Welcome to the Black Media Minute where we dive into the ins and outs of the media business with black creatives and industry professionals. I’m your host, Kimberly Foster. How does a 24 year-old son of Nigerian immigrants, land his very first writing gig on one of the hottest shows on television? I spoke with Damilare Sonoiki of ABC’s Blackish to find out. Blackish offers thoughtful, incisive commentary on race and class in America. Created by Kenya Barris, it’s currently in it’s second season. I spoke to Dam about how he got the job, what it’s like behind the scenes, and what he plans to create on his own.
Damilare Sonoiki: Thank you for having me.
KF: All right. You are young. You are really young. How old are you?
DS: I’m 24.
KF: All right, so you’re 24, staffed on the hottest shows on television. Did you always want to be a writer?
DS: No. I joined the Harvard Lampoon freshman year in college, and at that point I wanted to be a writer. I guess probably sophomore year of college.
KF: Okay. The Harvard Lampoon is an extremely prestigious publication that is a very well-known and notable humor magazine. It’s actually known as an incubator for television writers. Did you get involved with the Lampoon knowing that?
DS: No. Our freshman year, fall 2009. That was around the time of the whole Leno/Conan O’Brien thing was going on.
DS: When Conan O’Brien was starting to take over Jay Leno’s job as the host of the Tonight Show and then they gave the job to Conan, but then they just moved Leno to a show. There was a half-hour show that came on right before Conan and then they ended up just giving Leno back his old job.
So Conan got his dream job, then lost his dream job. That was all over the news and I kept hearing about how Conan O’Brien was president of the Harvard Lampoon. Jeff Zucker, who was the president of NBC, he had been the president of the Harvard Crimson. They were both president of these organizations and the Crimson and Lampoon have this college rivalry so all the news organizations just kept talking about the Crimson and the Lampoon. I heard about the Crimson and knew it was a newspaper and I was involved with my high school newspaper, but the Lampoon intrigued me because Conan O’Brien was in it. I just kept hearing about it, so I went to a Lampoon intro meeting and at the end of the meeting they said take some issues with you and I just read a bunch that I thought were funny and so I was like, “Wow, I want to be a part of it.”
KF: Okay, so there’s been a lot of talk in recent years because the Lampoon in the past couple of years just had it’s first Black woman president. There’s been talk about the racial makeup of the Lampoon and how the complexion of that publication might be changing. While you were apart of the Lampoon did you ever feel like, “Whoa, I’m the only Black guy here.”
Yeah, I was the only Black person on the Lampoon until Alexis joined. Alexis was the first Black president of the Lampoon and the first Black woman president. This guy named Toby joined on the business board at some point. He might’ve joined before Alexis, but anyway, I was the only Black person on the Lampoon for a couple of years.
KF: All right, so let’s get from how are you writing for one of the most noted humor magazines in the country to signing with an agent.
DS: It was actually very random. My junior year, the most random guy emailed the president of the Lampoon. Lampoon president typically runs from second semester Junior spring to your Senior fall. We vote at the end of the fall semester. And so this guy from class of 2012 was president and he said some random guy emailed him, saying that he wanted to manage writers on the side.
I didn’t know if he was legit or not, but the guy who was president connected that guy via email with some of the Juniors and Seniors who wrote for the Lampoon. I sent him some stuff that I had, at some point this guy, this writer name Simon Rich, he was an SNL Writer, Lampoon guy, he wrote a few books, he has his own show on FX. I met him Freshman summer and he liked some of my stuff and I asked if I want to be a writer what I need to do. He said just get together a packet of your funniest Lampoon stuff and an original pilot.
I had this packet of stuff and I sent it to this random guy who said he wanted to manage writers on the side. He sent it some people at WME, the agency and they really liked it so then I got a call with WME and they ended up signing me.
KF: Okay, what was your pilot about?
DS: The original idea I had was what if one of your roommates left and then came back a woman. I guess it’s also a little bit funny because this was before … Now, I feel like trans is in with “Transparent” and I didn’t know why I was thinking about this at that time but I was like, “Oh, what if your roommate left and came back and was trans.”
