Kid Fury’s comedy feels like home. But don’t get it twisted because he ain’t one of your lil’ friends.
In true Sagittarian fashion, he’s brutally honest, and though his punchlines feed you like comfort food, he’s not biting his tongue for anyone. This held true in his early days delivering his “Furious Thoughts” on YouTube, and its consistent today as he drags everyone from the president to trash boyfriends with a firm moral compass on “The Read” with his co-host Crissle West.
Jokes aside, the Miami native is a pioneer in helping usher in a wave of unapologetic young black podcasters in an industry dominated by whiteness. Since launching their show in 2013, Fury has started some crucial conversations around the intersection of blackness with sex, gender, relationships and mental health.
Though nonchalant about his contributions, Kid Fury is black history in the flesh. As a part of HuffPost’s “We Built This” series for Black History Month, Fury discussed with us how comedy saved his life, that black people should have free therapy and his production with Lena Waithe.
The name of this project is “We Built This.” What have you built?
I think I’ve built a platform for myself to express humor and to just live as authentically as I know how, and to also invite myself to learn new things about people in the world, and myself.
A lot of people were introduced to you by your videos on YouTube and how unapologetic, and how dope, your voice was. What made you start doing these videos, and how did you find your voice through them?
I started doing videos on YouTube because I had a blog at the time, which was essentially a comedy blog about pop culture, basic stuff that I do now, and I just wanted to try something new, and I was hoping to bring more traffic to the website, and it took me a while ’cause I thought that I was unattractive, and I hated the sound of my voice, and I was just insecure about it, but eventually I took a leap of faith like one of many leaps of faith I’ve taken, and it’s just worked out, I guess.
I think that’s something that is so common among anybody who has been or felt othered. And I think a lot of that has to do with how we see ourself represented growing up. What were the images in which you saw yourself represented as a child?
I don’t know if I saw many images that reminded me too much of myself as a kid. I know that I saw lots of great black sitcoms that I gravitated toward, my family played “Martin” all of the time, and I watched “In Living Color” growing up. I loved “Moesha” and lots of characters like that. I don’t remember seeing many black gay characters on TV when I was younger that weren’t the butt of a joke. Maybe “Noah’s Arc” was one of the first scripted shows that I remember that was like, oh, this kind of makes me feel like this is my community.
So, yeah I think that’s another part of the reason why I do what I am doing, and I try to be as open and honest about myself as I can because I would like for more of that to be able to happen for black queer people. I think the axis that we live on kind of revolves around fear of judgment, and worrying about whether or not we’re safe or are people going to accept us.
I think it’s kind of hard for a lot of us in the community to just feel comfortable to live authentically on whatever space, but I’m trying my best, I guess.
We were briefly talking downstairs about how hard comedy is. What led you to this profession?
Comedy is the thing I think that saved my life many times. I was always really enamored by standup as an art form, I haven’t even really practiced it as much as I’d like to, or as much as many other standup comedians do, but I always loved Def Comedy Jam. I loved Bernie Mac, I loved Redd Foxx, I loved Martin, of course, everybody with the last name Wayans. Even Kathy Griffin, God bless her and her career. I just always really was attracted to the idea of getting up in front of people and just making them feel waves of discomfort and then sheer exhilarating laughter. I just always really respected that as a performance art.
After I moved to New York, I decided that I was just gonna try it. I kept putting off standup for the longest time just out of fear, again of judgment and failure, and eventually, again, I took a leap of faith and threw myself off of the ledge and just said I’m gonna try it, and I did, and it was fun, and I liked to do more of it in the future.
I have heard you say a couple times when critiquing comedians who make really lazy jokes at the expense of marginalized communities that it is a skill and an art to kind of toe that line without crossing it, like so many people do. I think that we’re seeing with so many artists like yourself, like Yvonne Orji, a new wave of ... and maybe wave isn’t the right word, but a fresher voice in which we are seeing, or hearing, comedy more inclusive of different black experiences that we haven’t seen before. How do you get to that place and perfect it? What was the message that you were trying to say with your comedy?
