Famous Nobodys is a fashion company making moves in the South Bronx Their gear has been worn by Allen Iverson, Chris Rock, DJ Khaled, Carmelo Anthony, others

Remember when fans went nuts when Carmelo Anthony rocked the hybrid New York Yankees and Mets hat at the Mets’ Citi Field stadium last year?

It did really well, according to one of the designers of the hat, Gary Gonzalez.

“I think it made it on every channel on ESPN, and they talked bad about it and it made it better. … The hat sells out every time we put it out,” said Gonzalez.

Gonzalez and Christian Vazquez run a fashion design and retail company, Famous Nobodys. Vazquez is La La Anthony’s brother and Carmelo Anthony’s brother-in-law. Earlier this week, they unveiled their new line or capsule: the “Ca77 God” collaboration. The store started out as an online hat business but expanded into a clothing company.

Gonzalez has been a designer for 12 years. He has worked with big names such as French Montana and The Game. Vazquez is a creative director for Motives Cosmetics and a public speaker, and he manages La La Anthony’s bookings and appearances.

They partnered with Starter, a premium athletic brand. Together they produced three NBA All-Star jackets, which received 109 million impressions (the number of times there is any interaction with the content) on social media and have been worn by Allen Iverson, Chris Rock, DJ Khaled, Carmelo Anthony, Jadakiss, Kenyon Martin, French Montana and others. Last month, they teamed up again to create the NBA Draft Day jackets.

Gear at the Famous Nobodys store in the South Bronx.

Gonzalez and Vazquez then teamed up with The Compound, a lifestyle branding and marketing company. Together, they produced a line that features the phrase “Ca77 God.” In some religions, the number “7” is a symbolic number. Both Gonzalez and Vazquez think God should be the first entity that one calls on in life.

“In life, no matter whether it’s good or bad or whatever you have going on, that always should be your moment to call God,” said Vazquez.

The Famous Nobodys refers to the owners’ belief that everyone is famous in their own right. The website lists Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner as examples — they are men who rose from obscurity in the Black Lives Matter movement because of their deaths. The storefront opened on April 20, and the symbol depicted on the storefront is a star with a line through it. This is the Nobody symbol, which represents nontraditional paths to achieve success.

For Vazquez, social media is one of these paths. “In this day and age, social media is so powerful, it’s almost like an anti-revolution where you don’t have to go through traditional chains of entertainment to be a star or be a celebrity to be successful to take on that large following,” he said.

Unlike most fashion companies, Famous Nobodys does not release lines according to the season. Within the intimate rectangle-shaped store, they also maintain a 2,500-pound embroidery machine in the back of the shop so they can embroider and then sell their products.

Instead, Vazquez’s strategy is to put out “pieces that are relevant to the time, what’s going on right now with the culture and what the mood of what the climate of the situation is.”

Customers look around at Famous Nobody’s store in the South Bronx

Gonzalez and Vazquez like to work with people who they consider as being “for the culture,” which they define as “what you add to the scene that is already producing greatness.” For example, Gonzalez partnered with Datwon Thomas, editor in chief of Vibe, in 2013 to produce a hat line: Twnty Two.

In January 2015, they all teamed up and created the Nobodys Famous brand, which is now the sister company to Twnty Two. A majority of the hats from Famous Nobodys, like the “Arabic successful” hat and the “Justice or else” hat, were so popular they sold out in less than 24 hours. All of the hats, shirts, camos, jackets and sweatshirts range from $25 to $200.

Working with minorities is a priority for the owners because that’s who they are. Gonzalez is Dominican and Vazquez is Puerto Rican. This is part of the reason they chose to locate the store in Mott Haven, a section of the South Bronx.

According to the last U.S. Census, the South Bronx is made up of mostly black, Latino and Asian communities. Gonzalez grew up in the Bronx, and Vazquez said the New York City borough took care of him when he was going through a low point. Because of these ties, they wanted to add a fashion-centered vibe to a low-income neighborhood that is seeing a rapid increase in rent.

Sinceré Armani came to the “CA77 God” line launch because she likes to stay current on all of the latest fashion brands and believes this brand speaks to artist/rappers. She has worked as a fashion stylist for Nicki Minaj.

“I think the urban world would love it [because] they have dope tag lines on their T-shirts. Its fly, and I think it’s going to take off,” said Armani.

The Famous Nobodys plan to start making book bags, custom hoodies and button-down shirts around September or early October.

With the new movie ‘Crown Heights,’ Nnamdi Asomugha relies on everything he learned from football The former superstar cornerback won Sundance with the story of a man who went to prison for a murder he didn’t commit

Nnamdi Asomugha is taking a quick break.

There’s a photographer, and the photographer’s assistant is setting up a new orangish background. Asomugha, in a gray Converse crewneck and slim-fit black pants, overhears a conversation that’s disdainful of grimy movie theaters and movie theater chains.

He jumps in, makes a funny face and shakes his head adamantly in disagreement. Asomugha loves movie theaters. Always has. When he wasn’t on a football field — the former Cal Bear and first-round draft pick spent his first eight National Football League seasons with the Oakland Raiders — he would sneak into theaters and sit there all day, soaking it up, consuming content and daring to dream of something beyond academics and athletics.

At the Manhattan photo shoot, the Pro Bowler gives a sly smile. This is a full-circle moment.

For 11 seasons, Asomugha was one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. After his years with the Raiders and stints with the Philadelphia Eagles and the San Francisco 49ers, he walked away from the NFL in 2013 at age 32 via a one-day contract with the Oakland Raiders so that he could officially retire in the city in which he came of age. A true shutdown corner, Asomugha retired with 15 interceptions, 80 passes defensed and two sacks.

Oakland Raiders’ Nnamdi Asomugha (21) breaks up pass intended for Dallas Cowboys’ Keyshawn Johnson (19).

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

But if you don’t know his name for those reasons, don’t worry, soon you will — and it’ll have absolutely nothing to do with football.

Asomugha is an actor. And a producer. And not because he’s indulging an ego-driven post-athletic career fantasy realized through his ability to cut a big enough check and buy his way onto a set. No. As an actor, Asomugha expertly brings to the screen the story of a man we all should know about — and as a producer, he’s brilliant at finding and financing stories that need to be told.

His Crown Heights, which opens in select New York theaters this week and has a wide release next week, is the true story of Colin Warner, a Trinidadian resident of the Brooklyn neighborhood Crown Heights who was wrongly accused and convicted of murder. Warner served 21 years for the crime, while his best friend, played by Asomugha, tirelessly worked to prove his innocence.

He also happens to be married to Kerry Washington (Scandal, Cars 3, Confirmation), and like his wife of four years — they have two children, Isabelle and Caleb — Asomugha rarely speaks publicly about their marriage or partnership, preferring instead to focus on the work. And it’s understandable, especially in his case, considering that his ambition to become an actor dates back years — before he married his wife in 2013 even, and years before she became famous. The furthest thing from Asomugha’s mind is attaching himself, and this full deep dive into a new career, to his famous and famously talented wife, who happens to be one of very few black women in Hollywood who can consistently commandeer mainstream magazine covers.

Asomugha’s focus is on this second act — and on getting people to see beyond his storied football career. Especially now that he’s doing the thing that ignites him as much as covering wide receivers used to.

“Then we went onstage to perform. And I felt the rush. I loved every bit of it. It was the moment where I said, ‘Oh, this is what gets me close’ …”

“I went to the Los Angeles Kings game,” he said, “and the national anthem started playing. Anytime the anthem comes on … I was fresh off of leaving football, and was just really taken by the moment. There was this [feeling] of, ‘I’m not going to be able to hear that and be ready to go on the field anymore.’ We watched the Kings win the championship, and then I went and called one of my former teammates, Charles Woodson, and said something like, ‘I need that feeling again, of getting ready to go out on the field. With the crowd and all of that.’ I was missing that.”

His friend had advice. “He said, ‘You have to find something that gives you a feeling close to that, because you’re never going to get that again. You’re never going to be able to go out on the field and get 70,000 people screaming when they announce your name. But look for whatever gets you closest to that point.’ ”

Asomugha said that maybe three or four months later, he was in New York doing a reading of a play at the Circle in the Square Theatre. “When you’re backstage,” he said, “and you’re coming out with the actors, you go through a tunnel before you get out there. And then you stop right before you go onto the stage. It was just a reading. But I had that moment. I was back in the tunnel. Then we went onstage to perform. And I felt the rush. I loved every bit of it. It was the moment where I said, ‘Oh, this is what gets me close. …”


Asomugha was born in 1981 in Lafayette, Louisiana, to Igbo parents. He loathes the term “Hollywood” as an adjective. He mock-scowls — hard — when he hears it being said. Asomugha was reared in Los Angeles, the entertainment industry nestled practically in his backyard. But “going Hollywood” is akin to someone saying you’re fake. Or out for self. Or perhaps more mystified by the bling than the hard work. “That’s not,” he said, “me.”

André Chung for The Undefeated

Who he is: a guy who came up in a Nigerian family that celebrated academic excellence and embraced the high arts. The creative space has always had a strong hold on him. It came to him naturally, more so, even, than his athletic prowess. “I come from a performing family,” he said. “My parents are Nigerian, and their parents and their parents — and it’s all about performance in their culture, you know. The music. The dancing … you’re told to stand out at family gatherings and perform in some sort of way. You’re just kind of born into it,” he said. “Me and my siblings … were forced to get up in the church and do some sort of play for the rest of the church. We’re like 7, 8 years old. It’s just what you had to do. It was always sort of in my blood.”

But the performing arts had to be a quiet passion. Especially once he got older. Football was king. So was basketball. And he played both at Narbonne High School in Harbor City, California.

“We took piano lessons. And I remember going to football practice — me and my brother. We were late to practice one time, and … I remember the coach standing us up in front of the whole team and just saying, ‘Nnamdi’s late, guys, and I wanted to tell you, he had a piano lesson.’ Everyone’s laughing, and I’m just sitting there like …” He shakes his head at the memory. “That stuff wasn’t cool at all.”

“Football taught me so much just about life,” he said. “The confidence of me being onstage or performing in some sort way … that was nurtured … and blossomed because of football.”

He shifted. Went full throttle into football, leaving the creative arts, and his equally passionate desire to excel in them, behind. It wasn’t until years later in college — he attended and played for the University of California, Berkeley — that he was reminded it was possible to live in and do well in both worlds.

“It was my junior year at Cal. A [teammate] of mine came up to us after practice like, ‘Hey, guys, I’m doing a performance down at Wheeler [Hall].’ I don’t even know what the play was. Like Porgy and Bess or something. Immediately I started making fun of him. You make fun of someone when they start talking about this, especially in the football world. I got all the guys to make fun. Like, ‘This guy, he’s doing a play!’ We went there to clown him,” Asomugha said. “[But] I’ll never forget he was brilliant onstage. I will never forget it … because it was one of the moments where I was like, ‘Oh, no, this is cool. This is OK, even though we play football.’ He opened my mind up.”