That was the original nugget of the idea, but then it just ended up being about three guys who worked at a gym. It was, I don’t know it was kind of stupid honestly.
KF: What does an agent do for you as a writer?
DS: They get you a job.
KF: What’s interesting to me about your story is you worked at the Lampoon which is a very Harvard thing to do, but you also worked in finance, which is another very Harvard thing to do but you don’t really hear about people doing both of those things. Why did you decide to do both?
DS: Honestly, I think there was a time at the Lampoon, you would graduate and go off to whatever writing job you wanted, whether it was SNL, Seinfeld, The Simpsons or whatever. Around the mid-2000s was when there was a lot of … Reality TV was dominating so all of prime time was, “Who wants to be a millionaire” and “Fear Factor” and stuff and “Survivor.” They don’t need comedy writers for that. I think it was a slow down in hiring for writers. Then there was a writers strike, and so I knew of Lampoon people who went out to LA, nothing happpened.
I just didn’t want to go LA and end up just being a starving artist, basically.
KF: I feel like this is where the race thing comes in right? Because for a white dude comedy writer, taking that huge risk and moving to LA and doing the starving artist thing might have different consequences than it would from first or second generation Nigerian.
DS: I lived in Nigeria until I was six and I moved to Houston. We didn’t live in a great neighborhood when we first moved, so I’ve been broke before. I didn’t want to do that. That’s not fun.
KF: Totally and as somebody who chose an unusual career that I still am trying to explain to my engineer mother. I totally get it, and I think there’s some guilt. My parents didn’t sacrifice so I can run a website. I get that.
DS: Right, no you understand. There would be times I would meet people who graduate and are like, “I want to go backpack for a year in Europe” and just do these very alternative things. Then I would find out, “Oh, your dad is Rudy Giuliani” or “Your dad is Elliot Spitzer” basically you come from privilege you can do that. My parents didn’t come to this country for me to be a starving artist in North Hollywood or something.
I felt a little bit guilty like, “Oh, if I really want to do this I should” but the stakes are so different.
KF: All right, so you worked for Goldman Sachs for two years after graduation. How was that?
DS: The first year was kind of cool because everything is new but then … Finance is, it can be a little soulless and it wasn’t very fulfilling you know?
KF: While you were working finance, were you planning your escape?
DS: Isn’t everyone? Not necessarily an escape from finance, if you’re working at private equity, you’re trying to go to a hedge fund, if you’re working at a hedge fund you’re trying to start your own fund. Everyone’s trying to escape.
I have this two to four year plan in my head where I was going to work in finance for two to four years, basically long enough to get from investment banking to an investing role like private equity or a hedge fund. That would do two things, I would have enough saved up to move to LA and not be a starving artist but actually be able to try to be a writer and not have to … Not be a starving artist. Also if the writing didn’t work out, I would have some sort of skill to fall back on.
That was my original plan, but I got lucky in March 2015. I came to LA to get away from New York and I told my agent I would be in LA for a week and whatever you can make happen, make it happen. He set up a bunch of meetings and one of them ended up being with the execs at Black-ish and I thought I would have this period of unemployment between leaving finance and trying to find a writing job.
KF: During these two years when you were working at Goldman Sachs, what did your agent say?
DS: I will give my agent a lot of props in that he stuck with me through that. To be fair, he didn’t have to do any work because I was in LA and he could just like whenever I came to LA, he would just have me. After graduation he was like, “Oh, there’s this show you would be a good fit for” and I was like, “Oh, I don’t know. I’m still going to do this finance thing.” When I first got to New York he was still trying to do Skype meetings with like … Sometimes I was like, “I can’t be a first year analyst in banking and be doing Skype meetings in LA with people trying to write. I’m going to do this banking thing.”
He was like, “Look, when you’re ready just let us know.”
KF: You just mentioned something that we just skipped over. You worked on Instant Mom, which was a short-lived sitcom …
DS: How do you know that? And second of all, I think Instant Mom is still on, they did like 80 episodes.
I’m just saying, first of all I’m surprised you even know about that. Second of all, worked on is a very loose term.
