He hates to admit it, but a big turning point in Vernon “KeithFromUpDaBlock” Ruffin’s career was not graduating from his high school as best dramatist, nor hosting a television show – not even opening for Jay-Z.
Success came five years ago when Ruffin put on nothing but a pair of red underwear and made a YouTube video of himself dancing to the slow rhythm of “Tipsy in dis Club” by Pretty Ricky. The video has more than 1.6 million views.
Ruffin mimics R&B artist, Spectacular, from the group Pretty Ricky – Southern accent and all. The problem is, Spectacular’s video was taken down, making Ruffin’s video just look like a man with a Southern accent and a strong boost of confidence.
“I thought it would be hilarious to answer his challenge,” Ruffin said. “The problem is that five years later, no one remembers the Pretty Ricky thing. They just think I’m a dude who dances in red underwear.”
Since his original YouTube debut, Ruffin has cultivated a string of polished music videos that kickstarted his newest venture, “Stand Up At The Movies.”
The sixth show will be on Feb. 4 and will include a Temple student theme. Spike Lee’s “School Daze” will be a main influence.
The performance, which is a combination of a movie, stand-up comedy, YouTube clips and music, is held at the Pearl Theatre on North Broad Street several times a year. The independently owned theatre was excited to have the interactive show, despite only 30 people showing up the first night.
Tickets and popcorn are bought normally, but the entertainment mixes many different elements that Ruffin said bring something different to its audiences.
“The show is great for any artist, even if they have been performing for a long time,” Ruffin said. “A lot of these artists, they have never seen themselves on the movie screen and have never been promoted in this way.”
Unlike YouTube, Ruffin said he had to learn the specific medium used at movie theaters to broadcast videos during the event. This lead to custom creations of public service announcement style advertisements, asking people to turn off their cell phones.
“Stand Up At The Movies” also gave Ruffin the chance to put kids from the surrounding neighborhood on the screen. Ruffin said that when kids see him in the movie theater lobby, they are excited to see him. He said he is no longer a 15-foot advertisement hanging in the lobby – he is an approachable guy that they can interact with.
“That’s what movies do,” Ruffin said. “That’s why we come to the movies. We come to escape, to be inspired, to fight dragons. I hope that ‘Stand Up At The Movies’ will inspire people, inspire a city.”
The parody artist said he draws a lot of strength and motivation to perform from his childhood. Ruffin said he can remember how good it felt to make his mother happy, just by telling jokes.
“But all the comedy comes from pain,” Ruffin said. “It was the only way that I was really accepted by anybody. … I didn’t sell drugs, I didn’t play sports. I just had [comedy]. That’s it, that’s all.”
Ruffin’s humor followed him to the Philadelphia High School of Creative and Performance Arts. Ruffin graduated the year after the class that included members of R&B group Boyz II Men and Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson of The Roots.
Everything came full circle for him after receiving Best Dramatist from the school when he graduated in 1994. At the ceremony at The Academy of Music, Ruffin had his first tap-dance routine.
A few years later, Ruffin took a job hosting “Urban X-pression,” a local television program. There he interviewed notable artists like Lil’ Wayne, Beyoncé and P. Diddy.
During this time, Ruffin began developing a stand-up routine at The Laff House. His six-minute routines found a lot of success when he began to change the lyrics of popular songs.
“I started switching my rhymes to be funny and I noticed people started paying more attention,” Ruffin said. “Because, if you don’t pay attention you’re not going to be a part of the fun. And once people are a part of the fun, people love it.”
He released his first single, “Cheesesteak,” parodying “Milkshake” by Kelis. It was released under Game Records on the album, “Get Rich or Die Laughing.”
Eight albums and more than 300 songs later, Ruffin has turned his love for parody into a lifestyle. Even while satirizing all rap artists, from Biggie Smalls to New Boyz, he said he always wanted to remain respectful to the artist.
“The great thing is that I’m a hell of a lyricist. I’m a hell of a rapper,” Ruffin said. “I was able to take my skills and switch them over to be funny and still keep lyrical integrity and add comedy to it.”
Patrick McCarthy can be reached at patrick. email@example.com