The zeitgeist is a product of the voices that contribute to it. Those that manage to be heard over the quotidian clatter of contemporary society are those most uniquely positioned to influence their times. Kid Fury and Crissle West are laying the foundation for just that. Their pop-culture podcast The Read is a deft and hilariously over-the-top commentary on the people whose names are, for better or worse, a part of our everyday lives.
The Read‘s first episode aired in March of this year and has already ballooned to 80,000 listeners each week. A number that will, no doubt, steadily increase as the world becomes more acquainted with their fiery formula of advice, attitude, and acute shade. We sat down with Kid Fury and Crissle West to talk about the past year in culture, a year tainted with preposterous happenings like USA’s Today‘s “race-themed” headline and Miley Cyrus’ twerking, and the somber accounts of a nation reckoning with race, class, and culture.
Flavorwire: This year, dialogue about race happened all along the spectrum from “race-themed” headlines to pop stars with a penchant for misguided cultural appropriation. Do you think that the national conversation about race that occurred consequently is a step forward, or do you think the tenor of it makes it ineffective?
Kid Fury: I think it’s good that we’re talking about it more. I don’t know how I feel about where we’ve gone in terms of progression. I think we’re definitely much further ahead than we were maybe 20 years ago, but it’s still mind-blowingly ridiculous — the Trayvon case is an enormous example of that. Not just the way the case turned out, but the way people were reacting to it. Silly things like people dressing up as Trayvon for Halloween, or that meme where people would lie down on the street like Trayvon. I think racism is still alive and well, and for the show sometimes we had to be like “Let us not talk about this. We talk about race every single episode.” The thing is, it’s very emotional for us. And the Trayvon case was so long and drawn and it just got to a point where it was taking a toll on us, so we’d be like, “Let’s just talk about Chris Brown and all his tattoos and drugs this week. I don’t want to talk about this.”
Crissle West: I also think it’s interesting that you even ask the question because really for non-white people every year is a “race-themed” year. Race is always a conversation we’re having. Race impacts our lives every day. And so I don’t think that this year had more — other than the Trayvon case specifically — I don’t think it was that racial of a year. There were definitely news stories about race, but for me it just feels like any other year.
Kid Fury: Yeah, I think that’s true.
Crissle West: It’s like, “Here we go again with this bullshit.” For us, we hear all the stories that don’t always make national attention. We know about Renisha McBride, and we know about Aiyana Jones, who was shot in her bedroom, while she was asleep, by Detroit police. We hear these stories — Renisha McBride was shot in the face while she was looking for help after a car crash — we hear about stuff like this every week. But all those stories don’t reach national attention. So I think it’s good that everybody is having the conversation instead of just black people, or just non-black Latinos, but for the rest of us this is just the conversation we’ve been having.
Kid Fury: Every year is race-themed for us. Honestly, this year doesn’t feel too much different from the aspect of a black person. I can’t speak for other races, but it feels like the same old year. Whether it’s something like an innocent child being murdered or someone being like, “I love your hair!” and thrusting their hands at your head. Or even one of our friends, he’s a waiter, was telling us how his coworkers call him Frederick Douglass because of his hair.
Crissle West: It’s the little things like that.
Kid Fury: Right. Sometimes it’s the little things —
Crissle West: And then other times it’s Trayvon Martin.
I’ve been reading about what other people have been saying, and there’s a lot — more than seems necessary — being said about the language on the show. I don’t think you curse more than the average American…
Crissle West: We might. [Laughs] But the show is our honest conversation. It’s really the way we talk to each other. The fact that we’re talking in a studio doesn’t change the conversation from when we’re talking on the train or at somebody’s house. It’s the same conversation. We don’t change our language because we’re going to be on the show.
That’s the thing about the show that people really love: you feel like you’re mid-conversation with someone. There’s no need to be caught up. The listener brings in what they know about pop culture, what they’ve heard throughout the week, and you bring in your perspectives on those same issues. It seems like the cursing conversations are an attempt to label what the show is by calling it “offensive” or “brash.”
Crissle West: It’s a way to “other” us.
Exactly, this is “this” type of show.
Crissle West: Yeah: “This is an urban show. This is a show for black people.” That’s definitely a part of it. But it’s because we’re coming into the podcast world, which is still really white. Other than Aisha Tyler, I can’t think of too many other prominent podcasts that feature black hosts.
Kid Fury: The thing about our show is that it’s seriously two friends sitting in a studio and talking and it just so happens that we record it and put it on the Internet every week. That’s it. The one time we tried to be super organized and professional, it didn’t even work. Every single time we’ve done an episode since then we talk the exact same way we talk when we’re not recording anything. In terms of the language, I actually surprise myself a lot of the times when I’m put in settings where I’m not allowed to curse. [Laughs] Because I always thought I’d have trouble with that, but I never really have. The reason we curse so much is not because we love foul language or love being vulgar. It’s just the way we speak. I understand that some people don’t like it. My mother hates it. She won’t watch my YouTube videos, although she’ll sneak and watch them sometimes and will call me and say, “That was so hilarious but I don’t know why you had to curse so much.”