Cal Berkeley rid Asomugha of his own boundaries. It was transformative. He loved football, and knew he’d make a career out of it, but he also knew that when football was over, he’d transition into something more creative. And it was football, ironically — even with that early atmosphere of being anti anything that didn’t scream hypermasculinity — that gave Asomugha the confidence to pursue the creative arts. He’s appeared in the Friday Night Lights television series, as well as on The Game and Leverage; he collected his first credit in 2008.

“Football taught me so much just about life,” he said. “The confidence of me being onstage or performing in some sort way … that was nurtured … and blossomed because of football. Just being able to do things that you didn’t think you can do, that you can’t turn around. You have to do it and doing it in front of thousands, and then millions, that are watching. You’re onstage. It’s not that I don’t have the fear, it’s just that I know how to handle the fear, you know? I can have the fear and still think.”


For the new Crown Heights, Asomugha didn’t make it easy on himself.

He helps tell the real story of Colin Warner. In 1980, Warner was wrongly convicted of murder. In the film, which is based on a This American Life episode, Asomugha portrays Warner’s best friend Carl King, the man who devoted his life to proving his friend’s innocence, and to getting him out of prison. Lakeith Stanfield portrays Warner, and the film is an important moment for both actors. Stanfield pulls off an emotionally complex role, and Asomugha displays impressive dramatic chops.

Nnamdi Asomugha as Carl King in the new film “Crown Heights.”

Courtesy of Amazon Studios

“One of the interesting things about Nnamdi is how calm and assertive he is,” said executive producer Jonathan Baker, who founded I Am 21 with Asomugha. “He’s an extraordinarily even-keeled individual. His experience with sports created a sense of get-up-and-do-it-again. The discipline. People respond to him as a natural leader, and it’s evident in everything that we do.”

Asomugha even nails a very distinct Trinidadian accent. “He took it seriously,” Carl King himself said of Asomugha’s portrayal. “He’d call me and ask me questions. ‘Am I bothering you?’ It seemed like he just wanted to do the best job he could have done. And he told me he wanted to do the story justice. It’s a deep story. It’s not one of the stories that you can make up. This is a story about an injustice that was done to this kid in 1980. He had to endure 21 years of the very worst. And portraying me? I’m very pleased.”

The film premiered at Sundance earlier this year and was a critical darling and a fan favorite, nabbing the Audience Award. And Asomugha was ready for the moment, good and bad, both as a producer and a co-star of the film.

“This is cool. This is OK, even though we play football. It’s OK to live in both worlds.”

“I’ve played for the Raiders and the Eagles,” Asomugha said before laughing, “Those fans will prepare you for any event that you have to go through in life! I’m able to explore and just take risks, and just really go after something that I’m passionate about. I can take whatever’s going to be thrown at me.”

That preparedness was crucial.

“I didn’t bat an eye. Football taught me was how important the preparation is before the actual moment. And then when you get into the moment, being able to throw away the preparation and just hope that it’s in you somewhere, that it stayed in you. And that’s what I think with this,” he said. “The project came [along, and it] didn’t feel daunting. I wasn’t nervous. I wasn’t like, ‘Oh, my goodness, I can’t believe this!’ I was like, ‘Oh, I’ve trained for this. I’m excited. I can’t wait to go into a character [and] put something on film! And then it got such a great reception at Sundance, so I was happy.”


There’s more coming from Asomugha. He’s hell-bent on bringing more stories like Crown Heights, which will be co-distributed by Amazon Studios and IFC, to life. Asomugha’s company, I Am 21, is prepping to shoot the highly anticipated Harriet Tubman biopic. It’ll be an important film: Tony winner Cynthia Erivo is starring, and it tells the story of the former slave-turned-abolitionist who worked tirelessly as an Underground Railroad conductor, nurse and spy.

The plan is to start shooting sometime this fall, and Asomugha said the film falls right in line with the mission of I Am 21.

“There’s an element of true story, an element of stories that connect to social issues that effect some sort of change in the world,” he said. “There’s also fun stories that aren’t true, but just have amazing characters at the center. Whether it’s a woman or it’s a person of color, whether it’s a person [who is] just ‘other’ … telling the underdog stories, and how they’ve risen out of that.”

And as for the future of his own acting career? He’s been ready. “I’m the type of person that always has a goal of greatness,” he said. “My mindset is, I can take all the chances in the world. I don’t put stress on myself. What I do is enjoy preparation. It’s just who I am.

André Chung for The Undefeated

“There was a long stretch where practice was much harder than games for me. I felt a level of dominance and being in the zone, for years. Game after game, after game — practice was always harder. So, if there’s any level of stress in this, it’s not being onstage, it’s not the moment that the camera turns on. It’s the preparation that comes before that.”

Professional wrestler Booker T’s raw life An orphan, a dropout, a felon – and now a famous, married father running for mayor of Houston

They came out bug-eyed and angry, just like the promoter had instructed. Real-life brothers in a phony sport, mean-mugging in lavender tuxedo jackets, bow ties and shades.

“Ebony Experience!” the announcer boomed.

Just like the pro wrestling gods of their youth — Ron Simmons, Junkyard Dog and all those thickly muscled black men who used to enrage fans at ringside — Booker and Lash Huffman ticked off the crowd that night, too.

The 300 or so fans in the mostly empty Sportatorium, a dilapidated Dallas bandbox built in 1934, bent their torsos over the railing as the fledgling tag team made their way to the ring. They contorted their faces and screamed every racial epithet they could think of for a black man.

“C—!”

“N—–!”

“Go back to Africa, you f—– j——s!”

Booker wanted to jump the barrier and throw haymakers. Lash, six years older, laughed, camouflaging his anger. These bigots “are everyday stuff in America to us,” he told himself, widening the ring ropes for his little brother to slip through.

It was 1992, less than three years after Lash had told Booker he needed to come up with $3,000 to attend a pro wrestling school in Houston. And now, for $100 each, they had a tryout with the Global Wrestling Federation. The script called for them to go out as heels (villains) against two beefcakes called Brute Forcz. They would then emerge as faces (good guys), aiming to win the crowd’s affection by the end of the match. If the Huffmans were entertaining, they’d get more work.

But when the promoter told them, “You have to make the guys you’re working with look good,” Lash shook his head and pulled his brother aside.

“It looks like the fix is in,” he said. “Let’s just go out there and make these guys look better than they’ve ever looked in their life.”

They played the heels to the hilt at first, scowling and grunting as the N-bombs cascaded from the stands. But then Booker began quarterbacking the match. “OK, throw me into the ropes,” he whispered to one of his opponents as the match was going on. “Now duck.”

Incredibly, the crowd began to turn. “Same dude that just called us all that awful s— is now going crazy for us,” Booker said.

When it ended, Booker went to the middle of the ring and began break dancing, ending with his shoulders on the mat and his legs twirling in the air, a move the ringside announcer christened “The Spinaroonie.”

Within a week, Ebony Experience was the Sportatorium’s main attraction. The Huffman brothers — Booker at 6-foot-3, 250 pounds, Lash standing 6-5 and pushing 290 — a quarter-ton of bicep-flexin’, smack-talkin’ black ’tude, were packing all 4,500 seats.

After that night, the racist bile from one man’s mouth or an entire crowd wouldn’t faze Booker, because he came to understand an unsettling truth: The same people who N-bombed him were paying his rent, and some of them went on to become his most ardent fans. If he had to smell America’s bad breath, so what? It was the price of acceptance and ascendance in the squared-circle world, a world so much grander and greater than he had known before.


Twelve years later: Another arena, this one on Long Island, New York, another white opponent who needed to look good. Paul Michael Levesque, a stringy-haired behemoth known as Triple H, eyeballed Booker up and down within inches of his face, as if he had bought his opponent at auction.

By this time, Huffman, wrestling under the name Booker T, was no newbie. Propelled by a charismatic personality, the Spinaroonie and a trademark catchphrase purloined from the 1979 film The Warriors — “Can you dig it, sucka?” — he was one of the most popular figures on the pro circuit. That’s why it was so disturbing when, weeks before Triple H and Booker were to face off for the heavyweight championship at Wrestlemania XIX in Seattle, Levesque went to sinister places to sell the card.

“Somebody like you … doesn’t get to be a world champion,” Levesque told Booker at an event in the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York, pausing between sneers for effect. “People like you don’t deserve it.”

People like you?

“You’re here to be an entertainer. … Go ahead, Book, why don’t ya entertain? Do a little dance for me, Book. Why don’t you give me one of them Spinaroonies? Come on, don’t be embarrassed. That’s your job, to make people like me laugh. You’re very good at it — with your nappy hair and your ‘suckas.’ ”

The payoff had to be revenge, right? Black good guy over white meanie? When faces absorb such abuse from heels, the story is supposed to end with the face getting vindication via pin — or something that felt like the karma gods had spoken.

In the match itself, Booker T nailed his routine, breaking out an arsenal of dropkicks and clotheslines. At one point, he flipped 360 degrees off one of the turnbuckles and landed perfectly flat, next to Triple H’s head, which he elbowed. It was a feat as skillful as anything Greg Louganis ever managed off a 3-meter diving platform.

When both men collapsed in exhaustion at the end, the crowd was waving handmade, pro-Booker T placards. But as Triple H feebly laid an arm on Booker T’s chest, the “referee” counted the face out instead of the heel.

Crestfallen adults and children could be seen in the crowd. These people had bought in. They were sure of the outcome, knowing it would be as sweet for Booker T. as for them.

And then … nothing. No silver lining.

Not that night.

“I found out about a week before the match that that’s how it was going to go down,” Huffman, 52, says now. “I had to make the crowd feel a certain way about a guy with a silver spoon in his mouth beating a guy who pretty much worked his way up from the trenches. I didn’t question it, argue it. I knew everyone wanted me to win. But I just went along with what they wanted.

“It was easier that way. If I didn’t go along, where would I really be now? Could I have done the things I’ve done, overcome the things I’ve overcome?”


Todd Spoth for The Undefeated

There are no victims here, only volunteers. This is a story about a professional wrestler who used an artificial sport to build a real life.

It’s about a kid who dropped out of high school before becoming a convicted felon, and the big brother who refused to let “Junior” throw his life away. He found a career and his second wife in the ring. And after vanquishing multiple fictional foes, he now wants to take on education and homelessness as the next mayor of Houston.

Booker T’s loss to Triple H that night crushed many fans because, perhaps more than anyone else in the wrestling business, his reality was so integrated with his ring character that it often was hard to distinguish between the man and the actor.

