Backstage at ‘The Late Show’ with Jon Batiste The musical director and former point guard on why it’s important to keep score

On a recent Wednesday afternoon, Jon Batiste reached over to the Crosley record player in his dressing room at the Ed Sullivan Theater. He lifted the needle so that Stevie Wonder’s In Square Circle could provide a little background music while he talked in the dim glow of what once was Carol Burnett’s dressing room. Old-fashioned showbiz lights still frame the vanity’s mirror, although the vanity itself is covered with books, hats, records and a speaker. A couple of paintings lean against the mirror.

The musical director of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert was quiet and relaxed, possibly the most subdued he’d been all day.

Batiste, 31, rarely stays still, which is the only way a person can hold down his Late Show gig while also acting as artistic director at the National Jazz Museum of Harlem, recording new music, promoting a Christmas album, reimagining “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” collaborating with Wynton Marsalis, writing op-eds for The New York Times and constructing a tribute to dancer Carmen de Lavallade for the 2017 Kennedy Center Honors. Batiste is arguably the country’s most visible preservationist and celebrator of jazz. He and Stay Human, The Late Show’s house band, reach roughly 3 million people each night through their televisions.

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Jon Batiste’s fingers glide across the keys of a Steinway & Sons piano in the Stay Human rehearsal space ahead of a live taping at The Ed Sullivan Theater in New York City.

Melissa Bunni Elian for The Undefeated

The Late Show has recently vaulted to the top of the late-night ratings on the wings of host Stephen Colbert. Monday through Friday he provides a wry yet sunny accounting of how the world is descending into a morass of fear, uncertainty and, lately, how it’s being pushed there by famous men who can’t keep their hands to themselves. Batiste sets off the monologues with a tinkle of piano keys, a laugh or a quip. He’s the amen corner for Colbert’s sharpest jabs.

On the gray, overcast day after a terrorist plowed into a bike path in New York, killing eight people, Batiste strode into his eighth-floor office. When he crossed the threshold to find a stranger waiting for him, he held out his hand and let out one of his trademark “Yeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaahs.”

His buoyant, irrepressible happiness might seem inappropriate for the day after a tragedy, even for a man who comes from the land where people give you a parade when you die. (He grew up in Kenner, Louisiana, about 20 minutes from New Orleans, before moving to New York as a teen to attend The Juilliard School.) Nevertheless, he was humming, scatting and upbeat. Batiste considers transmitting that energy to be part of his job.

“It’s an interesting line to thread, to find a joyous sound that also matches the tone of the material in the show,” Batiste said. “That’s the real challenge every day, is finding out, OK, how do we find that thing that’s gonna push the energy that we want forward but not come across as insensitive or not come across as kitsch or out of taste? And that’s what I enjoy. I love these artistic challenges.”

He’d been listening to The Commodores on the way to work, and he sat down on the small gray couch in his office, barely able to contain his humming until I joined him in the chorus of “Lady (You Bring Me Up).”

Admittedly, it’s hard not to bop your head once you hear the lively strings and driving beat of “Lady.” The Commodores are part of a playlist that Batiste made for 2017. At the beginning of every year, he compiles a mix of songs, a sort of aural lookbook for the next 365 days. This year’s mishmash included contemporary Bob Dylan, 1920s and ’30s Louis Armstrong, Peggy Lee and Michael Jackson’s Dangerous album.

The yearly mix provides a thematic foundation for what Batiste wants to reference in the show. About a week after we spoke, Batiste and Stay Human played an arrangement of “Lady” during a Late Show commercial break. It’s evidence of the thoughtfulness that defines his tenure as Late Show bandleader.

“I like putting stuff into the machine and then seeing what comes out of the machine. The brain, that’s like our processing machine,” Batiste said. “So for me, I like to just make a list of all the stuff that I want to digest and assimilate and then I just live with it.”


Batiste has had years of experience putting music into his “processing machine.” He began playing with his father, Michael, in the family’s Batiste Brothers Band when he was about 6 or 7.

The Batistes are one of New Orleans’ most respected and legendary jazz clans, and they’ve often worked side by side with the Marsalis family. Both Batiste and his mentor, Wynton Marsalis, attended high school at New Orleans Center for Creative Arts. Wynton’s father, pianist Ellis Marsalis Jr., headed the jazz department there and was succeeded by clarinetist Alvin Batiste, a distant cousin of Jon’s.

“Him and Alvin and Clyde Kerr and Kidd Jordan, they were like the four village elders who taught everybody in New Orleans music from the last 40 years,” Batiste said. His upbringing in a family of jazz musicians and his experiences playing point guard, both in school (where he was part of a state championship-winning squad) and for an AAU team, gave Batiste his energy, his musical acumen and his constant all-American drive for self-improvement.

Jon Batiste is an avid dresser, usually opting for suits with bold colors or prints paired with custom made sneakers.

Melissa Bunni Elian for ESPN

“It’s a discipline to achieve whatever your desired end result is,” Batiste explained. “In sports, there’s a score. There’s statistics, and there’s a winner and a loser and a championship, and there is one team that gets it. It’s just very clear-cut.

“I think, in order to get better at being a musician and a bandleader and a composer and all these different things, you have to create things that are that clear-cut, because the competition that you’re up against is yourself. So it’s harder, if you’re not willing to look into the mirror, to define what the end result is. It’s very easy to get to a certain level and to just coast, and to not push yourself to be better, because nobody is really keeping score.”

That constant pushing isn’t just what Batiste expects of himself. He expects it of his bandmates in Stay Human too.

It’s important to get “the team to where’s there’s a built-in camaraderie and built-in sense of purpose, that you’re OK passing your guy the ball to take the shot when it counts in the fourth quarter,” Batiste said, again likening the job to running a basketball team. “It’s not always going to be you that gets to take that shot. You may have to trust your sixth man, or your 2 guard. You’re running point, and I played a lot of point. You’re going to have to trust … I’m not going to be able to take this shot. This is not a smart shot for me to take.”


Batiste comes to work after lunch — this time, he raved about the meatball sandwich at a spot on 53rd Street and Ninth Avenue — usually taking a car from his apartment in midtown Manhattan. His office is filled with sunlight, although the view is basically of a construction crane, thanks to New York’s never-ending real estate development. He’s got two keyboards, a Mac, an amp, a drum set, an electric bass and a Mason & Hamlin baby grand piano. An unopened bottle of Dom Pérignon still in the box, sits on his windowsill — he doesn’t drink.

He catches up on the news and tries to get an idea of what the show will address. Because Colbert riffs on the day’s news for his nightly monologue, things at The Late Show are often in flux right up until it’s time to tape the show. That means Batiste finds himself flipping through the musical library in his head on deadline and making last-minute changes at sound check.

“Picking music for TV is so specific,” Batiste said. “It has a mystery to it until you pick that right song, play that right beat, and then it’s like, ‘Oh, of course I should have been doing that.’ So it’s a mystery until then. You gotta crack the code.”

The code-cracking continues in the Stay Human rehearsal space, which is about the size of a McMansion bathroom.

Jon Batiste, left, reacts to the music while practicing new material with his band, Stay Human, a few hours ahead of a live taping at The Ed Sullivan Theater in New York City.

Melissa Bunni Elian for The Undefeated

The Late Show tapes four days a week. So Monday through Thursday, 10-plus people cram into the space with their instruments, including a tuba and a drum set, and jam.

Batiste’s assistant squeezes into a chair next to the upright Steinway and plays a song from her phone through the Marshall speaker that sits on the piano. Gradually, the band picks up the groove and joins in. There’s little to no sheet music.

Batiste and the band rehearse for roughly an hour, their choices guided by that night’s guests and notes from a morning production meeting that his assistant attends. Then he’s off to comedy rehearsal with Colbert, where the two go through Colbert’s proposed monologue. A small gathering of crew makes up the audience for the rehearsal, which was kept so off-limits that not only could I not watch, I couldn’t even be in the building while it was taking place.

All those little riffs and interjections that feel natural and spontaneous when you watch Colbert’s monologue? They’ve been rehearsed.

After comedy rehearsal, Colbert and his staff make script changes and Batiste refines his music selections. Then there’s a sound check on the stage with the whole band. This time, Batiste was working through a song with Jonathan Groff, who played King George in Hamilton and now stars on the Netflix series Mindhunter. The two fumbled around to find the right key for a jokey promotional duet for Mindhunter that Groff sang with Colbert.

While everyone ventured off to hair and makeup, Late Show staff members shepherded the night’s audience into their seats. They were treated to a bawdy warm-up act by comedian Paul Mecurio. Batiste and Stay Human played a 15-minute concert, and Colbert came out, introduced himself to the audience and took questions.

Finally, they make the television that shows up after the local news five nights a week.


Duke Ellington favored natty suits and a top hat. Cab Calloway rarely performed without his conductor’s baton, white waistcoat and tails.

While Colbert sticks to a uniform of sober suits and dress shoes, his bandleader favors blazers from Mr. Turk and fresh Jordans. Batiste is a consummate sneakerhead, and while he sat and talked on his sofa, he casually dribbled a basketball between his feet.

Now Batiste has access to an entire collection of covetous footwear, an actual binder full of sneakers, via The Late Show’s stylist. He’s an admirer of Russell Westbrook’s sartorial boundary-pushing, and though his loyalties are not wedded to one particular NBA team, he casually follows Oklahoma City.

Unlike Calloway, Batiste doesn’t come out in a zoot suit every night. But there’s a special element of showmanship involved in being a bandleader. It’s a skill, one that Batiste, who swears he used to be shy, had to learn. And his personal style, which he began to cultivate after moving to New York, is part of it. Presentation, he insists, is separate from being a skillful musician.

Jon Batiste is an avid dresser, usually opting for suits with bold colors or prints paired with custom made sneakers.

Melissa Bunni Elian for The Undefeated

“I think it really is important to think of them as different things,” Batiste said. “It requires a certain understanding of yourself and your comfort zone, and then stepping outside that and expanding your comfort zone. I actually didn’t see a connection with the two. Also, when I was growing up, it was more the older family members who took that role of presenting the band and everything like that. … That’s always a shock to people who I’ve known for a long time, to see how both those things have developed. It’s a surprise, almost, like a different person has emerged.”


Batiste interprets the world through the youthful ears of a wizened soul. His workspaces at The Late Show are a cornucopia of old and new. Crosley and Marshall are companies that specialize in making music equipment that draws on vintage aesthetics but benefits from modern technological innovation. It’s a theme that recurs throughout Batiste’s working life — he began playing for vocalist Cassandra Wilson, now 61, when he was just 22. He’s a jazz musician whose instrument of choice is the melodica, a contraption that looks like a small hand keyboard with a mouthpiece and sounds like a harmonica.

