• Walter Latham: I am the King of Urban Comedy (Interview)

    If you don’t know the name Walter Latham, you surely know his phenomenal work. His producing resume includes The Original Kings of Comedy, Queens of Comedy, Martin Lawerence’s Runteldat, Chris Rock’s Bring the Pain, and P. Diddy’s Bad Boys of Comedy. The Brooklyn native was recently selected by YouTube and Google to create original content on his own comedy channel which launches July 7. He’s receiving a share of the $100 million-plus pie being spent by YouTube to compete with satellite television. Latham is the (self-proclaimed) king of urban comedy. He helped launch the likes of Bernie Mac, Mo’Nique, Tyler Perry and many more. He and I talked about the new YouTube channel, the trajectory of urban comedy in the digital landscape and the wild frontier that is the Internet.

    So, you’re gearing up for the launch on Saturday, right?
    Yup. And I am very nervous. I don’t know why. I need to get rid of that because I can’t even sleep.

    And the channel will be similar to your current Walter Latham Comedy channel?
    It will be the same url. We’re gonna have a schedule. There won’t be just videos up there without a schedule. We’ll ahve a Tuesday-Saturday regular schedule. A lot of the videos that are on there [already] will come down; new ones will go up. My audience, we have 8 million views, my audience is pretty used to going there. So I didn’t want to confuse them and change everything around. But the look and feel of it is going to be different. The biggest thing is that they’re going to know every week what’s coming on as opposed to arbitrarily having videos posted every day or every other day or every week. There’s going to be a schedule.

    It’ll be nice for urban comedy in the digital sphere to mean something other than World Star Hip Hop.
    Haha. I had the conversation with Google two weeks ago and I was telling them, ‘Honestly, I’m not trying to be bragging or anything like that, but what we have to offer as far as our brand, the content, the quality of our content, the quality of the talent in our content…it doesn’t exist anywhere else. Period.’ The show we just shot, Comedy After Dark, we shot in 1080p. I’ve never seen a comedy show that looked that good. And I’m not just saying it because I made it. It’s amazing. We have these comedians, who aren’t necessarily household names yet, and they’re being presented like they’re the Kings of Comedy. I take pride in my work. I take pride in the way it looks. I take pride in that it’s funny. And you’re not seeing it anywhere else. That’s the tagline on my channel: ‘Always original.’

    I will take a chance to do something no one else has done just to make sure I’m not doing something that’s been done before. I’m willing to take the criticism. If it doesn’t succeed, it’ll be because it’s something that I did that I believed in. So a lot of the original things you’ll see in the coming weeks– they’ll be different. And I’m hoping people will like it, but I’ve always gotta be original. I’m not into producing a lot of shows. I’m into producing the best shows. So if that’s two a year, I’m fine with that. If that’s four a year, I’m fine with that. If it’s none this year, I’m fine with that.

    I saw your CNN interview. What I took from that is that you’re going to be a bit choosey about what you put out there. Being among the four black men tapped by Google/YouTube (Jay Z, Pharrell, and Shaq being the others), do you feel a responsibility to the black community to be particular about what you put up on this channel?
    I think I’ve always felt responsible. Before the channel ever came my way– we don’t get a lot of opportunities to do a lot of things in Hollywood. I got a five year deal with Paramount right after Kings of Comedy came out. I have a two year deal with them now for television and digital. I’ve seen a lot of things that come out for us and, to me, it cheapens our audience. It’s dumbing them down and I don’t like that. I take the approach of I’ll spend the extra money to make sure you get the best. A lot of people going, “Why you’ doing that? Put that extra money in your pocket!” I don’t play by those rules. When I do stuff, I put all the money on the screen. I feel a responsibility now and I’ve felt a responsibility since day one. Especially when it comes to comedy because I love it. Like, literally. I. Love. Comedy. I grew up listening to Richard Pryor albums. I grew up watching Eddie Murphy on Saturday Night Live. It’s become a part of me. So when you say Kings of Comedy, I believe I am the King of Comedy, especially in the urban community. I don’t know anyone else who takes that kind of pride in the art form of urban comedy. I don’t know anyone else.

    I respect that. It’s really easy to pander, to take the easy way out. I enjoy that you want to be choosey instead of having a ‘whatever works’ policy. Fast Five director Justin Lin, one of the other producers tapped by YouTube, said, ‘his focus is not to try to find audiences with stereotypical Asian-American content.’ So what sort of content are you going to use to reach your audience?
    Obviously Hispanic. We did the Original Latin Kings of Comedy. I think that audience is unheard. I went to school with Hispanic-Americans. But they’re not getting, except for George [Lopez] and Gabe [Iglesias], they’re not getting it like they should. They’re funny. And their audience is probably bigger than my audience! So one, as a business man, I have to figure out content that will reach them and two, it’s just the right thing to do. I want to work with George and Paul [Rodriguez] and all the guys who were on the Original Latin Kings Of Comedy. But I don’t want to– and here’s an important thing about programming: I don’t want to program Hispanics for Hispanic-Americans and all my African-Americans go, “I don’t want to see that. That’s not for me.” I want everybody to want to see everything. So it’s important to me to make it where even though it features an all-Hispanic cast that even black people want to see it. Because it’s funny! I don’t want to segment my channel.