He grew up orphaned and poor. He caught no breaks early, got in his own way later and somehow still found a path to prosperity in a profession that mirrors and magnifies the best and worst in its heels, faces and audience.

His career blew up nearly 20 years ago after a seemingly innocuous visit with wrestler Diamond Dallas Page to a juvenile detention center. He debated that day whether to tell his actual life story or stick to clichés about hard work and keeping your head on straight. But when he noticed that some of the hard-knock kids were rolling their eyes at Page’s motivational speech, Huffman went all-in. He told those kids everything, down to the day he got out of prison.

Some teared up. Others sat there, wide-eyed. When he finished, they stood and applauded. Page was so moved he told Huffman he needed to tell his story through his character, that his odyssey was much better than anything wrestling’s scriptwriters could come up with.

“It’s funny, you know, they love to say how wrestling is so fake and made-up,” Lash Huffman said. “And the irony of the whole thing is, the best thing about my brother is his honesty. Junior is so honest.”

Booker T inside of the ring at his gym, Reality of Wrestling.

Todd Spoth for The Undefeated

The more his story was told, the more the lines blurred. Was this real or entertainment? Sport or theater? Is the scripted racism damaging or satire? Do the heels and faces of pro wrestling reflect the world, or are they a caricature of it?

In the end, those are false dichotomies: The answer is always yes.

It is sport and theater. It reflects society and is a caricature of it. The racism is harmless and hurtful.

Pro wrestling is entertainment and real — especially for a boy who lost his mom young.


Danny, Carolyn, Lula Gayle, Billie Jean, Donald, Lash, Bonita and the baby, Booker: Rosa Huffman had eight children by three different men. And every member of the family watched pro wrestling, including a 4-foot-6 grandmother who had an old mattress put in her backyard for her grandchildren to practice flapjack pins.

Booker’s father, said to be a serious man and a good provider, ran moonshine, gambled and worked legitimately at the local pool hall in Plain Dealing, Louisiana. Booker Jr. was just 10 months old when his father went to retrieve a block of ice for the pool hall and dropped dead of a stroke. He was 59.

Rosa Huffman couldn’t bear staying in Louisiana after her husband’s death. She moved the family to Houston, where she worked as a nurse and supported all eight children by herself.

But when she was just 49, Rosa fell through the ceiling onto her back and neck while trying to fix the kitchen fan. She kept telling her panicked children she would be OK. And she was, for a few months. But a second surgery to remove fluid from her spine left her in a coma.

After several weeks, she was taken off life support. Booker, 13, and Bonita, 16, lost the only responsible adult in their lives. The older siblings tried to play guardians for a while, but many were running the streets, bringing home drug people and others who left Booker and Bonita so afraid to go to sleep at night that they wedged a chair against the bedroom door handle. Lash, the third youngest, couldn’t take the madness. He moved to a friend’s house without telling his youngest siblings.

Soon, the chaos of their siblings’ lives scared Booker and Bonita into moving back into their mother’s crumbling apartment by themselves. When the water was shut off for lack of payment, they schlepped 5-gallon buckets to a service station up the street, filled them with water and lugged them back, the skin of both palms bloodied by the metal handles. Bonita says she and her brother used the water for drinking, bathing, dishwashing and “filling up the toilet so it would flush.”

“Lot of days we just ate one meal at school and went hungry at home,” Bonita recalled. “No social worker even knew we were there. I could see my brother upset about a lot of things at that point. He was angry.”

Booker took out his meager station in life on other neighborhood kids. Bonita never remembered her brother losing a fight. “He wasn’t a bully or anything like that. He just never backed down,” she said. “That was something I loved about him: You don’t run, you face it head-on.”

Booker T holds an old photo of himself and his brother Lash.

Todd Spoth for The Undefeated

At 17, he impregnated a 15-year-old girl, who kept the baby even though her high school beau stopped answering his phone when she called. Still, Booker got a job at Fiesta Mart to help support their boy and began lifting steaks and whatever else he could manage. He was fired soon after — not for stealing, but for trying to impersonate his sister Billie Jean, calling his manager in a comically high-pitched voice to say, “My brother isn’t feeling well and won’t be in today.”

Booker dropped out of school. Bonita had moved to Dallas for work, and none of his uncles or aunts wanted him staying with them. Every reservoir of familial goodwill had dried up, except for one.

He’d barely had a relationship with Lash in the four years since their mother had died. But Booker swallowed his pride and moved into the Willow Creek Apartments with his older brother, who told him he could stay if he got a job.

So working a mile and a half away, he began dropping frozen fries into hot oil, assembling burgers with cheese and filling cups of soft-serve ice cream. He didn’t exactly rock that red shirt and black cap. But with no diploma and a newborn son, Booker was happy to have a job at Wendy’s.


A few months later, he was transferred to a different Wendy’s across town, which meant he had to catch one bus, wait 30 minutes and transfer to another one to get to work each day. In no time, the job went from a needed employment opportunity to a dead-end gig.

Billie Jean hooked him up with her boyfriend, a prominent marijuana dealer, who routinely had pounds of cannabis on his dining room table. Booker began slinging $5 and $10 bags of marijuana on the side, often smoking most of his profit.

He saw less and less of Lash at home, falling in with a crew that included his childhood friend, Wendell Sylvester, and Zackery Claybourne, a streetwise brother who had been to prison for robbery. They began carousing the club scene, wearing matching Adidas suits and coming up with nicknames for themselves: Booker was Nature Boy (after wrestler Ric Flair), Zack was Z-Boy and Wendell became Mr. Big Stuff.

Booker and Zack both worked at the Gulfgate Mall Wendy’s off Telethon Road, where their manager kept riding them about overcooked fries, undercooked burgers and the need to scrub the rings of caked-on chili off the pots. Eventually, Zack quit and Booker was fired for not showing up.

One night as they all smoked up Booker’s sales, someone threw out an insane idea: “Why don’t we get some guns and rob Wendy’s?” It kept coming up over the next few weeks until they decided on the most wacked notion of all. Zack and Booker each had a few uniforms.

Let’s rob Wendy’s with our uniforms on.

Decades later, it’s still one of the city’s most brazen string of robberies. Pretty quickly, they stopped concealing their faces with stocking caps, walking into a restaurant with .38-caliber pistols and their work uniforms, often behind legitimate employees taking the trash out at closing time. Booker would wait outside in his aunt’s car.

Soon, the crime was less a rush than getting home in time to watch the local news — “Wendy’s Bandits Strike Again” at 11:01 p.m. Over the first three months of 1987, Booker and his friends had robbed 12 Wendy’s, stealing between $400 and $4,000 each time. In what would be their last holdup, Booker went into the restaurant with Zack and Wendell, pistols drawn.

Houston police issued a reward of $5,000 for information that would lead to their arrest. The ads began playing on a local “CrimeStoppers” segment, and one of the interested viewers was Zack’s girlfriend.

On what became his last day of freedom, Booker met Zack at McGregor Park, smoked and sold weed, and headed home around dusk. As he neared the front door of the unit he shared with Lash, he sensed an eerie quiet.

Police officers in SWAT gear had him on the ground and cuffed in seconds. Booker feigned ignorance at first, but he was picked from a police lineup by witnesses who remembered him from the night he went into the Wendy’s for the robbery.

Within months, Booker, Zack and Wendell were in separate 6-by-8-foot cells at the Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville – Walls Unit. Named for its brick facade, Walls Unit was where all convicted felons were processed through the state’s penal system. It also housed the state’s execution chamber.

Huffman recalled something his mother once told him: “Junior, you know right from wrong. There’s no gray area in between. If you don’t stop, you’ll end up dead or in jail.”

At 22 years old, he was 1 for 2.


Todd Spoth for The Undefeated

Good behavior allowed Booker to serve just 19 months of consecutive five-year sentences for armed robbery and aggravated assault. Sylvester, by contrast, said he served 9½ years of a 22-year sentence.

Though Booker’s lying killed much of the trust Lash had in him, Lash knew his younger brother wasn’t a career criminal. He told Booker, “I’ll help you get back on your feet. But whatever you do — sweeping floors, washing dishes, digging ditches — you gotta pay your dues and walk a straight line.”

He got a job at American Mini Storage, completing his parole and getting custody of his son, Brandon, 6, who had been turned over to child protective services because his mother was unable to care for him. A part of him missed his old life: the partying, the chaos, the sense he could go buck wild at any moment. But that world couldn’t compare with microwaving Ramen noodles, adding chicken, cheese and crumbled-up crackers, and sharing dinner with his son.

As a lark one afternoon in 1989, Lash went by a small wrestling school in Houston owned by Ivan Putski, the bodybuilder/wrestler whose duels with the Iron Sheik and Jesse Ventura fueled the sport in the 1970s and ’80s. He simply then said to Booker, “Let’s start rasslin’.”

Booker thought he was joking at first, but Lash kept going. “Man, we’ve been fans for so long, and we both need something more in our lives. We’ve both got size, we’re athletic and we’ve got personality off the f— charts!”

Lash said it would cost $3,000, and Booker sulked. He didn’t have that kind of money anymore. But his boss at the storage company, Bruce Gasarch, gave Booker a $3,000 bonus and told him to make him proud.


“Cowboy” Scott Casey, a former World Wrestling Federation star, mentored Booker at Putski’s school. He also came up with his first character at the time the Gulf War had begun: “G.I. Bro, America’s greatest hero.”

Lash was given the character name “Stevie Ray,” and within two years they were on their way to Dallas and the Sportatorium for their first tag team match. Booker wrestled on the Texas Independent Circuit for two more years and kept the job at the storage company until Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling signed him for $70,000. Booker left for Atlanta and a life he’d dreamed about as a kid.

“It was an escape for me,” he said. “I had been in prison. I had lost my parents at a young age. I had no high school diploma.

“I finally found something that I really did very, very well. It was like, ‘Wow, I’m better than everybody else at this.’ I’m serious. It was like that. I knew I was better than everybody else. I had done theater and been a drum major for a while in high school. Then when I found wrestling, it was like déjà vu. Like, ‘Man, I’ve done this before in another life.’ ”

In 2000, wrestling’s once-dominant organization, World Championship Wrestling, was in a no-holds-barred battle royal with its rising competitor, the World Wrestling Federation. The WCW decided to pit its world heavyweight champion Jeff Jarrett against Booker T at the end of the season’s tour in Daytona Beach, Florida, in a card titled “Bash at the Beach.”

For the first time in his solo career, it was decided Booker T would emerge with the belt — the exact one (sans a few missing gemstones) that his childhood hero, Flair, had once worn. But in a bizarre turn of events, Hulk Hogan went off script. He had creative control written into his contract. And on the evening of the event, he told the WCW brass he wanted to be champion.

A poster of Booker T wearing the WCW World Championship belt inside of his home gym.