Well, I think that most of my comedy revolves around evaluating the world that we live in, and us as people, the decisions that we make, the ways that we’re sort of wired as a society. I feel like that’s pretty much what every comedian does, but I think that what I mean when I say that is that ... the thing I love so much about comedy or performing comedy is that if you really try, if you look at it as homework, or a serious project, there are ways that you can write a joke about almost any topic, whether it’s sensitive or not, in a smart way that can make anybody laugh.
I feel like the best jokes are the jokes that take place around really uncomfortable territory. And the best comedians are the ones who are able to perform those jokes in smart ways that aren’t just typical and offensive and lazy. It’s really easy to write a joke about any number of stereotypes or prejudices and then just be like, well, you know I’m a comedian, so I can say that. I think it’s way more impressive to completely change the way that people think, or make people think, period.
And if you’re not really challenging yourself in that regard, I don’t even really know why you do it, personally. That’s just me.
And you say that comedy saved your life. I think that in talking to a lot of my peers, and just looking at overall the response and the reception to “The Read” since it started six years ago, that podcast has helped so many people. And for a lot of black folks, it was like our introduction to podcasts. Do you ever sit back and reflect on the impact and kind of the doors that you and Crissle opened?
Well, I’m not really good at giving myself credit or patting myself on the back. Crissle is kind of similar in that regard as well. I too didn’t really know much of anything about podcasts when we started, as I said before on the show, and in many other places, it was something for me to do. I moved here from Florida, and I had little to no money, and I didn’t really have a plan, and it was offered to me, and I thought that it sounded better than doing nothing.
So, I don’t really look at it as me having this impact as changing the game or whatever, I’m just more-so excited that there are people who are now expressing their opinions or looking at podcasting as a way to go after things that they’re passionate about. ’Cause there are a lot of people who are doing comedy podcasts or pop culture podcasts sort of for the sake of it, or because they think that they’re entertaining, and I think that that’s great too, but then you have people who are like, “My whole life I’ve been really passionate about making cupcakes.” Or something like that, and, “I started this podcast about baking.”
Anything that has just allowed people to get out of the norm of their 9-to-5 or their typical going on in the day, even if it’s not something they do professionally, it’s just something that you find fun, or enlightening or whatever. My dad always told me that we should never really have a goal to continue to work under other people, or we should always at least strive to do things for ourself, have something that is ours that we’re passionate about that we put energy into every single day. And I’ve never really forgotten that, and I think that that’s kind of another part of the reason I have always tried to do my own thing, and just have my own space, and in many ways I didn’t really know if it could make me money. If it could be a career, if it ever would turn into anything more than me just talkin’ shit. But I just knew that it made me feel less insignificant and looked over.
I’m just really honestly blessed and grateful to be in a position where I can take care of myself from the things that I started doing however long ago, when I was 18 or whatever.
One thing that I really respect about the work that you do is the fact that as you climb, you’re building with those in your circle, and it’s a synergy. You have “The Friend Zone,” you have all these other different [podcasters], and y’all are supporting each other. That’s a conversation that isn’t delved into deep enough. What is the importance of lifting as you climb?
I’m not even really sure how to answer that simply because it was never anything that I really thought of as more than having certain people around me that I’m, like, do you know that you’re really funny, or do you know that you have something to offer? And a couple of these people already knew that, and were completely going to be in the right place at the right time regardless, and some other people, some friends I might’ve been, like, “Bitch, in some way or somehow you need to show people that you’re hilarious, or you could cook, or you can fight, or whatever.”
It was never anything specifically thought of as, I want to lift up my community, and we’re all going to walk into the sunset together, but I do think that we’re almost conditioned as black people to think that there’s only one spot and that we can’t really encourage one another, or support one another, or hire one another, or whatever.
