Kym Whitley is one of America’s most celebrated female comics, as she has paved the way for African American comedians to be seen on the front line of comedy. The award-winning comedian also possesses a love for acting. Individuals may know her from her most recent roles on “Animal Practice,” “The Boondocks,” “Young & Hungry,” and “The Parkers.” Whitley can also be found in classic comedies such as “Next Friday.”
In 2018, Whitley brought her writing talent to the scene with her own book, “The Delusion of Cinderella.” She is sure to get her audience laughing and is a natural joy seeking the best in life.
Kym sits down with L.A. STYLE Magazine, and shares her thoughts on parenting in a pandemic, raising informed children in the face of centuries of racist oppression, and how she built her career while earning a living.
Tricia Love: Can you tell audiences a little bit about your entrepreneurial journey?
Kym Whitley: When I came out here, I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to be an actress and a stan-dup comic. I came out here to pursue my dream; but my parents always told me, “You got to support your dream before you can pursue that; you gotta be able to eat, because if you can’t eat, you can’t create.” So, I needed to have a job, and I went to college, got my degree. I fulfilled my promise to them. So, I was like, “Okay, now I can move on.” When I came out here, I went to Compton Unified, and asked for a job. And since that is my other love — I love kids — so I said, “Let me teach these children while I’m trying to get my stuff together.”
I learned from an old [friend]. He called it “Building a factory while on the job,” and I’ll never forget it — some great words. I never understood it early. But then I said, “That’s what he meant.” He said, you build your dream while you’re working. And so, that’s what I always remembered. I kept saying, “I’m being an actress” and I studied while I taught school; and then went to the next step and said, “I’m going to be a standup comic.” Well, I heard Shelly Garrett’s play on the radio, and I said, “I’m going to be a part of that.” So I went to him and I said,” I’d like to be a part of your play.”
One thing is a lot of people don’t humble themselves. So you can learn when you want to be a part of something. You can; you start at the bottom if you have to, if you want to get in there. And I told Mr. Garrett, I said, “Look, I will sweep the floors. I will do the wardrobe. I’ll do whatever it is. I just want to be a part of your production.”
Well, he went to an audition and I became an understudy. And then I sat on the sidelines and I studied, and I went to him, and I wrote a part for his play. I said, “You don’t have a church lady in your play.” I wrote the part, showed it to him. Eventually, I was in the play and wasn’t on the sidelines. And then I started giving him notes and ideas about the play. Then I became his assistant director. And then after that, he took another play out and I became his producer and he let me take that play out. So it was all about being humble and being hungry, and having a vision. So, that’s how that dream started. And then I came back to Los Angeles and got a sitcom and then, just kept going and going.
Tricia Love: In regards to parenting and the current times, how are you communicating with Joshua, your son? What do you hope for his future to be like?
Kym Whitley: Well, first of all, parenting a Black child in America is one of the hardest jobs you can do. It’s already hard parenting a child, but you couple being a black child on top of that, that you gotta have the talks with them, keep them alive, tell them what to do, what not to do. It’s ridiculous. He should just be able to be a child, but that has never happened in America.
The first thing I had to do is try to figure out how to let my son know that he is Black. We live in a neighborhood and he goes to a school where it’s predominantly others.
I got him in a little diverse school, but they’re not teaching Black History, they’re not Black. So it’s my job at home to tell him about his heritage. Tell him about what being Black means. I never thought that was important until George Floyd. That’s when I was like, Oh, he’s nine, it’s time. It’s time to pull back the baby blanket of protection and let him take a peek at the real world.
And he said, “Well, mommy, why did they kill him? And what happened?” And I explained to him; and it’s hard to tell a nine-year-old that they killed him for the color of his skin. And he looks at me and says, “Well, mommy, is that how I’m going to die one day?” It broke my heart because I don’t know. Can I positively absolutely say, “Oh, going to be over in a minute; we got this?” No. I said, “Son, all you can do is try to live right. Be right.” I said, “We’re fighting against it, now. That’s what all the protests are about. We are trying to straighten things up right now so that you could have a better world. And then when you get married and have children, [your] children can have a better world.” I said, “My parents, your grandmother, and grandfather asked, they fought for this, and their parents fought for this.” I mean, at one point I said, we couldn’t even vote. So with every generation, we hope that it gets better; but let’s just keep fighting and just keep loving one another.
So talking to him, that’s the first step, letting the child understand what color is, what colorism is, what racism is without breaking their childhood and their hopes and dreams and their lightness about life. I think that’s the biggest thing. And just making sure that I love on him and we have fun and that he sees all races. All his friends, as you know Trish, they’re all from different nationalities. So, that’s why he doesn’t think it’s a problem.
Tricia Love: Thank you for sharing that. Is there anything else that you want to share?
Kym Whitley: Absolutely. I think right now, I would say during this lockdown, it’s a time for us to reset. All of this is happening now for a reason. If we didn’t have the pandemic and we didn’t have the Corona, we might not be fighting this hard. We might’ve been like, “Okay, we gotta vote; y’all remember the vote.” But I think that’s why I say, God does everything for a reason. When we first had the lockdown, it gave everybody a chance to pause. We stopped the world, got to take a breath. The oceans cleared up, the skies cleared up. We got to sit down with our families and have dinner. We got to know each other and love one another to take a pause.
And then George Floyd happened, Breonna Taylor: that was like the shakeup to wake up. You got your break. Now let’s wake up. Let’s go. And when everyone’s locked in for so long, you get people and you get them angry. The first thing they want to do is break out of their cage. So, now you have a group of people that break out of their cage with all this anger locked up and waiting, because now they’re out there. We’re fighting. We’re protesting. And we’re out there, we’re fueling the fire. Now we’re fighting for something.
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