KF: Listen, I do my research. I be looking and doing my Googles.
DS: I’m genuinely curious of where you found that.
KF: I do my Googles. You worked briefly, were you there in an official capacity? You actually worked on episodes?
DS: I will say I had one contribution to Instant Mom which I am a little bit proud of. I took a bunch of APs in high school. At Harvard you can do this thing called advanced standing where you can attend for three years or three and a half years if you have a certain number of credits. I could have finished all my courses with this thing called advanced standing in three years or three and a half. I took a semester off my Senior fall and I spent a few months in LA.
My agent had me meet with the guy called Howard Gould, who was a show-runner for this pilot called Instant Mom and I came in for a day or two where he just let me sit in the room while they were working on the pilot. There was one thing that I did do. The first episode was this twenty-something woman, she was going to an Usher concert and I was like, “Oh, man it should be a Drake concert.” They changed it from an Usher concert to a Drake concert, and a year later when the pilot had aired, I Googled Instant Mom and I saw the final version of the pilot. It was she was going to a Drake concert, so that was my one contribution to Instant Mom.
KF: At that time, how old were you?
DS: That was Senior year, so 21.
KF: All right, so you just started being able to drink legally and getting your ideas included on TV shows. So let’s jump back to your week in Los Angeles wheb you told your agent to set you up with meetings and you have a meeting with Jonathan Groff and Kenya Barris for Black-ish. Which was not on the air at that time?
DS: I think it was the middle of Season one. It was towards the end of Season one.
KF: All right, so when you sat down with them you were already familiar with the show?
DS: Oh yeah, for sure. I had seen commercials for Black-ish then my agent called me one day and was like, “Hey, what do you think about Blackish?” This was a week before I was going out to LA. I was like, “Oh, I don’t know it feels like too close to home.” I grew up in a not great neighborhood and then I went to a private school and then Harvard or whatever and so later I thought about it more and was like, “That was actually like the perfect show” because I can relate to it so much.
Kenya Barris used to be repped by WME and so my agent was WME. My agent knew Kenya and so he told Kenya about me as a person and then he sent Kenya my Lampoon stuff that I wrote, and Kenya liked it. That led to meetings with the executives who covered Black-ish. They liked me and so then I went to a meeting with Kenya and Johnathan Groff and that went really well. My agent after that was like, “They’re going to hire you, they just need to work out some things.”
That was the most anxious month ever because it’s a done deal but either in a few months I will be soullessly investment banking and hating my life in New York or I’ll be writing for this TV show in LA. After a few weeks, I’d say the end of April, it was like “Oh, it’s official.”
I left Goldman May 1st, last year.
KF: what was your sit down with Johnathan and Kenya like? What did they say? What did you say?
DS: I guess the thing about TV meetings is for you to even be meeting them, they have to have liked your writing or either they liked your writing or someone heavily recommended you. TV meetings are weird because if you’re in the corporate world, the questions you’re used to is like, “What’s a DCF?” Or “Walk me through a DCF” or finance questions, like “What’s going on with the economy?”
Whereas a TV meeting is like, “What are you watching right now? What are you watching on TV right now?” You want to make them laugh and put them at ease. A writers room is very much like a submarine effect. We’re all sitting in a room together for eight plus hours a day, talking. If there’s somebody in there who’s a jerk or who is just abrasive, they can really throw off the dynamic and the balance of the whole room because it’s a submarine effect. We’re all there.
KF: Did you go into that meeting feeling like this could really change your life? Were you overcome with anxiety?
DS: The most anxiety I felt was after the meeting when I was in New York. At that meeting, I don’t know. Honestly, I felt good because my agent was like, ‘You’ll probably have to meet with Kenya later” so I was thinking, “All right, I’ll be here for a week, I’ll come back in April or May and meet with Kenya.”
Really the way staffing season works, the way writing works, there’s this thing called staffing season. Which is, the networks buy scripts towards the end of the year, they decide, “We’re going to shoot these ones at the beginning of the year.” They shoot them around February, March, so all these pilots are shot. They test and they watch them and they decide, “Okay, these few we’re going to actually make into series. We’re going to make more episodes of.”