Todd Spoth for The Undefeated

Organizers were furious. But they created a storyline where Jarrett lay down in the ring with the belt at his side. Hogan, looking equally angry, circled the ring with a microphone and called the WCW a “bulls— organization” before half-heartedly climbing atop Jarrett. The referee counted to three for the pin and the lights went down. This was all part of the show, but it was followed by an unusual turn: WCW head writer Vince Russo coming to the ring and launching into a five-minute tirade aimed at Hogan, calling the wrestling legend a “god damn politician,” among other epithets.

Later in the evening, Booker T’s music began playing and everything restarted. Jarrett came out as if he was still champion, and he and Booker T performed the heel-face dance to perfection. For the first time in his individual ring career, Booker T was a heavyweight champion of the world.

No pro wrestler actually wins his title in the ring, of course. The decision is made backstage or weeks before by company presidents and scriptwriters. But once the belt is bestowed on you, it means your employer believes you are ready to be its most important ambassador. WCW believed an African-American with a backstory better than any they could write would sell. And Booker T sold.

Although promoters often wanted him to play a stereotype, he made a conscious decision to try for crossover appeal. He refused suggestions that his walk-up music be gangsta rap. He enunciated all his words. The only from-the-’hood line he used was his trademark slogan, “Can you dig it, sucka?”

“If I was wrestling a white guy and he was a good guy, they would cheer for him and boo me if I was a stereotypical black guy,” he said. “But me not being the stereotypical black guy, I can get away with it and be cheered just as much as him.

“They were cheering for Booker T — not the black guy coming out from the curtain.”

It wasn’t exactly “I’m not black, I’m O.J.” But for many people in the crowd, he seemed like a good guy with a remarkable backstory, and they were happy to cheer for this black man.

Booker realized how famous he had become one night in 1995 at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas. He was eating a steak dinner when an older gentleman interrupted him. “Are you Booker T? My kids love you. You mind if I take a picture with you?”

Booker did a double take. Frankie Valli of the Four Seasons knows who I am?

“You know why the fans were sad [about the Triple H loss]?” he said. “Because I touched them. And that doesn’t happen very often in this business, where someone of color can make them feel that way. I always worked on emotion. On telling my real story. My goal was to make them cry.”

A year after he was made champion, the WCW was taken over by the WWF and rechristened World Wrestling Entertainment. Huffman signed on. More than a decade after Putski’s wrestling school, he was now contractually obligated to WWE CEO Vince McMahon.


Todd Spoth for The Undefeated

It’s been 14 years since his Wrestlemania loss to Triple H. You want Huffman to be angry, resentful even, that McMahon and his writers wouldn’t let his character win that night.

He’s not.

“I never lost a wink of sleep over that,” he said. “Let all the fans know because they ask me about it all the time. They wanted Booker T to win the title more than I wanted to win myself.”

Triple H, he said, “was just playing his part, however f—– up that part looked.” At the time, Triple H denied any bigotry on his part, saying, “Why would anybody think I am a racist? Did I ever mention the word ‘black’?

Asked for comment, a WWE spokesman responded with this statement: “WWE is committed to embracing and celebrating individuals from all backgrounds as demonstrated by the diversity of our employees, performers and fans worldwide. Just like other TV shows and movies, our entertainment programming features fictional characters who play the role of protagonists and antagonists. Over the years, WWE storytelling has evolved along with the social landscape, and today WWE offers family-friendly, PG-rated programming.”

“They used me and I used them — that’s how I looked at it,” Huffman says now. “I was never down with being the stereotypical brother, and I made sure of that as my career went on.

“But at some point, you also realize white guys invented the sport and still control it. If you want to work, you gotta play by their rules and sometimes be who they want you to be.”

Perhaps that’s how you last in an entertainment genre that routinely traffics in ugly stereotypes about African-Americans.

One in which Rowdy Roddy Piper once pretended to feed bananas to a poster of Mr. T, saying he would “whip him like a slave.” And Ventura used to refer to black wrestler Koko B. Ware (James Ware) as “Buckwheat.” Kamala (Jim Harris) was billed as an almost-mute African savage. Tony Atlas was remade into Saba Simba, replete with shield, spear, headdress and a cringe-inducing “tribal” dance.

When Lash and Booker came to the WCW in 1993, their storyline called for them to play two convicts, won in a card game by cigar-chomping, seersucker-wearing manager/plantation owner Col. Robert Parker. At some of their first shows, the Huffmans dressed in prison jumpsuits and leg shackles because that’s what their white bosses thought would sell. Naming a modern tag team composed of two African-Americans Cryme Tyme seems almost benign in comparison.

Moralizing about it, expecting cultural enrichment and organic diversity is like expecting NASCAR fans to lower those LDL numbers. It’s the world of the Tonga Kid, the Mad Hungarian and an Asian-American man with perfect diction called Mr. Fugi, who practiced speaking broken English. Every minority is crudely stereotyped in the squared circle.

“Understand the only thing that has ever been real for me with wrestling is the entertainment and the performance in front of the crowd,” Huffman said. “In the end, it was all a show. … If it was real, I would have been one-time heavyweight champion because I would have beat up everybody.”

Late in his career, as a heel named King Booker, Huffman won the now-retired WWE World Heavyweight Championship, a belt the company created in 2002 for its Smackdown and Raw brands. But since the WWE’s origin in 1963, through 50 champions and more than 130 belt changes, no African-American has won its highest-profile title, the WWE World Championship. John Cena had 13 title reigns. Triple H had nine. The Rock (Dwayne Johnson, whose mother is Samoan and whose father is African-Canadian) held the title nine times.

“It’s still the one title that no [African-American] has ever won,” Booker said as we ate lunch at a Tex-Mex restaurant in Houston, a few hundred yards from his Reality of Wrestling training gym. (He has another facility an hour south of town where wrestling shows are taped for TV, and he also promotes boxing and MMA cards.)

“Why I never won it? Look, it’s their company. It’s almost like, I went to play a pickup game at the park. The one kid who’s got the basketball, he may be an OK player but maybe not the best player. But he’s on the team. It’s his ball. If I’m not a big person about that, I’m going home.”

It’s worth noting that Booker still works for WWE, where Levesque is now an executive vice president, as an announcer on Monday Night Raw. Booker never slammed the WWE for its decades of race-baiting. But then, how could he when he never objected to playing his part in the wincing black-white bits?

He played Triple H’s victim during that racially loaded promo. A few years later, he and Sharmell, his stage partner and real-life wife, conveniently stood off to the side as McMahon called John Cena “my n—–.” (“Tell me … he didn’t just say that?” Booker responds in what he acknowledges is one of his worst acting jobs. “I got so much grief for that from the black community. Part of the show.”) One time, he used the N-word himself while talking about Hulk Hogan during a promo, although he later acknowledged it was a mistake.

He retired as a full-time wrestler in 2012 and officially in 2016. With distance comes perspective.

“Look at these poor cats, New Day,” he said, referring to a current black tag team, a three-person outfit allowed to keep the two-man title under the “Freebird rule.” (Because why wouldn’t you have three black men following a rule named for three whites who once showed up for a match at Comiskey Park in Chicago with their faces painted as Confederate flags?)

“They’re the new token black guys,” Huffman said. “It’s as racist as it’s always been, most black wrestlers still being put in the back seat. I just never spent too much energy on it, other than not getting my total just due as being a champion, which I deserved.

“I woulda been a great champion, great ambassador. I know I would have.”

Does he get to play both sides of this fence? On his way up, Booker permitted wrestling to use his race. Now that it’s over, he gets reflective.

Was he genuinely hurt by his profession’s racism or not? Again, it’s a false choice.

He cared and he didn’t care. He didn’t care what sold the product. But he did care that he had to play by rules that kept him in the box labeled “Black Guys.”


“I look forward to having a dialogue with the voters of Houston, and if I am so privileged to serve, I will fight for them as hard as I have fought for myself and my family over the last 30 years,

— Booker T. Huffman’s Twitter account, December 2016

“You’re a mess,” Booker says to his 6-year-old son, Kendrick.

“You’re a mess, Dad,” Kendrick says back.

“Yeah, Daddy, you’re a mess,” echoes his twin sister, Kennedy.

Booker never really retired from wrestling. He just went into business as a suburban father. His pectorals and arms are still Royal Rumble-ready. He does 400 pushups each morning, not out of vanity as much as to ensure a 52-year-old father of young twins remains on this side of the soil as long as possible. (Brandon, now 33, had his own trouble with the law growing up. He lives in Houston and works in marketing.)

Booker T speaks on the phone while his twins, Kennedy and Kendrick, play on his shoulders.

Todd Spoth for The Undefeated

The felony conviction from 30 years ago still follows him. When he began traveling for wrestling shows internationally, Booker was frequently questioned by immigration agents. He had trouble at first getting a liquor license for his venue that hosts wrestling shows and boxing cards. And he needs a pardon from the governor before he can legally be a candidate on the November 2019 ballot.

“The paperwork is already in,” Booker said. His three personal references: Stephanie McMahon, Vince’s daughter, Triple H’s wife and the chief brand officer of WWE; Joanne Herring, the Texas socialite who persuaded the U.S. government to train and arm the Afghan mujahedeen fighters during the Soviet war on U.S. Rep. Charlie Wilson’s behalf; and Gasarch, his former boss who lent him the money for wrestling school.

Incumbent Sylvester Turner, an African-American Democrat, was a longtime member of the Texas Legislature before winning the mayor’s office in 2016 on his third attempt. Booker has yet to declare a political party, but he’s serious about his campaign. He’s hired an aide and an adviser to help formulate a platform.

Houston’s growing homeless problem, inspiring the city’s youth and fixing its educational system are his first priorities.

“You’ve got to go to the young people and look at it from their perspective,” he said. “We’ve heard forever, ‘Respect your elders,’ and it’s made us help little old ladies across the street and pay attention to our senior citizens. But I’ve never heard one time, throughout my 52 years, someone say, ‘Respect your young people.’

“We’ve got these classrooms of 40 kids, and it’s so disruptive the kids can’t learn anything. My mother-in-law works in the school district. She sees it daily. Something needs to be done about that. I’m not against public schooling, but I feel like the money that’s going into public schools needs to be appropriated properly.”

No Houston media outlet has taken the town’s temperature over the 2019 election, so it’s hard to say whether Booker’s candidacy will be received well. But he says with conviction, “I think I can win. I’ll get the young vote, the millennial vote.

“Sylvester Turner, Harvard [Law School] grad. He’s a very smart guy. But it’s not about him. It’s about my legacy, how many people I can help while I’m on this earth. Thing about it is, if I win I win, and if I lose I win. It’s not about just winning. It’s about getting off my couch and doing something.”