“A lot of people think that this instrument, you know, is like a child’s toy,” Batiste said, but he loves it. He recounted how he showed it to Stevie Wonder the first time they met, when Batiste was still a student at Juilliard.

“Man, you ever played one of these?” Batiste asked Wonder.

Wonder took the instrument, played it, then gave it back.

“Yeah, I used to play them, but I would get so much spit in them, I stopped,” Wonder told him.

“Oh, you got jokes!” was Batiste’s retort.

Unlike many of his earliest predecessors in jazz, Batiste boasts formal musical training besides everything he learned in his family’s band. He earned a master’s degree from Juilliard.

“I feel like it connects me to the ancestors more, the kind of founding fathers of the music,” Batiste said of his musical education. “Mothers and fathers, because women were a big part of it as well. There’s a lot of female artists that I think are still actually becoming recognized that we don’t even know about. The training just gives me another tool. Nothing can hurt you in pursuit of knowledge, the pursuit of your craft.

“You know, there were great musicians who were the most erudite, studied, and they knew everything there was to know even before there were all these schools. And there were also musicians who didn’t know all that stuff, but they knew it in their own way. So, in my mind, I don’t even think about it like I’m educated more so than a musician who didn’t go to a conservatory. It’s just I know the terminology. But the person who knows it is the one who experiences it. So, if somebody is playing it on their instrument, they know it. … Whether they call it a C scale or dominant seventh chord or they just know it by whatever they know in their mind, when they play, it’s there.”

In Batiste’s office there’s a poster of Mavis Staples, one of his many heroes.

“She’s not just a musician now, she’s bigger than music,” Batiste said. “[Her involvement] in the civil rights movement and being a force for goodwill and a force of peace and a force for faith and a force in all kinds of ways. It’s amazing.”

Staples represents what he wants to achieve, Batiste said, “just what kind of energy I want to have as a performer and a celebrity. Somebody that’s authentic and is very real and also accomplished and all that, at the same time.”

In marrying youth with tradition, drawing a line from zoot suits to Jordans, Batiste has become a vehicle for advocating and communicating about jazz. He’s reverential, but not stuffy, and always repping New Orleans. (When it comes to gumbo, Batiste prefers filé to okra as a thickener for the city’s signature stew — that’s how his mama makes it.)

For decades, there’s been a panic that jazz, born in Louisiana and spread via the Great Migration, radio and vinyl, is dying. As once-booming jazz corridors in cities such as Washington, D.C., and Kansas City have shrunk or transformed, those changes are accompanied by understandable worries that no one’s interested in carrying on the genre’s traditions, that a uniquely American art form is going underappreciated outside of Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center and rich people’s wedding receptions. Damien Chazelle won an Academy Award for directing a movie around that theme.

But there’s always a young, handsome, passionate and charismatic ambassador keeping the legacies of Bird and Miles and Satchmo alive. In the ’90s, it was Batiste’s mentor, Wynton Marsalis. Now Batiste has picked up the torch, along with the requisite fedora and porkpie hat — he’s got a stack of them in his dressing room and more in his office. As for the next generation? Well, Batiste turned 31 in November. He celebrated by traveling to see his 8-year-old nephew’s piano recital. The culture is in safe hands.

No matter if it’s a rehearsal or an actual performance, Batiste and his band member play full out, laughing and having fun with each note they play.

Melissa Bunni Elian for The Undefeated

“I don’t expect that jazz is always going to be on top like it was in the ’20s, for example,” said jazz pianist and bandleader Herbie Hancock. “The music is always evolving and constantly changing, and it’s very difficult for a lot of listeners to keep up with that.”

But he’s optimistic about Batiste’s work on The Late Show. “That experience is incredible because you’re challenged in a lot of new ways, doing that type of TV show,” Hancock said. “Because of the kind of talent he has and his experience in jazz, he’s able to more easily adapt and include new ways of dealing with the music for that kind of show than if he had not had it.”


As darkness began to settle over Manhattan, it was time for a show.

Batiste sprinted onstage to greet the show’s live audience. Joined by Stay Human, they pumped up the crowd with James Brown’s “Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved” and an arrangement of Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” modeled after Tito Puente’s salsa-fied version.

One of Colbert’s guests was writer and Aspen Institute president Walter Isaacson, who was there to promote his new biography of Leonardo da Vinci. To introduce Isaacson, the band played an up-tempo rendition of “Oh! Didn’t He Ramble,” a New Orleans ditty from 1902 later popularized by Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong.

“I grew up with his whole family,” Isaacson explained to Colbert. “The wonderful Batiste family of New Orleans.” Isaacson gestured toward Batiste. “He’s a great man.”

When the interview concluded, Isaacson walked over for a hug, thrilled that Batiste had chosen to pay musical homage to their shared roots.

Later, Colbert said goodbye and the band exited. While the audience made its way to the lobby, stopping for pictures with cardboard cutouts of Colbert, Batiste huddled with the host for a post-mortem of the night’s show.

The process of assembling and putting out a newspaper used to be known as the Daily Miracle. Making late-night television involves many of the same pressures related to accuracy, tone and intellect. On top of that, it’s got to be funny, and it’s done in front of a live audience.

No wonder The Late Show tapes smack in the middle of Broadway. With Colbert and Batiste at the helm, it’s clear that’s exactly where it belongs.

Daily Dose: 10/25/17 Robert Guillaume and Fats Domino die at age 89

What up, gang? Hope your week is going well. I was lucky enough to see Benjamin Booker at an NPR Tiny Desk Concert on Tuesday, so I’m quite happy about that. There will be more TV for me later in the week. Stay tuned!

We’ve lost two special ones. First and foremost is Robert Guillaume, the incredible actor whom you likely remember from Benson but may know from Soap if you’re older. Or, if you’re like me, you remember him from his iconic performance in Lean on Me. He was also the first black man to play The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway, in case you weren’t aware. He was 89. Secondly, there’s Fats Domino, who was a legend in his time, in the world of early blues, rhythm and blues and, of course, rock ‘n’ roll. He was 89 as well. Which sorta trips me out.

It looks like North Korea is officially ready for some action. After various threats from President Donald Trump went unanswered, now the rogue nation claims that everything they’ve said, they mean. Which is to say that they just might decide to test a nuclear weapon above ground, which is clearly a very catastrophically bad idea on a few levels. No. 1, escalating the use of nukes is a terrifying prospect, and secondly, who knows what that could trigger, reactionwise, from other nations across the globe.

For my money, Speed will always be a great movie. Mainly because I was a kid when it came out, and the ridiculous premise and even more madcap action are forever etched into my brain as what an exciting movie is supposed to look like. Starring Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock, it managed to gross $300 million, which is about $200M more than I would have guessed, at minimum. There was a sequel, but that didn’t do much. But, the people want to know. Does this flick actually hold up? The answer might surprise you.

Lonzo Ball is basically the story of the NBA. Everywhere he goes, opponents are bringing their loudest woof tickets because that’s exactly what his father, LaVar Ball, does. To be clear, this is all completely ridiculous. LaVar is just a dad supporting his son, but half these dudes in the league are so irked by him that they’re taking it out on Lonzo, which, while expected, is still stupid. Now, the Washington Wizards’ Marcin Gortat is tweeting at the Lakers star, and the Los Angeles team is not taking too kindly to it. Grow up, everyone.

Free Food

Coffee Break: Combat Jack is one of the most important people we have in our culture. His hip-hop podcast has been a stalwart in the community, and his role as host and creator is unparalleled. He revealed this week that he’s been diagnosed with colon cancer, and we’re all praying for him.

Snack Time: If you weren’t paying attention, the Los Angeles Dodgers left Curtis Granderson off their World Series roster. Probably a smart move, but it also likely means that he’s played his last game in the major leagues.

Dessert: OK, David Stern, we see you. Still not automatically invited to the cookout, just yet.

Daily Dose: 10/11/17 Eminem takes a major swipe at President Trump

I went to the White House on Tuesday, and thankfully, nothing went awry. In all seriousness, the Pittsburgh Penguins were there meeting President Donald Trump, and it was pretty procedural. Here’s my story. Oh, and this.

Harvey Weinstein’s gross predatory behavior has officially rocked Hollywood. The sordid tales of the big-time movie mogul’s pattern of sexual harassment, assault and intimidation have turned up an entire slew of accusations. In addition, it’s forced a light on what is effectively a standard practice in the movie business, an obvious problem with toxic masculinity overall. Now, actor Terry Crews has gone public with a story about a time he was sexually assaulted at a party. He didn’t report it either.

The Boy Scouts of America will now be allowing girls. Of course, to the basic mind, this sounds complicated. We have Girl Scouts, so what exactly is the purpose of this? Well, the two things are not the same as far as programs go, meaning there are things you can do in one and not the other, and the Scouts decided it was time to be more inclusive. The new setup will also feature a program for older girls. This is a progressive move, but I’m not sure how much it changes the face of the organization in practice.

Eminem came back in a huge way last night. The BET Hip-Hop Awards aired last night, and there was one headline that overshadowed everything. In the “Cyphers” portion of the show — which, by the way, is this event’s main contribution to the culture overall, forget the awards — Slim Shady dropped a beatless tome in which he basically went all the way after Trump and his supporters. Keith Olbermann was so impressed that he apparently likes the whole genre of rap now. It was pretty vicious, though.

Now that the NFL has made clear how it feels about kneeling, others are emboldened. What started as a form of protest against police brutality by Colin Kaepernick has now been flipped and completely upended by the league. Presumably, at levels other than professional football, we will continue to see these demonstrations, where the stakes aren’t quite as high. At Division III Albright College, however, a player took a knee during the national anthem and was cut from the team. What a mess.

Free Food

Coffee Break: Odell Beckham Jr.’s emotional and injury histories are well-documented in the NFL, and when he had such a tough go of things on Sunday, it looked like he would be done for the season. That, of course, is really tough to deal with. But that’s what friends are for. Friends like Drake.

Snack Time: Remember that police officer in Utah who tried to force a nurse to blood test an unconscious man, then assaulted and arrested her? He’s been fired.

Dessert: Yooo, is Broadway Joe woke? Might have to go ahead and invite him to the old folks’ home cookout.

Kennedy Center is bringing hip-hop center stage and Simone Eccleston is making it happen A full season at the nation’s premier performing arts venue signals the art form is adulting

Four decades after its birth in the Bronx, New York, hip-hop has moved into the era of adulting. Among the many markers of maturity, one of the most significant happens today when the nation’s premier home for the performing arts announces its first full season of hip-hop programming.