Towards the end of April, middle, end of April, you start to hear rumors about which pilots are probably going to get series. Towards the middle of May is when you’ll hear, “These pilots are officially going to be ordered to series.” The second half of April, all throughout May is when staffing season is so I was a month early. I was thinking, “I’m going to meet Kenya again later” but then they were like, “Kenya can actually meet with you this week.” I felt like, “Okay, if he’s taking the time to meet with me it’s a good sign.”
Long story short, I felt good because the meeting with the executives went well so probably the meeting went so well, Kenya was like, “I have to meet this guy” basically.
KF: I read an amazing, beautiful, sprawling profile of Kenya Barris this week in the New Yorker. It was super brilliant and Emily Nussbaum did an incredibly thorough job of capturing Kenya and his family and his work life and I’m reading and minding my business and you pop up in the profile. She mentions you, I think in the first sentence that she talks about you, she describes you as a diversity hire.
Clearly, you read it and I’m wondering what your reactions to that were?
DS: Oh, I was telling Kenya about it because I talked to him like a week ago, I guess the New Yorker does very thorough fact checking and so the fact checker called me and she was like, “Hey, we’re doing fact checks for the New Yorker thing, you went to Harvard, yeah. You were an editor of Lampoon, you’re twenty-five” “Oh, no I’m twenty-four” “Okay cool.” Then she was like, “Kenya talked about facing social alienation when he started as a writer, would you say you faced social alienation? And I was like, “Um, yeah, yeah sure I guess.”
Then she was like, “Would you also say that you zipped up your hoodie so only your eyes could show?” I was like, “Yes, but I was cold. It wasn’t some sort of statement of my alienation, I was just cold.” Then she was like, “Did you also pitch this joke, Kenya said this?” I said, “Well, yeah but it was a joke. I said it as a joke and Kenya said it kind of as a joke.”
But anyways it was funny and I was like wait a minute, wait a second, what’s going on? All the really big networks had these diversity programs, they’re really, really hard to get into where you have to write pilots and spec scripts for shows that are already on the air. I didn’t go through one of those programs, but my agent was somehow able to finagle my contract into that same kind of thing where my salary would come out of the studios’ pocket instead of the shows pocket.
KF: Clearly, you have some feelings about the way that you were characterized in the profile. I won’t say you came out poorly it was just …
DS: To her credit, it’s hard to capture the ebb and flow of a writers room. Kenya is very much a mentor, big brother to me. We have a really good mentor, big brother relationship and so I think she was trying to do this thing of like, “Kenya felt isolated when he was your age and started out writing …”
KF: It was very much like a passing the torch. Like he had been mentored. and so it was his responsibility now as a decision maker to impart that wisdom to you. That’s what it felt like.
DS: Not that the narratives not true. I definitely think that narrative is true, Kenya looked out for me, is very much passing the torch, sees himself in me and stuff but I think that there were probably better examples that could have been used of that.
KF: You could definitely see there was a story arc that she was trying to build.
DS: I think the things that are true is, I’m not going to calculate the median age of the writers room but in the Black-ish writers room, I’m the youngest, significantly. That kind of alienation that Kenya talks about being the only black guy in a writers room filled with white dudes and not knowing anything about Neil Young. For me, it’s like I’m the only millennial in the room where everyone’s like, most people are in their 40s and have kids and are married.
I don’t know anything about Prince and everyone was talking about the OJ trial and where they were when the chase happened and this and that, and it’s like, “Oh, I was like four.” There definitely was isolation. I think she could have captured that better but I think that, that’s what she was trying to capture.
KF: Yeah, is that your first huge, mainstream media mention?
DS: I’m not someone who thinks that all press is good press by any means,
KF: You are the youngest person in the writing room and actually, from what I’ve read, the writing room in Black-ish is very diverse. Maybe not age-wise but in the other sorts of demographics.
What is it like everyday?
DS: It’s weird because it was such a departure from Goldman in its corporate, button-up environment and in a writers room, your job is to sit around and talk and be funny. The coolest part is seeing twenty-four episodes go from little ideas that we talked about in the room to these things that are broadcast globally that people have a response to.
