Muhammad Ali, Ronald Reagan, Barack Obama and Bernie Mac have probably never been on the same conference call.
But during a recent interview, all of those men gave their two cents through the mouth of comedic impressionist Chris Thomas.
Thomas grew up in Takoma Park, Md., and aspired to be like impressionist Richard Little.
He was soon doing stand-up for his peers at junior and senior high school assemblies. At up to $500 a pop, the pay was better than getting a part-time job.
Thomas said he never spent much time studying voices. He just focused on those he heard a lot on TV, including former President Jimmy Carter and boxer Sugar Ray Leonard.
Thomas can re-create high-pitched voices as well as low, raspy ones. He said his sketches work best if he has a newsworthy topic on which to focus.
When Saddam Hussein detained Americans in Iraq in 1990, Thomas made a popular bit where different celebrities including Bill Cosby and Mike Tyson tried to negotiate their release.
That was around the time he met Whoopi Goldberg, who had just earned a 1991 Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in "Ghost." She came to see Thomas' show, and he ended up on one of her HBO comedy specials.
But Thomas is best known as "The Mayor of Rap City."
He worked on Run-D.M.C's and Public Enemy's national tours in the late '80s. His hip-hop know-how led him to BET's music video television program "Rap City," which helped launch many music careers.
He hosted the show, which began in 1989, until 1993. "Rap City" ended in 2008.
Thomas went on to host tours across the country for acts including Prince, The Beastie Boys and the "Kings of Comedy." He's won two BET comedy awards and, in February, he was honored with other sports and entertainment stars during a Black History event in Washington, D.C.
Thomas, who is now in his 50s, still hosts programming for the Washing Wizards and his own "TV Icons of Comedy" tour. Thomas will take the stage Saturday at the Valencia Ballroom in York.
York TV personality Van Andrews, aka DJ Chozen, helped set up the show. Thomas met Chozen at a Constitution Hall gig that featured Mike Epps and D. L. Hughley. They all hung out afterward and Chozen, who also hosts comedy shows in York, asked Thomas to hit up the White Rose City.
Saturday, Thomas shares the stage with female impressionist Sylvia Traymore Morrison and TV funnyman Reginald Ballard. (Audiences might remember Ballard as the character who was always in someone else's fridge on "Martin," Thomas said.)
Hopefully, Thomas said, other performers will visit York soon.
"We're trying to open up more comedy clubs around places like York," he said. "Instead of one night, (we can) have it on a more regular basis."
When he's not in front of an audience, Thomas calls himself a History Channel junkie. He misses the days when families used to be able to watch TV together. That's why he's also working on a sitcom pilot.
He doesn't pay too much attention to hip-hop these days. In his opinion, the genre has lost its imagination.
"Everything is sex, drugs and killing," he said. "That is not the way of the world."
Thomas - the father of four - has family members who use Facebook and Twitter.
"Everyone is expressing themselves all the time," he said. Most of the time, it's in a negative way, he added.
That's why he said he prefers to remain "old school" and unplugged.
- Erin McCracken, FlipSide staff
In 2002, DJ Chozen, aka Van Andrews, started "B.R.E.A.T.H.E. TV" - Being Real Even After the Hate and Envy - a variety show that features regional entertainers, athletes, officials and business owners.
If you go
Trevan productions and "B.R.E.A.T.H.E. TV" present a celebrity comedy show at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Valencia Ballroom, 142 N. George St., York. Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door. VIP tickets are $50 in advance and $55 at the door and include a buffet and open bar. For details and tickets, call DJ Chozen, aka Van Andrews, at 424-2731.
Reginald Ballard from "Martin" and "The Bernie Mac Show" will perform. Impressionist Sylvia Traymore Morrison and comedian D-Smooth also will crack up the crowd. Native Son Records' artists will provide tunes. The Mayor Of Rap City, aka Chris Thomas, will serve as emcee. Miss G. and Chozen will serve as hosts.
Read more meet-the-artist interviews at www.flipsidepa.com/musicdirectory