The performance season at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., was curated by A Tribe Called Quest co-founder Q-Tip along with the center’s first director of hip-hop programming, Simone Eccleston.

And while this moment says something important about the evolution of a still-young art form, it also marks a necessary evolution in the tradition-bound world of high art. After years of lower-profile partnerships with hip-hop festivals and free performances in its lobby, the Kennedy Center is moving hip-hop out of the programming D-League to join theater, opera, jazz, dance and classical music as featured art forms.

The season will open Oct. 6 with a performance featuring Q-Tip and Jason Moran, the Kennedy Center’s artistic director for jazz, and closes in spring 2018 with a multimedia performance of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ 2015 book-length letter to his son, Between the World and Me.

Besides the big-name acts to open and close the season, the schedule is light on live performances, relying heavily on curated dance parties. The center is also re-upping its longstanding partnerships with hip-hop advocacy organizations Hi-ARTS and the D.C.-based Words Beats & Life. The programming, which isn’t limited to music, includes a staging of Chinaka Hodge’s Chasing Mehserle, a performance piece about Oakland, California, and gentrification.

The Kennedy Center will host a 35th anniversary screening of Charlie Ahearn’s Wild Style, a documentary about the early days of hip-hop, followed by a panel discussion including Fab 5 Freddy, Grandmaster Caz and Busy Bee.

The commitment of full-time staff and space to hip-hop sets the Kennedy Center apart from other marquee arts institutions such as Carnegie Hall or Lincoln Center while expanding the definition of American culture. Like jazz and the blues — and even the iPod one might play them on — hip-hop is a uniquely American invention, a beacon of coolness that shines brightly around the globe.

“As the nation’s cultural center, that’s a heavy-duty title that we hold,” said Kennedy Center president Deborah Rutter. “It’s important that we have all of the nation represented here. And candidly, we still have a long ways to go. … Hip-hop is a 40-plus-year-old art form. It ain’t going away. It isn’t a fad. This is an art form that continues to develop and grow and have impact, and it is broadly seen throughout several generations as the voice of their generation, and how could we not have it fully here at the center? The sophistication of the work that’s being done has to be brought here.”

The hiring of Eccleston, 37, and the announcement of the new season are only the latest in a series of events that suggest hip-hop is thriving even as it starts to get gray around the temples. That maturation isn’t just an accounting of raw years of existence, but also the emotional growth in the genre’s most high-profile acts. Certainly, earlier hip-hop featured adult, introspective voices such as A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Little Brother, Consequence and Talib Kweli. But witness the confessional nature of Jay-Z’s 4:44 or Dr. Dre confronting his past sins as a woman beater in the HBO documentary The Defiant Ones.

Simone Eccelston

André Chung for The Undefeated

Hip-hop is now old enough to inspire nostalgia and reflection. In the past few years, there have been the retrospective gazes of The Get Down and The Breaks, and Jigga’s induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame — heralded by consummate Jay-Z fan President Barack Obama. And don’t forget about Snoop Dogg pooh-poohing misogyny, releasing an album one critic called “the audio version of linen pants and fish fries,” and co-hosting an Emmy-nominated reality show with an ex-con 30 years his senior, Martha Stewart. Even Atlanta trap god Gucci Mane seems like a new man after exiting federal prison last year. Rather than touting his time as a signifier of masculinity, Gucci was candid about just how unpleasant the experience was.

It was only roughly 20 years ago that Eccleston was hopping on the D train from the Kingsbridge stop of her childhood home in the Bronx to go to her first rap concert at Madison Square Garden. Now, her task of making hip-hop a fixture at the Kennedy Center seems obvious, if not overdue.

Wait. Wasn’t this already a thing?

When the Kennedy Center announced in 2016 that it had netted Q-Tip as its artistic director of hip-hop culture, the move was part of a trajectory that had been in the works for years. Moran had been lobbying Rutter for more hip-hop programming. So had former White House social secretary Deesha Dyer, who had covered the scene in Philadelphia as a freelance journalist.

“[Dyer] and Jason really pushed me over the edge to say, ‘OK, we should do this more than just one-offs and really make it something,’ ” said Rutter, whose background is in classical music. “We have programs for young artists rising, and then we were doing these big names … but how do we really have that bigger impact? We were going to need somebody to curate it all. And that’s where having an artist and then an administrator [came in], because you can’t really have an artist who’s not supported by an administrator.”

Q-Tip offers name recognition and communicates something about the center’s intentions tastewise. Eccleston, on the other hand, is an experienced arts administrator well versed in the nitty-gritty duties needed to realize an artist’s vision. Before traveling south to Washington, she spent more than 11 years at Harlem Stage, finishing as its program director.

Previously known as Aaron Davis Hall, Harlem Stage is known for promoting artists of color. Eccleston was a natural fit for its hip-hop ambitions: a product of the borough whose Latino and black musical influences melded to birth the genre in the first place, she completed graduate studies in arts administration at Drexel University and studied curatorial practice in performance at Wesleyan University. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in African-American studies from the University of Pennsylvania. Eccleston’s first job was at Artistas y Músicos Latino Americanos, a nonprofit in North Philadelphia.

Rutter and Harlem Stage executive director Patricia Cruz say Eccleston possesses a valuable skill set: She’s got a good ear for finding new talent, she’s passionate about nurturing relationships with artists, and she’s got a knack for developing community outreach and education programs.

While at Harlem Stage, Eccleston took responsibility for an initiative to connect New York City students with playwrights, choreographers, musicians and dancers from around the world. Also, Cruz said, “She developed programs that were scholarly, that really communicated to an audience what this artist’s intent was, what their philosophical approach to what they were doing was, so that audiences could understand this was not just performative.

Simone Eccleston

André Chung for The Undefeated

“We’re not just putting people on the stage and saying, ‘Here. Enjoy them.’ It’s not entertainment, in that regard. It’s about the ideas the artist is representing. … For us, if art is to have a meaning for people in their lives, I think it is critical to have a context and talk about the history.”

Q-Tip may be the initial draw, but if you want to see your favorite act on stage at the Kennedy Center (cough OutKast cough), Eccleston’s the person you want to lobby.

Let’s talk about sex music!

Perhaps surprisingly given her age, Eccleston is not an evangelist for ’90s hip-hop. Sure, she grew up loving De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Kwamé, Queen Latifah, MC Lyte and Lauryn Hill. She watched WNYC-TV’s Video Music Box and remembers dancing in the street when someone would start playing their radio in Kingsbridge.

But she’s not stuck in the decade.

“We’re always like, ‘It’s the golden age, it’s the golden age,’ ” Eccleston said. “I think that that doesn’t allow for the music and the artists to evolve. I think it’s about creating space for the next generation of artists. Who knew Kendrick [Lamar] was coming? When you think about the fact that [’90s artists] created space for alternate views of black masculinity, just the joy in music, just the intellect. It’s like being brilliant and comfortable with that. Not having to necessarily play to specific ideals of what masculinity looked like, what it meant to be black at a specific point in time.

“I think that they created space for us to be complex, diverse and really tell our stories. They were able to create these pathways within that generation of artists. I think that it’s interesting to see people that kind of take on the mantle and continue to move it forward.”

When it comes to revealing her musical tastes, Eccleston is a skilled politician. Asked to choose between Biggie or Tupac, the native New Yorker initially named Biggie. But there was an addendum: “You know what? Tupac was also very brilliant,” she said. “Just from an activist standpoint, in terms of being a woke MC.”

Eccleston has the potential to be an inspired choice as an administrator for a genre that has a complicated relationship with black women. While she straddled the East Coast/West Coast divide, for instance, she was fully comfortable sharing her thoughts about Kendrick Lamar’s lyrical endorsement of stretch marks on “Humble.”

“I was like, ‘Go ahead, Kendrick!’ ” Eccleston said, grinning.

Simone Eccleston

André Chung for The Undefeated

“I think that there are certain images, certain artists, that are celebrated who may have had some augmentation. That is seen as beauty, or as beautiful. Then young women that may look up to the artist, or the ideals that are being portrayed in music videos, they then think that they have to alter who they are in order to be considered beautiful or attractive. We need to interrogate that, which is why it was great that Kendrick celebrated stretch marks.”

While hip-hop isn’t the only genre that features misogynistic themes and lyrics, it is the one that often gets publicly dinged for it. Eccleston, like many of her feminist friends who are also hip-hop fans, has experienced times where she felt that a particular artist or song just wasn’t for her.

“I think it’s important for us to maintain healthy critique,” Eccleston said. “I think that it’s also important for us, as we’re looking at the songs that we may want to challenge, or the artists that we may want to encourage to dig a little deeper, to look at all of the other work that’s being done that either celebrates us or provides a multidimensional portrayal of who we are.

“It’s delicate because you have to provide space for an artist to be an artist, you can’t censor them. … It’s just real complex because we all have our hopes for something that we’ve seen ourselves reflected in, something that provides us with a sense of space. I think we’ve all got to continue to complicate it and disrupt it.”

Eccleston now has the power to further that disruption. With the Kennedy Center’s resources, she can expose audiences to lesser-known female emcees such as Brooklyn, New York, rapper Jean Grae and Snow Hill, North Carolina, artist Rapsody. She wants to bring more female graffiti artists and beat girls into the fold.

“There’s a whole generation of hip-hop … culture producers that are impacting literature and theater and scholarship, and it’s getting pressed into that. I think that one of our roles as an institution is to create space for the celebration of all of those things so people understand the depth, the breadth, the complexity of the culture,” Eccleston said. “I think it’s important for people to know hip-hop culture isn’t just one thing.”

What now?

One of the most significant challenges Eccleston faces will be making the Kennedy Center feel accessible to everyone.

While it’s a national institution, it’s situated in a city that for decades was majority black and is still majority minority. Eccleston is adamant about wanting the community to feel a sense of ownership and investment in the center, rather than seeing it as a stodgy, predominantly white institution finally granting validation to a still relatively young art form.

While existing partnerships, such as those with Hi-ARTS and Words Beats & Life, the D.C. nonprofit dedicated to advancing hip-hop culture, provide a foundation, the Kennedy Center faces hurdles that predate Eccleston in attracting eventgoers who are economically as well as racially diverse. The most obvious hurdle may be geography. The Kennedy Center is situated in D.C.’s Foggy Bottom/West End, a neighborhood that’s home to George Washington University, where tuition and fees run nearly $70,000 per year. Its immediate neighbor is the Watergate complex.

Of course, black people frequent the Kennedy Center. They show up for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s yearly appearance. They line up to see Brandy play Roxie Hart in Chicago, to hear George Benson, to witness the brilliant athleticism of Misty Copeland. And it has no problem selling out concerts like the ones Nas and Lamar did with the National Symphony Orchestra.

