Nate Jacobs' unstoppable comedic character has a life of her own.
Great comedians create great comic characters. From Jonathan Williams’ Maude Frickert to Richard Pryor’s Mudbone and Mel Brooks’ 2000-Year-Old Man, these characters have a life of their own. Locally, we can’t forget Nate Jacobs’ Aunt Rudele — a sweet, strong-willed, Bible-believing, African-American woman with Southern roots who doesn’t suffer fools gladly.
She’s not so much someone Jacobs performs as someone he becomes. The actor, director and artistic director of Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe will do just that on the WBTT stage this week. Seeing as how Aunt Rudele has a life of her own, we decided to talk to her directly.
Tell us about your childhood.
Well, I was born and raised in Arlington, Ga. I grew up with five sisters and two brothers. I was always a vibrant and gregarious child. I went to school, came home and did my chores. It was a modern Southern household. But my parents were very churchgoing, religious people. They taught us all the proper things, so I came up like a good girl. There are good girls and bad girls. I became a good girl, only because I had wonderful parents.
Who were some of your role models growing up?
Well, my great-grandmother raised two children and kept the household together. With her bare hands, she planted vegetables in the ground, grew them and put food on the table. Still doing it in her 90s, too! She was a strong woman.
What was your journey as a young adult?
In 1959, I moved to Tallahassee and went to college at Florida A&M University. That’s where I met my husband, Herbert Stevens. His name is Herbert but I call him “Hubbert.” After going through training, I became a dietician at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital. Twenty years later, I was the chief dietician. That position went beyond my training at A&M, but I was always learning on the job and kept moving up until I got it. I never felt there was something I couldn’t do.
It certainly was. Everybody just loved me at the hospital. I built me a home and a life with that. The determination and hope that made it possible came from my good upbringing and the example of the strong women in my life, starting with my great-grandmother.
Some men are threatened by strong women. What do you say to them?
Well don’t be threatened — be grateful! Women know how to hold things together. The stronger they are, the better they are at it. Men tend to appreciate strong women, because they can hold everything together and make it work. If a man feels threatened by a strong woman, he’s probably threatened by everything.
Any advice for modern parents?
Well, I tell you. So many parents today are into this whole awkward thing about not disciplining their children. I always say, “If you don’t spank ’em when they’re little, they’ll be spanking you when they get big.” It won’t be a gentle, old-fashioned spanking when they do it.
You’ve got a point. If Kim Jong-un had a good spanking as a child, North Korea wouldn’t be in the mess it is today.
That’s right. Nobody ever disciplined that kid and look at the trouble he’s caused!
I imagine that’s true for his daddy and his daddy before him. A wild child grows up to be a bad parent. It only brings shame. Young people want discipline; they want structure; they want to be told the right things to do. It’s only common sense, but we lost our way in this country.
Why do you think that happened?
Some doctor or psychiatrist wrote a parents’ book. He meant well, but he ruined everything. I forget his name, but he said children want to be let alone and run wild. That’s never a good thing.
Tell us about your upcoming performance at WBTT?
Well, I’ll get to strut my stuff on the stage for two nights this week. I’ll get some my family up there to join me, and it’ll be like one big family reunion. My old friends in the audience can say hello; people who don’t know me can become my friends. It’s going to be fun! I always love seeing what little Nate’s been up to. He’s a very creative man.
Is Nate Jacobs in your family?
Oh, yes. Nate is one of my nephews. He does a wonderful job working with young people in the theater. He does a wonderful job working with me, too!
Have you and Nate ever had any creative differences?
Just the one. We had a little disagreement about how I wear my hair. I don’t like people telling me how to wear my hair. Nate was convinced I’d be prettier if I wore it a different way. I told him, “I’m already pretty just the way I am.” He finally agreed. Just a little hairstyle conflict for a minute. That was our only creative difference.
That’s a pretty good track record. You mind if I jump to a big question?
What’s wrong with the country today?
The lack of respect, that’s what I think. When we respect each other, everything just runs right. That’s true from your family, to the folks you work with, to the President of the United States. The Bible tells us to honor and respect our leaders — and ordinary people, too! If we don’t, then everything just goes to hell. There’s just too much trash talk these days. Too many people cutting each other down.
You can disagree with someone and not disrespect them.
I think that’s well said. If we work together with respect, we can make things all right.
What’s right with the country today?
The freedom to thrive and succeed. Every man and woman in America has that opportunity if they seek hard enough and work hard enough. That’s what’s right about this country I’ve been so very blessed to be born and raised and live in.
That’s inspiring. Have you ever considered running for president?
Well, I must confess it is a secret desire I’ve had. I’ve made a few notes, but I’m keeping it under the cover except for a few friends.
Is it OK if our readers know?
Sure. They’re my friends too. I need all the votes I can get! (laughs) I just need a few million more, and we can make it happen.