‘Insecure’s’ Natasha Rothwell knows a thing or two about (teaching) drama The writer and actress taps into her life for a new role in ‘Love, Simon’

You probably know Natasha Rothwell as Kelli, who, along with Amanda Seales, rounds out the foursome of female friends on Insecure anchored by Issa Rae and Yvonne Orji.

Kelli had that rather, err, explosive scene in season two. The one in the diner where she’s enjoying herself at the surreptitious hand of her male partner. Men experiencing pleasure in inappropriate places is a whole subgenre of comedy (See: Vince Vaughn and Isla Fisher at the dinner table in Wedding Crashers for an especially memorable example.) But like with so many things, Insecure takes that trope and flips it. There was Kelli, drunk and eyes widening, as her friends looked on.

Did she just … ?

Or maybe you remember Rothwell because she’s been immortalized in GIF form for the way she delivered one word.

Rothwell, a former Saturday Night Live writer, is both a writer and series regular on Insecure. She’s also developing a show of her own for HBO. And on March 9, her new movie, Love, Simon, opens. The film, directed by CW rainmaker Greg Berlanti, is about a kid (Nick Robinson) who struggles with coming out, even though he’s surrounded by supportive family and friends. Instead, he seeks solace and community online, emailing pseudonymously back and forth with another kid at his school who’s also closeted.

All of this happens against the backdrop of regular senior-year angst. Rothwell is a natural scene-stealer as Ms. Albright, a perpetually unimpressed drama teacher trying to lead her students through a production of Cabaret. She does a lot of eye-rolling and huffing about the fact that her career never took off after she was an extra in The Lion King, which is why she’s a high school drama teacher.

There’s a bit of truth in all fiction, and Rothwell didn’t have to look particularly far to find inspiration for Ms. Albright.

Our conversation has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

Did you have any instructors like Ms. Albright?

I definitely was inspired by drama teachers in high school named Mr. Walsh and Ms. O’Neil, and both of them were very formative in helping me sort of understand theater. But I think my biggest inspiration is that I was a high school drama teacher in real life for four years in the Bronx. It was really sort of nuts how real life had prepared me for this a while ago. When I moved to New York, I really wanted to find my bread job as close to my passion as possible. There’s nobility in waiting tables. But I really wanted to find a job in the arts, and so I started teaching.

What did you take from that experience? High school life is so melodramatic anyway. I have to imagine the kids were a source of entertainment.

Oh, absolutely! I mean, there’s one student who wrote the monologue he was supposed to have memorized down his arm. So, it’s like the comedy of watching someone looking down at his arm and trying to get away with that kind of stuff. And then there’s a real sense of community. I feel like theater in high school seems to be sort of like the safe haven for the outsiders and people who don’t necessarily fit in. And it was a … come-as-you-are sort of class and it’s a come-as-you-are after-school activity.

I often worked with students who didn’t necessarily excel academically, but they thrived in the arts. And I think a lot of the sports teams felt the same way. They may not thrive in this area but were finding a home for their passion. And then that in turn motivated them academically because in order to participate in the theater program, they had to make the grades academically.

“I can sit at home and lament the fact that a really honest-to-goodness romcom starring me doesn’t exist. I could bemoan that and throw a penny in a well, or I can write it.”

You have quite a bit of experience in sketch and improv comedy. What is the most ridiculous ‘yes, and’ situation you’ve ever had to play off of?

It would probably be an improv situation where I was a part of [Upright Citizens Brigade]. We would do jams where you do a show with a bunch of people, and you invite members of the audience that didn’t necessarily come there to participate and do improv in front of an audience. And depending on the time of the jam, some of the audience members could be intoxicated, and so there definitely have been times where I found myself onstage trying to triage the scene with a drunk audience member. Or new people to comedy confuse funny for mean. And so, in those jam situations you get an audience member onstage and they want to be funny so badly that they end up saying something mean or hurtful to someone else. So you’re there to spin it in a positive way to save the scene.

The really awkward moments of just like, ‘I have to agree with this person onstage, but then I have to end it with something that will make the scene palatable.’ I definitely have been there.

Last year the Los Angeles Times published a spread about black women in comedy. There were all these talented actresses, some with years of experience, talking about limits and stereotypes with the roles they’re approached to play. As a writer, have you given thought to the role you want to play that no one else is going to write?

I do feel as a writer the sort of inspiration I get for things … is to fill that gap of “Oh, these are things that I want to do that I don’t get the opportunity to do.” Or scenes [where] people aren’t necessarily considering women of color, they won’t cast women of color in a specific story. I think about it often, but I don’t necessarily think of it in terms of “I want to be cast” or I don’t think about in terms of “Here’s a role that I wish someone would cast me in.” I just feel like to sit and have that wish is inactive. And what’s active is writing it.

I can sit at home and lament the fact that a really honest-to-goodness rom-com starring someone like me doesn’t exist. I could bemoan that and throw a penny in a well, or I can write it. And I can type that version of that story in a writers’ room, if I should be so lucky. Or if I am blessed to direct or cast and have those says as an executive producer, I’ll do those things, and for me that’s an active approach.

You know, we work twice as hard for half as much has been the hand we’ve been dealt. I want to get to work and I want to start creating those roles.

What can you tell me about your project with HBO?

HBO has been incredible and a huge champion of my work, my passions, and has been a great home for my talent, I feel. Developing my own series that I will be writing and starring in is just massive. It’s a comedy. It takes place in New York, and it’s going to be an opportunity to write myself into the role and situation that we haven’t seen yet. And, I am really, really excited because I think we are going to be doing something that I haven’t seen before and HBO hasn’t seen before. That’s about all I can get into it about it. But I can’t wait for everyone to see it.

 ‘Atlanta’ recap: season 2, episode 1: The family scars that bind Beware of ‘Florida Man’ — it’s not as crazy as it sounds


Season 2, episode 1 | “Alligator Man” | March 1

“Robbin’ season. Christmas approaches and everybody gotta eat.”

— Darius

It didn’t take long for Atlanta’s season two to live up to its theme: robbin’ season. Off the rip, you just knew the two young boys were ’bout to hit a lick. The way they were talking in the apartment, from the special order they gave at the drive-thru. But really, the most dead giveaway is Tay-K’s “The Race” lyrics, Pop a n—– then I go out my way, being played as they completed their order.

Darius is right, though. Everybody gotta eat. Hence the guy in the fast-food spot running a holiday hustle and the two young men sticking up the place. The distraught young lady in the back seat is presumably a victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The only unbelievable thing from the opening scene is that no one got hit with a bullet (that we know of).

Elsewhere, even Earn gets robbed: An employee at the storage unit he sleeps in — remember he’s homeless — tells him he has to vacate and then proceeds to take a handful of Earn’s personal belongings. That isn’t much of a shock to Earn. Sleeping in a storage unit doesn’t lend itself to a long shelf life. But what is a shock is seeing that his cousin Paper Boi (who is on house arrest) and Darius aren’t on speaking terms. Never mind that he has the most awkward exchange of the entire episode when he calls Paper Boi’s girl “Regina” when her name is Tara. Earn is more concerned about why the two friends “don’t wanna talk” than about why they’re, in fact, not talking.

“What I’m scared of is being you. Someone everybody knew was smart. But ended up being a knew-it-all, f— up that just let s— happen to him.”