But the center is still figuring out how to extend the same sort of welcome to audiences with fewer resources, and that’s where the inclusion of free dance parties, open to the public, appear to come into play.

Simone Eccleston

André Chung for The Undefeated

These concerns aren’t exclusive to the Kennedy Center. They bubble up every time hip-hop veers into spaces such as Broadway that are traditionally coded as white. Class and accessibility were a big part of conversations surrounding Hamilton, so much so that its practice of making tickets available to those who couldn’t necessarily afford its astronomical market rate prices has become central to the show as it’s expanded into multiple cities. That includes the upcoming production of Hamilton coming to the Kennedy Center. (Hamilton, while heavily influenced by hip-hop, is still under the Kennedy Center’s theater programming slate.)

“Part of the goal in terms of instituting hip-hop as an integral part of our institution’s work is about creating space for the community to engage in the work that we’re doing,” Eccleston said. “To see themselves and their culture reflected. Right? That’s how I got into the arts, understanding the significance of it. As many opportunities as we can create for people to know that this space is theirs and open to them. A place that they can call home. I think that that is important.”

While there’s a moral argument for expanding hip-hop into a dedicated programming season at the Kennedy Center, there’s a financial one as well, especially when you consider the graying fan base for opera and classical music. The Kennedy Center relies on funding from corporate sponsors, philanthropists and paid memberships that unlock access to ticket presales and opportunities to hobnob with talent. If additional hip-hop programming results in more memberships from rap fans with money to drop, that’s all the better for hip-hop and the Kennedy Center. So far, it appears Q-Tip and Eccleston will have to figure out how to find a balance between buzz and revenue. While names such as Fab 5 Freddy and Kurtis Blow may draw older, more financially established attendees, a healthy dose of current voices is necessary too. Yes, hip-hop is famous for its backward-facing references and samples, but it’s always charging forward to new musical territory, thriving on the spirit of reinvention.

Still, if this experiment goes well, who knows? We might one day see the same programming in the ritzy fine arts institutions of New York — you know, the birthplace of hip-hop.

‘Being Mary Jane’ star Richard Brooks is taking on more and starring in new show ‘The Rich and the Ruthless’ The ‘Law & Order’ vet is going beyond acting to writing, producing and directing

Actor and singer Richard Brooks can read over a legal document and break it right on down. He’s not a lawyer, but he played one on television as Assistant District Attorney Paul Robinette in the first three seasons (1990-93) of NBC’s hit drama Law & Order. And the research that went into preparing for the part gives him some expertise on the matter.

“Sometimes, I think of myself as a jailhouse lawyer now because I help people with their legal issues,” Brooks said as he chuckled. “It makes no sense. I’d read the contract, and people are like, ‘You read my contract?’ ‘Yes, I read the full contract.’ ”

Now, Brooks is in the fourth season of the hit show Being Mary Jane on BET and is a co-star in Victoria Rowell’s new dramedy The Rich and the Ruthless, which premieres July 28 on the Urban Movie Channel.

Alongside Gabrielle Union, Richard Roundtree, Margaret Avery and now Michael Ealy, Brooks plays Patrick Patterson, the older brother of Mary Jane (Union). Patrick is a recovering addict trying to get his life back on the right track while raising a young daughter and advising his older children, who now have children of their own. He plays a grandfather on the show who faces adversity of his own, but he is still helping the Patterson family through their separate personal issues.

In the fictional show The Rich and the Ruthless, Brooks plays self-made businessman and showrunner Augustus Barringer. After finding out his show, the first black soap opera on a big Hollywood network, has been booted, he decides to fight for his rightful place in Hollywood. He does what he has to do to keep the show going and moves the company to Jamaica, but his unpredictable wife, Kitty Barringer (Rowell), is not too happy about these changes.

Brooks said he met Rowell on the set of Diagnosis: Murder in 1994.

“I came in for a special guest star on that, and in the show we were paired off together, we had to break the case together,” Brooks said of his character on the nighttime drama. “I was a former heavyweight boxer who, I believe, was being swindled or something by my promoter, and she’s helping me break the case. We really had a great time just being together. There’s a little romantic spark in the police character. We’ve just been friends ever since then, looking for an opportunity to work together again.”

Brooks founded his own production company, Flat Top Entertainment, through which he released his first solo rhythm and blues album, Smooth Love. In 2013, he appeared on the public TV series The Abolitionists as Frederick Douglass. He spoke to The Undefeated about The Rich and the Ruthless, Being Mary Jane and his journey.


How do you feel that you’re entertaining us on one of the hottest TV shows right now, Being Mary Jane?

I love it. I feel like we helped start the whole trend of there being a lot of black dramas and shows like this, like Empire and Power. It’s great to still be pumping out great episodes and great drama, bringing that to BET. The character I play I really love, because he’s a fully dimensional black man. I feel like I get to portray the struggles I think that a lot of black men are going through, and we’re trying to rebound and rebuild our lives, and have a second chance to be the kind of men that we want to be. It’s a great production, great quality writing and acting, so I just love it. It’s really a joy.

Is it weird playing a grandfather?

I guess not really. I feel like I’m a young grandfather. I guess it’s amazing. I think that throughout my career, I’ve managed to sometimes snag these roles, like it’s just laying there or whatever, where I have a full family dynamic. What’s really challenging and satisfying about the part especially is that I’m a grandfather, I’m a father, I’m a son, I’m a brother, you know? I have to play the dynamics of all of those relationships and those roles all at the same time. It’s just great to have a show where my parents are there, too, and I’m still dealing with my parents. My son also. And then try to be a good father, and I have grandkids who I’m trying to be a good grandfather to, and so it is kind of crazy. It’s crazy to get to that part of your life where that is your possibility because that’s who you are. Your kids can have kids, you know? I don’t think we get to see that that much in characters on television or on the movies who actually have that whole world, that whole experience, happening for them. It’s like I’m the emotional center of the show. I get so emotional, so fragile. It’s funny.

What inspires you to keep pouring into our lives through your craft?

It’s funny because I look back and then I realize I’ve been doing this since I was 10 or 11, when I first saw a school play, I think, in sixth grade, and I think they were doing Hansel and Gretel. I found myself going, ‘Why am I not Hansel?’ I was sitting in the audience, and then I started trying to plot my way into the drama department of my junior high school and found a way into a summer job program. They had a student program at the time. The kids were out there picking up garbage and helping do construction stuff and all that.

I was making money being paid actually to act, as a kid. It’s funny now to just look back and realize this was all I’ve done, all I’ve had to do pretty much my whole life, is to be an actor, and I’ve always wanted to be a great actor and really represent men, and black men. My mother always put it upon me to try to teach black men how to be men, or something like that. So that inspires me, and I am just so happy to have roles that may illuminate something about what we go through as men out here.

What’s been the most meaningful role you’ve ever played?

Well, I like to think of my current role, of course, as Patrick, and now Augustus Barringer on The Rich and the Ruthless, and all the roles that are to come. Of course, Law & Order in Paul Robinette had a more transformative role for me because I had to really grow as a man, as an intellect, as a scholar. I had to become more versed in current affairs, and law, and politics and things like that. Before then, I had been pretty much just an artist kind of mentality and just wanting to act, and that role forced me to learn contracts and laws, and my research for it actually influenced me as a person a lot, so that one was probably the biggest stretch at the time. To grow into that role, I think, has helped me with the rest of my career to take on more challenging parts and things like that.

But I have a theater background. I think that had a big effect on me, too, the work of August Wilson.

If you weren’t an actor and an artist, what do you think you’d be doing?

When I started going to a prep school I was acting, and I went right to another grad school, Circle in the Square. But my mom had wanted to get me a full scholarship to medical school actually in Cleveland. She spoke with someone, and he was like, ‘Wow, this is great. We really need black men as doctors. We could give him a full ride, eight years.’ He’d pay for it, you know? But I was committed to acting, and also, I never really liked dissecting. I didn’t like biology. I didn’t really like dissecting frogs and things like that.

I think that law would have probably been one that I were to find myself more practically thinking of. There’s a certain amount of performance to it, and there’s the intellect. I do like legalese and the complexities of law and stuff.

What’s been the hardest part of your journey?

Probably just surviving the process of the ups and downs of the industry, and dealing with the other people’s expectations, whether they are ahead of me or behind me. You start off and no one really believes you could do anything, they think it’s impossible, and so you have a lot of doubt. Then, as soon as you start to do something, then people are ahead of you, and then they might be like, ‘Well, how come you’re not a major superstar already? How come that movie didn’t … ‘ So it’s always good, just sort of gauging it and trying to keep a level head. You’ve got to keep a balance and continue to think positive.

What do you look forward to most in your future?

I’ve really been into directing a little bit. I was shadowing on Being Mary Jane this season. Right now I’m doing an intensive at New York Film Academy out here in L.A. for the summer. Trying to squeeze that in between acting parts and stuff, and so I really want to expand into writing, producing, directing and creating concepts. Sort of what Victoria [Rowell] is doing, which is why I really want to support her in anything she’s doing. Because I think it’s incredible, the way she’s managed to put this project together and carried it to this point where we’re premiering, and somebody thought of her. That’s what artists have to do sometimes. We can’t just sit around and wait for other people to create opportunities for us; we have to create the opportunities.

We’re the ones who have a lot of the experience. We know what works. We’ve read hundreds and hundreds of scripts, and been on hundreds and hundreds of sets, so it is our time to actually step up and create opportunities for the next generations. So, kind of where my mind is right now.

What would you tell an aspiring actor who came to you for advice?

I do believe in studying and emulating a trained actor. I believe in excellence, I believe in using the art form as a way for personal growth. So whether you succeed at it or not, I think it’s an opportunity to learn more about yourself while you’re exploring other characters. I would definitely tell them to persevere and also innovate, because everything is changing and there’s no right or wrong way to make it these days. Who knows what’s coming in the future? With social media and the new way that stars are coming up the internet now. But definitely, I would tell them to try to be the best, and study with the best, and supplement all their education with books and learning.

Are there any roles that you haven’t done that you’d like to do?

I’ve done so many roles. I definitely want to do some more movies. I wouldn’t mind getting into some new superhero comic book. I think that would be fun. And maybe something on the musical side, too, I wouldn’t mind. I haven’t really done a hit Broadway musical, or I haven’t gotten much singing out as much as I would like to. That would be fun. I think just to get my music out, or to be a part of something musical.

What are your hobbies?

My singing, music. Songwriting is one. Sports. I like basketball and swimming, reading, going out and partying. Still like to party.

