The trailer for The Name is Dolemite would’ve set my brain tingling even if I never met Rudy Ray Moore, the man it’s about. Eddie Murphy, after decades of mostly phoning it in, looks awake and engaged. The cast is a lineup full of ringers, from Keegan-Michael Key and Craig Robinson to Wesley Snipes and Snoop Dogg. And it features Funkadelic’s organ freakout banger “I Got a Thing.” Really, there was no way I’d not like this movie.
But since I met Moore, I’m almost overwhelmed with excitement. And thinking back on my short encounter with Moore, I’m a little moved. When I met him, he was sure he’d been forgotten. With my slim personal connection to him, I feel honored on his behalf that he’s being remembered in such a big way.
Moore is an odd choice for a movie subject, particularly for Eddie Murphy. Moore was a grimy ‘70s comedian and filmmaker whose obscene albums had to be sold in plain brown wrappers. Moore was a marginal figure in the niche movie genre of blacksploitation. They’re framing his life as a triumph over adversity tale but of all the feel-good stories the voice of Donkey from Shrek could’ve told, it’s odd that he’d pick this one. Young Eddie Murphy was brash and blue once, but we’re decades away from young Eddie Murphy.
Maybe Murphy experienced Moore the same way I did. I learned of the Dolemite movies through word of mouth and was floored by how entertaining and advanced they were. I’d just seen Shaft and Super Fly and was amazed that these ridiculous, self-aware and obscene parody versions of them were produced so quickly on their heels.
I met Rudy Ray Moore at the Knitting Factory, back when the Knitting Factory was still in Manhattan. A goth cello band was grinding through a melodramatic cover of Creedence Clearwater’s “Bad Moon Rising” and while my ex was into it, I was focused on the list of upcoming shows, which included Rudy Ray Moore. Then I saw Moore’s head pop into view at the door of the back of the club.
The audience was mostly female and exclusively white. Moore didn’t have to do much to stand out. I edged my way through the crowd towards him.
When I caught up with him in the hall, I told him how much I loved the Dolemite movies. He looked surprised and delighted that this scruffy white kid knew and loved his work. He quickly agreed to an interview, which ran on Freezerbox.
Looking it over now, it’s a mediocre interview. I regret asking him about Britney Spears but I’m glad I asked him about the Iraq war. The warmth and graciousness of our conversation comes through fitfully. In print, his last sentence, “Adam, me and you,” might seem unremarkable but I can still hear his voice saying that and remember him smiling and leaning across the table. He was one of the friendliest, most gracious people I’ve ever interviewed. I hope the movie does him justice.