Nevertheless, leave it to Earn and Darius to produce a classic car scene. Darius is taking Earn to meet with his parole officer; this stems from when he was caught with marijuana after Paper Boi shot the guy at the end of last season’s first episode (“The Big Bang”) and him spending all of episode two in jail (“Streets On Lock”). Their first classic conversation occurred in last season’s “The Streisand Effect” when Darius told Earn how AIDS was invented to keep Wilt Chamberlain from breaking the all-time sex record. And that black people didn’t know who (the white) Steve McQueen is. This time around, however, Darius ignores Earn, saying his parents are going to visit his dying uncle in Florida. Instead, the exchange about “Florida Man” being the “alt-right Johnny Appleseed” who shoots unarmed black teens, kills flamingos, eats people’s faces and beats up people in hospitals is an instant classic exchange in a series with plenty. “Florida Man” is, in Darius’ world, a ploy by the government to keep black people from moving to Florida and/or registering to vote in the state. But “Florida Man” is a representation of outrageous yet very real stories that have arisen out of the Sunshine State this decade. It’s such an Atlanta conversation that you’re forced to say, “Well, you know, he might be on to something.”

The episode takes a dark turn, but at the same time becomes more illuminating, when Earn promises Alfred he’s going to visit Willie, played by Katt Williams. Judging from context clues, Willie is Paper Boi’s dad and Earn’s uncle. His girlfriend/live-in-rival, Yvonne, claims to have been kidnapped by Willie and is actually locked in a bedroom. Willie claims Yvonne stole $50 from him while he was asleep. She claims she didn’t, saying that Willie must have drunk it (he’s later seen sniffing coke in the kitchen). It’s also here we learn why the episode is titled “Alligator Man” — because Willie keeps a pet alligator, Coach, in his house. Yes, you read that right.

The cops eventually arrive. Both Yvonne and Willie try to downplay the situation, although Willie (as we can already tell) takes it too far. Earn’s attempts to make peace are unsuccessful. Willie says Earn’ll soon learn that “family is business.” Earn’s clap back is the most sobering revelation of the entire episode. But Earn and his uncle’s eventual heart-to-heart reveals two men struggling to get a grasp on life. Pride weighs down both men. “What I’m scared of is being you,” Earn says. “Someone everybody knew was smart. But ended up being a know-it-all, f— up that just let s— happen to him.”

A subplot to this episode is the reality of the unknown. We don’t know (yet) why Darius and Paper Boi aren’t talking. We know Paper Boi’s mother died — but we don’t know how Willie may have played a role in that. And we don’t fully know why Earn is holding an emotional grudge toward his Uncle Willie with regard to his mother. It’s part of the larger arc of this season. We know these characters. We know their hopes and dreams. We know their fears. We even know Darius’ deep-rooted conspiracy theories. But we still don’t know their entire story.

Maybe those answers will arise over the course of season two, but Willie gives Earn a gold-plated handgun (is it Chekhov’s?) that looks straight out of Nintendo 64’s Goldeneye and a piece of advice: “If you don’t wanna end up like me, get rid of that ‘chip on your shoulder’ s—. It’s not worth the time.” It’s an OG comedian/actor who had the world in his palms, but self-inflicted mistakes ruptured the potential he had in his hands — giving a current comedian/actor with nothing but green pastures ahead of him game he needs to survive not just the game but his own pitfalls. Earn also takes a framed picture of his Uncle Willie and mother before he leaves. Williams absolutely shines in this episode, adding to a very impressive 2018 for the controversial comedian that also includes a standout comedy special in Great America.

The episode ends on three separate notes: hilarious, comforting and similar. Hilarious because eventually Coach the Alligator makes his appearance. This allows Uncle Willie to peel out the back door with the fastest speed known to man. Not Usain-Bolt-in-the-Olympics speed, but run-from-the-police speed. Comforting because Paper Boi and Darius move toward peace. And similar because Earn leaves Paper Boi’s house still homeless. It’s darker in Atlanta, just as many predicted.

Anthony Hemingway, a director from ‘Underground,’ takes on the ‘Unsolved’ killings of Biggie and Tupac New USA Network series: ‘It allows you to see how human this story is — how universal it is’

Tupac and Biggie and their untimely — and unresolved — deaths: Sadly, it’s a story we all feel we know so well. Turns out, there’s much that even the most nerdy of hip-hop fans don’t know.

That’s where USA Network’s Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G. comes in. Starting Tuesday night, the network will air a 10-part limited series that will examine the origin stories, the friendship, the deaths and the aftermath of the two artists’ deaths. Marcc Rose and Wavyy Jonez portray Shakur and Biggie, and their characters are in the foreground of what is actually a deep dive into the Los Angeles Police Department’s investigations of the cases. The series was created and written by Kyle Long, and the series is largely directed by Anthony Hemingway, who helped to shape WGN’s much-loved and now-canceled Underground. Hemingway approaches Unsolved with a similar historical paintbrush — the one that turned the slave diary trope on its head. And as usual, Hemingway gives us something for the culture.

We talk.

Why did you wanted to be a part of this project?

Like many of the other things I’ve been blessed and fortunate to work on — Underground, especially — I had an opportunity to [showcase] our culture. I’m continuing to find opportunities that speak to that. That allow us to learn more about ourselves. We have to know about our past and our history before we can move on. And so examining this story that took place 20-some years ago, we get to see these two young men who actually supported each other. I don’t see enough of that right now. Underground showed us our strength, and the superheroes that we are … Unsolved does that too. We get to … learn how to even be confident in ourselves, and to not lose ourselves. So many layers … those are the highlights for me in this.

It’s a story from 20 years ago, but this has a contemporary feel to it — that feels deliberate.

It allows you to really see how human this story is, and how universal it is. Seeing how their music transcended so many lines. From old to young, no matter what creed, color, race you come from. They impacted and affected people, and people loved them. It does feel like today. We still rock and jam to their music. It’s timeless, and it’s one of these stories that I think will continue to be relevant.

The diversity behind the camera right now must feel encouraging, it’s allowing for stories like this to be told.

Yes, but … even with seeing this progress, we can’t get comfortable. We have to continue to strive to be the best. To continue paving the way and opening doors for those behind us. I know there were many before me, and knowing and understanding that is not lost on me. I don’t take it for granted, this opportunity. And it really gets me a lot of times when I see young kids come up to me in various places and are inspired. It’s the things and the people that you touch that you don’t realize. And I love that we’re able to hit it on many levels of different scales, from comedy to drama to action to sci-fi. We’re covering all the bases … I’m having a great time. When Malcolm Lee called me to direct second unit on Girls Trip, I did not flinch. I said, “Absolutely, what are the dates?”

Is stuff like that happening a great deal right now?

Kenya Barris is creating things and is calling me like, “I want you to do this. You tell this story right.” And I’m loving that we are doing what we talk about all the time. We practice what we preach … I pray that it continues. It’s up to us to help make sure it continues. And not just find that moment where we say, “We made it.” We have still have so far to go.

From ‘Dawson’s Creek’ to ‘Buffy’ to ‘Frasier’ to ‘Seinfeld’ — what happened to those lone, ‘token’ black actors? Eight talents tell stories of offensive scripts, stunt people in blackface and the heartbreak — and hope — of portraying Thug No. 2 and the dope dealer’s girlfriend

This is about television in the 1990s but let’s start with a quick, tragic and important trip to 1975.

Happy Days is about to deliver its infamous and most cringe-worthy episode. In “Fonzie’s New Friend,” the leather jacket-clad Fonz meets up with Sticks Downey, a new-to-town wisecracking drummer. The Fonz decides that Sticks, played with seemingly effortless timing by John Bailey, would make a great addition to Richie Cunningham’s band. When Richie asks a young woman on a date to a luau — with Fonzie’s new buddy as the perfect hookup for her friend, the punchline is of course that Sticks is black.

“Why do I get the feeling I was just humiliated?” Sticks deadpans as the studio audience roars with laughter. From there: one-liners about Downey’s lack of basketball prowess, about eating fried chicken and watermelon and yes, a low-key slavery joke. “Sticks was a very offensive character,” said artist Alida Bailey from her Palmdale, California, home. The easygoing stepdaughter of John Bailey wasn’t alive when the episode aired, but she’s seen it many times. “It was so over-the-top,” she said. “But to his credit, my father was still hilarious. He could shine in any role even if it was a token one.” He appeared in 1977’s The Kentucky Fried Movie, but by the ’80s, John Bailey bolted to the adult film industry, where he went by name Jack Baker. In 1994, he died of bladder cancer due to complications from AIDS.

