That doesn't make sense." When asked if he was a transvestite, Artest didn't even know what that term meant. And he took offense when someone wondered if Kobe Bryant's wife, Vanessa "runs the Lakers."
Consider this backstage exchange Artest had with the assistant who read the audience's questions.
"Wow I'm glad you skipped that," Artest said. "I don't want to touch that. I don't want to answer that one."
"If you got something like that," the assistant countered, "you could just say, 'No, Kobe runs the Lakers.' "
"Oh, yeah," Artest said.
Even if Artest's act consisted of nothing more than answering audience questions and introducing acts, the crowd still loved it. The joke he and his cousin rehearsed about interrupting his parents having sex because he wanted to drink his mother's breast milk hardly sounded funny. But the audience howled over it and the other comedians fell over laughing backstage when Artest retold it. And even if some Laker fans may find his continuous off-court ventures such as this to be off-putting, remember that many of those same fans loved this persona after his Game 7 heroics to clinch the Lakers' 2010 championship.
The platform simply reflected everything that makes Ron Artest so unpredictable and fun.
"I get nervous as hell when I'm up there," Artest said. "I'm not a comedian. I just go up there and have fun and be myself."
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Photo: Ron Artest, the Lakers forward who may one day be known as Metta World Peace, onstage as standup comic. Credit: Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times