To read about the rest of the Culture Shifters, including comedian Bowen Yang and entrepreneur Erica Chidi, return to the full list here.
Before the world locked down, Kevin Fredericks traveled across the country on his third self-produced and self-financed comedy tour, delivering his unique brand of humor that garnered him millions of fans. But when the coronavirus pandemic forced entertainment venues to close, the comedian had to find new ways to keep his fans laughing.
Enter the “Keep Your Distance” comedy show, a stand-up event he and a few other comics created in the wake of COVID-19. The comedians perform for a live, socially distanced audience at an outside locale in Los Angeles, and fans can purchase tickets to watch the show from their homes online as well. What makes the show special, in Fredericks’ eyes, is that it allows Black comics to perform for audiences that may not otherwise ever see them.
The show “has been a way to give comics an opportunity to still perform in front of a live audience safely and give people at home a chance to enjoy live comedy, also safely,” said Fredericks, who is better known as KevOnStage to his more than 1 million followers on social media. “It has also been a way to introduce people to comedians, and comedians to new audiences.”
He views the show as a chance for comics who are traditionally underrepresented to continue to create new lanes for themselves.
Virtually every industry has been hit hard by the pandemic. In entertainment, Black comedians have been disproportionately affected. Some had difficulty finding work before the virus took hold in the country, and COVID-19 only exacerbated many of the issues faced by comedians of color.
“The pandemic, not only in entertainment, but for a lot of people, it immediately dried up all of our opportunities,” Fredericks, 37, said. “I always used my influence to pass along opportunities to people of color.”
Without the ability to perform live, comedians have turned to Zoom and other online platforms for shows. “One of the drawbacks of streamed comedy is: It’s not real-time,” he said, explaining the reasoning for socially distanced shows. “As a comedian, that delay can be a killer. If that joke’s not working, you need to know immediately.”
With its spread-out audience, the “Keep Your Distance” show keeps the comedians on track.
But Fredericks hasn’t stopped there.
In December, he launched the KevOnStage Studios app, a streaming platform for audiences to watch content from Black comedians, screenwriters and other entertainers who don’t normally appear on Netflix or Hulu. Subscribers can watch a variety of content like the “Real Comedians Challenge Show,” a full-length series featuring Fredericks and other comedians competing against each other in different challenges. In one episode, they learn how to apply makeup from YouTuber Jackie Aina, and in another, they write songs with gospel artist Jonathan McReynolds. The app already has over 15,000 subscriptions.
Fredericks was born into a military family, and lived in a variety of places growing up. He started doing stand-up while he was in high school at a church talent show. The comedian worked what he called a “regular job” at aerospace company Boeing before realizing in 2013 that he could make a living doing comedy through YouTube.
“I was essentially just making YouTube videos and posting those links on my Facebook page,” Fredericks said. “It started with people in Tacoma, [Washington], where I’m from, and then they started sharing my content with their friends and then their friends shared, and then slowly more and more people shared.”
Today, Fredericks’ platform has grown from making funny YouTube videos with his friends to an authentic media empire. The viral internet star has amassed nearly 2 billion views across all platforms, but even he is still surprised when he gets flagged down in the airport by a fan. With his star only growing brighter, the comedian said he wants to continue to use his platform to open doors for new, diverse talent.
“We want to level the playing field for those people who are marginalized and give them a chance to showcase their talent and also go directly to the audience, as opposed to having someone in traditional Hollywood tell you that it’s not gonna work,” he said. “Instead, we’ll make it, put it out and let the audience decide if it’s going to work or not.”