He's been called the King of Party Records, the High Sheriff of Hell, the Godfather of Rap. He's best known as Dolemite, but still answers to the name Rudy Ray Moore, and he'll be celebrating his birthday this weekend in Seattle, hitting 80 years old at the stroke of midnight during his Friday, March 16, show at the Funhouse.
He was the first black comic to go blue on vinyl—the 1970 classic Eat Out More Often was so dirty that record stores had to keep it behind the counter, but it hit the top 40 on the Billboard R&B charts anyway. Paving the way for comedians like Richard Pryor and rappers like Snoop Dogg, Moore stands out among his progeny due to the sheer force of his rhythmic delivery, his outsized personality, and his relentless drive to take it all too far. It's no act: Every successful venture of Moore's show biz career—from films like Dolemite and The Human Tornado to his LPs—was self-financed, a testament to the man's willpower and belief in himself.
Moore's iconic status hinges not on incisive social commentary or witty wordplay. Hell, he doesn't even tell jokes half the time. Albums like The Sensuous Black Man and This Pussy Belongs to Me capture him barking out crude setups punctuated by profanities as often as punch lines. No perversion goes unmentioned, no taboo escapes unmasked, and Moore brags of supernatural power over the moon and stars, the beasts of the jungle, and any vaginas in the audience.
Last year, Moore was struck down by diabetic complications that nearly stopped him cold, after which he moved into what his website describes as a "supervised living community" in Las Vegas (there's a link to a Target registry page, should you want to buy housewarming gifts). According to his media representative from Ice Cream Entertainment, Moore only takes calls between 9:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. and even then might be too busy at the gaming tables to answer his cell. But on a Friday close to midnight, the Human Tornado himself picked up the phone and dialed my number.
Moore sounded exhausted, but insisted the hour was not late. "No, it's always time," he said. "I guess I've been quite busy. I'm doing a new movie now [The Dolemite Explosion, due for release in the spring] and I'm getting prepared for this road tour, so it's taking a lot of my time." When asked if a weekend of shows—he plays Wisconsin the night after Seattle—is the way he wants to celebrate the big 8-0, Moore sighs and says, "Well, if they book me, I will go out."
All indications suggest an elderly man being pushed beyond his limits. But once Moore is assured the tape is rolling, he launches into one of his trademark raps:
"Look out for the badass Dolemite! Yes, I'm the one that killed Monday, whipped Tuesday, and put Wednesday in the hospital. Called up Thursday to tell Friday not to bury Saturday on Sunday. Stuck my finger in the ground and turned the whole world around. Yes, baby, I'm coming to Seattle, and when I get there I'm gonna give you more than you've come for." Clearly, Rudy Ray Moore refuses to relinquish his title as Baddest of all Motherfuckers.
Moore is no longer convincing as the karate-kicking pimp he played onscreen, but he's become something far more valuable. His most celebrated routines are based upon traditional "toasts," tall tales recited in rhythm and rhyme and handed down through the ages. This exclusively African-American oral literature has been explored by academics and historians, but Moore keeps the form alive in his own inimitable fashion. From his career as an R&B singer on the chitlin circuit of the '50s, to personifying the blaxploitation craze of the '70s, to influencing hiphop with the very raps and rhymes he adapted from his forebears, Dolemite is folklore in the flesh, a living link to a century of African-American art.
So what will Moore treat his audience to as he enters his ninth decade? "They can expect the glorious comedy show that I've given them for years," he says. "I will be doing 'Shine and the Great Titanic,' 'Petey Wheatstraw,' 'The Human Tornado,' all of the tales that I'm famous for. I will not hit the stage without being prepared to do 'Signifying Monkey.' Everybody's gonna be calling for that. And I owe it to them."