Maybe 20 years ago, the idea of a pro wrestler becoming mayor of a major American city might have been politically fraught. But we are in the post-Ventura, Arnold Schwarzenegger world now. A reality show host is our nation’s president. Why would we think Booker T can’t win? He’s already completed an apprenticeship of what it takes to move the masses in America.

“I pretty much made some dirt when I was a kid and made sure I got a big broom as an adult so I could sweep it,” he said, laughing. “I’m still sweeping to clean it up.”

Almost exactly 30 years after his robbery conviction, he still has nightmares of that swarm of police in riot gear. Strangely, there is also gratitude for those 19 months in prison, a reminder of the 336 months of freedom that followed.

A few years ago, he was contracted to give a speech to a group of wealthy Houston residents and wondered what he could say to motivate millionaires. “They’re already rich.”

He decided to tell the story of the Wendy’s Bandits feeling young and invincible before their fall. They gave him a standing ovation, unaware that Booker had a surprise for them.

“I want to introduce you to Wendell,” he said, pointing to a man immaculately dressed in fine Italian wool like many of the others in the room.

Booker had run into Sylvester at a gas station. He had no job, hadn’t shaved in weeks and looked hungry. Booker got him cleaned up and asked if he would accompany him to the speech.

Sylvester, who says he’s been straight since he got out of prison in 1995, now works as a driver for a trucking company. Although Booker says he wanted to keep helping him, the two men have since lost touch.

We want a world of bright lines. Heels and faces. But that’s not real life. It’s not the wrestling world, either. Both are messy. Complicated. Good and bad are mixed together, and both can be profitable for anyone willing to play their part.

Can you dig it, sucka?

‘Saturday Night Live’s’ Colin Jost and Michael Che aren’t mascots for the resistance ‘The Weekend Update’ hosts discuss real and fake news — and giving LaVar Ball a wedgie

Thanks to a never-ending presidential campaign and an even wackier Election Day aftermath, Saturday Night Live once again became the can’t-miss nexus of weekly political comedy that it hadn’t been since Sarah Palin was a candidate for vice president.

The show was rewarded with 22 Emmy nominations (tying HBO’s Westworld for most nods in 2017) and record ratings. It’s doing so well that NBC has spun off its Weekend Update segment into a stand-alone show, Weekend Update: Summer Edition, which premiered Aug. 10 and will continue airing Thursdays at 9 p.m. EST. SNL’s cast, including Update hosts Michael Che and Colin Jost, have become mascots for the Resistance. And while Kate McKinnon, Alec Baldwin, and Melissa McCarthy have embraced that role, it’s made Che and Jost uncomfortable. Neither of them got into comedy to change the world. That may seem odd, given that Che is a former Daily Show correspondent and Jost is a former journalist, both jobs that required a greater-than-average literacy about news and politics.

And yet, Che and Jost insist we’re taking them way more seriously than they take themselves. “If you had a joke they liked … now people are like, ‘Thank you, on a political level,’ or something, which is weird as a comedian,” Jost said. “That’s not really the point of what we’re doing. We’re not really doing political activism, we’re just trying to figure out what’s funny if we can.”

“It’s taken on different kind of importance that I don’t know that we’re emotionally capable of accepting,” Che said. “We want to piss off liberals too. I want to disappoint everybody, not just conservatives.”

What do you guys see your role as in democracy?

Colin: Class clown, probably.

Michael: Yeah, I think it’s just funny. It’s weird to get with so much news and so much coverage of politics and TV, that they’re still looking at comedians as the truth-tellers.

It’s all Jon Stewart’s fault.

Michael: It’s strange. You know what, you’re not wrong about that, either. It’s weird. It’s not really why I do comedy, you know. We always want to be funny. We want to be able to hit you from any angle and make fun of anybody. I feel like when people define your role, it’s easier to disappoint them, because they’re like, ‘Well, that’s, you’re not really on the right side,’ because you have to fit the consistency that they have already set for you, or the standards that they’ve already set for you, and I feel like with comedy, that should never be the case. You should never know where the ball is, to use a sports phrase. You should always be able to hide the ball.

Colin: Wow, you are a big sports fan.

Do you feel like there is anybody who is successfully managing to circumvent that without having to either face backlash or outrage from either side?

Michael: I think we do. I think we get written about for certain things that we’ve said, like making jokes about Hillary [Clinton]. I remember one time, we said in an interview, ‘Trump was smart.’ Before he won, it was like, ‘Well, you know he’s a smart guy,’ and people trashed us.

Colin: It was a whole headline, like, ‘They Think He’s Smart.’ How dare they?

Michael: They were so mad at us.

Colin: And first of all, we were saying both he and Hillary are clearly smart people, and the headline was, ‘Trump is Smart.’ He went to UPenn for college and is a billionaire. How many billionaires are idiots, you know? It’s tough.

Michael: I don’t know, maybe Floyd Mayweather? No, that’s a joke. Yeah, well I didn’t say [Trump] was the smartest, I just said he was — he’s smarter than me, that’s for sure.

If you got one gimme, one consequence-free opportunity to punch somebody out, who would it be?

Michael: That’s weird that she says it while LaVar Ball’s on TV. He’s just yelling at a lady.

Colin: Yelling at a lady for being out of shape, did you see that? Oh, my God.

Michael: I don’t know. Punching never gets you anywhere. I wouldn’t want to punch anybody like that, even LaVar Ball. Wedgie, yes. I would love to give him a wedgie. But he strikes me as the kind of guy that doesn’t wear any underwear.

Colin: You reach in, you’re like, ‘What?’ He looks back, like, ‘Yeah. Gotcha.’

Michael: Does that answer your question? LaVar Ball is pretty unlikable, but he’s getting the coverage, and people are entertained by him. I think people just need those outlets. You can yell at your TV at LaVar. It’s all entertainment. You kind of got to remember that and not take it too seriously.

Colin: Yeah, and if you’re a basketball player, you’re probably like, ‘What the hell is wrong with this? Why is he doing this?’ But then, if it helps basketball, and then you ultimately get paid more as a basketball player you’re probably going to —

Michael: Yeah, I mean when his son develops a rivalry with another player, and that adds a fold to the story and it makes people watch the game and it makes people excited. These kinds of characters is what makes rivalries important. That’s why I was telling people with sports teams, I think fans get that, because you see players and personalities that clash with … so like how mean were Boston fans to Derek Jeter, but when Derek Jeter left, everyone —

Colin: ‘He’s a good man.’ Welling up with tears.

Michael: Because he makes so many memories. You hated him, but you appreciate how fun he made the game, and how much fun it was to boo that guy. I think that’s also important too.

Colin: I was going to say I feel bad for his kids, but I don’t. I think they’re doing fine.

Michael: They’re great athletes, and you know what, even if they don’t make it, they’ve lived a great life. They’ve gotten a lot further than a lot of people, mostly because they look like they’re having fun. They seem to be enjoying it, and that’s cool, because at the end of the day, it is sports, and they could be digging ditches and tarring roofs.

Colin: That’s great, they enjoy it every time they’re on the court because there’s buffer from their dad.

Michael: You know they’re not going to get any fouls.

Colin: Think about that. That’s why they’re smiling on the court, they’re like, ‘We can’t hear him right now.’ That’s why they’re trying to get the crowd louder. They’re like, ‘Pump it up so that we can’t hear our dad yelling from the stands.’

Oh, no, you make them sound like the Jacksons.

Michael: Oh, I mean, yeah. I think Joe Jackson wears underwear though.

Colin: That’s the one difference.

A lot of comedians who predated social media complain about YouTube ruining the culture of stand-up.

Colin: I’m amazed people will write reviews of a show and quote every joke in it. I’m like, ‘Well, you just gave away all their material.’ You have to realize probably not so many are going to read that, but you just feel self-conscious as a comedian. If they quote your jokes, you’re like, ‘Oh, now I feel weird telling those jokes, because they’re already out there.’

Michael: Yeah, it kind of hurts the integrity of what you’re trying to do.

You guys grew up with the internet more than, say, someone like Chris Rock or Louis C.K.

Colin: Yeah, but when it’s on phones — you could record stuff when we were younger, or when we were starting out, but not everyone had a phone with a camera on it, so every single person in an audience has the ability to record your entire set.

Michael: There’s a company called Yondr. Do you ever use them?

Colin: Is that — they shut down phones?

Michael: They put a phone in a pouch, and they lock up your phone pretty much. [Dave] Chappelle does it. [Chris] Rock does it. Hannibal [Buress] does it. … I did it at Denver Comedy Works, and it’s amazing because your attention span, your sense of focus as an audience, is completely different. When the show starts, you’re looking at the stage. You’re not texting. You’re not trying to get a picture. You’re not trying to take a selfie. You’re not scrolling through Instagram one last time. The only thing going on is the stage, and the focus and the crowds are so much better and so much more attentive. It’s different. It’s night and day.

Did you work on your high school paper?

Colin: I did. I was the editor in chief of my high school newspaper, The Owl, no big deal. But then I worked at . . .

Michael: You’re right, that is no big deal.

Colin: . . . I worked at the Staten Island Advance, which is a newspaper on Staten Island. That was my first job.

How did you go from serious journalism to fake news?

Colin: I wrote, it’s so dumb, a humor column for my high school paper. You’ve got to start somewhere. And then for the real paper I worked at, I would just write things in my spare time, you know, Onion-style things at the time. I always wanted to do comedy. I just took a job because there was a job open, you know, like a journalism job. I’m shocked now, having … like it was a really good newspaper, even though it’s a small Staten Island newspaper. They have a really good staff and everything there, and I learned a lot about journalism while I was there, and when I see things now, like there’s so many factual errors in articles, and I’m like, ‘Where is any sense of integrity to it?’ That’s the strange thing to me. Certain things I get when people complain, like when politicians complain about the media and stuff, I see elements of it, because I’m like, yeah, when they get something wrong, or you just said something and then you’re misquoted or it’s changed or facts are wrong in the story and no one checked them. You’re like, you’re leaving yourself open to being criticized, you know?

The Daily Show built its brand on media criticism, and you guys have both spoken up about pointing out what we get wrong sometimes. Do you ever feel like that’s something you want to incorporate more into Weekend Update?

Michael: That’s sort of more of a Daily Show thing. We’re always kind of wary about doing what seems familiar, because as comedy fans, it’s a thing that we’ve seen.

And even at the show, we’re doing the job that Tina Fey did, and Amy Poehler, and Norm MacDonald, and Seth Meyers and all these people. They did it so well and at such a high level, and they’re so talented. We have to find a way to do that same thing and make it your own, you kind of don’t want to do the same thing as — it’s so easy to do what’s familiar because you’ve seen it done so well. You kind of just want to make it your own. So we started to make it a little bit more opinionated, a little bit more longer runs, a little bit more of the way that actual cable news is, as opposed to the way local news is, like how it started, where it was literally reading headlines. Now it’s a little bit more of a narrative.