JAY-Z responds to Beyoncé and other news of the week The Week That Was June 26-30

Monday 06.26.17

The 2017 BET Awards finally ended at midnight ET. Following a dust-up between rappers Migos and Joe Budden at the awards show, adult film star Brian Pumper tweeted he “woulda smacked fire outta all 3 of the migos.” After meeting Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas two years ago, NBA Hall of Famer Allen Iverson told Thomas he loved his game and then went to a spades tournament. Despite being rated the worst point guard defender in the NBA, Thomas received a vote for the All-Defensive teams. For the first time in Pew Research Center history, a majority of Republicans do not oppose same-sex marriage. White House adviser Ivanka Trump, who holds a political position, said she tries “to stay out of politics.” In “of course it was Mississippi” news, a historical marker commemorating teenager Emmett Till, who was kidnapped and lynched, was vandalized. The White House Twitter account sent out a graphic stating that Obamacare was supposed to cover over 23 million Americans by 2017 but has only reached 10 million, saying the Obama administration was “off by 100%.” Tiger blood enthusiast Charlie Sheen is auctioning off Babe Ruth’s championship ring; the bidding has surpassed $600,000. A group that opposes the GOP-authored health care reform bill flew a banner over the West Virginia state capitol targeting Sen. Dean Heller, the only problem being that Heller is a senator from Nevada. Taylor Swift sent a congratulatory video message to NBA MVP Russell Westbrook, jokingly acknowledging that she taught Westbrook how to play basketball, dribble, and “shoot hoops.” The father of loudmouth parent LaVar Ball agrees with his son that he could’ve beaten Michael Jordan one-on-one. Later that day, LaVar Ball appeared on WWE’s Monday Night Raw with his sons, 15-year-old LaMelo and 19-year-old Lonzo; LaMelo yelled “beat that n—-s a–” twice into a live microphone.

Tuesday 06.27.17

The fiance of Grammy award-winning singer Jennifer Hudson wants to wrestle LaVar Ball. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who three months ago said Americans would have to choose between the new iPhone or health care, believes members of Congress should be given a $2,500 housing allowance. Seven-time Grand Slam winner John McEnroe kept his foot in his mouth by refusing to apologize for comments made about 23-time Grand Slam winner Serena Williams. A state-run news agency in North Korea has deemed President Donald Trump’s “America First” initiative “Nazism in the 21st Century.” Elsewhere in Asia, Netflix comedy BoJack Horseman has been pulled from a Chinese streaming service due to violating a government regulation surrounding TV content. Former NFL quarterback Vince Young, upset about not being given another chance in the league, called out Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick: “He leads the league in interceptions, and he’s still f—ing getting paid? I mean, what the f— is going on?” Two South Carolina inmates serving life sentences said they killed four of their blockmates, hoping to be put on death row; the duo lured the four inmates into their cell with promises of coffee, cookies and drugs. Women dressed as characters from Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale — based on a 1985 book about a totalitarian U.S. government — protested the GOP health care bill outside the U.S. Capitol building. Despite his spokesman saying otherwise just one week ago, comedian Bill Cosby denied that he is conducting a speaking tour about sexual assault, stating that “the current propaganda that I am going to conduct a sexual assault tour is false.” A previously recorded song featuring noted feminists Chris Brown, Tyga and R. Kelly was released by a German production team. A Georgetown University study found that Americans view black girls as “less innocent and more adult-like than their white peers”; the researchers said this can lead to harsher punishments and fewer mentorship opportunities. A charity fund for a South Bronx, New York, community, created by the New York Yankees in response to the club taking over 25 acres of parkland for its new stadium, has donated just 30 percent of its funds to charities in the same ZIP code as the stadium. A fake March 2009 Time magazine cover of Trump — with the headline “Donald Trump: The ‘Apprentice’ is a television smash!” — is featured in at least four of the president’s golf courses; the Time television critic at the time tweeted “if I had called The Apprentice’s ratings a “smash” in 2009, I would’ve had to resign in disgrace.”

Wednesday 06.28.17

President Trump accused Amazon or The Washington Post, the latter of which was responsible for unearthing the fake Time cover, of not paying “internet taxes” despite “internet taxes” not being a real thing. New York Knicks president Phil Jackson was fired on his day off. Philadelphia Eagles running back LeGarrette Blount could earn $50,000 for not being fat. Former NFL running back Clinton Portis once considered murdering his former business managers. Despite many reports claiming that NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protest last season divided the San Francisco 49ers locker room, former 49ers coach Chip Kelly said “it never was a distraction.” No big deal, but there was a computer systems breach at at least one U.S. nuclear power plant. Former adult film star Jenna Jameson, in response to a Playboy columnist getting into a heated argument with deputy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Tuesday, said that the notorious magazine “thought it was a good idea to remove the nudity from their failing publication, I have to say they lost credibility”; Jameson added that Playboy should “have a seat.” Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, for some reason, joined the Chicago Cubs during their visit to the White House; Trump called Gilbert “a great friend of mine. Big supporter and great guy.” Not to be outdone, the Atlanta Hawks announced plans to incorporate a courtside bar in its arena. Two years after barricading themselves in the home of center DeAndre Jordan, the Los Angeles Clippers traded All-Star guard Chris Paul to the Houston Rockets and are now left with just Jordan. At 12:32 p.m. ET, a report came out that one of the reasons Paul left Los Angeles was because of coach Doc Rivers’ relationship with son and Clippers guard Austin; at 2:04 p.m., Austin Rivers tweeted “Dam….cp3 really dipped, was looking forward to lining up with u next year. Learned a lot from u tho bro. One of the best basketball minds.” Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, who proposed the housing stipend for lawmakers, will join Fox News as a contributor once he resigns from congress. Later in the day, Fox News shockingly released a poll that found that 52 percent of voters view the Affordable Care Act “positively.” Danielle Bregoli Peskowitz, the 14-year-old Florida girl responsible for the “Cash me ousside, how bow dah” meme, pleaded guilty to “grand theft, filing a false police report, and possession of marijuana.”

Thursday 06.29.17

President Trump attacked MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski on Twitter, calling the Morning Joe co-host “low I.Q.,” “crazy,” and accused her of “bleeding badly from a face-lift.” Brzezinski shot back with her own tweet, posting a photo of a Cheerios box with the text “Made for little hands.” First lady Melania Trump, who once said she would take up anti-cyberbullying as an official initiative, had her spokesman release a statement: “As the First Lady has stated publicly in the past, when her husband gets attacked, he will punch back 10 times harder.” Twitter, fresh off of giving its users another update they didn’t ask for, is reportedly working on a prototype that would allow users to flag “fake news”; there was no mention of how CNN, ABC, NBC, and the New York Times and Washington Post might be affected. Proving the old adage that if first you don’t succeed, try again (and again): Trump’s travel plan partially went into effect. A Trump supporter with “Proud American” and “Love my Country” in her Twitter bio mistakenly used the Liberian flag emoji while professing to make America great again. A Fox News commentator quipped “we’re all gonna die” in response to Democrats charging that thousands will die from the GOP health care bill. A Maryland man who worked for the liquor control department, along with another man, stole over $21,000 worth of alcohol from trucks parked at a department of the liquor control warehouse. Recently acquired Minnesota Timberwolves forward Jimmy Butler gave out his phone number to reporters at his introductory press conference. Three Vanderbilt football players were suspended after their roles in an incident earlier this week that resulted in two of the players being shot at a Target; police say the football players brought a pellet gun to a gunfight over a stolen cellphone. Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch completed a beach workout in pants and boots. The New York Knicks, fresh off of firing president of basketball operations Phil Jackson, misspelled the last name of first-round draft pick Frank Ntilikina, whom Jackson was responsible for drafting. A fitness trainer who has worked with Kim Kardashian put Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson on a 4,800-calories-a-day diet to help lose weight. Habitual cultural appropriators Kylie and Kendall Jenner, the latter of woke Pepsi fame, apologized for selling $125 T-shirts with their faces superimposed over late rappers Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. A Republican opposition researcher who claimed he worked for former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn contacted Russian hackers about then-candidate Hillary Clinton’s emails.

FRIDAY 06.30.17

Hip-hop star JAY-Z released his 13th studio album, 4:44, with one song mentioning singer Eric Benet’s past infidelity with former wife Halle Berry; Benet, who remarried in 2011, and was in no way forced to by his wife, tweeted back “Hey yo #Jayz! Just so ya know, I got the baddest girl in the world as my wife….like right now!” President Trump, who said in a tweet on Thursday that he didn’t watch MSNBC’s Morning Joe, tweeted that he watched Morning Joe. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska) criticized the president’s tweet about Mika Brzezinski on Thursday, and then tweeted that he supports repealing the Affordable Care Act without a readily available replacement. UCLA will receive a $15 million signing bonus on top of its $280 million deal with Under Armour; the school’s student-athletes will receive a zero percent cut. New England Patriots receiver Julian Edelman works on his catching skills by playing with rice. Rapper Nicki Minaj, not content with using only Dwyane Wade for sports references, used rarely known New York Giants punter Brad Wing in one of her lyrics: “I’m land the jump, Yao Ming the dunk/And I’m playing the field, Brad Wing the punt.” The Miami-Dade Public Defender’s office is challenging the constitutionality of a law that makes pointing a finger like a gun at a police officer a crime. In other JAY-Z news, Merriam-Webster dictionary made “fidelity” its word of the day. At least three people were shot at a New York City hospital.

Jamie Foxx is the supreme entertainer of our era, and it’s time to recognize him as such The ‘Baby Driver’ co-star is amazingly unpredictable — as usual

A staple of NBC’s The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon is a segment called Musical Genre Challenge. Guests perform pop songs, but in the form of unexpected genres. Jamie Foxx appeared on the May 25 episode, and his first act was to perform Baja Men’s 2000 “Who Let The Dogs Out” in the style of a Broadway musical. He followed that up by singing Rihanna’s 2015 “B—- Better Have My Money” — operatically. Foxx absolutely nails both performances, hitting long notes with genius precision while also adding comedic timing. His performance is equal parts entrancing and hilarious.

Foxx — the former Terrell, Texas, high school star quarterback who stars in this week’s already heralded Baby Driver and hosts Fox’s new hit game show Beat Shazam — is 49 years old and has been entertaining for nearly 30 years. He has an unimpeachable catalog of accomplishments. A classic, unendingly quotable 2002 stand-up special, I Might Need Security (HBO). The Jamie Foxx Show (The WB, 1996-2001), which showcased Foxx’s supernatural knack for impersonations, and his brilliant timing. He’s created five studio albums, with millions of copies sold. His 2005 Billboard-topping Unpredictable culminated in a Grammy for the infinitely catchy “Blame it,” featuring T-Pain (and sadly one of the last bastions of auto-tuned R&B radio supremacy).