“My dad got his foot in the door … despite race being an issue,” Alida Bailey said with pride. “But once the roles started to dry up, he could see that there was no equality in Hollywood … What you’re left with are token roles.” Downey was the 1970s. And while ’80s television — a groundbreaking era that launched The Cosby Show, the criminally underrated Frank’s Place, The Oprah Winfrey Show, and 227, the 1990s were actually awash in tokenism.

Yes, the adored 1990s. Even with the shows that are seared into our collective DNA: The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Roc, In Living Color, The Arsenio Hall Show, New York Undercover, and Martin — all of these were must-see TV. There was A Different World, Family Matters, Moesha, Sister, Sister, Living Single. Indeed, in the 1990s, the wealth of black representation on television could lull you into thinking — if you turned the channel from Rodney King taking more than 50 blows from Los Angeles Police Department batons — that black lives actually did matter. But almost all of these shows were in varying ways, an extension of segregated America. It’s there in the memories of the stars below: There were “black shows,” and there were “white shows.” If you were a black actor appearing on a white show, you were usually alone.

For some of the most visible black actors coming of age in the 1990s, it’s clear that along with the triumphs came isolation, blatant racial stereotyping and biased casting calls. As for “crossing over” to the mainstream, in the mostly segregated worlds of Seinfeld, Frasier, Melrose Place, Saved by the Bell: The New Class, Felicity, V.I.P., Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dawson’s Creek and more, blacks were usually relegated to bit parts or were there for a short time. The Undefeated sat down with eight of these talented women and men. These are their stories. This is history.


Brinson + Banks for The Undefeated

Born: Iowa City, Iowa

Throwback: Melrose Place, Seinfeld

Currently working on: CBS’ 9JKL

When you live in the same house as a father that created such an incredible legacy — not just for himself and his family, but for an entire race of people — it’s expected that you should do the same. Greg Morris broke down racial barriers on Mission: Impossible. Him, Bill Cosby, Diahann Carroll [Julia], Bernie Hamilton [Starsky & Hutch], Lloyd Haynes [Room 222] … they opened the door for all of us as black actors on television. I wanted to continue to break down those barriers.

My first acting job was on Star Trek, way back when I was … around 8. I’m talking about the original Star Trek with Captain Kirk and Dr. Spock. It was stunt-casting episode, so I was in it, my sister Iona was in it, William Shatner’s daughters were in it, and some of the directors’ kids were in it. We were kids who weren’t actors, but we knew when to shut up when the director called “Action!” [Laughs].

“To his credit my father was still hilarious. He could shine in any role, even if it was a token one.”

My earliest adult experiences in the acting world … I stunted my own authenticity because either I was trying to not be my father or trying to live up to his success. But the ’90s kind of opened things up for me. That era allowed for more black images to be seen as intelligent, authoritative, educated, stylish, and beautiful beyond The Cosby Show, which normalized how the world looked at African-American families. I appeared on black shows like 227, The Fresh Prince, and Martin. But I was also able to do series like WIOU [a short-lived CBS news drama], Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and other more mainstream, non-ethnic roles. Unfortunately, that wasn’t always the experience for black actors.

I remember [around ’95] going out for a role on Melrose Place — one of the hottest shows on television at that time. I had a long history with Aaron Spelling [Charlie’s Angels, Dynasty, and Beverly Hills 90210]. I’ve gone to dinner with Mr. Spelling and I’ve gone to dinner with Mr. Darren Star [co-creator of Beverly Hills 90210, Melrose Place and Sex In The City] and I’ve told them, “You need to have more black people on that show than just Vanessa A. Williams.” And they would tell me, “Oh, Phil … it’s all casting … we would bring you in, we would make a role for you in a heartbeat.” I took it as lip service.

A few weeks later, Melrose Place had another role. I told my people to submit me for it. My agents came back and said, “Nah, they’re not going to see you. They want the role to be a white role.” The next time I saw Aaron Spelling, I again told him that I knew I wasn’t going to get the role because I was black. And he said, “Well, I’m only so big. There’s only so much that I can do.” I finally got a role on Melrose Place because I happened to be the right dude.

SEINFELD — “The Finale: Part 1&2” Episode 23 & 24 — Pictured: (l-r) Jerry Seinfeld as Jerry Seinfeld, Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Elaine Benes, Jason Alexander as George Costanza, Michael Richards as Cosmo Kramer, Phil Morris as Jackie Chiles (Photo by )

Joseph Del Valle/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

The truth is, you ain’t never going to please everybody, anyway. When I went to audition for Jackie Chiles on Seinfeld, I never thought of it as a derogatory token role. They told me, straight up, “We want someone that would give us a rendition of Johnnie Cochran.” I remember seeing Michael Dorn [Worf, of the Star Trek franchise] and Ted Lange from The Love Boat and Michael Boatman. We all looked like the Motown Mafia at that audition with our dark suits [Laughs].

“My Melrose Place experience only strengthened me. I wasn’t going to let no one tell me my worth, or value.”

I’d known Johnnie Cochran most of my whole life. We went to the same barber … Terrell’s Barber Shop in Los Angeles. I’d see Johnnie there almost every Sunday, for years — so I knew this cat way before the O.J. Simpson trial. I had a sense of his rhythm and his thing … that “Uh, huh … You don’t say.” I ended up getting the Seinfeld job, but Johnnie had to sign off on his likeness, which he eventually did. Jackie Chiles was a relief valve for a lot of people who were so frustrated with the O.J. verdict. It gave them a chance to laugh at the proceedings that were sometimes just ridiculous. Personally, I didn’t agree with the O.J. verdict. That’s why Jackie Chiles was so over-the-top. I let them have it.

I saw Johnnie a couple of times after my Seinfeld episodes aired and it was just like an old western movie. I walked into the barbershop and he’s laid back in the chair getting a shave. Everyone was quiet and Johnnie looks at me, laughs and says, “Young man, you are hilarious.”

I don’t know why I don’t have my own show right now. It’s driving me crazy, because my ambition is very high … I’m developing my own show, centering around me as an ex-soap opera star. I’m just trying to control my journey.


Brinson+Banks for The Undefeated

Born: Los Angeles

Throwback: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dawson’s Creek

Currently working on: Queen Sugar

When I turned 14, I started Saved By The Bell: The New Class [in 1993]. I’d been staying in New York with my dad, and I ended up coming back to L.A. I was in a store and some guy walked up to us and said, “My wife is a manager. Do you act?” And literally that week I got the role for Saved By The Bell. I wasn’t thinking about if I was the “token black girl” on the show. I was just happy to be working.

Bianca Lawson played Megan Jones in Saved By The Bell: The New Class.

Chris Haston/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

I had a recurring role on Sister, Sister and it was so much fun. The UPN writers from that show told me, “Bianca, we’re going to make another series and we are going to write a part just for you.” It was a black sitcom with the legendary Sherman Hemsley called Goode Behavior. I was offered a role on Buffy the Vampire Slayer as one of the leads, but I took Good Behavior because the producers had kept their word.

“Can you black it up? Can you make it blacker … more street? That was never me. Honestly, I had more issues with the black directors and producers than the white ones.”

After Goode ended, the Buffy people offered me another part. I thought I was going to be on Buffy longer, but it was only for four episodes. I loved playing Kendra. She was fierce and she was direct. She wasn’t about being liked. She had this mission to accomplish and it wasn’t connected to some guy or some romance.

Bianca Lawson and Alyson Hannigan from season 2 of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer.”