    Why I’m nervous? I’ve never done anything like this. As far as understanding who my audience is, understanding how to make great content, I can do that with my eyes closed. I just now need to know how that equates to views and subscribers. That part I don’t really know too well. So whenever you enter something new where you’re not too sure how it works, you get a little nervous. But I know how to create great content. Every great comedian wants to work with me. Every legendary comic respects me. I can bring great content to the table. It’s just a new platform, a new frontier. It’s a learning process.

    You say you’re nervous because you’ve never tried to do something before with that audience. At the time when you were producing Kings of Comedy, were you not aware that that’s what you were doing?
    That’s a great question. The very first night that we did KOC, I looked at the audience and thought, “This could be a movie.” I’ve never seen this many black people at a comedy show. From that day, for two years, I tried to get that movie sold. And while we were trying to get that movie sold, we were selling out more and more and more shows. We sold out four Verizon Centers in D.C. We sold out Anaheim Pond. We sold out The Forum. We sold out the United Center three times. We sold out the Georgia Dome with 44,000 people. So in my mind, as a business man, I’m going, ‘I know a movie could work, because people are already coming out to the shows.’ So it didn’t scare me as much, even though it was a new frontier for me, I had already experienced it for two years. I knew it was phenomenal already. I wasn’t as scared because I had the track record. I knew the show. I knew those guys. I knew the people and I knew they would come and support it. And they did.

    This is different. I don’t know how many more will watch the channel. There’s a lot of unknowns. Whereas when you’re doing a tour, you think you can conquer the world! Kings was a different time in my life. I was 27 years old– and you know when you’re 27, you ain’t scared of shit. I was a rebel. I was like, ‘I’m not scared of anything.’ Now I’m 41, I gotta calculate my risks. I don’t want to make any mistakes.

    Do you think the urban comedy landscape has elevated since Kings of Comedy?
    It’s gone away. And that’s why this opportunity is so important. There are no platforms like Def Comedy Jam, Comic View, In Living Color, Arsenio Hall; even though he has a new show coming out, there are no shows to showcase urban comedians. Back in the day with Def Jam, I think every guy on those episodes went on to become famous. There are no platforms like that anymore. With the Internet, we’re given the opportunity to provide those platforms and we don’t have to ask someone at the studio or someone at the network anything. When Google gave me that money, they said, ‘Go do your thing.’ I was like, ‘Really?’

    Well, they don’t know what they’re doing. No one knows what to do with this Internet thing. It’s guys like you who are going to lay the foundation for how this crossover to Internet viewing is going to work because right now there are no rules!
    Absolutely. I think it’s a tremendous responsibility. This is a new frontier. And you don’t have to be a genius. Twelve-year olds have their own YouTube channels. Obviously, they expect more from me because they invested in me. So I’m going to deliver a higher quality content with bigger names. But like you said: there are no rules. There are no real precedents. There are no, ‘If you do this, this will happen.’

    I’ll give you an example: I put a video up of Jenna Jameson, who’s hosting Comedy After Dark [one of the new shows coming to Latham’s channel]. I put the video up of her and me doing an interview. And I asked her questions. I asked her, ‘What do you think will be your legacy?’ And she said, ‘That is a great question. I’ve never thought about it.’ When I looked at the analytics of that video, the biggest segment that watched that video — and it had like 10,000 views — it was girls from 13-17. That’s her audience: young women. You’d think it’d be guys who are looking her up! So I’m learning all this stuff that I never knew. It’s a lot of trial and error. The Internet gives you freedom to make mistakes. You make a mistake on CBS: you’re cancelled. You make a mistake on Google, you just try again with the next video.

    So what other shows can we expect to see besides Comedy After Dark?
    We’re doing prank phone calls with Rickey Smiley. We’re doing parodies with Affion Crockett. Michael Blackson is a stand-up comedian but he has a camera following him all over the country on tour. It’s showing his life: day-to-day life of a black stand-up comedian. I’ve partnered with other YouTube celebrities to be a part of my playlist. Kings of Comedy is 12 years old. Instead of just putting Kings Of Comedy clips up, I’m asking people with like a million followers to introduce a Kings of Comedy clip. It’s someone that people know on YouTube– introducing a clip from a movie that everybody loved. It’s making something that’s a little older more current. Comedy After Dark is a straight stand-up show, it just happens to be hosted by four women [Jenna Jameson, Rosa Acosta, Trina, and Carolina Catalin, pictured above].

    Any archival stuff from Kings of Comedy? Latin Kings of Comedy? Behind the scenes stuff?
    The Kings of Comedy show that you saw was filmed in Charlotte over two nights. I filmed the Kings of Comedy show every night for 99 nights. So I have jokes that were never seen before ever because every night Bernie Mac did a different routine. Depending where he was, Cedric would do a different routine. If it was cold and he was in Buffalo, his routine was different. If he was in Miami and it was hot, he was talking about salsa dancing. He had a routine for that. So I have all of this content, plus Tyler Perry. His first sitcom pilot that he did was with me. So I have that. I have hours of stuff from names like Bernie Mac, Tyler Perry, Steve Harvey, Cedric the Entertainer, Chris Rock, Chris Tucker, the list goes on and on. If you tune in to my channel, you’ll never know what you’ll see.

    Walter Latham’s channel relaunches July 7 with all-new videos. Check in every day, Tuesday through Saturday for new videos as well as some throwback Kings of Comedy clips!

    Billy Procida

    Laughspin editor-in-chief Billy Procida is a stand-up comedian in New York City. He hosts The Manwhore Podcast where he talks to women he's hooked up with about sex, dating, and why they didn't work out. Reach him on Twitter.

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