Finally and most notably, in 2005, Foxx won the Academy Award for best actor for his title role in Ray, bringing Ray Charles to life in one of the most transcendent, pitch-perfect biographical performances in movie history. Along with Sidney Poitier, Denzel Washington and Forest Whitaker, he is one of only four black male actors to win in the lead category. To be great at one of these things — comedy, drama, singing/songwriting — would make Foxx an entertainment powerhouse. To have mastered them all makes him a once-in-a-generation talent. Foxx — not Will Smith, not Dave Chappelle, not even Beyoncé — is the supreme entertainer of our era, and it’s time to recognize him as such.

And it all started with a character called “Wanda.”

When Jamie Foxx made his television debut, on the third season of Keenan Ivory Wayans’ sketch comedy show In Living Color in 1991, it was after years of working his way through the stand-up comedy circuit, most famously at Hollywood’s The Comedy Store, a mecca for comedians such as Cedric The Entertainer and Jim Carrey, who would perform at open mics.

On Color, Foxx appeared alongside future superstars Carrey, Jennifer Lopez, Chris Rock, Kim Coles, Damon Wayans and Larry Wilmore, not to mention Anne-Marie Johnson, David Alan Grier and Tommy Davidson.

He stood out from the pack, especially in black households across the country, for playing Wanda, a homely woman with a large fake butt, humongous lips and a wonky eye. Foxx-as-Wanda would try to pick up men (most frequently played by Davidson as a well-put-together businessman) and made the faux seductive “Heyyyyy” a catchphrase. It was combined with a patented cross-eyed gaze. Foxx’s commitment to the character made Wanda a tentpole for In Living Color.

You would be forgiven for thinking the show showed off the breadth of Foxx’s talent. That is, if you hadn’t seen him on Roc.

Foxx stepped in to portray the iconic Willie Beamen, a confident, young black quarterback who replaces a worn veteran QB.

Roc (Fox, 1991-94) was a family sitcom from the people who created Cheers and Taxi; it starred Charles Dutton, Ella Joyce and Rocky Carroll as a middle-class black family in Baltimore. The show has earned cult status for Dutton’s resonant performances and Joyce’s endearing character work, and it was where it became clear that Foxx was more than Wanda. Foxx appeared for nine episodes in the second and third seasons as a neighbor with special needs: “Crazy George.” This was a three-dimensional Foxx. He still used his over-the-top comedy, but Crazy George was so lovable and full of compassion, it became clear there was more to Foxx than impressions.

Foxx continued his growth in 1993 with the HBO stand-up special Straight From The Foxxhole. The special was full of memorable lines and his mirror-image impressions. But that was to be expected. What caught audiences off guard was when, toward the end, he took to his piano (with his grandmother’s encouragement, he studied classical piano from the age of 5) and blended his stand-up act with musical compositions — and even went into straight-up, no-laughs R&B. There was a smattering of uncomfortable laughter as Foxx sang his serious music. The segment became an entry into his musical career.

“My whole plan was do the comedy however you do the comedy,” he said in 1994 on KPIX’s Bay Sunday. “Get your name out there. Get the HBO special and you control what’s going on. So I did 50 minutes of comedy, and then I take it into the music real smooth.”

The Bay Area interview, however, demonstrates the challenges Foxx faced with regard to being taken seriously as a musical artist. The Q&A segment is painfully awkward. Host Barbara Rodgers spends the first minutes pressing him to perform as Wanda, and Foxx, frustrated, refuses to resurrect his character.

The interview was to promote Foxx’s 1994 debut album Peep This (Fox Records), which was mostly written by Foxx in the vein of Jodeci and R. Kelly. It showed Foxx could hang with the greats vocally; however, the music itself was subpar, with lackluster production and clichéd lyrics. As a result, the album performed poorly on the charts. He didn’t release another album for 11 years.

Foxx couldn’t quite shake the idea that he was “just” Wanda, even as he entered his first prime of the mid-’90s. He had to face a derailment that redefined his career. Foxx had auditioned for the role of Jerry Maguire’s Rod Tidwell, the dynamic football star who played opposite Tom Cruise. But Foxx struggled in the audition.

Foxx couldn’t quite shake the idea that he was “just” Wanda, even as he entered his first prime of the mid-’90s.

“I blew it, man,” he told Playboy in 2005. “Maybe I wasn’t ready. Tom was just too famous, and I was too young. I was a stand-up comedian, and I just f—-d it up. I was reading all loud and stuff, and Tom was very quiet. So I read my lines, and then he paused for a long time. … So I said: ‘Tom, it’s your line.’ And he looked at me and said: ‘I know. I got it.’ ”

The role, of course, went to Cuba Gooding Jr., who won an Oscar for best supporting actor, launching him into the world of A-list Hollywood. Meanwhile, Foxx was making 1997’s Booty Call.

Booty Call wasn’t exactly Oscar-worthy,” Foxx said on CBS’s Sunday Morning in 2013. “I was trying to get a check.” The movie, a raucous sex comedy about mishaps that occur as two men try to seal the deal with their dates, featured Foxx doing Martin Luther King impressions while having bubble-wrapped sex with Vivica Fox, a dog licking Tommy Davidson’s rear, and a fight over a condom. While the movie is heralded as a cult classic by some, it was lambasted as crass and vapid (“It’s not that the movie is never funny. It’s just that you don’t feel very good when it is,” is how the Los Angeles Times expertly put it). The film’s biggest critic was Bill Cosby, who at the time still commanded respect as a voice in the black community. He told Newsweek in 1997: “There is no need for a Booty Call, for the stuff that shows our young people only interested in the flesh and no other depth.” Foxx spent the next two years making movies such as 1999’s Held Up (co-starring Nia Long) that mostly failed at the box office but were better than they had any right being — off the strength of Foxx’s charisma and talent.


It’s here that we have to acknowledge The Jamie Foxx Show. If you thought calling Foxx the most talented entertainer of our generation was a “hot take,” then here’s another: if Jamie Foxx had aired on the Fox Network, along with Martin, instead of on the less popular WB, it would be just as revered and beloved. At its funniest, The Jamie Foxx Show is just as hilarious as Martin. There’s the above reimagining of D’Angelo’s “Untitled” video, the O.J. Simpson impersonation, Tupac Shakur, the dance battle. The sitcom, which also starred Garrett Morris, Ella English, Christopher B. Duncan and Garcelle Beauvais as his love interest, Fancy, and aired from 1996 to 2001, is Foxx at his comedic peak.

And he could have simply stuck to being funny. His musical career had yet to take off, and he’d failed to land that life-changing role. But that changed in 1999 when Sean Combs was excused from the set of Any Given Sunday. “Puff Daddy threw like a girl, so they put him on a plane,” said co-star Andrew Bryniarski in 2015. Foxx stepped in to portray the iconic Willie Beamen, a confident, young black quarterback who replaces a worn veteran QB — think the cinematic version of Dak Prescott replacing Tony Romo with a little extra Hollywood flair and an instantly repeatable theme song that Foxx recorded himself.

Foxx had done it: a leading role in a film opposite Al Pacino, with superstar director Oliver Stone at the helm. The movie is sort of a mess, overproduced and melodramatic, but Foxx’s star turn was widely praised. “In a broken-field role,” said movie critic Roger Ebert, “that requires him to be unsure and vulnerable, then cocky and insufferable, then political, then repentant, Foxx doesn’t step wrong.”

Foxx followed Beamen up by portraying trainer Drew Bundini Brown in 2001’s Ali. The role was pivotal. Foxx displayed his ability to transform into an entirely unrecognizable character. And he was beginning to truly combine his talents. In Any Given Sunday, he’d mixed in his musical talents with serious acting, and in Ali he used his uncanny ability as an impersonator to make his roles pop. What allowed him to play Brown is from the skill set that allowed him to “be” Mike Tyson on stage in so many of his stand-up performances. All of this, of course, culminated in Ray.

Foxx’s portrayal of Charles is a three-hour acting masterpiece. Foxx was a one-man Golden State Warriors team putting his multiple talents together for one legendary performance. He used his ability for imitation, which he perfected on the comedy circuit, to bring Charles to life on the screen. He used his dramatic acting to translate that imitation into a serious and emotionally resonant performance. And finally, Foxx performed the music himself, truly channeling Charles’ soul. “It demeans Foxx to say he was born to play this role,” said Ken Tucker in The New Yorker. “Rather, he invented a Ray Charles that anyone, from a nostalgic baby boomer to a skeptical Jay Z fan, can understand and respect.”

In winning his best actor Oscar, becoming just the third African-American to do so, he beat out Don Cheadle’s electric Hotel Rwanda performance, Leonardo DiCaprio in The Aviator and Clint Eastwood in Million Dollar Baby. Foxx had arrived. But he wouldn’t dwell on his successes. He had a musical career to revitalize.


A chance meeting with Kanye West at one of Foxx’s infamous house parties led to Foxx being featured on a 20o4 Twista single featuring Kanye entitled “Slow Jamz.” It became a No. 1 pop single, with Foxx singing the hook. “Young people who hadn’t seen me on In Living Color or the The Jamie Foxx Show thought I had just come on with Kanye West, so that gave me new life,” he said in a 2015 radio interview. He followed that collaboration by singing the hook on West’s 2004 “Gold Digger,” and on Dec. 27, 2005, 10 months after winning his Oscar, Foxx released his own Unpredictable album (J Records). It debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard album charts and went to No. 1 the very next week. It’s double platinum.

Yet all of the success was affecting his personal life, and not in good ways. An intervention by black celebrity royalty set him on a different path.

“ ‘You’re blowing it, Jamie Foxx,’ ” Oprah Winfrey told Foxx in 2004, as he explained in an interview with Howard Stern earlier this year. “ ‘All of this gallivanting and all this kind of s—, that’s not what you want to do. … I want to take you somewhere. Make you understand the significance of what you’re doing.’ Foxx recounts going into a house filled with black actors from the ’60s and ’70s. “[They] look like they just want to say … Don’t blow it.” Foxx was introduced to Sidney Poitier, the first African-American to win an Oscar, who told him, “ ‘I want to give you responsibility. … When I saw your performance, it made me grow 2 inches.’ To this day, it’s the most significant time in my life where it was, like, a chance to grow up.”

Today, Foxx seems as comfortable in his own skin as ever. When he wants to be serious, he’s the titular character in 2012’s Django Unchained, stone-faced, stoic and out for vengeance. Or he is a villain in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. He’s released three albums since Unpredictable, with a Grammy to boot for 2010’s “Blame It.” And when he wants to make people laugh, Foxx still pops up at places such as The Comedy Store.