You’ve said in past interviews that growing up you felt othered or outcast. What do you make of your success now? Do you still feel that way?
Kid Fury: It’s like a big middle finger to high school. [Laughs]
Crissle West: I don’t feel outcast or othered anymore because I grew out of that. I think part of becoming an adult is realizing that it’s important to live your life for yourself and not worry about what other people are doing or what other people’s goal or priorities are for their lives. And not to copy that over to your own situation. To sort of develop your own voice and your own dream and go for that. So I’ve been comfortable with myself for a while now. The success of the show doesn’t make me feel vindictive like, “Screw you guys, I’ve finally made it.” It’s more, “I’m doing me” — which is so Drake of me. [Laughs] I’m living my life on my own terms, doing what I want to do. And this is the way it turned out.
Kid Fury: It took me a while to get there, and I think I’m still working on it. I was bullied a lot in middle school and in high school, and it put me in a place where I would just shield myself from everyone except family. But even then, they didn’t understand what I was going through being young and trying to figure out my sexuality and why everyone hated me for it. I felt like I was in a bubble, and finally, the last year of high school, I realized that everyone who was picking on me for something that I couldn’t control was just ignorant. I think that was the time I found my voice and started to use it. Maybe even as a form of rebellion, I’m not sure. But now that I’m in this place where there are more people listening to me and paying more attention to what I have to say, it’s kind of awkward because I’m not used to people. I’m not used to different types of personalities because I’ve sheltered myself from people for so long. I’m in this adjustment period now where I’m trying to figure out how to deal with that.
Do you have any apprehensions about what happens if you get too big and you’re not the young kids on the block who can throw jabs anymore?
Crissle West: No, I think we’ve realized that everything about the entertainment industry is fleeting. What we’re worried about is doing an authentic show every week. We don’t really look to the future in a way that, “What if we get so big, we can’t make fun of our friends anymore because we’re celebrities and all of our friends are celebrities?” It’s not really like that. For me, I don’t say mean things. I don’t say anything about a person, I say something about the person’s actions or maybe the person’s album but I don’t say — well, that’s not entirely true. I try not to attack the celebrity him or herself and try just to criticize the work if that’s what we’re doing. I try to keep that line clear so that when you meet people and maybe they’ve heard of you, and say, “Hey, you said something…”
Kid Fury: See, the problem with that is that people will dislike you regardless. If you say something that someone just doesn’t agree with, they’re just not going to like you a lot of the times. I feel like people refuse to agree to disagree these days, and I think that that’s ridiculous. In terms of what you’re asking, I’m not chasing fame. I just like entertaining people, I like laughing, I like expressing myself and that’s all that it’s about. I think that when I started blogging in 2006 — I was around 18 — I was just looking at all the huge blogs and what they were doing, and I was just vicious. But as I got older, I realized that that was just pointless. So now when I say things, it’s not with the intention of being mean. I can say that I think that Miley Cyrus is absolutely ridiculous and she’s a complete mockery of everything that lives, and I can still say that she can sing and that her album might not be all that bad.
One of the things people often talk about is just how much fun it is to listen to you two talking to each other. Thinking about other famous comedy duos, you can’t help go back to the Dean Martin / Jerry Lewis example where one person plays the straight man for the other. What’s interesting about The Read is that no one necessarily plays one role. Because you know each other so well, you know when each other is getting riled up.
Crissle West: And a lot of it is non-verbal cues that people can’t see during the show. Sometimes we make facial expressions at each other and I’m like, “Oh, I know where this is going.”
You can kind of hear them.
Kid Fury: I bet you can. People who watch my YouTube videos a lot say they love my facial expressions, and I never got it because it’s not intentional. Sometimes, I’ll go back and watch one and — especially because I haven’t done a video in a while — will be like, “This is what they’re talking about.” We know each other; we’re actual friends. So if Crissle says something about the game she has to go home and watch, I’ll be like, “Oh, yeah, I love sports. Of course, I understand it.”
Crissle West: And he knows he’s trolling me! He knows I’m going to fall for that.
Was that rapport there from the moment you met?
Kid Fury: Absolutely. The reason I wanted Crissle to do the show with me is because I wanted to do it with someone who’s naturally funny and who I actually am friends with.
Crissle West: But just for the record, I don’t think I’m funny.
Kid Fury: Well, neither do I. So…
You can’t honestly believe that?
Crissle West: I 100% believe that. I think he’s funny and I know he thinks I’m funny…
Kid Fury: The Drake and UGGs comment was funny! [referring to a comment Crissle made on a recent show about Drake wearing UGGs]
Crissle West: It’s just true, Drake has UGGs. [Laughs]
Kid Fury: That’s what I mean when I say she’s naturally funny: she doesn’t try hard to be funny. That’s just how she is.