I can’t remember how many episodes I was supposed to do on Dawson’s Creek, but there was this thing where my character Nikki, who was a filmmaker, always had to be better than [her white peers]. She even had a discussion with Dawson about this. It was really surreal. The thought of becoming the first black actress on shows like Dawson’s Creek and Buffy the Vampire Slayer never really occurred to me back then.

Recently, I was on an airplane and someone left a beautiful note on my seat to say what I meant to them as a black actress on television. I didn’t really think about any of that when I was younger because you’re just doing the work. It was only years later as I got older that I realized seeing a young black woman on Buffy and Dawson’s Creek was empowering to a lot of people.

It’s a feeling that I’m experiencing on an even higher level with Queen Sugar. I feel like I’m part of a new black television era.


Born: Brooklyn, New York

Throwback: Melrose Place

Currently working on: Vengeance, Days of Our Lives, I Left My Girlfriend for Regina Jones

When I was 6, I wanted to literally know how people got into the TV set [Laughs]. My family is a performing family. My mother was a tap dancer and my grandmother was an accomplished pianist and organist and had played with W.C. Handy, and my auntie sung opera. I started to do singing roles as part of the New York City Opera, and there was a girl there who was also a professional actress. She had an actual manager, which really impressed me. We ended up becoming friends and I got that same manager.

My first big gig was a Bubble Yum commercial with Ralph Macchio [of The Karate Kid] We did a f—ing bubble gum rap [Laughs]. “Yum, so fine, the flavor lasts a long, long time!” It was hilarious … a bunch of white kids and a black girl rapping about gum!

There are two projects that I count as my big break into Hollywood — The Cosby Show and of course New Jack City. As a New York actor, you are trained in theater, and if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. So I wasn’t intimidated when I got the Melrose Place phone call. This was a big deal because we knew the show was an Aaron Spelling project coming on the heels of Beverly Hills, 90210. I heard that my role as Rhonda was going to be for a Jewish girl, but I won the role. I just thought, Wow, my dreams are coming true.

“I started out as a standup comedian. I wanted to be Carol Burnett, Lucille Ball and Whoopi Goldberg.”

When the L.A. riots happened, there was a story line on Melrose Place dealing with the aftermath. In the script, Rhonda was separating herself from her own community — the black community — and saying things like, “Those people … ” I had a serious talk with Darren, who was very amenable about changing that part of the script.

The cast of the TV series, ‘Melrose Place,’ posing on steps, circa 1993.

Fotos International/Getty Images)

It wasn’t until Melrose Place fired me after doing 33 episodes of season one that I felt the sting of Hollywood. There was positive fan feedback about my character, but I guess the Spelling people did some demographic research and decided that they were going to go into a more backbiting, soap opera direction. I thought the only strike against me was that I was a black actress. It had all to do with the fact that they were going to have people sleeping with each other in the cast — and how would that play for Middle America to see a black girl bed-hopping?

But my Melrose Place experience only strengthened me. I wasn’t going to let no one tell me my worth or value. I kept rolling with roles on such shows as Chicago Hope, Soul Food and [most recently] the Bella Thorne-vehicle Famous In Love on ABC’s Freeform network. One thing about the ’90s is there was a plethora of work for black actors even with all the ups and downs. This was the golden age of black television. We literally built Fox and UPN. That is a known fact.


Brinson + Banks for The Undefeated

Born: Philadelphia

Throwback: Doogie Howser, M.D.

Currently working on: Wine & Whimsy, The 6th Degree

I always knew I wanted to be a television actor. I was enamored by John Travolta as Vinnie Barbarino on Welcome Back Kotter. I thought he was the coolest dude in the history of the world, and my parents laughed at me. They were like, “You know acting is an actual job? Travolta is not just some cool guy … he’s acting.” I was like, “Well, I want that job!” It wasn’t until my family moved from North Philadelphia to Ventura County, about an hour north of Los Angeles, that I got into a high school drama class.

I started taking lessons from acting coach Cliff Osmond, rest in peace. After I’d been in the class long enough, he told me, “I think it’s time for you to meet my wife.” She became my first agent in 1989, and I ended up booking a play called Ten November. One of the casting directors from this new show, Doogie Howser, M.D., Beth Hymson, came to the play. She brought me in for an audition to play Friend No. 2.

So I go to the audition and Friend No. 2 is asking Doogie what it’s like being a doctor. Now I grew up in Ventura with a bunch of surfers, so to me it just seemed natural to be like, “Whoa, dude … You get to see blood and guts?!!! Gnarly, dude!” And I’m a big, black guy, so that didn’t make a whole lot of sense doing a white surfer voice, but Beth and the others got a kick out of it. They told me they’d keep me on their radar. And then the very next audition was for Raymond on Doogie Howser, M.D.

The cast of Doogie Howser, M.D.

ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images

Early on, I noticed the Doogie script was very surface. My character was written as this tough black guy who’s about to rob a 7-Eleven. Doogie talks him down, he realizes the error of his ways, and Doogie gets to feel good about himself. On the third or fourth day of production, there was a line where Doogie’s mom screams at a cop, “If that animal hurts my son!” She was talking about my character. This became hugely controversial because we had a good number of African-Americans that were extras on set.

The extra that played my mom, she especially took offense to it. I remember production stopped, and when we came back, that “animal” line had been taken out of the script. So there was this slow process of humanizing Raymond on the series.

“I don’t have my own show right now. It’s driving me crazy because my ambition is very high.”

I met a lot of black people while I was on Doogie. They’d be like, “So, wait, you’re on TV?” And I’d say, “I’m on Doogie Howser.” They’d usually respond, “Oh, I don’t watch that show because there ain’t no black people on it.” And that’s the thing. If you segregate yourself, the media will always give those stereotypes to you. If you keep telling the media, “Ghetto, street, rap … that’s all who I am,” the media will respond, just like the universe.

Neil Patrick Harris and Markus Remond on an episode of Doogie Howser, M.D.

ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images

When I’d go out for auditions, there was usually a prerequisite of, “Can you black it up? Can you make it blacker … more street?” And that was never me. Honestly, I had more issues with the black directors and producers than the white ones. I’m not a fan of hip-hop. Look at my Spotify and its mostly country. My favorite actors are William Powell, Humphrey Bogart, Jimmy Stewart. That’s where I get my juice.

After Doogie, I was able to book a series on UPN called Family Rules as the black next-door neighbor. Everybody knew what the UPN acronym really meant: The Underpaid Negro Network. I was the reverse token … the only black person on a mostly white show on UPN. It was canceled after [six] episodes. It had gotten to the point where none of this acting stuff was relevant to me. I was tired of playing Thug No. 4. Like I said, I grew up with surfers, listened to swing music and loved Woody Allen movies. I didn’t fit in.

I think that’s why I embraced writing. I’ve sold some scripts to studios and I did a film that went to Sundance back in ’07 that Whoopi Goldberg and Sharon Stone starred in along with me called If I Had Known I Was A Genius. I never limit myself. Fortunately, today we have great shows portraying black people in a broad light like How To Get Away With Murder and Scandal. Thank God for Shonda Rhimes for saying, “Let me just make great television shows and just put black people in the lead and surround them with everybody.”


Brinson+Banks for The Undefeated

Born: New York

Throwback: The Parent ‘Hood, Freaks and Geeks

Currently working on: Artificial intelligence software project

I loved being in front of the camera. I did Reading Rainbow twice, and one of the producers said to my parents, “He’s really good. This seems like something you guys might want to pursue.” I thank my mom, Lola, for my career, because she put in a lot of work.

The first national spot I booked was a commercial for Bubble Yum in 1990. I was around 12, and the role for that ad was originally not created for a black kid, but a white character named Milo, the Mathematical Genius. I guess white kids were only allowed to be intelligent, but the agent I had was incredible. She was like, “Oh, no. We’re going to send Kenn there because they don’t know what they want. And he can do it.” I nailed it.

