*Comedian Anthony “Scruncho” McKinley is known for his raw and energetic stage persona, and he has served his larger-than-life style to audiences around the country for nearly two decades. Now the entertainer is taking a darker turn to share his life story through his first ever one-man show called “All I Needed Was a Hug.”
Produced by Emmy Award-winning media maven Sherri Shepherd, the powerful stage play explores Scruncho’s childhood neglect, his path to prison and how he learned to forgive those who have caused him the most pain.
Shepherd teamed with her producing partner Kim Tavares, and director Stacey McClain, for her debut stage production of Scruncho’s one man show.
When EUR caught up with Shepherd and Scruncho to dish about the play, she described the producing process as “frustrating” and “difficult” but oh so very “rewarding.”
Check out our Q&A with the Sherri Shepherd and Scruncho below.
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The title alone resonates with me for many reasons and truly speaks to the human condition. So I’m curious to know which came first — the “one-man show” or the title itself?
Scruncho: The title came first because as I got older, I realized that my mom… I remember we had argued and I said, “Well, a hug would be nice.” And I think we come from that era where a lot of black people, not talking literally but statistically speaking, our culture is quick to discipline and slow to hug and we often talk more than we touch. It took me a long time to realize that as I got older. My mom and my dad never hugged me, never said I love you. But it’s nothing you miss growing up, you don’t miss what you never had. But you miss it because you never had it, if that makes sense.
What was it about Scruncho’s story that compelled you to come on board as executive producer?
Sherri: Kim and I, and Stacey, all started from stand-up comedy. And we’ve all known Scruncho for the last 20 years. It was just really funny because when we first got introduced to Scruncho, he was in that hustling lifestyle still, and he came on stage with like, Dickies on and a wife beater and these like, flip-floppy things on his feet, and with a bandana — still in that gangsta lifestyle. And we were like, “Who is this?”. And then he was roller skating on the stage. He was really funny and he was really raw. Now fast-forward to 2017, his entire act is still raw, still funny but has evolved so much. Over coffee, we were talking about his life and the fact that he was on the streets at 9-years-old selling drugs. When his movie “How High” came out, he was in Folsom prison, but now he’s a successful comic. He just has such a spiritual center and Kim and I thought that his journey was so compelling and inspiring. He talks about his sister being murdered and forgiveness and letting go. His evolution with being homophobic. There were so many themes in there, and he just came full circle. I just thought it would be a powerful story for audiences.
Have you discovered anything new about yourself as you revisit and explore some of these painful moments from your past?
Scruncho: The biggest discovery is, I realize that the greatest gift God gave me is neglect. Because neglect was a different level of love and often allowed you to bond with God. God covers people that’s not covered, and when you look at the big picture, you’d rather be covered by God than to be covered by anybody.
Talk about your collaborative efforts with Sherri, Kim, and Stacey.
Scruncho: I surrounded myself with females because I was lacking the ability to be vulnerable. The greatest gift is that God put these females in my show. Sherri brought it to my attention, she said “You should do a one-man show. Your story would be great.” You never know why people do what they do but it was powerful because what I struggled with more than anything in the show is to be vulnerable and kinda surrender my ego and allow myself to open up. But I couldn’t do that around a bunch of men. So talking to Sherri, I think her kindness and her sweetness made my comfortable, and with Stacey, she’d dig in and be kinda raw, like “That don’t work, you gotta do it different.” And with Kim, she became a mother to my spirit because we suffer from the same type of pain. So it was a very dynamic team. I couldn’t do it with them. It’s a blessing all together.
How therapeutic has this performance process been for you?
Scruncho: It’s been very therapeutic because a lot of times, therapeutic should mean discovering one’s self. It’s been very therapeutic because the more you dig, the more you’re forced to look at yourself. You can’t grow blaming others but you start to grow when you realize that what you go through is what you get through, but in order to get through it, you gotta start with yourself.
As you’re taking this journey with Scruncho, has it been transformative for you in any way?
Sherri: I love executive producing this show. I’ve never done it before. It’s my first foray into it. I have a wig line. I’ve written a book. I produced my own sitcom, but in the theatrical world, this is my first time out. It’s been frustrating. It’s been difficult. It’s been wonderful. It’s been rewarding. To see people come in and we’ve had to turn people away, which is unfortunate, but to see how much it’s affecting people, I go, “Wow…”. This is so beyond me, beyond Scruncho — God is so in it. It was supposed to have ended at the end of April and then people kept looking at me going, “This is it? You’re not going to continue it?” And I just knew that I had to keep going. I have grown in so many ways and Scruncho has taught me a lot about forgiveness. This person was a gangster in Long Beach. When I met him he had that mean mug. He is the most humble person and just has a smile that makes people feel at ease. And how you go to prison and come out and drug dealing and people in your family treating you a certain way. To be able to smile and love them people, it has taught me so much.