Also just like, it’s fun getting to hang out and getting to know Anthony and Tracee and Laurence and all the kids, Yara, Marcus and Marsai and Miles. That’s also cool.
It’s fun but it’s also work which is weird.
KF: I’m kind of trying to understand what happens, so you’re sitting around bouncing ideas off of each other. Everybody’s just free to say what they want?
DS: Yeah, you’re just throwing ideas out. Kind of an open, honest place where you could just talk about real life. The thing is, the room is really top heavy. If you look at the credits, all the writers are co- executive producers. They’re all writers who have been writing for awhile. Everyone’s veterans, so I’m contributing but I’m kind of hanging back a little bit more and observing.
Everything really comes from real life. Either it comes from Kenya’s life or it comes from somebody else’s life but it’s filtered through Kenya’s eyes. For example, the N-word episode, Kenya has five kids and a sixth on the way and his daughter, he was was looking at his daughter’s cell phone, there’s a group chat and someone was using the N-word. He’s like, “I don’t think Asher should be using the N-word what the heck.” His daughter was like, “It’s just a word” so then that would be a conversation in the writers room.
DS: Or guns, where do all the writers stand on guns. What you’ll see is everyone talks about Black-ish shows such balance, different points of views. That’s because the writers all have different points of view. There are some writers who will never stop saying the N-word and there are some writers who will never say the N-word.
KF: Black-ish is by far one of the most incisive and thoughtful explorations of race on television. I truly believe that. That’s the reason why this show is such a gift. I’m wondering about the balance. What are the checks and balances? When you guys are throwing things out there does Kenya get the final say of, “No, no no” Even if the room feels like a joke is working? Does he jump in and be like, “No.”
DS: Kenya definitely is the captain. For example, Dre will usually have whatever point of view Kenya has. Tracee doesn’t necessarily agree with both point of views on certain things but we have to have somebody to represent that point of view.
KF: I’m interested in where the ideas come from. In the article, it mentions that you submitted a script. So when somebody’s script is accepted is that where the episodes come from and then you guys sit around?
DS: It’s like the opposite. We just sit in the room, at first, the first couple of weeks we come up with a lot of ideas. Probably like, a lot of them. We have six weeks to just come up with episode ideas. We started June 15th and the actors didn’t get there until the end of July. Kenya comes into the room, like day one, N-word episode. N-word was the premier, but we shot gun first. This morning, I was having breakfast with Kenya and we were talking about certain things from season three.
His come from conversations. It really comes from real life. For example, my script, one day we were talking about really, really rich people and Kenya was talking about being in the Hamptons with Puffy. You’re in the Hamptons, in these certain rooms where everyone is a billionaire. 60% of the room is billionaire. Just being in Harvard in general, some random person in your class, like your grade or in your class or whatever like your actual classroom, is a Rockefeller. We were talking about that and that weekend I had a bunch of friend from Harvard and Goldman who were in town and some of them were billionaires that came from these wealthy families.
The episode I did, kind of came from that. The idea that you pitch isn’t necessarily the one that you end up writing. It’s just your number is called as far as writing one. I was going to write one of the last ones and I had this idea but long story short, it just comes from sitting in the room and just talking about these things that happen. Like, Kenya is thinking about getting a gun. His wife doesn’t want him to get one, well what does everyone else think about guns?
I actually have my conceal and carry license because I live in Texas and you can get it pretty easily. Guns are fun. I’m from the “South.” Somebody could be like, “Oh, guns are terrible. I will never have guns.” The things that have the most robust discussion in the room, end up being the best episodes. The N-word or Guns are very, very spirited discussions in the writers room that’ll end up being really, really well-received episodes.
KF: Blackish has an incredible cast with just impeccable timing. Do you remember the first time you first saw a joke that you pitched or one of your ideas on set? Do you get to be on set?
DS: Whatever writer wrote the script is always on set, so if you wrote that episode then you’ll be on set all week. Shooting usually starts around 7:00 and the writers don’t come in until 10:00 am so a lot of times I would come in a little early and swing by set. Yeah, you can go to set but we’re always in the writers room. If we’re on a break we can swing by set.