I always played the smart kid in a lot of crossover roles. And then I hit this rut that was typical with being a black actor where the majority of the roles were the street kid, the drug dealer or the bad kid. All the auditions were the same, and I was bummed, so around 1992 I was an apprentice director on the film Boomerang, shadowing the Hudlin Brothers. I got the chance to watch Eddie Murphy work. I developed a bit of a rapport with him. Eddie noticed I was a little out of sorts.

Hours later, he asked me to see him on his bus. I was excited! I told him what I was experiencing in the television audition game and he gave me this pep talk, like, “Dude, I know. But you have to keep on trucking. Your excellence will shine no matter what you do.” I ended up getting an actual part in Boomerang.

But then you go from being on a big budget film that showed blacks in a nuanced, positive light, and back to the politics of TV. I remember a meeting I had with Darren Star, who was the head of Aaron Spelling’s development company. I walked into this huge office in Beverly Hills. They were interested in creating a show for me, so Darren walks in, puts his feet up on the table and he says, “You may know some of our series like Beverly Hills, 90210 and Melrose Place …” He had this very arrogant way about him. So I said, “Yeah, I’ve seen those shows, but I don’t really watch them because I don’t see anybody who looks like me.” [A] phrase you heard a lot back in those days [was] … “Oh, we don’t know how to write for black characters.”

Being on the show The Parent ’Hood was an interesting situation. I was on a black series with Robert Townsend, who was show’s creator and executive producer. There was diversity, and it was great at times, but then my character started to get painted in a corner. He was viewed as this superpositive black male character … smart and into music. I was written off the show. The character they replaced me with was this boy who was written as a troubled, streetwise kid. It wasn’t just the white shows that insisted I play the hoodlum. That was an eye-opener.

“I hit this rut that was typical with being a black actor where the majority of the roles were the street kid, the drug dealer or the bad kid.”

When I did Freaks and Geeks, nobody knew anything about it. Judd Apatow was not a huge name at that point, so for me it was just another audition. I was just happy to be on a show where the writing was really funny. We know that Apatow’s projects are mostly white. In hindsight, yeah, it would have been great … for them to have more characters of color.

I got tired of the politics of auditioning for roles. I’d always been directing my own short films before I got my first official directing gig. I was doing film festivals and some projects on the digital side of filmmaking before anybody was talking about it, because the picture quality wasn’t of quality back then. I was also doing a lot of voiceover work for video games and cartoons. I ended up directing BET’s Let’s Stay Together. That was my multicam, sitcom, directorial thing. It was a lot of fun. Doing voice work for video games has been a lot of fun because you get to play all these crazy characters. I do a really great German accent [Michael is an in-demand video game voice actor. He has appeared in the Saints Row series and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas].

I’ve started this next phase of my journey. I’ve been building a software project that is dealing with sound, healing, and sacred numbers and frequencies. My thing is bringing spirituality, technology, and science together. Artificial intelligence is upon us. We need to make sure that we are imbuing things into A.I. that we would want.


Born: Brooklyn, New York

Throwback: Living Single, Frasier

Currently working on: Stand-up comedy, speaking engagements (AARP, American Heart Association among others)

I started out as a stand-up comedian. I wanted to be Carol Burnett, Lucille Ball and Whoopi Goldberg. [In 1987], I auditioned for A Different World, for the role of Jaleesa … the role that Dawnn Lewis eventually got. Dawn and I had been friends since we were 11, so for her to get that was huge. I remember being at an event and meeting Keenan Ivory Wayans. Keenan tells me that he has a television show coming up and that he wanted me to audition. I found out that it was a multicultural sketch comedy show, which had never been done before.

We filmed the pilot for In Living Color in 1989, but somebody had already gotten a hold of the episode! There were bootlegged copies being sold on the streets. There were people who loved the show and others who thought we were too edgy, too black, and hated it. I was only on In Living Color for the first year … it was an incredible experience.

The cast of Living Single. Kim Coles is the to far right.

Deborah Feingold/Corbis via Getty Images

Landing the role of Synclaire on Living Single was massive. It was around 1992, and I’d just left In Living Color. The producers reached out to me and said, “We love you. We want to do a series about black women and their experiences and what they think about life and men.” Living Single was an iconic show with a lot of layers. It wasn’t a stereotypical black sitcom. But it wasn’t hard to notice that networks like Fox and UPN were using black shows just to establish their success. There were black series that were watched by millions on Fox, but apparently they weren’t a part of the network’s vision.

I booked The Geena Davis Show, but they kindly let me walk so I could do an episode of Frasier. Then I booked a second episode, and I have to tell you, the experience was amazing. Kelsey Grammer was beyond kind to me and he loved my Dr. Mary character. I knew that there were no [black people] on Frasier, but I saw that as a challenge.

“That just was the reality of the times … you usually were the only black person on a so-called ‘white’ show.”

The response to Dr. Mary was incredible, so we tried to get the Frasier people to do a spinoff. This was at the time Kelsey was about to do Girlfriends, so I knew he had to be open to black women being the lead [of a show]. The writer who wrote my two episodes on Frasier even won a diversity award because before that they didn’t have anyone like me on that show! But the spin-off never happened.

I do some stand-up and I have my own one-woman show. And I do a lot of speaking engagements for AARP and the American Heart Association. I tell my story and I try to inspire, motivate … and I get to be funny. I think there should be more black shows like black-ish. We have Shonda Rhimes, who is putting together these amazing series with these amazing black women at the helm. But I’m not waiting around for Hollywood to call me for jobs. Everything that I’m doing today keeps me fed until I’m able to get that free food. Because that’s the only reason to do a television show … it’s the free food [Laughs].


Brinson + Banks for The Undefeated

Born: Miami

Throwback: Michael Hayes, Felicity

Currently working on: Nwannem: Sisters

Acting seemed kind of far-fetched. It wasn’t practical. But there was a show called Michael Hayes, which starred David Caruso. It was a detective series, like Miami Vice, and I played a drug dealer’s girlfriend. I was more concerned about my hair than how my peers would perceive me as an actor [laughs].

Thank God I don’t have to worry about that now, because today they have a lot of black hair stylists, but back then that wasn’t the case. So I showed up on set with my hair clean and washed and no makeup. And they would look at me like, “What happened to you?” This one white girl came to me with a pressing comb and she tried to comb my hair in the opposite direction, and I’m like, “No, no, no … the comb goes the other way.”

Cast of the show Felicity.

Getty Images

I don’t think I ever felt like Elena was this lone, token black character when I got the role for Felicity. As a black actress, that just was the reality of the times … you usually were the only black person on a so-called “white” show. When I met J.J. Abrams and Matt Reeves, who created the show, I actually thought they were assistants because they were so short and cute [Laughs]. I was talking to them like they were my peers … but they were really cool about it.

“When I went to audition for Jackie Chiles on Seinfeld, I never thought of it as a derogatory, token role.”

What I was really concerned about was wanting Elena to come across as more than just Felicity’s black friend. It was important to me that you saw some of my character’s girlfriends from before she came to college. If you look back at some of the episodes of Felicity, you will see Elena’s backstory with her family and father. Whenever I made those suggestions, the producers actually followed through. I felt supported.

I didn’t realize how lucky we were until Felicity was over. It was an amazing, well-written show. J.J. is a genius. I wanted another meaty character that I could sink my teeth into … that I could be proud of, but I couldn’t find one. That’s one of the reasons why I started producing and making my own movies. Recently, I directed Diva Diaries. I’ve done Hurricane in the Rose Garden, My Girlfriend’s Back, Love … & Other 4 Letter Words. I’ve done like 10 or 12 films, mostly as a producer and actor. I love what I do.