Scruncho: I remember the first time I got caught stealing stereos out of a car, and the police had me in back of the guy’s car I broke into. I think I was about 12 or 13, the guy came and he’s like, “You’re going to jail!” And I was looking at him like, “Dude, why is you mad? It didn’t have nothing to do with you. It was just about the stereo.” From that perspective, it looked really silly. But then it’s like, God took me through those types of situations, and when it became my turn to be in a position where it’s time for me to forgive somebody who did something to me — now let me see you forgive. And it’s because of those situations that gave me the muscle and understanding on how to forgive.
Why is this play important in our current political climate?
Sherri: Because this is a climate where tensions are high, anger is high, hatred is high. You’re seeing little boys on the ground with guns pointed at them. Some places there’s a sense of hopelessness. I think that Scruncho, even with laughter, even talking about how his parents neglected him as a child, he makes you laugh. When you can feel pain but then laugh, it’s so good for the soul. And when he talks about forgiveness, that you can’t live until you truly forgive, then you can live. To see people crying tears of joy, and feeling like they can leave that theater and, no matter what, there’ somebody you can forgive and then walk in love. His theme of love is just all through it. Love and laughter — it’s so needed.
Scruncho: I think the world has been morally desensitized. We’re laughing at who we should be crying for. But then we feel victimized when we’re the ones getting laughed at. But we never thought about all them people we laughed at on social media. But when it happens to us, then we’re all playing victim. So I think this play is giving something more than a laugh, and I think it’s something we all need.
If you were able to sit down with your younger self, what would you say to him?
Scruncho: I would tell him, embrace your pain The deeper your pain the greater your lesson. So smile, because where you’re at is not where you’re gonna be. So embrace where you are. God’s not taking you through nothing that you can’t get through, so enjoy your journey.
What are you hoping audiences takes away from the play?
Sherri: For me, we started this show on April 3rd and we extended it because it’s been sold out every week and the response from the audiences has been nothing short of just phenomenal. There was a white man that came down the aisle last week and Scruncho hugged him and he broke down in tears, and he said, “My father passed and if I could go back and show him the man I am now, the way you did, my life would’ve been different. There was another man who said he was inspired to do stand-up from watching Scruncho. Scruncho talks about being a child of an alcoholic parent, and how you have to adapt and how you can smell the liquor before the person comes, and people were crying because you had so many people who were from a home of alcoholic parents and it just changed their outlook. There was a man there who’s son is currently incarcerated, who said “I wish my son could get the understanding that you got in prison.” There’s more people than you think who have had people who were murdered and to hear Scruncho talk about wanting revenge but ultimately having to forgive and God working in that. That’s what I’m getting from the audience. That’s why we extended it because it was so life changing.
Scruncho: I remember last week, Terry Crews was sitting in the front row and I was in the middle of a scene and sometimes when I get into a scene, I don’t connect with people, but I almost broke the scene and started laughing when I looked over and seen Terry Crews crying. It was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen cause it was like, “This big ‘ol grown man crying.” I think what I get out of it more than anything is what the people get out of it. For instance, a white guy came to me and he was crying and I didn’t know why he was crying and he said, “It’s because of you I can laugh again.” When people hit me with things like that, it makes me realize that the gift God gave me is not for me. It becomes more powerful when I separate myself from the gift.
Sherri: To see grown men wiping tears from their eyes, and it doesn’t matter what color they are. We’ve had white people attending and they’re crying.
Scruncho: I think the secret to life, and the reason that the play is so powerful, is because over the years since social media took place, I think the whole world, businesses, and entertainment, learned that they can make a lot of money off frosting. Frosting is a good sale. They made a lot of money off the frosting, but somewhere down the line, the soul and the spirit wants some cake.
I think that when we put this play together, it’s been overwhelming to all of us on how fast it grew. I always have to remember who’s the giver of all the gifts. So once I realized that not only is God working through me, but everything happens for a reason. And I think the title of this play could easily be named “Love,” because I refuse to let anybody walk out here and not feel loved. This play, it’s different levels. We went from funny to dark but what’s different about our play is, I take you to a dark place but I make you see the light in the dark, and that’s that third eye.
“All I Needed Was a Hug” is presented at the Two Roads Theater in Studio City, CA. After tonight’s performance, only three shows remain. Visit Scruncho’s official website for more information or click here to purchase tickets.