So I think that it’s easy for some of us to kind of get caught up in our own thing and not even really consider others. I’m the type of person who just believes what’s mine is mine, what’s meant for me is what’s meant for me, and what you’re doing to my north, south, east or west really doesn’t have anything to do with me at the end of the day.
So I don’t really have a problem high-fivin’ people, friends or non-friends. If I think that you genuinely have something to offer, if I think that you are genuinely doing something of quality, why should I not just be happy for you?
You’re a comedian who talks about therapy. Not only talk about it from a humorous perspective but also from a real perspective. I think that those two, therapy and comedy, haven’t historically gone hand-in-hand because when we think of comedians and their personal lives, we think of the Richard Pryors, as far as having dark shit that you don’t deal with unless you’re onstage. So how has therapy enhanced your career as a comedian?
I think that therapy has more-so enhanced personal decisions that I make, and it’s helped me to learn how to be more productive, and it’s helped me to learn to deal with just certain struggles that have, internally, emotionally, mentally, that keep me from enhancing my comedy or from performing in any way at 100 percent.
My psychiatrist and I, we talk about my work often. But most of the help that I get from her is personal stuff that I’ve then learned to put into action in my life that helps me to just handle life better so that I can go out into the world and do what I need to do. And I’ve never really had an issue with discussing that stuff just because I feel like nobody has ever really ... nobody really makes me feel as bad about myself as I do.
People have been able to really cut me before. I’m not impervious to words, but nobody really makes me feel as low as I do, even if you say something terrible to me or about me. I allow that stuff to be internalized and take over my day or my emotion. So you’re not really gonna make me feel bad about me saying that I go to a therapist every week, or that I’m on meds or that sometimes I feel like a crazy person. What is the worst thing you could possibly say to me about that? I don’t know, I don’t care.
And I think that so many of us, especially black people, honestly, therapy for black people should be free in this country. Honestly, we shouldn’t even have to pay for it because who’s a black American that does not need therapy, and we again, as people, are conditioned to think that it’s a waste of time. It’s a waste of money. It’s almost blasphemous because you got Jesus right there, and he’s all of the therapy you need. All of these things.
I have, even my own family, it was kind of a bit of an adjustment for a little while at first when I told them that I was going to therapy, and I was taking medication, and all of this stuff. But I know that it genuinely helps me, and it makes me feel better, and it makes me feel like I can get up and out of my bed in the day, and be active like a normal human being. So I don’t really care about how anybody else feels about it.
And, honestly, most comedians have so much darkness built up in them, which we were talking about. And a lot of times that’s what gravitates us toward comedy. It shouldn’t even be shocking that I’m in therapy because A: I’m black, B: I’m gay, C: I’m American, D: Donald Trump is the president. Again, I shouldn’t even have to pay for the therapy.
I’ve been saying for the longest that my reparations need to come in the form of my student loan debt wiped out. Free health care, period. And also an 800 credit score.
I feel like that’s the least ...
The damn least.
The least that this country could do. Honestly. I mean, we were literally promised things, but I mean, at least you could give us health care and erase this debt, but you know ... the wall. Yup.
Who are the black history makers, either living or in the ancestral plain, who inspire you to continue to do the work that you do?
Richard Pryor. Coretta. Bernie. Of course, the Queen Beyonce, just because her work ethic is so stupid. It’s so typical of me to stop here, but just if I could work at anything that I did ... if I wanted to make jeans for a living, and I worked at it the way that she does, I would have the highest sewing ... anyway, Beyonce. Michelle Obama, Barack Obama, Sasha and Malia, Bo. What’s the other dog’s name? Sorry, other dog, both Bo and Bo’s sibling. Missy Elliott. Rumi, Sir, Blue. Trina. This is one of those things where I feel like I could name so many people, any black, so many black people inspire me truthfully. Regina Hall, Issa Rae, Marsai Martin ― go see “Little.”