KF: Do you remember the first time you were on set and you saw an actor say something that you wrote.
DS: We do table reads for every episode. We have this conference room and all the actors will sit around this table and then the edge of the room, all the writers and the execs, the parents of the kids, other people involved in the show will sit around the edge of the room and we’ll hear the script read out loud. That’s when you really hear your jokes. That’s when also we’re looking to see what jokes work or if the story works, different things that work.
I definitely remember the first time. I think the first one that I pitched was in the N-word episode, I remember when Stevens says, “I should tell someone to put a stop payment on my half million dollar check to the United Negro College Fund” and then Dre says, “Be honest Stevens, you just wrote that check so you could say Negro” and then Stevens says, “Well, I didn’t do it so I can’t.”
I pitched, “I didn’t do it so I can’t.” That was probably the first one that was in an episode.
KF: Did you feel so incredibly happy? What is that moment like?
DS: I mean it’s definitely cool, and even just seeing, for my episode I was on set all week and just seeing the joke actually works at the table read and it’s well-received, yeah it’s very fun. It’s definitely a good feeling.
KF: You’re coming up on the end of your first year at the show.
DS: We wrapped in March.
KF: Oh, wow. Oh yeah, that’s why there were spoilers in the New Yorker piece.
What’s the best thing about working on Blackish?
DS: I think the best thing that I could capture is sometimes someone will win sort of lottery or say Kenya or somebody will donate to the school, like to spend on set. Anthony has done these random lottery, charity things where a family will bid on him. Bids to spend a day with Anthony or a family will bid to spend a day on set or something and just being able to think like, “Wow, I work at a place where people will actually pay money to come and experience.”
That’s always a cool feeling. Anytime that happens I’m like, “Wow, that’s so cool,” Where I get to work and where I get to just come everyday, hanging out with Laurence, or Tracee or Anthony or all the kids. These are things that people would actually pay for, and it gets to be my job. That’s the most cool part.
As far as the job, itself it’s a gift and a curse because you make all sorts of stupid mistakes if you’ve never been in that environment before. Just being a writer, you’re just in this place where everybody is really smart and really funny and everyone’s job is to be funny several times a day, where you can just laugh uncontrollably because someone just said the funniest thing. It might not even make it t script but it’s just a hilarious thing.
KF: You now live a glamorous LA life, you mentioned earlier that you’re from a rough neighborhood in Houston. What’s living in LA like for you?
DS: It’s fun. It’s been fun. I also just got lucky and I was on the show. One of my friends I met out here is somehow friends with Drake and Bieber and Travis Scott and Puffy and yeah it’s been fun.
KF: Do you find now that people try to latch on to you when they find out where you work?
I definitely think like a thing, like actors will always be like, “Write something for me” but that’s just a thing that always happens if you’re a writer in general. Not really. Not necessarily, people will be like they want to come by set but people are actually pretty chill.
KF: You have made a short film before do you aspire to be a film maker?
DS: I think I aspire to do what Kenya does, which is have a show, have more shows and also write a bunch of movies. I just watched Barbershop 2 the other day and I knew it would be good because Kenya was one of the writers and also he had said that it tested really well and I heard the rotten tomatoes stuff. Even before that I was like, “Oh, if Kenya’s writing this it’s going to be good.” I know he’s writing Shaft, he’s writing a Good Times movie. He’s writing a bunch of movies. I think I just want to write a bunch of movies and have my own TV shows.
KF: You have a really, really interesting story so outside of Black-ish, what are you working on?
I’m sure as you’re familiar with Dear White People or Awkward Black Girl. I think there’s a new paradigm of content creation. The traditional way you would get on a show and be a staff writer. You would rise up to be a producer and then you would get your own show eventually. Whereas now you’re seeing people like Issa Rae and Lena Waithe. Issa had Awkward Black Girl which is a web series that she created and Lena Waithe she was a co-producer on Dear White People and she wrote, I think for Bones a little bit. People who don’t have a lot of traditional cable network writing experience, create some sort of new media where they did their own thing.