Brinson + Banks for The Undefeated

Born: New York

Throwback: V.I.P.

Currently working on: Atone, The Zim

The first thing I did when I came out to Los Angeles was House Party, but the first television series I booked was a [1993] sitcom called Where I Live. It was a positive depiction of a young Caribbean family and young African-Americans from Harlem who were supportive of each other. It featured myself, Doug E. Doug and Flex Alexander. We were just starting our careers, and were so excited to be working as young actors. After the second season, when we didn’t get picked up, it was heartbreaking.

I was happy to be a part of Living Single. Kim Coles is incredibly gifted. Everybody from that show from [Queen] Latifah, T.C. Carson, and Kim Fields to Erika Alexander to John Henton were heavy hitters. The role I played, Russell, a West Indian music editor, was interesting, because my family is from Jamaica. I tapped into my own experiences. We were groundbreaking, positive, upwardly mobile, young African-Americans, men and women who were flawed individuals striving for friendship and love.

“The thought of becoming the first black actress on shows like Dawson’s Creek and Buffy the Vampire Slayer never really occurred to me back then.”

But after that success, all of sudden these popular black series like Roc, In Living Color, Martin, and Living Single were getting canceled. Then you would see all of these white shows like Party of Five and Melrose Place pop up. I don’t know if it was strategic, but it did make us raise an eyebrow and ask, “Well, what happened to all those black shows?”

After Living, I had a meeting with Pamela Anderson for an action comedy called V.I.P. and she was transparent … about a lot of things pertaining to a role she had in mind for me. She told me, “You know why you’re here? You have a following … you have an audience.” Living Single helped me get on V.I.P.

The cast of V.I.P.

V.I.P. [1998-2002] was a huge action comedy series. When you’re minority on such a big show, having a support system is very important. I was very mindful of how I was being portrayed as a black man on V.I.P. But there was a situation that I had to deal with. A lot of times in the stunt world if they don’t think an African-American stunt person is not capable, they will actually [blackface] a non-African American. This would usually be a white person.

We were doing an episode where we were supposed to be circus performers, and they told me they couldn’t find any black circus people, but I knew they just didn’t want to spend the money. So I told them to take me out of the scene if they were going to use a painted-on stunt person. I knew the history of blackface. I understood how serious that was. I went to Pam and the producers and I said, “Not only am I offended, but the NAACP will be in here marching.” They wrote me out of the scene.

But looking back, I still feel fortunate to be part of a special time on television. I’m thankful because just to get one acting role back then was like hitting the lottery. But I had several: Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, A Different World, Martin, Living Single, V.I.P. TV is powerful. A lot of times, black people are portrayed as savages. That’s why it’s important to see shows like Ava DuVernay’s Queen Sugar — that’s how we as artists make a difference.

Kevin Hart on why he became an athlete, why his Hollywood work ethic is so intense—and his true endgame One of the funniest men in the world is also dedicated to make sure he’s one of the fittest

Kevin Hart’s health is no laughing matter. So much of his comedy is rooted in self-deprecation about his own physicality: he’s a 5-foot-4-inch man who makes you laugh even before he says a word. Especially if he’s paired up with a hulk of a man like say, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson — the two of them together usually translate into cinematic gold. Sony’s Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, released on Dec. 20, 2017, has now “earned $377 million in North America, and has topped $904 million globally … [Jumanji] is now Sony’s second-biggest global grosser of all time, between Spider-Man 3 ($890m in 2007) and Skyfall ($1.1 billion),” according to Forbes.

But if you’ve been paying attention, Hart is probably a far better athlete than anyone would naturally want to give him credit for. Yes, athlete.

Two years ago, Hart broke ground as the first comedian to partner with a major footwear and apparel company on a cross-trainer. Armed with a multimillion-dollar deal with Nike, his Hustle Harts are meant to inspire; he wants to help people find their inner athlete — everyday folks who didn’t think they had it in them. Just like him, at one point.

Now, Hart is one of the fittest men in Hollywood, sharing his journey via his social media outlets, including an impressive New York City marathon finish in four hours, five minutes, six seconds back in November — and, ahem, he bested former New York Giants running back Tiki Barber. Bragging rights for years.

Hart figures he’ll do a few more marathons before it’s all said and done. It’ll help him keep up his breakneck schedule: a new digital series, Cold As Balls, more films, production deals and of course, a rigorous stand-up comedy touring schedule is on deck. Because the last thing he wants to ever do again is fall asleep on stage (more on that, later). We talk.

You’re coming off of Jumanji, one of the most successful films of last year, and you’re getting ready to get back on the road. Why is it so important for you to continue to stay out there?

I’m a comedian first. This is my craft, what I started as. And I built this big thing, and this big thing opened up a door to get me to another big thing. But if I forget about this first big thing, these doors could start to close. So, I’m very adamant about staying on course. Stand-up is not only what I love, but … it’s what the world needs. People love to laugh.

You’re also an athlete — not sure if people really understand that. You run marathons, you have a shoe endorsement deal. How do you use and channel that competitiveness into this world of Hollywood?

“I got a DUI at one point and I said, “Oh, my God! Oh s—! I could have died. I could have hurt somebody.” The reality of what it was then hit.”

Here’s the beauty of it: You get one life. And that one life, you got a choice to make. Do I want to live this life to the fullest and do I want to maximize my full potential while I’m on this earth? If I do, what does that entail, what does that mean? What am I going to do? That means I’m going to put absolutely all of my energy into my craft. I’m going to put it into becoming the best possible man that I can be. If I do that correctly, when it’s all said and done, and I look back at it, the story of who I am should be an amazing story.

The story of your life?

What can I accomplish along the way? That’s how I look at it. So, when you’re talking about partnerships, when you’re talking about my career — you’re talking about goals. You’re talking about the athletic side — all of it fits within the story of Kevin Hart. That’s all I want. I want my kids to be able to go back and look at that and go, “Man, dad was cool.” That’s it.

You’ve been grinding it out for a long time and at a certain point, it’s easy to lose that hunger, but you’ve never lost it. It’s only increased. How is that?

I don’t do anything halfway. I don’t want to sign on a for a moment. I don’t need a check. That’s not what I’m here for. I want to be a part of something special. I want to build something. I want to do something that hasn’t been done. That’s how I take on everything. The day you lose that hunger, is the day it closes, and somebody comes up that has it. It’s not guaranteed that I sit in the seat I’m in, or that I’m going to be here forever. The day that you get comfortable and you expect things to stay the way they are is the day they change. I stay hungry as if I have nothing.

Let me tell you what looks really uncomfortable: Cold as Balls. Where the hell and why the hell did that concept come up?

The endgame, when it’s all said and done for me, is going to be a talk show. When my knees hurt, and my arches are bad … I’m just going to have to sit still. And I think being a talk show host of some kind, being able to have the conversations with the people that I want to talk to … it’s something I know will be good. So, Cold As Balls is a way for me to tiptoe in that just to see how it would be … The questions I’m asking may make [my guests] uncomfortable — may not — but the personality ultimately drives the conversation. And that’s why you’ve been seeing a lot of funny interviews. They’re coming out really, really good. I’m happy.

You didn’t play in the celebrity game at NBA All-Star this year, but there was a moment where the thing people thought about Kevin Hart wasn’t athlete. Initially when you started playing in NBA Celebrity games people were probably like, “Oh. The funny guy who’s short is going to play in the basketball game.” And then of course, you dominated.

Damn right I did!

“I stay hungry as if I have nothing.”

But you actually train — who is Kevin Hart the athlete?