Colin: It’s sometimes harder to get into some of the media stuff, because we don’t have so much time. Sometimes you have to get a little more in depth to explain, OK, this was the angle from that media source, and here’s why that’s wrong.

Michael: That’s why we’re really excited about doing these half-hour Updates, because we’ll have a little bit more time to kind of unravel that onion.

Animated short ‘Hair Love’ to show the bond between fathers and daughters Filmmaker Matthew Cherry wants to help ‘normalize’ black fathers

Matthew Cherry’s evolution has taken him from the football field to a stint as a production assistant to music videos. Now, his résumé includes a heartwarming short film in production called Hair Love.

Cherry said the idea for the film came from watching viral videos of fathers interacting with their daughters. In particular, he focused on ones that showed fathers combing their daughters’ hair, which can be both a chore and a bonding experience.

His five-minute animated film is about the relationship between an African-American father, Stephen, his daughter, Zuri, and her hair. Although Stephen has long locks, he is used to his wife doing his daughter’s hair. When she is unavailable right before a big event, Stephen has to figure it out and concludes that Zuri’s hair has a mind of its own.

Cherry said the “story was born out of seeing a lack of representation in mainstream animated projects, and also wanting to promote hair love amongst young men and women of color. It is our hope that this project will inspire.” He took to the crowdfunding site Kickstarter to fund the film. His initial goal was $75,000. To date he has raised almost $252,000, making Hair Love the best-funded short film in the history of Kickstarter.

Cherry, 35, is a former college wide receiver. In his four-year career at the University of Akron, he finished with nearly 2,000 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns. After college, he played for the Jacksonville Jaguars, Cincinnati Bengals, Carolina Panthers and the Baltimore Ravens. In 2007, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in entertainment, landing work as a production assistant.

“I was just Matt the PA, and I was here to work,” Cherry said. “I was here to learn and work the game from the ground up, and that’s how I kind of got my foot in the door.”

He has worked on more than 40 commercials and was a director for more than 20 music videos for singers and entertainers such as Michelle Williams, Tweet, Jazmine Sullivan, Lalah Hathaway, Kindred The Family Soul, Snoop Dogg, The Foreign Exchange, Bilal, N’Dambi, Maysa Leak, Dwele, Najee, K’Jon and Take 6.

Cherry’s film The Last Fall received awards at the American Black Film Festival (ABFF) for Best Screenplay and Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival (MVAAFF) for the HBO Best Feature Film Award. After a limited theatrical release, it made its television premiere on BET in December 2012 and is currently streaming on Netflix and Hulu. He recently released a short film, Forward, which premiered on Ebony.com. He also writes and directs the award-winning web series Almost 30 and Almost Home.

Cherry has one sister (visual artist Caitlin Cherry) and grew up on the northwest side of Chicago.

“Sports was a big part of both of our lives growing up,” he said. “I played baseball ever since I was 5. Football ever since I was 6. Played three sports in high school. Had a full scholarship for football in college. … My existence was very much kind of tied into sports growing up.”

Cherry spoke with The Undefeated about his transition out of football, positive representation of black fathers in the media and normalizing black families.


What was your inspiration for Hair Love?

The biggest, and I think the most important, is just we’re seeing a big lack of representation in that computer-generated, animated world.

We really haven’t seen a lot black characters in that space. Bebe’s Kids was the first animated feature film directed by a black director. That came out in 1992; 25th anniversary was a couple of days ago. Peter Ramsey was the first African-American director to direct a CGI [computer-generated imagery] animated film. That was like two or three years ago, Rise of the Guardians. I think in between that time, there’s really only been those two black directors that have done like a full-length feature film in the animated space.

So we only really have had in recent years maybe four or five examples of full-length feature films that really tell our story. But a lot of times you don’t really see the whole, full family dynamic, particularly in these computer-generated feature films. The biggest thing for me is just like really seeing that lack of a presentation. … I don’t have kids myself right now, but got a serious girlfriend, and one day we’re going to get married and be having kids, and I really wanted to make sure that when I did have kids that they had a character that they could relate to.

When you look at mainstream media, and you see all the images, black hair isn’t made out to be the norm. It’s not meant to be the standard of beauty. We have a very Eurocentric standard of beauty in America, and if you watch TV, if you pick up a magazine, if you look at different things, you’re not going to see yourself represented. … You don’t see your curly, kinky hair on these different models, on these different actors and actresses, on these different music videos, etc. It can really do damage to your self-confidence and how you perceive yourself.

That’s why my biggest thing with this project, first and foremost, was just to really hopefully have some characters that were human, that showed black families in a complex but also simple manner, and just have characters that people can relate to but then try to help increase that diversity in the animation world, because representation is everything. I think my biggest thing is if a little girl can see Zuri or see Stephen, and see themselves represented, if it makes them feel better about themselves, to me, mission accomplished.

Who did you consult with about dads, daughters and hair?

I’ve actually had this idea for a couple years. I always thought it would be cute to do a story about a dad trying to do his daughter’s hair. I’ve seen a lot of kind of online videos, and my main dad friends who have kids, they’re always posting pictures and videos online of their failed attempts of trying to do their son’s and daughter’s hair, and just always thought that that would be a really cool angle to hit, particularly because the whole black father angle. I think, again, in mainstream media, we’re really nonexistent.

We look at a lot of these movies and TV shows, they always depict black dads as deadbeats, nonexistent, abusive. These fathers, they’re getting girls pregnant, running off, that whole thing, and while obviously in every race, every group, you have that negativity, but it’s always made out in the black community like that’s just all black men are. We just are deadbeat dads. We’re not in our kids’ lives.

So for me it was just really important to normalize black fathers, normalize black families. And really I think in starring a young black father and his daughter, I think that would just do wonders to kind of help normalize those images, because it’s important.

What’s been the most difficult part of moving from football to filmmaking?

The most difficult part of my journey is feeling like you have to constantly create your own opportunities. Like, to this day, nobody’s ever hired me for anything. All my opportunities have been self-generated in some fashion. Outside the music video world, from feature films to short films, it’s all been stuff that I either created with some friends or I created on my own, and sometimes it gets frustrating because you feel like, ‘I made this. This premiered at a major festival. Help me.’

Help me get to the next level. I did the work. I followed the blueprint. I did everything that they say you’re supposed to do in order to have somebody help you get to the next level. …

You make all these sacrifices like putting your mom’s life insurance money into the making of your first movie. It comes out, hey, you get a little bit of press, but nobody hires you. Damn. OK. You go away for a couple years. You do random things to kind of stay alive. Then my second feature film, 9 Rides. We shoot it on iPhones and that’s the thing that gets you noticed and gets you an agent and then you realize that all the work you and your team put in mattered after all.

They’ve seen us doing the short films for no budget. They’ve seen us doing the music videos. They’ve seen us doing these feature films and all this other stuff, so. I think the biggest, most difficult part of the journey has just been having to continuously create your own opportunities to kind of continue to put yourself in the game, and I think that there’s a lesson in that, in that you can’t predict what’s going to be the thing that hits, or is going to be the thing that helps put you on. You’ve just got to keep working, keep grinding, and eventually something’s going to hit, or eventually someone’s going to help.

Do you miss football?

Not at all. Not in the least. No, I don’t, especially with all this news about what’s been going on with players’ heads and CTE. I’m actually glad that I didn’t play too long. People have been playing since they were 5 years old, too. You know what I mean? Between Pop Warner, high school, college, you might have your five or 10 years in the league, but if you’re 25 you might have played for 20 years.

How did you prepare for your career after sports?

I studied radio, TV, broadcast and media production in college. I interned at a lot of radio stations, and I was the music director at my college radio station at the University of Akron. I interned up at the Cleveland radio stations, KISS and then on WENZ. And so I would always be kind of dabbling in production, but more of an audio-radio side, and it was something I was really interested in. I loved cutting promos, loved working with all these other kind of post-production programs, and I kind of knew even in college that whenever I got done playing ball I’d either be working in radio or some level of entertainment on the production side of things.

I signed as an undrafted free agent. My rookie year with the Jacksonville Jaguars, I knew after training camp, I was like, “Yeah. I’ve got to get my plan B together,” because it was just so political. When you come in as an undrafted free agent it’s like being a walk-on, so all these things have to happen that are outside of your control in order for you to make it. Guys will generally have to get hurt or traded and all these other things. It’s not really about how you perform, necessarily. It’s about, ‘OK, can you justify putting this guy in over the guy we’re paying millions of dollars?’

And I knew literally in training camp like, ‘Yeah. This is kind of unfair. I’m doing my thing, but I’m still not getting rewarded for it on the field.’ I actually got cut during training camp, and then they re-signed me to the practice squad. That’s how they do it, and I learned when I first got cut by just feeling there was nothing more I could have done. I felt like I balled out. I did everything that I should have done to be able to make the regular team, and it didn’t happen for me.

What’s up next after Hair Love?

This has all been a roller-coaster ride. The biggest thing for me is just really trying to just continue to do projects that are personal to me. Things that I really love. We hope to be able to use the characters from Hair Love and turn it into a feature film

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

‘Queen Sugar’s’ second season explores a fraught mix of family and historical legacy Halfway through season two, we’re wondering what happens when the Bordelons fight back

Family legacy and the legacy of race in the South are the compelling — and intermingling — themes midway through the second season of Queen Sugar.

That’s an ambitious load, especially considering a series of adjustments for the widely lauded OWN drama: There’s a new showrunner in Monica Macer to free up day-to-day obligations for executive producer Ava DuVernay. And the show is now wandering farther away from the Natalie Baszile novel that inspired it.

Last week’s episode gave us one big startling revelation, but there’s plenty of unresolved conflict still simmering. So far, we’ve witnessed Charley Bordelon (Dawn-Lyen Gardner) powering through some serious upheaval. She’s divorcing her husband, she’s opened the first black-owned mill in the fictional St. Josephine’s Parish, and she’s struggling to help her teenage son, Micah (Nicholas L. Ashe), after a harrowing encounter with a police officer. Meanwhile, her sister Nova (Rutina Wesley) is second-guessing how much their late father accepted her decision to eschew a husband and children to throw herself into journalism. Their brother, Ralph Angel (Kofi Siriboe), has been desperately trying to grasp some independence for himself now that he and the rest of the family know their father, Earnest, intended to leave the Bordelon farm solely to him, thanks to a letter Earnest left that contradicts his will.

Alfonso Bresciani/ ©2016 Warner Bros. Entertainment

On its face, it’s easy to identify how Queen Sugar is wrestling with ideas of legacy. In the wake of Earnest’s death, Charley poured her energy into opening the Queen Sugar mill as a way to honor him. But that’s a bit of a ruse. After Ralph Angel confronts the family with Earnest’s letter, which leaves the family farm entirely to him rather than split between the three siblings, Charley is reeling. She tells a magazine reporter profiling her that she honestly doesn’t know what Earnest would think of her efforts. Opening the mill has provided Charley with an escape from having to deal with her divorce, her son’s post-traumatic stress disorder and her burgeoning relationship with Remy Newell (Dondre Whitfield).

