Oprah: What has been the most surprising part of your success?
Jamie: Winning the Oscar. Everybody was crying. Speedy, a friend I've known since I was Eric Bishop, and all the other guys couldn't hold back. Because it's like this: Halle and Denzel are supposed to win the Oscars. Speedy and I were always just a couple of Wet Willies [pranksters] with cops harassing us. You know how our folks are: When one of us wins, we all just want to celebrate.
Oprah: Like in the days when Muhammad Ali would win a fight. Were you nervous on Oscar night?
Jamie: I wanted to be able to look back 20 years later and feel proud of what I said and did. I wasn't nervous but anxious.
Oprah: Which is why you were chewing gum. Do you know I have a whole thing about gum? In Mississippi, my grandmother used to chew gum, then stick it in the cabinet. There were rows and rows of Juicy Fruit and Spearmint. I was afraid of it. Even now I don't allow gum in the building where I work. So when I saw you chewing on Oscar night, I freaked out. I said to myself, I'm going to have to say something to Jamie—and if I have to, I'll take the gum. Finally, I said to Gayle, "I gotta do it."
Jamie: I'm glad you took it from me. You're the one who's teaching me how not to make the wrong step. I've been putting things out there just to stay afloat in stand-up and to carve out a niche—like, I'm a party guy, a ladies' man. That's the way I've always thought: You have to have a point of view. But once I met you and Quincy Jones at the party you threw for Sidney Poitier before the Oscars, I knew I was in a different ball game. Foxx had to grow up real fast. Eric Bishop has always known the right things to do and say; my grandmother raised me well. So at the Oscars, I just had to remember what I'd been taught.
Oprah: When you gave your acceptance speech, who was speaking: Eric or Jamie?
Jamie: A bit of both. Having a stage name is like having a Superman complex. I go into the telephone booth as Eric Bishop and come out as Jamie Foxx.
Oprah: How did you get that name?
Jamie: When Speedy and I showed up at a club to do improv, there'd be a thousand guys and three women—so the women would always get on the lineup. One night I put us down as Stacy Green and Jamie Foxx because those sounded like women's names, and we got picked. When you hear the name Foxx—as in Redd Foxx—you automatically think funny. Back then I had one question: How can we win in Los Angeles? How can we beat the other cats? Back then Speedy and I were like Batman and Robin. Comedy was our way of making money and a name for ourselves.
Oprah: Why did you leave Texas?
Jamie: I won a classical piano scholarship to United States International University [in San Diego]. I'd been playing piano since I was 5, when my grandmother said, "This is how you're going to make your money." Going to that school was great for me, especially since I'd come from a world where blacks and whites were separated by the town's railroad tracks. Every time I went across those tracks, it was like, How am I gonna speak? How am I gonna make money? How am I gonna deal with being called a nigger? But at the university, there were people from 81 different countries. I met people who looked like me, only they came from places like London and Senegal.