Kevin Hart the athlete is a guy that just fell in love with the idea of giving myself a long time to live. When I looked at it, I lost some family members. I lost friends to just simple health issues. From severe heart attacks to strokes. High blood pressure that’s gotten crazy to where it’s flipped a person’s life upside down, to where that person can’t even maneuver the way they want to maneuver. When you look at the effect that just not taking care of yourself can have on you as a person. These are things that I think you don’t believe until you get hit with it. There was a point in time when I was younger [and] you couldn’t tell me that drinking and driving was as bad as everybody said it was … but I got a DUI at one point, and I said, “Oh, my God! Oh s—! I could have died. I could have hurt somebody.” The reality hit … So, I decided to choose a healthy road. That person that you’re defining as an athlete is really a person that’s just trying to stay healthy. I put a large demand on my body. You know, 14, 15 hours a day consistently. If I’m not taking care of myself, there’s no way that I can do that at a high level. It’s impossible.

Was there a point where you started shifting? Was it like five years ago?

There was a point that I was on stage — this is a true story — I fell asleep on stage one time. Nobody noticed. It’s a real story. I was literally performing, and like, you know, I’m up every day, but I’m drinking, I’m eating fast food, everything. And there was a moment we’re on stage, and I stopped, and in the middle of a joke, I fell asleep. It was like a good 30 seconds. And I woke up and I was like, “Yeah, man.” And I got right back to the set. And I was like, “Oh s—!” I just. I didn’t pass out. I really just fell asleep.” I was like, “What the f—?” I remember being so in shock at that moment, and then I remember I went and I looked at my data, and I was like, I’ve been eating cheeseburgers and cheesesteaks and fries all day, and I get on stage, I’m giving like a half of a show. It’s like I’m sluggish, farting all on stage. Come on, Kevin. What are you doing, Kevin? Have you ever had that conversation, you had to really talk to yourself?

I’m having it right now!

Listen, I really was in the mirror and I was like, “Kevin, what the — come on, man. Look at you, Kevin.” And I really had a moment where I was like, “Nah. This isn’t, it can’t be like this.” Not if I’m supposed to give these people a show at a very high level every night. Not if I got to be on set and I’m supposed to be acting at a very high level every single day. Not if people are depending on me every single day. I got to make sure that I’m doing it to the best of my ability. And I don’t want people to think that when they read this that that means that should be your thing, too. I think that when I say that, it’s also a heavy mental thing. So, for anybody out there, this is you understanding that, “Hey, you know what? Let me make sure that I’m taking care of me.” There’s different levels to taking care of yourself. I’m a little extreme with it. That doesn’t mean everybody else should be extreme. There’s levels, but I think when you have that mentality, when you’re aware, you’re OK. Just don’t not be aware. That’s my piece of advice to any and everybody. Because when it smacks you, and then you go, “Oh, oh, what? Huh? I got to lose my foot?” People really don’t understand that’s how fast the reality is. It’s not a, “Oh, you get a warning.” It’s like ‘Heart attack! Oh, s—! I almost died!”

That’s very real.

I saw it firsthand. So that’s where the athlete, that’s where the healthy guy, that’s where the running the marathons comes from. And then there’s a piece of wanting to achieve greatness in there, too. Do you know the percentage of people in the world that have run a marathon? This is going to blow your mind.

Hit me with it.

It’s under 5 percent of the world.


So out of how many billion people, under 5 percent have actually ran a marathon. I want to be in that 5 percent … the marathon, I’m going to try to do five.

“Kevin Hart the athlete is a guy that just fell in love with the idea of giving myself a long time to live.”

Chasing personal greatness is part of the Kevin Hart story.

This is all a part of the story. The goal is while I’m on tour, I’m trying for a marathon, I’m going to be filming a movie at the same time. So, the goal is to consistently keep it up, and then I think I run the marathon in October. So, that would be checked off the list. I don’t want to fall asleep on stage.

What has to happen in 2018 for you to say, that you outdid yourself this year?

I’m already trying to lay out 2019. The tour goes into 2019. It has to be the biggest tour ever in comedy … what’s my total number of specials that I want to do? George Carlin did 10. I’m on No. 6. I’ve got work to do. When it’s all said and done, what’s my catalog going to look like? What’s my movie catalog going to look like? Am I going to do more dramas? More animation? I’m producing stuff now. My company is part of me, with studios, it doesn’t stop. It literally just continues to grow and grow. Just a little Energizer Bunny.

‘The Plug’ podcast: NBA All-Star recap + Chris Tucker on ‘Rush Hour 4’ (Episode 11) One last time for the craziness of NBA All-Star Weekend 2018

Subscribe: Apple Podcasts | ESPN App | RSS | Embed

A whirlwind weekend in Los Angeles is officially in the rearview mirror. But before moving on for good, we had to have the recap. Between the five of us, we relive the parties, pop-ups, concerts, games and, unfortunately for Tes, a stolen laptop. Comedy legend Chris Tucker drops by too. The famed funnyman talks about the role comedy has played in his life, from his Eddie Murphy inspirations to the many opportunities as well as his friendships with Tupac Shakur and Michael Jackson. Tucker also lets an exclusive cat out of the bag by revealing that he and Jackie Chan are already at work on Rush Hour 4. “It’s happening,” he said.

Previously: ‘The Plug’ podcast: The Eagles are here; Stephen A. Smith is too (Episode 10)

‘Black Panther’ unlikely to change Hollywood’s lie that black movies can’t make money Hollywood’s biases have proven themselves stronger than its commitment to the bottom line

Any hopes that Black Panther’s box office conquest will spur Hollywood to greenlight heavily-financed movies featuring Pan-African stories and performed by predominantly black casts must be muted. Racial discrimination is not a product of logic, but rather its antithesis.

Marvel Studios’ latest movie, based on the comic company’s first black superhero, is generating earth-shattering sums of money, amassing $235 million over the first four days of its release in the U.S. and Canada alone. Directed by a black man, 31-year-old Ryan Coogler, with nearly an all-black cast and powered by a $200 million budget, the film is filling Disney’s corporate coffers and delighting its largely white executive decision makers. With films featuring black casts rarely enjoying big budgets, Black Panther will show the financial rewards that Hollywood can reap with black movies rooted in uniquely black experiences.

Many hope the economic triumph of Black Panther will persuade studios to bankroll similar movies with nine-figure budgets. This hope is buoyed by simple logic: Once scenario A proves itself, others, likewise seeking economic success, will copycat. Black Panther’s achievement, therefore, should coax others to understand the financial wisdom in backing black blockbusters. Proof of concept opens opportunity to others, so the theory goes.

An unavoidable truth, however, must temper this expectation: Hollywood’s ongoing discrimination against black movies isn’t supported by logic and evidence, so why believe illogical people will amend their behavior based on evidence that they were wrong all along?

Movie studios would insist that the leading reason for not investing big bucks in predominantly black films is that international markets won’t support them. Comedian Bill Maher, in that vein, said of Asian moviegoers, “They don’t want to see black people generally in their movies. The Hollywood executives are, like, ‘We’re not racist, we just have to pretend to be racists because we’re capitalists. We want to sell our movies in China [and] they don’t like Kevin Hart.’” With Hollywood increasingly reliant upon international dollars to turn profits, overseas perceptions matter greatly.

This is where the illogicalness of racial discrimination pierces through and why we mustn’t expect Black Panther’s success to lessen discrimination’s prevalence in Hollywood: The idea that “black films” don’t make coins internationally has long been proven demonstrably false.

Go back 30 years to Coming to America, a comedy starring Eddie Murphy, released in 1988, which made $160.6 million internationally. Or look at the two Bad Boys action movies, led by actors Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, the original released in 1995 and the sequel in 2003. Together the films earned $210.3 million in foreign countries. The black superhero movie Blade, with Wesley Snipes playing a vampire as the lead, made $61 million internationally 20 years ago. The Fast and Furious franchise practically prints money in China, starring mixed-race Vin Diesel and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and black actors Ludacris and Tyrese Gibson. And even the indie film Moonlight, with an all-black cast with no movie stars and a production budget of around $4 million, did $37 million internationally.