There’s another legacy Queen Sugar is examining, one that’s less obvious than the land and independence Earnest left his family and far more compelling. Remember, the Bordelon farmland used to belong to a white family, the Landrys, who are eager to buy it back. The Bordelon ancestors used to belong to the Landrys too. DuVernay uses the antebellum connection between the two families to explore legacies of slavery, racial terrorism and emotional violence wrought against black people in Louisiana. Since it debuted, Queen Sugar has repeatedly revisited the concept of invasion into black spaces, whether it’s the repo man who comes to take Earnest’s tractor, police coming to search Bordelon property at night, or showing up again to question the ownership of a rifle, which Ralph Angel can’t have because he’s been convicted of a crime, or Landry deploying a drone to the Bordelon farm.

The Landrys and law enforcement are the two most obvious remnants of the Jim Crow-era South. That’s why the scenes of hostile white people showing up to Bordelon land to take something that’s not theirs — either people, property or both — engender the same feelings of panic and tension you get from watching night riders or the Klan accosting black people on TV and film.

Skip Bolen / @2016 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved

The feud with the Landrys is fertile ground, and not just because of the echoes of racial implications that still ring true in Louisiana today. The parts of the show that set me most on edge are the ones with Samuel Landry (David Jensen), even as the two-dimensional villain he is. Because of the enormous wealth the Landrys possess, they effectively control the St. Jo’s sugar market. With the only mill in the parish, they have a monopoly on grinding cane, and they use that monopoly to financially subjugate the area’s black farmers.

Charley and the Queen Sugar mill hold out the promise of a better deal for the farmers. Landry doesn’t take it well and deploys a drone to spy on the Bordelon farm. Ralph Angel discovered it when it crashed into his young son, Blue (Ethan Hutchison). The scene was deeply unnerving, both because of Blue’s already-established vulnerability and because the drone’s presence was such a contumelious intrusion of privacy. It was such an effective disruption of the calm, quiet and relative safety that rural living can provide that I wondered if it was fair to designate its use a form of high-tech terrorism. Who needs white hoods and burning crosses when you’ve got unmanned cameras and a private prison system eager to make money off the missteps of black people?

Ralph Angel’s status as a parolee continues to hang over his head — one wrong move and he’s back in prison, a weakness Landry is happy to exploit. For now he’s safe, but I have a feeling the second half of the season will get even more difficult for Ralph Angel.

But perhaps nothing is as awful as the revelation of what happened to Micah after a police officer pulled him over as he was driving his new Porsche.

In a gut-wrenching eighth-episode scene with his father, Davis (Timon Kyle Durrett), Micah reveals that the officer who stopped him didn’t take him directly to the parish lockup. Instead, he drove past it, pulled into a darkened alley, forced the barrel of his gun into Micah’s mouth and pulled the trigger.

Micah left jail without so much as a scratch on his body, but he was so shaken by the experience that he’s barely been recognizable to his parents since he was arrested. That’s how Queen Sugar examines a legacy of emotional violence and terrorism. The white people of St. Josephine’s Parish like their power, and they don’t want to let it go. But they’re smart, too, and their relationship to the black people of the parish can resemble that of an abuser toying with a victim. Sometimes it’s enough to simply flex the power that you have to send someone’s life off course, without ever firing a bullet. That’s something that the Landrys and the officer who arrested Micah know and are happy to exploit.

The midpoint of season two leaves us wondering: What happens when the Bordelons fight back?

‘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.

Sydelle Noel is making a splash in Netflix’s ‘GLOW’ The track star turned actress gets candid about Monopoly, her father and meeting Angela Bassett

Sydelle Noel is on the fast track to becoming one of the hottest actresses in Hollywood. Shortly after landing a small role in the highly anticipated Marvel movie Black Panther, Noel sprang into a challenging role as Cherry Bang, one of the featured wrestlers in Netflix’s latest original series, GLOW. It focuses on a group of women in 1980s Los Angeles who become the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. “Cherry is sexy, she’s very physical, she knows what she’s capable of and actually says what’s on her mind,” said Noel. “She’s not afraid of anyone, not intimidated by anyone. And she’s badass. Who doesn’t want to play a badass?” Noel’s former focus was on becoming a star athlete at the University of Georgia, where she ran track on a scholarship. Unfortunately, a stress fracture changed all that. But it’s Noel’s athletic background that helps her on GLOW. “Anything that’s a challenge,” said Noel, “I like to … conquer it.” Below (among other things) she talks about her favorite real-life wrestlers — and about which actress almost brought her to tears.

Who is your favorite wrestler?

I grew up watching Hulk Hogan. As I got older, I think me and everybody else loved The Rock. The Rock was my all-time favorite. He took wrestling and made it his own. And now he’s one of the No. 1 actors in the world.

Are there any rituals you get into on set?

Every athlete has a type of music they listen to to get them to that place — I’m very similar with acting now. I still have my get-crunk music, I have my cry-to-me playlist. I have so many different playlists I listen to to get me where I need to be, and in the zone I need to be. When I’m in my trailer preparing my lines, sometimes I listen to jazz. Sometimes I listen to Uncle Luke before the scenes I’m doing.

“Every athlete has a type of music they listen to to get them to that place — I’m very similar with acting now.”

What were your top three songs?

Nina Simone’s ‘Feeling Good,’ Lil Jon [& The East Side Boyz], ‘Get Crunk,’ and Tracy Chapman’s ‘Give Me One Reason.’ I love throwbacks.

Which pro athlete would you never want to trade places with?

If I had to say never, and it’s not because of their athletic abilities, it would be Serena Williams. It’s because no one ever wants to see her fail, so she has the world on her shoulders. She’s playing for her and everybody. That’s a lot of pressure … when she loses, it’s like she lost for the world, not just for her. But, shoot, that body, her bank account, her skills — I would definitely trade places for that!

If you could go to dinner with one person, dead or alive, who would it be?

The first person that popped into my head is my dad. I lost my dad when I was 9, and I would drop everything, give up everything, for one last dinner with him.

Who would you want to play you in your biopic?

Right now, I would want to play myself! Twenty years from now I wouldn’t know, but right now, if they were like, ‘Sydelle, we’re going to do a film about you right now. Who would you want to play you?’ I’d be like, ‘Uh, no one’s playing me but me.’ Not only do you have to have the acting down, but you have to be physical and have the athletic background. There are a very few — a handful — of African-American girls out there in the entertainment world where we can act, be physical and actually do your own stunts. There’s not many of us out there.

What’s your favorite throwback television show?

Fresh Prince! I love The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. When it’s on, I always have to stop and watch it.

“I lost my dad when I was 9, and I would drop everything, give up everything, for one last dinner with him.”

What’s the last show you binged through?

Dear White People. I was sad that it was over. I actually didn’t know it was over. I was like, ‘Wait a minute. What?’ With Netflix, shows just literally go on. In 30 seconds the next episode just goes on, and you just need it. It was done and I was like, ‘What just happened?’

What will you always be the champion of?

I will always be the champion of Monopoly. Always. Hands down, no one can beat me in Monopoly.

Have you ever been starstruck?

I’m starstruck all the time. I ran into Laurie Hernandez. I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, you’re so cute! I love you!’ The most [starstruck] that I’ve ever been, and it really brought me to tears, is when I was working on Black Panther and I saw Angela Bassett. I went weak in the knees because I’ve always wanted to work with her. She’s one of my idols. Finding out she was so down to earth and chill and fun, it was amazing working with her. When we wrapped, I just had to go over and knock on her trailer and let her know how much it meant to me, and I almost started crying.

If you could go back in time, what would you tell your 15-year-old self?

I would tell her not to stress so much about the future, because the future will be just fine. I used to stress myself out, especially with … my track career. I used to stress myself out … and would have to tell myself to relax, and just go with the flow. Let things be. Things will always work out.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

Timbaland on Missy Elliott’s ‘Supa Dupa Fly’ and how hip-hop got its groove back The Grammy-winning producer reflects on the songs that made Missy’s debut a classic

“I made hits with Total, Madonna and so many more,” says Tim “Timbaland” Mosley. “But far as chemistry? That just don’t come. Me and Jay[-Z] got it. Justin [Timberlake] too. Of course, Missy. When you think about it, it’s not a lot of people.”

The Grammy-winning Timbo is busy being an “architect” on the ABC competition show, Boy Band, but there’s always, always time to talk about the music. Especially when it involves his longtime friend and musical soulmate Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott. Collaboration creates hits. But chemistry? That’s the ingredient from which classics are built.

Mention Missy’s genre-bending debut Supa Dupa Fly turning 20 this week — Rolling Stone named it one of the 100 best albums of the ’90s — and you can just about feel the twinkle in Timbo’s eyes over the phone. “We did our job. We impacted the world,” he says proudly. He goes silent for a second. It’s long enough, though, to get that he realizes the magnitude of the achievement. “We made history.” He won’t go as far to say they shifted the culture. “But we came in and shifted the tempo, and the bounce.”

“We made history … we came in and shifted the tempo, and the bounce.” — Timbaland

Missy and Tim are but one in a line of Siamese twin-like creative musical partnerships: Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre, Nas and DJ Premier, Big Boi and Andre 3000 of OutKast and Organized Noise, and, in more recent years, Drake and Noah “40” Shebib. Missy and Tim are bound by creativity and trains of thought best described as “outside the box.” And by ZIP codes as well. Missy, a Portsmouth native, and Tim, from Norfolk, hail from the Seven Cities region of Virginia — an area Teddy Riley helped put on the map, and one Missy and Timbaland (along with The Neptunes) stamped as a songful hotbed between the musical metropolises of New York City and Atlanta.

Timbaland, Supa’s sole producer, and Missy, the visionary who wrote just about everything save a song or two from Timbaland mainstay Magoo, weren’t looking to change the game. They wanted to do what they’d always done with music: have fun. And fun is what rap desperately needed in 1997. The officially unsolved murders of Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. in 1996 and 1997, respectively, hovered over the scene. Shakur and Biggie’s music still dominated airwaves, and their videos were on constant circulation on MTV and the now-defunct The Box. Missy attended the Vibe after-party after which Biggie was murdered. “We were young,” says Timbaland. But Missy remained steadfastly focused on her songwriting even in the midst of an industrywide depression. “Her whole thing,” said Timbaland, “was, ‘I gotta do this and make it fun.’ ”


Supa Dupa Fly almost never got off the ground. Famously shy, Missy Elliott was content behind the scenes. She’d already crafted a name for herself with composer credits on works from artists like Jodeci, Gina Thompson, New Edition, 702, Ginuwine and more. She and Timbaland were the chief architects of Aaliyah’s 1996 double-platinum masterpiece, One In A Million.