I think in that paradigm what you have now people combine the internet and technology. The internet gives you instant global distribution and nowadays certain cameras that cost $2000 to shoot with today, you would’ve needed a $100,000 camera to shoot in that quality 50 years ago. What happens is now you can kind of shoot stuff yourself and promote it yourself and build your own audience and then go to a network and say, “Look this thing is a viable thing that people want to see on TV.”
You saw with Dear White People, where they made a trailer for a movie and they did an Indie-Go Go and they did this campaign and they got enough attention to where people were like, “Oh, this is a story people want to see, let’s actually raise financing and get this to theatrical release.” Whereas before, that same script for Dear White People, you could’ve written it and brought it to a studio and they could say, “Well, we just don’t think there’s a market for this. We just don’t think there’s an audience for this.”
You could now actually shoot a teaser, sizzle or whatever version of it and then use that going viral or that having a lot of views to show anyone that there is an audience for this.
I have a couple of projects that I’m working on now like TV ideas that I’m trying to use that model for. My friend who is somehow friends with Drake, Bieber, Travis Scott and all these people, a vehicle for him, like a hip-hop Entourage, like a Black Entourage type of thing. We shot a trailer for that and we have a bunch of cameos from certain people that’ll be cool. A thing that I wrote and I’m producing myself is like Black-ish but African. It’s almost like, Everybody Hates Chris but African or Fresh Off the Boat but African. It’s basically just an African family comedy.
Basically, my story. I grew up with these immigrant parents and my parents weren’t as crazy as some immigrant parents, so I’m exaggerating a little bit just for the comedy. But I shot this trailer, but the dad I didn’t like his accent so I re-shot it with a different dad. I have the first one already edited, so I showed it to Kenya this morning and he thought it was really funny. So my parents came to the writers room once and they came to Black-ish, they met Tracee and everybody and they came to writers room. Kenya asked them how they felt about me going from Goldman to Black-ish and my parents were like, “Oh, well you know we just want him to be happy” and I was like, “What! What are you talking about? That is not, you’ve never said that in your life. Those words have never come out of your mouth.”
For my parents, it was a little abrupt when I left Goldman and started at Black-ish and I feel like most other parents would be like, “Wow, that’s awesome it’s like a hit show, this is cool.” My parents were like, “Well, Goldman’s pretty dope and secure. Goldman can’t get canceled after a bad season.” Black-ish is a show about parenting, essentially in a lot of ways. Being around all these parents and being around these people kind of made me rethink and my dad used to, when I was in middle school my dad would be like, “Harvard or nothing.”
At some point, it wasn’t until maybe six months ago when I was like, “Wait a minute, that’s not really a great thing to say to a twelve year old.” It’s just a comedy looking at first generation immigrant values. I think the central conceit of Black-ish that Kenya or anybody will always tell you is that, Black-ish is really about, we’re always taught to give our kids more than what we had but in giving them more, what do they lose? Which is why I love that.
At the end of the New Yorker article, I was texting Kenya, the immigrant story is that exact same type of thing. You’re taught to give your kids more but in giving them more what do they lose. That’s why immigrants are always like, “I’m going to send you back to Nigeria, I’m going to send you back to Africa, I’ll send you back to wherever.” There’s that fear of, yeah I’m giving you more by having you live in America but you’re also losing certain things. You’re losing these values that are really important to me.
It’s a story about that and that should be … What I’m going to try to do with both of them, but especially that one because I have control of it is, because the other one is like my friends’ and he could do whatever with it. Try to A, do traditional media. I’m really good friends with Yara and her family and her PR, they have relationships with Complex and Fader and all these places and get them to post about it. What I’m really going to do is use social media and have people with an aggregate follower ship of three to ten million post these fifteen second snippets of the trailer and use social media to really promote it.
KF: Yeah, you got to hit up the Shaderoom before they get shut down. Oh, they’re going to get shut down?
No. There’s a thing that’s circulating. Their Facebook page just got shut down. Just a little social media humor. Well Dam thank you so much for joining me. I really appreciate you taking the time to talk about what I think is the best show on television. I appreciate it.