Honestly, I’m the type of person, this is gonna sound so stupid and corny, but I’m genuinely the type of person that just gets happy to see black people having success in things that they do. Issa Rae, for instance, excites me every time I see her doing something because I genuinely remember waiting for the next episode of “Awkward Black Girl” on YouTube and being like, this is so good. This chick is so funny, this show is so great, the fact that they’re doing it on their own. So to see her go from that to having this incredible show on HBO, to be on every red carpet, to being in films and winning awards, is just like ...
That type of stuff when I see that happen to black men, black women across the spectrum, it makes me happy if you deserve it ’cause a win for them in many cases is a win for all of us.
I’m just happy, as she says, “I’m rooting for everybody black.” I’m rooting for everybody black.
I’m glad you mentioned that because Issa Rae, Lena Waithe, Donald Glover, they’re all in this class of people who started to produce this content on YouTube and are now just poppin’ and thrivin’, and now you can really say that you’re part of that class as well.
I’m not there yet, girl.
But almost, almost. The fact that you’re working on this show with Lena is amazing!
I can’t even believe that. Yeah.
Can you talk a little bit about how that happened? And what we can expect?
Well, I believe in God, so I would say that. I’ve been living in New York for over six years, and it was a really rough transition coming from Miami. So, for much of the time that I had been here, I just had this vision in my head of a sitcom surrounding this black gay kid, myself, adjusting not only to a completely new surrounding, but what it’s like trying to figure out how to be an adult in your mid-20s and dealing with depression at the same time, and dealing with the community that we live in.
Being black and gay, I want people to understand that being black and gay is so different than just being gay. Just in the way that being, this is different, but just the same way of being a black woman is completely different than simply being a woman, and you can ask almost any black woman who’s been to any march for gender equality or anything. Black women get overlooked in the fight for women all of the time, so there’s I think a similar thing that happens in the gay community with black gays.
So, living in this city, there was way more to do for young gay people, but it’s still a weird adjustment. A lot of it was just really weird for me, and it felt very, very sitcom-y. And so I just had this vision of making this web series about my life and moving here, and what all of that stuff was like. And I was procrastinating on it for a long time on actually getting cameras and all of that stuff, and putting in the work, and eventually I met a woman by the name of Chloe Pisello at Avalon, and she asked me about stuff I was working on, ideas, and I told her about it, and she loved the idea.
We went around to some networks including HBO, and we ended up working with HBO, signing a deal with HBO to produce this show, and phenomenally Lena Waithe had known who I was. Which already blew my mind because I had been a fan of hers already. And anybody who pays attention to Lena Waithe knows she has ... she should be Jamaican because she has every job. She has every single job. She’s the absolutely baddest, and the industry is lucky to have her.
Somehow, some way, she found herself in some of the offices at HBO and was so nice about me when, I guess, my project came up in conversation, and essentially I was told she told them they would be crazy if they didn’t do it. And from there she ended up on the show as EP, and that excited me because it’s Lena Waithe, and she’s so supportive, and protective, and inspiring and awesome.
I’m really excited about the prospect of this show because I think it will be very, very unique. I think it will be very, very necessary. Again, I haven’t seen a show since “Noah’s Arc” that has been black gay male central. And so I’m just really excited to be able to tell different stories, not just about being black and gay and trying to date, but being human and dealing with the same shit that many other characters deal with in some of your favorite shows, but what it’s like for someone like myself. And I think that it’s gonna be fun, and I can’t wait to get to the next stage of it and share it with people, and it’s a thing that really just sort of fell into place, weirdly enough.
So that’s why I said I believe that it was meant to happen, and I’m really excited and terrified in a good way about it. Hopefully, there will be a lot more to say about it soon.
Photo shoot produced by Christy Havranek. Audio production by Nick Offenberg and Sara Patterson. Grooming by Monae Everett.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated Chloe Pisello’s last name.