A frame from Missy Elliot’s “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” video

Courtesy of Atlantic Records

But the occasional times Elliott stepped in front of a mic or camera, the entire music industry took notice. Sean Combs had positioned himself as the hip-hop King Midas, but Missy’s scene-stealing appearances on Thompson’s “The Things You Do (Remix)” (see below) and 702’s “Steelo” proved she was of the same crossover caliber. Her sound and wardrobe were unique, appealing and new. Her hip-hop Michelin Woman look shocked the world.

“Best Friend” was about us coming together as “superfriends” as we called ourselves when we did a record together.

Missy’s dream was to own an imprint and build her own crew of artists. The idea was a brilliant one as far as then-head of Elektra Records, Sylvia Rhone, was concerned. But under one condition: that Missy release a solo album of her own. “People think I did this for the money, but I was comfortable just writing for people,” Missy told SPIN in 1997. “And I mean really comfortable.”

Missy’s debut peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Top 200 album chart. She immediately became a bona fide star. And 20 years later, it still sounds ahead of its time: a gumbo of hip-hop, R&B, soul and dance. She and Timbaland’s musical, lyrical and stylistic vision was free and futuristic and helped make Missy a clubhouse leader in evolving discussions around feminism.

Missy’s body-positive and sex-positive lyrics thrived alongside the overt sensual raunchiness of Lil Kim. I’m the stewardess of the plane / Feel the turbulence and maintain, she coos on “Friendly Skies.” Please refrain and stay in your seats / Until we reach the gate. She didn’t need a plane to join the “mile-high club.” She was the club.

“It was a girl power thing … She was never a hater. Every girl that came out, she championed.” — Timbaland

In 1997, Entertainment Weekly dubbed Missy and the album “a wickedly innovative singer-rapper who favors expansive song structures and trip-hoppy textures. In the process, she creates an evocative space-age soul all her own.” SPIN said Supa could become “the most influential album since Dr. Dre’s The Chronic” and “everything here has ‘hit’ stamped all over it.” And a year before Lauryn Hill’s Miseducation declared her independence and became a blueprint for the matriarchal fusion of rap and singing, All Music Guide called Missy’s premiere project “the most influential album ever released by a female hip-hop artist” and spoke of its “tremendous impact on hip-hop, and an even bigger one on R&B, as its futuristic, nearly experimental style became the de facto sound of urban radio at the close of the millennium.”

Ahead of the album’s anniversary on Saturday, and Friday’s vinyl re-release, The Undefeated caught up with Timbaland. The legendary producer breaks down Supa Dupa Fly’s standout cuts as well his own memories of how the album Missy originally didn’t want to record changed their lives.


If Missy was going to be “forced” to do her own solo project, best believe she’d bring her friends along with her for the ride.

“Sock It 2 Me” feat. Da Brat

Timbaland: Da Brat is one of her good friends. They’re still best friends to this day. She wanted it to be like an all-girls thing. Like, ‘These are the top girls.’ It was about hooking up with women that were creative like her. She always looked at it that way. She always made friends with other women who were doing it like her. It was a girl power thing. Even when Eve came out, Missy was like, ‘That girl Eve is hot!’ She was never a hater. Every girl that came out, she championed. And she championed hard.


For “Not Tonight,” Missy links up with one of her closest friends in the industry: Lil Kim.

“Hit ’Em Wit Da Hee” feat. Lil Kim & Mocha

Timbaland: Oh, now that was dope! When we did that we [were] in New York. Missy was always cool with Kim. She always wanted to do songs with her friends. Mary J. Blige was her friend. Lil Kim was like the closest. When Missy heard [the beat for] “Hit ’Em With The Hee,” she was like, “I’ma get Lil Kim on this.” It was more like just getting her girls together. Watching her do that and watching her have so much fun, I don’t think the record had any intentions. Missy just wanted to make Missy music and make the world be like, ‘Whoa!’


The record not only changed the sound of hip-hop and R&B in 1997, it changed Missy’s life altogether.

“The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)”

Timbaland: That one I was going through my keyboard and I had this little loop. Missy was like, ‘What’s that?! That’s dope!!’ And I just kept doing it. Then I just put the bass line in it and she just started going off! ‘This about to be crazy!’ Next thing you know, ‘All right, all right, y’all gotta get out.’ I’m like, ‘Gahhh, damn!’ But we kinda created that one kinda together. Missy knew it was gonna be a hit the moment she heard the beat. We were both hype. After that, she took it to the radio station. I remember it was DJ Al B. Sylk, back in the day. She took it up there to 103 JAMZ [Norfolk’s WOWI-FM 102.9]. She was hype about that record. That was like one of the first records. And then after that, she tapped into a zone.


Timbaland dubs this duet one of the more underrated cuts on Supa Dupa Fly. It’s tough to argue its staying power either, with artists such as Bryson Tiller sampling it for last year’s “Let Me Explain,” and Drake sampled it for 2009’s “Bria’s Interlude” from his landmark mixtape, So Far Gone.

“Friendly Skies” feat. Ginuwine

Timbaland: If you’re from Virginia, man, it was about being in the studio. That may be how kids do it now, but they also do it a little differently. We just had fun. I think when I do the track it made them feel a certain way. Both of them [Missy and Ginuwine] start, they’re laughing, and once again I’m getting kicked out the room (laughs). I come back in and the song is done (laughs). And I’m like, ‘Oh this is dope,’ but I’m like, ‘Change this, change that.’

Timbaland, Supa’s sole producer, and Missy didn’t seek to change the game. They wanted to do what they’d always done with music: have fun. And fun is what rap desperately needed in 1997.

That’s how it usually is, and it’s cool for me that way. It gave me time to go play my PlayStation. And if I’m in the studio [when they’re recording], I’ma critique it. … I put so much time into the music part, making sure that their emotions are there. I gotta walk away. I can’t really pay attention to how they write the song. It’s hard, but it’s kinda good she kicked me out. But also, I’d probably walk out. I want to hear what emotions they came up with versus what I was feeling.


Missy and Aaliyah — so much potential. While not their most famous collaboration, “Best Friend” is Missy and Aaliyah’s most personal duet.

“Best Friend” feat. Aaliyah

Timbaland: How we vibed in the studio, we was family! Missy and Aaliyah had a very close bond. Missy is a person who is fun and jokes around. Aaliyah was the same way. She could make you laugh all the time. So “Best Friend” was about us coming together as “superfriends,” as we called ourselves when we did a record together. Missy just made the title “Best Friend.” When I created music, she’d go in her own space and create lyrics. She don’t talk about it. She kicked me out the room! (laughs)


Music is defined by its eras, but more truly by those who dominated them. It’s why Def Jam, Death Row, Bad Boy, Roc-A-Fella, Cash Money, No Limit and now October’s Very Own and Top Dawg Entertainment have such a fascinating hold on cultural history. The conglomerate of Missy, Timbaland, Magoo, Aaliyah and the late Static Major never had an official name. But their output is on par with the best of the best.

“We did stuff with feeling,” said Timbaland. “We know how we felt from a small place called Virginia. We knew if it felt overjoyous to us … it would flow to other people … We didn’t know how big it was gonna be, but we knew we had a sound.”

March on Washington Film Fest features 9th Wonder, Diahann Carroll and Eric Holder This year’s festival looks at civil rights across sports, entertainment, higher education and the legal system

The March on Washington Film Festival returns this month for its fifth year of celebrating films that explore themes of civil rights, activism and social justice.

Panels and events including actress Diahann Carroll, producer 9th Wonder and former Attorney General Eric Holder are among the highlights of the 21 events that run from July 13-22.

Holder will be on hand for a couple of events. He’s part of a panel discussing Walk With Me: The Trials of Damon J. Keith before an invitation-only audience July 20 at the Supreme Court. And he and his wife, Sharon Malone, will be presenting writer Ta-Nehisi Coates with the Vivian Malone Courage Award on July 15. Vivian Malone, Sharon’s sister, was one of two students who integrated the University of Alabama in 1963 and became its first black graduate in 1965.

Carroll will be attending to support a documentary-in-progress co-directed by her daughter, Suzanne Kay. Festivalgoers will get a glimpse of the film from Kay and Margo Speciale about The Ed Sullivan Show and its importance in introducing America to black artists. Sullivan faced threats and boycotts for integrating his variety show, one of the most watched programs in America, but he persisted nevertheless. The full documentary is expected to be completed in 2018.

9th Wonder, the ear behind Jay-Z’s Black Album, Kendrick Lamar’s Damn., and Anderson .Paak’s Malibu, will be on hand to discuss The Hip-Hop Fellow (2014) with the Kennedy Center’s new director of hip-hop programming, Simone Eccleston, on July 21. The Hip-Hop Fellow follows 9th Wonder (also known as Patrick Douthit) as a fellow at Harvard’s Hip-Hop Research Institute, where he also taught for the 2012-13 school year. Among the records that 9th Wonder selected to be archived in Harvard’s Loeb Music Library: A Tribe Called Quest‘s The Low End Theory, Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, Nas’ Illmatic and Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly.

This year’s festival also marks the introduction of the Freedom’s Children Student Journalists Competition. Earlier this year, students from around the country submitted work for the chance to cover the festival for various journalism outlets. The Undefeated is participating and will be running work from the winners.

Also worth a gander:

Olympic Pride, American Prejudice

Deborah Riley Draper’s 2016 documentary, narrated by Blair Underwood, looks beyond Jesse Owens to the 17 other black American athletes who participated in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, some of whom also won medals at the Games.

Scarred Justice: The Orangeburg Massacre 1968

When many people think of violent clashes between college students and the police, the horrors of Kent State spring to mind. But Scarred Justice: The Orangeburg Massacre 1968, the 2008 film from directors Bestor Cram and Judy Richardson, reveals the history and context behind a standoff at South Carolina State University in 1968, when South Carolina Highway Patrol officers killed three protesters and injured 27 others who were demonstrating for the desegregation of an Orangeburg bowling alley.

Winnie

Director Pascale Lamche’s 2017 documentary about the freedom fighter and former wife of Nelson Mandela premiered this year at Sundance. Winnie Mandela sat for four interviews in two years with Lamche, and the result is a look at her fight against apartheid in South Africa and the toll it took on her and her marriage. The festival will host a discussion at the National Museum of Women in the Arts on July 19 with poet Elizabeth Alexander and Gay McDougall of the U.N. Committee for Ending Racial Discrimination.

Festival attendees can check out the full event lineup and purchase passes and tickets at http://marchonwashingtonfilmfestival.org.

This article has been changed to correct the number of events and the relationship of Vivian and Sharon Malone.