Two years ago, this time on Fallon’s “The Wheel Of Musical Impressions,” he did Mick Jagger singing “Hakuna Matata,” Jennifer Hudson singing “On Top Of Spaghetti” and John Legend singing the Toys R Us theme song, complete with a full-on re-enactment of Legend’s on-stage posture. And he somehow managed to mix in a Doc Rivers impersonation. The video for this fantastical and amazing series of performances has amassed 40 million views on YouTube. It’s classic Foxx, mixing his flair for the dramatic with his unparalleled voice and mastery of comedy. His is an unpredictable blend of musicianship, comedy and acting. He’s a powerhouse. A master of all trades. And we may never see anything like him again.

Prodigy dies at 42 and other news of the week The week that was June 19-June 23

Monday 06.19.17

The state of North Carolina, that bastion of civil rights, had a law barring sex offenders from using social media sites, such as Facebook, invalidated by the U.S. Supreme Court. The court also ruled that rejecting trademarks that “disparage” others violates the First Amendment; the Washington Redskins, locked in their own legal battle with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, wasn’t a party in the current case but supported the decision, which ruled in favor of Asian-American band The Slants. New York sports radio host Mike Francesa, when learning of the decision, referred to The Slants’ members as “Oriental Americans,” and when told that phrase was offensive, he asked, “You’re telling me that using the word ‘Oriental American’ is a slight?” The 47-year-old husband of Beyoncé announced a new, stream-only album available exclusively to the hundreds of Tidal and Sprint customers. In honor of Juneteenth, a commemoration of the end of slavery, President Donald Trump released a statement praising two white men (President Abraham Lincoln and Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger), and a sportswriter questioned the history of American police and slave patrols. A heady reporter tried Lyft Shuttle, the ride-sharing company’s beta-stage commuter option, which allows riders to “walk to a nearby pickup spot, get in a shared car that follows a predesignated route, and drops you (and everyone else) off at the same stop” — or, in other words, a bus. A data firm hired by the Republican National Committee left sensitive information — including names, dates of birth and home addresses — of nearly 200 million registered voters exposed to the internet; the company responsible, Deep Root Analytics, calls itself “the most experienced group of targeters in Republican politics.”

The Philadelphia 76ers officially acquired the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft, paving the way for the team to draft yet another player with past leg issues. Markelle Fultz, the first pick in Thursday’s draft, not only was traded from 53-win team to one that won just 28 games last season but also briefly considered signing with LaVar Ball’s Big Baller Brand over Nike. A Green Bay Packers fan and Wisconsin resident who, for some reason, has Chicago Bears season tickets, sued the Chicago franchise for not allowing him to wear Packers gear on the sideline at Soldier Field; the Wisconsin man told the court that the Bears “deprived me of my ability to fully enjoy this specific on-field experience.” In other bear news, three New Hampshire teenagers are being investigated for potential hate crimes for assaulting and yelling a racial slur at costumed Boston street musician Keytar Bear, who is black.

Tuesday 06.20.17

White House chief strategist Steve Bannon said White House press secretary Sean Spicer wouldn’t appear on camera as much because “Sean got fatter.” Former five-weight boxing champion Sugar Ray Leonard offered UFC fighter Conor McGregor one piece of advice for his boxing match against Floyd Mayweather Jr. in August: “Duck.” FBI director nominee Christopher Wray once represented an American energy executive who was being criminally investigated by the Russian government, but Wray deleted that information from his official online biography sometime in 2017. Mattel diversified its Barbie and Ken doll lines, offering different sizes, skin tones and hairstyles, including man buns, cornrows and Afros. For the new heavyset Ken dolls, Mattel originally wanted to market them as “husky,” but, “A lot [of guys] were really traumatized by that — as a child, shopping in a husky section.” Twitter was in an uproar after it was reported that Wonder Woman star Gal Gadot was paid just $300,000 for her role in the critically acclaimed, $500 million movie, compared with $14 million for Man of Steel’s leading man, Henry Cavill; the latter figure was not true. Imprisoned former football player O.J. Simpson, who is up for parole for burglary and assault next month, spends his time in prison watching his daughter’s show Keeping Up With the Kardashians; “He likes to keep up with all the gossip with them,” a former prison guard said. NFL Hall of Famer Warren Sapp, last heard fighting prostitutes in Arizona, has decided to donate his brain to scientists when he dies; Sapp said his memory “ain’t what it used to be.” New York rapper Prodigy, real name Albert Johnson, died at the age of 42; Prodigy, one half of acclaimed duo Mobb Deep, had recently been hospitalized because of sickle cell anemia. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the nation’s top lawyer, hired his own lawyer. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, catching up to the 20th century, signed a bill that raised the age of consent for marriage from 14 to 18. An Algerian man was sentenced to two years in prison for dangling a baby out a 15th-floor window on Facebook, instructing his followers “1,000 likes or I will drop him.” A Canadian man stole a mummified toe that had been used as an ingredient in a hotel bar drink for more than 40 years; an employee said the hotel was “furious” because “toes are very hard to come by.” To test the performative advantages of the microbiome Prevotella, a Connecticut scientist performed a fecal transplant on herself, telling a news outlet: “It’s not fun, but it’s pretty basic.” Atlanta Hawks center Dwight Howard, at 8:55 p.m. ET, tweeted, “Ok Twitter Fans ,, give me your thoughts , trades or otherwise & Remember 2B-Nice”; five minutes later, Howard was traded to the Charlotte Hornets.

Wednesday 06.21.17

The Pentagon paid $28 million for “forest”-colored uniforms for the Afghan Army, yet “forests cover only 2.1% of Afghanistan’s total land area.” White House aide and former reality TV star Omarosa Manigault signs her name as “the Honorable Omarosa Manigault” despite not being a high-ranking federal official or judge. Despite President Trump once valuing his Westchester, New York, golf course at $50 million, the Trump Organization valued the property at $7.5 million on tax forms, half of the town assessor’s valuation of $15.1 million, to pay less in property taxes. The Russian government, accused by U.S. authorities of spreading fake news to influence the 2016 presidential election, said it will “raise the issue of fake news” at the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, calling it “a problem that should be defined and addressed collectively.” Although terrorism is defined as using violence for political reasons, the FBI said the shooting at a baseball practice for the Congressional Baseball Game by a white man had “no terrorism involved.” Meanwhile in Flint, Michigan, the stabbing of a police officer at an airport by a man who reportedly yelled, “Allahu Akbar” is being investigated by the FBI as an act of terrorism. A group of CIA contractors were fired from the agency for hacking a vending machine and stealing over $3,000 worth of snacks. Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Montana), best known for body-slamming a Guardian reporter last month, was sworn in to the House; the Democratic Party of Montana sent Gianforte an orange jumpsuit for his first day in office. The daughter of two dentists who had enough education to teach their children about stocks and investments, and who, herself, owns a multimillion-dollar company, was taught to save and now plans to retire at 40. In shocking news, a new study found that films with diverse casts outperform films that are overwhelmingly white. A police officer was acquitted of fatally shooting a black man. An auto insurance industry-funded study found that states with legalized recreational marijuana laws had a higher frequency of auto collision claims than states without such laws. Murray Energy Corp. CEO Robert E. Murray sued comedian John Oliver for defamation after the HBO host used his weekly TV program to mock the energy executive, at one point calling Murray a “geriatric Dr. Evil”; Oliver predicted on his show June 18 that Murray would sue him. Hall of Fame professional wrestler Jerry “The King” Lawler, known for calling women’s breasts “puppies” and other sexist remarks, said even he hated the finish of a historic all-women’s match that ended with a man winning. In response to the new American craze fidget spinners, Chinese companies have started selling the Toothpick Crossbow, a small, $1 handheld crossbow that can fire toothpicks 65 feet; parents worry the crossbows could blind young children, and Chinese state media fear iron nails could be swapped in for the toothpicks. New York Knicks president Phil Jackson said he is willing to trade 21-year-old center Kristaps Porizingis, who is 21, with the “future” of the team in mind.

Thursday 06.22.17

ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith, still visibly upset over the recent actions of Phil Jackson, pointed out that the Knicks president’s first front office deal back in 2014 was signing forward Lamar Odom, “who was on crack”; Odom was released from the team three months later. Meanwhile, an NBA prospect said Jackson was “falling in and out of sleep” during the prospect’s workout. Knicks owner James Dolan skipped out on the NBA draft to perform with his band, JD & The Straight Shot, at a local winery-music venue. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who last week said U.S. presidents “cannot obstruct justice,” said President Trump alleged he had tapes of former FBI director James Comey to “rattle” him. The president, who in May insinuated that he had “tapes” of conversations with Comey, tweeted that he, in fact, does not have any such tapes. The lack of diversity at the Rupert Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal is so dire that some reporters have taken to calling the newspaper “White Castle.” In another example of “life comes at you fast,” Chicago Cubs outfielder and World Series hero Kyle Schwarber was demoted to Triple-A Iowa after batting just .171 through the first 71 games of the season. The trainer for former Chicago Bulls forward Jimmy Butler, in response to his client being traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves, said he’s met “drug dealers with better morals” than Bulls general manager Gar Forman. Hip-hop artist Shock G, best known for his seminal 1990s hit “Humpty Dance,” was arrested in Wisconsin on suspicion of drug paraphernalia possession; there was no mention of whether or not the arrest took place at a Burger King restaurant. Just days after Uber CEO Travis Kalanick resigned from the company amid hostile work environment allegations, some company employees began circulating a petition to have Kalanick reinstated, stating “[Travis Kalanick], no matter his flaws (everyone has them) was one of the best leaders I have seen.” Montgomery County, Maryland, police are using DNA evidence to help create composite sketches of those suspected of sexual assault; the DNA, described as “bodily fluids,” is assumed to be male semen. A New York woman who traveled to the Dominican Republic to get reduced breast implants and liposuction developed an infection and now has a hole in one of her breasts; the woman, who traveled to the Caribbean island for a cheaper $5,000 procedure, will now pay over $10,000 in recovery costs. Famed comedian Bill Cosby is planning a series of town halls aimed at young people, specifically athletes, on how to avoid sexual assault allegations. After nearly three months of secrecy, Republican senators publicly released their version of a replacement for the Affordable Care Act (ACA). In unrelated news, only 38 percent of Americans want the president and Congress to repeal and replace the ACA.

