My Last Days at Love and Hip Hop | Victor Varnado Public Diary
I was working as a story producer on Leave It To Stevie Season 2 and I remembered thinking, “Oops.”
Stevie J was such a popular star from the VH1 hit reality show Love and Hip Hop: Atlanta that he scored his own series. Rather than continue the overly dramatic style of the LHH they wanted Leave It To Stevie to be funny. As a producer with strong comedy credits, I was hired on the LHH franchise without even knowing who Cardi B was.
Here is a clip from the premiere episode I produced.
Side note: When I met Stevie J I was struck by how nice he smelled. He was like a fresh peach.
I had fun on the series but at the end of the season came around I asked myself a simple question. “What the $#%# am I doing producing a Love and Hip Hop franchise reality show?”
I moved to New York around 20 years ago to ‘make it’ in the entertainment industry as an actor, comedian, and filmmaker. Right out of the gate I was cast in movies with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Eddie Murphy. I was even listed in the opening credits of End of Days and was featured prominently in the trailer.
I had a problem with my blossoming career. Being born as a black person with albinism, the entertainment industry was happy to cast me as a ‘freak.’ I could easily jump on a high horse at this point and ride the wave of actualization that the year 2018 has become. I could easily blame the ‘industry’ for limiting my choices. But I wanted to take a different route. If I wanted to be known as a writer, filmmaker, creator, blah blah blah, I would have to reject opportunities that wanted to feature me as an oddity and create my own content. I needed to show the world what I wanted to be.
I started writing and directing shorts. One of my first starred Colton Dunn who is currently starring in a new season of NBC’s Superstore. At the time I was still using the production name of “bestAlbino.” That’s an early career mistake that I may never live down.
I kept making monthly shorts until I got better. I started a film festival primarily to show my own work with one of my friends Jay Stern. Years later when I independently produced a web series and stand up special I started getting calls to work on ‘real’ TV shows.
I was validated. I was being hired because I was smart, funny, and innovative. I was working on projects for people and getting big checks. I was a producer on a hit franchise and rarely (if ever) working on my own projects and expressing myself.
Then, I saw The Defiant Ones on HBO.
I keep telling people about this show. It’s phenomenal for the story it tells especially if you are a person who is trying to make it in entertainment. It’s a step by step account about how Dr. Dre and Jimmy Ivy separately rose from poverty to success. It shows every decision they made, every hurdle they had to overcome, and every time they thought about quitting but made one last ditch effort to stay in the game. Then, they form a business and personal relationship and became billionaires.
I’m paraphrasing but Jimmy Ivy at one point said: “If you’re an underdog, in order to make it you have to be twice as good as the next guy.” I believe that too.
The thing that struck me most was their work ethic. Not just the amount of work they did, but the determinations to work through their fears. That part stayed with me because my whole life has been fear. Who’s looking at me? I’m different than everyone else. What if I talk to her and she thinks I’m ugly? What if I’m not smart? What if I walk out on stage and nobody laughs? Don't these other comedians see I’m a fraud? Who’s going to believe in my stupid idea? I’ll never be able to do something as good as that one thing I did. I should stay here and work because I can’t make it on my own ideas.
In a conference room at the EasternTV offices who produce all the Love and Hip Hops the world will ever want I was in a tense meeting where everyone was upset because of the tone of an email and the time of day we would decide that work was finished. Don't get me wrong. Love and Hip Hop is fantastic, but why was I wasting my emotion on someone else’s dream?
That was a year ago. Since then I have been pushing myself to get back on track and do all the things I feared would never work or things that were too crazy to be a good idea.
A long time ago I thought it would be interesting to chronicle my process in a public diary. But then I thought, “What would people think?”
Victor Varnado is a brilliant writer and comedian who always authors his own bylines. Following the rule of threes, his work has appeared on Comedy Central, Vice, and Marvel Comics. You can catch up with him weekly on his podcast Six Unseemly Questions and you should also follow him on Twitter and Instagram.