Comedian and actor Baron Vaughn might be armed with plenty of jokes at his day job as a stand-up comedian, but the 36-year-old gets heartfelt and honest in his new documentary Fatherless. The film, which premieres Sunday, April 2 on Fusion, follows the Grace and Frankie star as he sets out to find the dad he has never known while grappling with his feelings for the man who abandoned him and his mother.
Through it all, Vaughn, 36, never loses his endearing sense of humor. It’s that consistent thread of levity that buoys Fatherless during its most raw and uncomfortable moments. Ahead of Fatherless‘ premiere, Vaughn sat down with Rotten Tomatoes to talk about the seven surrogate TV fathers and comedians who gave him a sense of guidance and manhood when he needed it the most.
Fans don’t necessarily think of Pryor, who died in 2005 at the age of 65, as the fatherly type. But the legendary comedian not only had seven children of his own, he played fatherly figures in flicks such as Bustin’ Loose and The Toy.
Vaughn said he admires Pryor’s “natural ability to be hilarious,” and one of the strongest moments in Fatherless comes when Vaughn interviews Rain Pryor, the funnyman’s most famous daughter. But while Pryor might’ve put on an easygoing persona for the rest of the world, Rain Pryor said her father’s drug addiction and womanizing made him hard to love as a dad.
Innovative and prolific comedian, producer, director, and writer Townsend helped launch the careers of Keenen Ivory Wayans, Damon Wayans, Tommy Davidson and David Alan Grier with his Partners in Crime comedy specials on HBO.
“I’ve always been a comedy nerd,” Vaughn said, “and Partners in Crime was probably more influential for me than anything else because it was not only standup, but Robert Townsend had those short films. Those short films were sketches that bridged comedy generations between Grier and the Wayans with comedians like Franklyn Ajaye and Robin Harris.”
Vaughn continued, “It was a big thing for me to see what I now understand is an example of community. He brought all those people to one place to make comedy.”
Townsend also starred as TV father Robert Peterson on The Parent ‘Hood, which aired on the WB from 1995-1999. In real life, he’s a divorced father of three.
Vaughn said he admires Izzard‘s fearlessness and theatrics.
“I saw him when I was 17 and I was blown away by his style and his voice,” he said.
Vaughn added that he majored in theater at Boston University in part because he was inspired by the British comedian’s command of the stage. Izzard also starred as TV dad Wayne Malloy on two seasons of the FX con-artist drama The Riches.
The other famous Eddie in Vaughn’s repertoire of male role models includes none other than former Saturday Night Live star Murphy. The father of nine grabbed Vaughn’s attention on SNL but has also played big-screen dads in movies such as Daddy Day Care and Imagine That.
“He unapologetically helped define black masculinity and comedy in the ’80s,” Vaughn said.
The public’s perspective on Bill Cosby has changed dramatically now that more than 60 women have leveled accusations of sexual assault against him. But his Cosby Show character Cliff Huxtable, a loving and devoted husband, father, and family man, inspired many kids in the ’80s and early ’90s — including Vaughn.
“You can’t erase Bill Cosby’s contributions,” Vaughn said. “That’s the conflict. He’s one of the most influential comedians of all time, and The Cosby Show is one of the most influential sitcoms ever. When I watched as a kid, I wanted Cliff to be my dad. Everybody did. He was dope.”
The Saturday Night Live alum is a dad who has never played one on TV. But Vaughn said Carvey‘s 1995 HBO stand-up special Critics’ Choice had a major impact on his comedy education.
“Dana Carvey is so cerebral, weird, and confident in that special,” Vaughn said. “It’s great.”
Rodriguez, a father of two, helped pave the way for comedian-turned-TV-dad George Lopez. His long line of credits include roles in films like Ali, which starred Will Smith, and the 1987 Cheech Marin comedy Born in East L.A., and he will soon be seen in Netflix film Sandy Wexler, which stars Adam Sandler.
“Paul is brilliant and underrated,” Vaughn said.