FRIDAY 06.23.17

A Trump administration official once filed for bankruptcy because of his wife’s medical bills for treating her chronic Lyme disease. President Trump all but confirmed his former tweets about alleged “tapes” of former FBI director James Comey were an attempt to influence the director’s Senate testimony. Comey, who announced the reopening of an investigation into Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton just 11 days before the Nov. 8 election, refused three weeks earlier to attach his name to a statement on Russia’s involvement in that election because “it was too close to the election for the bureau to be involved.” A North Korea spokesman said the death of American college student Otto Warmbier just days after he was released from imprisonment in the country is a “mystery to us as well.” NBA Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman, who was in North Korea around the same time Warmbier was released last week, said dictator Kim Jong-Un is a “friendly guy,” and the two sing karaoke and ride horses together. Zola, a gorilla at the Dallas Zoo, danced to (a dubbed-over version of) Michael Sembello’s 1996 hit “Maniac.” The St. Louis Cardinals announced their first Pride Night celebration at Busch Stadium; a disgruntled fan demanded that the team “stop forcing this down my throat.” Great Britain, loser of the Revolutionary War, is now putting chocolate in its chili. In response to Pirates of the Caribbean actor Johnny Depp asking an English crowd “When was the last time an actor assassinated a president?” a White House spokesperson condemned the remarks: “President Trump has condemned violence in all forms, and it’s sad that others like Johnny Depp have not followed his lead.” Hours later, New Hampshire state Rep. Al Baldasaro, a Trump campaign adviser, visited the White House; last year, Baldasaro said Hillary Clinton “should be shot in a firing squad for treason.” Five-foot-9 Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas said if he were taller he’d be “the best player in the world.” Nearly 500 Syrian civilians have been killed in U.S.-led airstrikes against two provinces in the Middle Eastern country. Former MTV Jersey Shore star Ronnie Magro-Ortiz, describing his breakup with fellow reality TV star Malika Haqq, said he and Haqq were like “oil and water.” He added: “It tastes good with bread, but it’s just not mixing.” A jury deadlocked for the second time in the case of a police officer killing a black man. After less-than-stellar reviews from critics and Jada Pinkett Smith, and a 22 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the Tupac Shakur biopic All Eyez on Me is being sued for copyright infringement by veteran journalist Kevin Powell.

Warriors win the NBA Finals The Week That Was June 12-June 16

Monday 06.12.17

Ivanka Trump, who is the daughter of President Donald Trump and has presumably known him for 35 years, said that “there’s a level of viciousness that I was not expecting” in response to her father’s presidency. Former potential NBC buyer Bill Cosby declined to testify in his sexual assault trial, and his defense team rested after only three minutes and without calling an original witness. Hip-hop entrepreneur Sean “Diddy” Combs topped Forbes magazine’s list of highest-paid entertainers, notably beating out last year’s top earner, Taylor Swift, by nearly $100 million. McDonald’s announced it will use social media app Snapchat to hire future employees this summer; the app, known for its animated filters and porn, is expected to “lure in younger applicants” for the fast-food giant. Meanwhile, a close friend of the president told PBS that Trump was considering firing special counsel Robert Mueller, who is in charge of the ongoing Russia investigation. Professional wrestler Congressman-elect Greg Gianforte was sentenced to community service and a $385 fine for his assault of a Guardian reporter during last month’s special election in Montana; Gianforte said it was not his “intention to hurt” the reporter whom he punched and slammed to the ground. During a meandering rant about abortion on his official Facebook page, Missouri state Rep. Mike Moon beheaded a live chicken, cut its feet off, and removed its heart. Twitter argued over the effectiveness of Crock-Pots; in the words of one straightforward dissenter, “why on earth u wanna cook slow.” Seattle Seahawks running back Eddie Lacy received another $55,000 for not being fat. Former NBA referee Tim Donaghy, who spent more than a year in prison for illegally gambling on games, claimed the league will try to force a Game 6 in the NBA Finals. The Golden State Warriors ended the Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 5.

Tuesday 06.13.17

After the Warriors’ victory, Denver Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib took a shot at Golden State forward Kevin Durant, calling the Finals MVP a “suburban kid” who had to “Link up with the best” to win a championship, and that the Hall of Fame is “laughing at you right now”; Talib, who shot himself in the leg last year, joined the Broncos in 2014, a season after Denver eliminated his former team, the New England Patriots, from the playoffs. A Canadian man who is blind in one eye installed a video camera over his eyeball; faced with privacy concerns, the man posited, “Am I not allowed to put an eye camera in my own body?” Hours after NBA Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman arrived in North Korea, an American college student who had been detained in the country since 2016 for allegedly attempting to steal a political banner was released to U.S. authorities; Rodman, who is in North Korea for a reported fifth time, had his trip sponsored by a company specializing in weed-industry cryptocurrency. Deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein said there was no evidence to fire Robert Mueller, the special counsel. Hours later, it was reported that the president is being talked down by his staff from firing Mueller. R&B singer Tinashe, who is mixed-race, acknowledged the presence of colorism in the black community but explained that she is usually the victim of it, telling a reporter that “sometimes I feel like I don’t fully fit into the black community; they don’t fully accept me.” Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, who has been rocked by the recent death of his mother and his own workplace behavior, including meditating in the company lactation room and instructing his employees to “not have sex with another employee” at a company party, has taken a leave of absence from the ride-sharing company. During a companywide meeting to discuss Uber’s alleged “bro culture,” a 74-year-old board member interrupted a female board member by making a sexist joke; the board member stepped down shortly afterward. President Trump reportedly told Republican senators that the House-adopted health care bill, which the president in May called a “great plan,” is too “mean” and called it a “son of a b—-.”

Wednesday 06.14.17

A gunman shot three people, including Rep. Steve Scalise, at a congressional baseball team practice in Alexandria, Virginia. Rep. Barry Loudermilk, who was at the practice field, proposed that lawmakers should be able to carry weapons, including, presumably, while playing baseball. In response to the shooting, Vox editor-in-chief and U.S. history buff Ezra Klein tweeted: “It’s easy to forget what a blessing it is to live in a country where politics rarely leads to violence.” Hours later, three UPS employees were killed by a gunman at a sorting facility in San Francisco. Former NBA commissioner David Stern, who was called a “modern plantation overseer” by journalist Bryant Gumbel in 2011, called Gumbel “an idiot” and said he, the implementer of the league’s controversial dress code, has “done more for people of color” than Gumbel, a black man. Days after reports came out that UNLV basketball players Dakota and Dylan Gonzalez were quitting the team to pursue music and Central Florida football player Donald De La Haye may have to give up his YouTube channel in the face of NCAA violations, University of Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel said the football team’s recent $800,000 trip to Rome was paid for by an undisclosed school donor. A fire at a London apartment complex left at least 12 people dead. Five Michigan officials were charged with involuntary manslaughter for their roles in the ongoing contaminated-water crisis in Flint, Michigan. Right-leaning cable network Fox News has plans to drop its “Fair & Balanced” slogan, not because the tagline wasn’t true but to further distance the company from Roger Ailes, the late former network president. The Houston Astros, who called up outfield prospect Derek Fisher from Class AAA Fresno, will face the Boston Red Sox this weekend, with right-handed closer Matt Barnes expected to play. For the sequel to 1996’s Great White Hype, retired undefeated boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. and UFC fighter Conor McGregor agreed to a boxing match on Aug. 26. A Texas couple was arrested and charged after authorities found 600 pounds of meth-laced candy, some of which were shaped like Star Wars characters R2-D2 and Yoda, in the couple’s home. A 21-year-old Maine woman, who is a vegetarian, drowned a rabies-infected raccoon in a puddle of mud on a walking trail she had been jogging along.

Thursday 06.15.17

How now, brown cow: 7 percent of American adults believe chocolate milk comes from brown cows. A day after saying that “everyone who serves in our nation’s capital is here because, above all, they love our country,” President Trump tweeted that “some very bad and conflicted people,” presumably members of the FBI, were carrying out “the single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history.” The Uber driver who shuttled Buffalo Bills cornerback Shareece Wright 540 miles from Chicago to Buffalo, New York, last week is an Iranian refugee who was tortured by Iranian intelligence agents on multiple occasions and hopes to one day become an astronaut; Wright, who was rushing to get to voluntary team workouts, injured his calf during minicamp. In more disturbing Uber news, the company is being sued by a woman who was sexually assaulted by one of the company’s drivers. Dennis Rodman, while still in North Korea, gave two books to country leader Kim Jong Un: Where’s Waldo? and President Trump’s The Art of the Deal. Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino was issued a five-game suspension by the NCAA for his role in the hiring of exotic dancers for players and recruits; the panel that issued the punishment said in its findings that “NCAA rules do not allow institutional staff members to arrange for stripteases and sex acts.” During the Warriors’ championship parade in Oakland, California, forward Draymond Green wore a shirt with “Quickie” written on the front, with the “Q” in the same font as the Quicken Loans logo; the Cleveland Cavaliers play in Quicken Loans Arena. Cleveland forward LeBron James responded to the T-shirt on Instagram with a caption reading “That’s what she said, HUH?!?!?”; fellow NBA superstars Russell Westbrook and James Harden “liked” the photo. Hours later, Green responded with a photo of James with the caption “Them dubs finally made him go bald!!! Congrats bro @kingjames.” A 71-year-old Kansas City man who robbed a bank because he’d “rather be in jail than be at home” with his wife was sentenced to six months of home confinement.

FRIDAY 06.16.17

E-commerce juggernaut Amazon, like most of America, spent a lot of money at Whole Foods, purchasing the supermarket chain for $13.7 billion. President Trump admitted that he is “being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt.” Rod Rosenstein, the purported “man” who told Trump to fire FBI director James Comey, has, like his boss, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, reportedly considered recusing himself from the Russia investigation. To add to the president’s exceptional week, his approval rating dropped to 35 percent in a new poll. Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, apparently bored with life and ready to die at the age of 31, will race a great white shark. After his bodyguards savagely beat protesters last month at the Turkish Embassy, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan criticized American authorities’ response, asking, “What kind of law is this? If my bodyguards cannot protect me, then why am I bringing them to America with me?” NBA Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal, who is black, said he is the “black Steph Curry,” who is also black. The Boston Police Department’s Twitter account sent out a photo of an officer with three black girls along with the caption: “The #BPD Ice Cream Truck gives kids a reason to run towards our officers and not away from them”; the tweet was later deleted. President Trump’s lawyer hired his own lawyer. LeBron James, ironically nicknamed “King James,” said the only two people who can score on him in the post are “Shaquille O’Neal in his prime … and Jesus Christ.” Minnesota Vikings receiver Michael Floyd violated the terms of his house arrest by drinking alcohol; Floyd blamed the failed tests on Kombucha tea.