When a black movie rakes in the cash overseas, however, Hollywood insiders toss out an endless array of excuses as to why this or that black success story cannot be used to kill the assumption that black movies represent bad overseas investments.

Appealing movies with black casts can make money in foreign markets. The proof surrounds us. Just like movies featuring white leads, black movies need to be well-executed and appealing. If so, people across the globe will pay money to see them.

But why, then, does Hollywood swim against the current of evidence? Why do movie studios need proof of the concept when the concept has already been proven? The answers stare us in the face: These arguments about why black movies aren’t being greenlit are not being made in good faith; the strength of Hollywood’s biases against black movies are stronger than the commitment to the bottom line; sometimes logic is not enough to persuade people to behave in a racially fair way, particularly when discrimination pervades the entire industry.

Jeff Clanagan, president of Lionsgate’s Codeblack films, told the Los Angeles Times, “Every time there’s a success, it gets swept under the rug. … It’s almost like there’s an asterisk on it. They chalk it off as an anomaly.”

We should brace for something similar regarding Black Panther. Hollywood bigwigs will laud the movie as so unique that its appeal cannot be applied to the next black project in the pipeline waiting to be greenlit. Sure, we will get Black Panther sequels. But other movies rooted in blackness produced because of Black Panther’s success? History teaches us we should temper our expectations.

For now, a Hollywood that acknowledges the potential of black films is as fictional as Wakanda.

Finally, Donald Glover’s ‘Atlanta’ is back The FX show’s L.A. premiere brought out the entire cast and celebrity fans

After making fans wait a wee bit longer for a new season of one of the hottest new shows, Donald Glover’s excellent Atlanta finally returns next month — and sports will play a major role.

The creator and star of FX’s hot show about a Princeton-educated dropout trying to boost his cousin’s would-be local rap career had to postpone the series’ return because Glover is also starring in the soon-coming hotly-anticipated Han Solo Star Wars prequel. But finally, he and his cast and crew were celebrated Monday night at the show’s Los Angeles’ premiere at the Ace Theater downtown.

And the latest installment of the Golden Globe-winning series — according to the robust applause and cheers from the celebrity-filled premiere — was for sure worth the wait.

“We kind of looked at it like a mixtape,” Donald Glover told The Undefeated before the event began. “You come up with a first good mixtape and people say you have your whole life to write a good album, and then the second one you got eight months! But you can’t think about it in those terms.”

Indie film star Lakeith Stanfield — who also as the comic-relief truth-teller Darius, was one of show’s biggest breakout characters last season — flew in directly from Germany, where he’s filming a new movie. Because he was wearing a black ski mask and a bedazzled black jacket, initially no one knew it was him as he walked the blue carpet.

“There were a lot of new challenges,” Stansfeld said, mask still on. “I think we were less concerned about the eyeballs watching and more with the material that was departing from what we had done before it was stepping into new terrain. It was a lot scary, a little bit.”

The event was peppered with famous folks such as Oscar-nominated director John Singleton, Emmy and Golden Globe winner Sterling K. Brown and Emmy winner Lena Waithe. They were part of a stream of celebrity and accomplished faces giving the cast kudos after seeing the first two episodes of the new season.

This new season is a bit of a sharp turn from the show’s inaugural season so far, vastly different from what the first season gave us.

“A lot more exploration of darker themes,” said co-star Zazie Beetz, who portrays Glover’s ex-girlfriend Van. “We explore death and major transitions within all of the characters — each character sort of has a bent. Within that, there’s still humor and comedy, but I think this season in general has a much more somber feel.”

The show’s break gave her the chance to come back to the table with a bit more confidence to help take Van to new terrain.

“I felt so happy to go back and at ease. The first season I was kind of a wreck. I was such a bundle of nerves and I felt so much pressure. For me at the time, it was the biggest thing I had done and I just wanted to do a good job and I was very, very nervous. And coming back, because we had established our characters, I felt much more room to play and improvise. I was like, ‘I’m going to have a good time.‘ And I did.”

The time off — in some ways — is reflected in the new season. This new season is called Robbin’ Season, and we’ll see that theme explored throughout this new offering.

“I think us having that time off was really important. We got to watch the world change and shift underneath us without our permission most times. I think it was great to go back at the time we went back because I feel like this year all of us feel like we’ve been robbed,” said show’s co-star Brian Tyree Henry, who portrays local rapper Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles. “Things have lost value that we thought was valuable. Having that time off coming back when we did was absolutely what we needed. Sometimes you need a moment to really take it in. [The show is] very different. Our lives are in the same area, but it’s not in the same area. It’s become a dangerous place to have these relationships and be in the area we are. There’s an exposure that’s happened. There was a nervousness about ‘Where is Alfred? Will I know who Alfred is anymore?’ But that’s life. We don’t know who we are on a given day either. It was nice to figure that out with them. But it was good to do that together. Nobody was out there left astray on their own.”

The real trepidation comes from how the show’s loyal audience will take to the shift in direction (“My brother was like, we’re the ones who are our worst critics. We shouldn’t be sitting here trying to outdo the audience,” Glover said of his brother Stephen, the show’s head story editor and a writer on the series. “We should be trying to outdo ourselves. It’s really up to us. We put the boundaries on us. We tell ourselves what’s good and what we think is cool will translate. And if it didn’t, we did what we were supposed to do.”)

One thing that will develop in this new season is a sports theme — but how it comes about is shrouded in secrecy. It’d give too much away to talk about it, both Glover brothers insist. (Though Donald Glover hints that Serena Williams is referenced somehow in this new season.)

“Atlanta rappers and ballplayers — they call it Black Hollywood. Just being in the South in general, sports is a big part of black culture and Southern culture and identity,” Stephen Glover said. “You can’t really tell the story of Atlanta without talking a little bit about the ballplayers.”

And as for the time off? It’s only made the show that much better, Stephen Glover added.

“It was good that we had some extra time. I think there’s always the thing of topping yourself for next time. There was definitely the thought of we gotta come back and do better. People liked this first season, let’s try to top that,” he said. “But at the same time, we didn’t want to chase anything and try to get the easy win. We just approached it one day at a time and luckily we had some time on our side to help with that.”

Besides his ‘Cold Balls,’ Kevin Hart is set to pitch for Mountain Dew The global supercomedian announces partnership at NBA All-Star 2018

Kevin Hart is adding another credit to his already growing empire. Besides his hilarious new Cold Balls interview series …

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The Jumanji star announced Thursday that he’s a new pitchman for Mountain Dew’s Kickstart drink. The campaign’s first video is a zany take on NBA courtside etiquette:

Hart told The Undefeated that he signed with the soft drink after receiving a co-sign from Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook. “I’ve always been heavily involved with the NBA,” he said, “and I know what their involvement has been, and about the relationships they have with the other athletes. After … seeing how happy they were … and Russell said nothing but good things. It went a long way with me.”

Slam dunk: LeBron James to produce reboot of the classic ‘House Party’ Stephen Glover and Jamal Olori — ‘Atlanta’ screenwriters — will write

LeBron James has a lot on his mind — free agency, NBA All-Star Weekend, and the second half of the NBA season — but there’s more. He and his SpringHill Entertainment partner, Maverick Carter, are producing a new House Party. The plan is to not just revive but to reinvent the franchise that starred Martin Lawrence, Kid ’n Play, Tisha Campbell and Full Force. It launched in 1990, and sequels followed in 1991 and 1994. Stephen Glover and Jamal Olori, Atlanta‘ screenwriters, will write it. “This is definitely not a reboot. It’s an entirely new look for a classic movie,” James told The Hollywood Reporter in an exclusive. More to come.