Sinbad served in the US Air Force as a boom operator aboard KC-135 Stratotankers. While assigned to the 344th Air Refueling Wing at McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita, Kansas, he would often go downtown to do stand-up comedy, and competed as a comedian/MC in the USAF Talent Contest in 1981. Sinbad was almost dismissed with a dishonorable discharge for various misbehaviors, including going AWOL.
|“||I didn't make the Air Force basketball team and went into denial. So, I kept going AWOL. My mother kept begging me to go back. I told her, 'No, I'm not going back. I'll just grow a beard. They won't recognize me. I'll just be another black man with a beard.' I was going to Georgia Tech to learn about computers. I'd go AWOL all the time. I'd just leave. I'd come back, hoping they'd throw me out.||”|
After a series of incidents, he was eventually discharged "for parking my car in the wrong position."
Under the professional name Sinbad, he began his career appearing on Star Search. Sinbad won his round against fellow comedian Dennis Miller, appearing a total of seven times. He soon was cast on The Redd Foxx Show, a short-lived sitcom, playing Byron Lightfoot.
In 1987, Sinbad landed a role in A Different World, a spin-off of The Cosby Show for Lisa Bonet's character Denise Huxtable. (Previously, Sinbad appeared in two different one-off roles on The Cosby Show, as a principal and as "Davis Sarrette".) Huxtable attended Hillman College, a fictional historically black college. While Bonet only stayed with the program for a season, Sinbad stayed with the cast from 1988 until 1991 as "Coach Walter Oakes".
With the exception of later addition Marisa Tomei to the cast, the students at Hillman were all high-achieving African Americans with unique personalities, contrary to the "token" roles popular media previously focused on. At a July 2006 cast reunion promoting the series syndication on cable channel Nick at Nite, Sinbad reflected on the program: "The show was a problem. You look back, black shows were just happening...It wasn't supposed to succeed and it (did). This show was never given the accolades it should have." In A Different World, Walter began to fall in love with a girl named Jaleesa played by Dawnn Lewis. She was not interested in him until he asked her to marry him. The two decided to cancel the wedding due to differing outlooks on life.
Sinbad co-starred with Scott Bakula in Necessary Roughness, where he played Andre Krimm, a college professor recruited for the defensive line, after NCAA sanctions force the Texas State University Fightin' Armadillos to start from scratch. The Paramount Pictures film opened September 27, 1991, and grossed over $20 million at the box office.
After playing a condom in the 1992 video Time Out: The Truth About HIV, AIDS, and You, and hosting the November 21, 1992 episode of Saturday Night Live, he found small roles in The Meteor Man and Coneheads. Other appearances during this hiatus from episodic television were in the 1994 telefilm Aliens for Breakfast, and two appearances on Bill Nye, the Science Guy.
By the early 1990s, his popularity had grown enough for Fox to green-light The Sinbad Show, which premiered September 16, 1993. In the self-titled series, Sinbad played 35-year-old David Bryan, a bachelor who decides to become a foster parent to two children after becoming emotionally attached to them. The series, which co-starred a young Salma Hayek, received praise from critics for its unique and realistic portrayal of African American life. Around that time, Sinbad had recently received joint custody of his two kids, Royce, then age 4 and Paige, age 7, and told the press that these experiences informed him of single parenting.
|“||Black men are already responsible, already take care of our duties, but nobody emphasizes that. I hear all this bad talk against men and their children. I just got so tired of it. More than anything else, I'm showing that life has changed, the world has changed. And now the key is not going to just be parenting, it's going to be mentoring, where people who are not even in your family are going to have to go in and help. And we are going to accept that responsibility, which we used to do in our culture.||”|
The Sinbad Show was cancelled, with the last episode airing April 21, 1994. The role earned him a 1995 Kids' Choice Awards nomination for "Favorite Television Actor". It also led to a future role in "Saved by the Bell".
In 1990, Sinbad did his first stand-up comedy special for HBO called Sinbad: Brain Damaged. The special was recorded at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. In 1993, Sinbad did his next stand-up special in New York City's Paramount Theatre called Sinbad - Afros and Bellbottoms for which he won a 1995 Image Award. The show was such a success that he was brought back in 1996 for Sinbad - Son of a Preacher Man and again in 1998 for Sinbad - Nothin' but the Funk. All of these shows have been released on VHS and DVD.
From 1989 to 1991, Sinbad was host of It's Showtime at the Apollo, and returned in 2005 while regular host Mo'Nique was on maternity leave. He hosted a Soul Train episode that aired January 14, 1995; appeared as a contestant in a 1998 episode of Celebrity Jeopardy!; and was the emcee for the 2000 Miss Universe Pageant.
During the 1990s, Sinbad guest-starred on an episode of Nickelodeon's All That. In one sketch, he played the father of recurring character Ishboo, dubbed "Sinboo". He also made a cameo appearance in the comedy movie Good Burger, starring Kenan & Kel, as "Mr. Wheat", a short tempered teacher whose car gets crushed by a giant realistic hamburger. His character was modeled after Gough Wheat, a past teacher of the movie's producer at White Station High School in Memphis, Tennessee.
He and Phil Hartman co-starred in the comedy film Houseguest, where he plays Kevin Franklin, a Pittsburgh resident who owes $50,000 to the mob. Hartman, as Gary Young, comments to his children that they're waiting to pick up a black man. Taking who they think to be a well-known dentist home, Young's family is stabilized by Franklin's own unstable nature. Released January 6, 1995, the film grossed $26 million in North America.
Sinbad's film roles also include First Kid, which he starred in, and Jingle All the Way (1996). For Jingle All the Way, Sinbad won a Blockbuster Entertainment Award for "Favorite Supporting Actor - Family". He also performed his HBO comedy special "Son of a Preacher Man" at the Paramount Theatre in Denver, Colorado.
The NAACP Image Awards recognized his 1996 role in Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child, nominating him in the "Outstanding Performance in an Animated/Live-Action/Dramatic Youth or Children's Series/Special" category. He lent his voice to Reily, an animal character in Homeward Bound II: Lost in San Francisco (1996), and later voiced the horse "Hollywood Shuffle" in Ready to Run.
VIBE magazine started its own syndicated late-night talk show in August 1997 which aired on UPN, hosted by actor Chris Spencer. Spencer was fired in October, and replaced by Sinbad; the series lasted until the summer of 1998. At that same time, Sinbad performed his HBO comedy special "Nothin' but the Funk" in Aruba's Guillermo P. Trinidad Memorial Stadium.
In 2004 he was named the #78 greatest stand-up comic of all time on "Comedy Central Presents: 100 Greatest Stand-Ups of All Time".
Actor Mark Curry credits Sinbad and Bill Cosby for helping convince him not to commit suicide. Sinbad was responsible for discovering R&B trio 702; convincing their parents to let him take them to a music convention/competition, under the name "Sweeta than Suga", eventually being heard by music producer Michael Bivins.
Sinbad also made a cameo appearance on the television show It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia as himself in a rehab center in the episode Dennis Reynolds: An Erotic Life, which originally aired October 23, 2008. His cameo was met with positive acclaim from fans of both him, and the series.
On March 14, 2010, he debuted on the Celebrity Apprentice and was fired on the second episode (March 21, 2010) after losing in the Kodak challenge as project manager.
In 2009, Sinbad was placed in the top 10 of the 250 worst tax debtors for the state of California. The comedian owed the State 2.5 million dollars in personal tax income.
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