It's been 19 years since Crawford's debut on BET's Comic View, and four years since he came inches away from winning Last Comic Standing. In that time, he has been the definition of a working comic. In between his role on Breaking Bad and his multiple appearances on Comic View, Laffapalooza, Comics Unleashed, and Chelsea Lately, he's played every dive bar, comedy club, and theater across the country.
"It's a nice road," Crawford said of the long journey from open mics to theaters. "I just stepped out on faith, and it worked."
Well, not right away. Crawford described his salad days (though they were still filled with barbecue). He was often sleeping in his Ford Escort and carrying a gun for protection, and one night, a woman knocked on the glass to see if he was okay. The half-asleep comedian thought he was being robbed, so he took out his .380 and aimed it at her. Realizing what was happening, he then apologized, thanked her, and went back to sleep.
Crawford started his professional career at the Comedy Caravan in Louisville, Kentucky, after the club owner liked him and offered him two weeks of road work. At the time, Crawford was already familiar with the road - he was working as a crossing guard.
"They could definitely see me," Crawford joked about his stature, before referring to himself as "a sweet potato in the middle of the road."
When I caught up with him in Baltimore, Crawford and his entourage were staying in four suites in a four-star hotel. It' a luxury he's earned - having steadily climbed the ladder from MC to road dog to special event, Crawford is finally at the point in his career where he can relax and enjoy himself. But his brutal tour schedule is evidence that, while he's fully enjoying it, relaxation will not happen anytime soon.
Crawford's tour includes Providence, Boston, Tampa, Miami, Birmingham, Kansas City, Richmond, Virginia Beach, Cincinnati, Louisville, Columbia, Orlando, Dallas, Nashville, and Los Angeles. And that's all before New Year's.
Despite his now lavish road digs, Crawford has a sense of humor about where he came from - the very premise of his new special. "Can a Brother Get Some Love" features some fantastically self-deprecating sketches, where Crawford walks around his hometown of Saint Louis saying hi to people while no one recognizes him, or cares to try.
"The guy at the rental car place said, & I'm gonna hook you ups; and gave me a ratty old Crown Victoria," Crawford smiled. "I went to my old barbershop, he claimed I owed him money."
Every comedian knows that the proverbial road to success is long and wrought with set backs and disappointments. Lavell Crawford is an example of a comedian keeping his nose down, his head up, and his eyes focused on the big time.
And no one knows big better than Lavell Crawford.
This article's author, Steve Hofstetter is an internationally touring comedian that has been on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson and E! True Hollywood Story, and more. To book Steve for your next event, visit PickSteve.com.