Jerry Seinfeld made a career of observational humor.
Crissle West: Right, it’s definitely observational humor. I don’t have the background in entertainment that Kid Fury does and am not used to having an audience listen to me. We obviously don’t write jokes and I don’t consider myself a comedian at all, so really the show is just conversation. It’s the way we see the world and us talking about it.
Do you have any advice for people who want to use social media to establish themselves the way you did?
Kid Fury: First of all, don’t try too hard and don’t look at what someone else is doing and measure it alongside what you would like to do. That will hold you back a lot. If you want to do it, just be yourself. Make sure you’re having fun; don’t do it for money. Do it for the fun of it and stay consistent.
Crissle West: I never dreamed any of this. I never thought of a career in entertainment for me. All I can say to people is, “Be yourself.” Don’t try to copy Kid Fury’s voice, don’t try to copy my voice, or whoever else you see on the Internet who you think is popular. Because you can’t be me, I’m already me. [Laughs] But there’s no you, so you might as well be honest and develop your own personality. I think that’s where a lot of people get caught up. They see other personalities who are succeeding or doing really well, and they think, “If I act like that, that can happen to me.” This happened to me because I was being myself.
Kid Fury: Keep it natural. Keep it true to yourself.
Crissle West: That’s what he means by don’t try too hard.
Kid Fury: I think the reason I stayed out of a lot of drama and I’m not as far as I’d like to be, but the reason I’ve come as far as I have today is because I don’t compare myself to anyone else. That’s not me thinking I’m better than anyone else; it’s just knowing that if I waste time trying to be like someone else or worrying that someone else got this deal or is doing that, it’s detrimental to your own mental health and progression. Do you and don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. I’m Kid Fury and there’s only one Kid Fury. And I guess he’s doing OK so far.
I wanted to touch on a point you made in The Washington Post interview, Crissle. You’re quoted as saying that your initial reaction to Kid Fury’s approaching you to do the show was to say, “Nobody listens to podcasts.” Popular perception does seem to classify podcasts as this strange thing. What do you think the future of podcasts are, and the future of the show in podcast form?
Crissle West: The Read has the potential to expand into a lot of different media outlets, but I think we’re definitely focused on keeping the show going in this current format and improving and adding more celebrities interviews and stuff like that. We’re not really looking to not do the podcast, if that’s what you’re asking. For a lot of black people, I think this was their first introduction to podcasts. It definitely was for me. Even though since then, I’ve found several that I listen to and love, especially on NPR. I think that that more people start doing their own shows, the more variety there will be. It’s like any new form of media. There was a time five years ago when nobody was on Twitter and people thought it was weird.
Kid Fury: Podcasts have a very promising future. Before I started with The Read, I didn’t listen to podcasts. I knew people listened to them but I didn’t think they were that popular. I guess that people who were introduced to podcasts through us have gone on to explore other shows. I think that’s part of the reason that podcasts are becoming more popular is the rise of people wanting things On Demand. People can listen to the show at work, or listen at home, or with friends and family. You don’t have to worry about missing it.
Crissle West: Especially with people who have long commutes. I think the show is more popular in places where people have long stretches of time where they have nothing to do but sit there.
What do you attribute the sudden success of Scandal to? It was a show that had a cult following but if you didn’t follow it you might not even know it existed. But now Scandal is not only doing well, it’s becoming part of the conversation.
Kid Fury: Shonda Rhimes is a wizard.
Crissle West: I think it’s Shonda Rhimes. She was genius in the way she laid it out through the first and second season, and then add to that how fast the show is; there’s just so much that happens in every episode so that the followers can’t shut up about it. That’s how we are. All we talk about is Beyoncé and Scandal. When people really love something and talk about it so passionately and energetically, other people will be like, “OK, I’ll check it out.” And then they love it and then they tell their friends.
Kid Fury: From the first episode I watched, I knew it was going to be crazy. The writing on that show is absolutely nuts. My mother was driving me to the airport yesterday and said, “I don’t know if I can keep watching. There’s just too much going on!” [Laughs]
Crissle West: You’re volunteering to be stressed out for an hour every week.
In a few weeks, the year will be coming to a close. What do you want to leave behind in 2013?
Crissle West: I would love for Miley Cyrus to stay in 2013, but only the weird, twerking —
Kid Fury: The urban Miley.
Crissle West: Right.
Kid Fury: The inner-city Miley needs to stay in 2013.
Crissle West: The “Wrecking Ball” Miley can stay. Just keep your tongue in your mouth.
Kid Fury: Because Miley Cyrus is blatantly trying too hard. It’s obvious. So this is just her way of garnering some more attention. I wouldn’t be surprised if by next year she’s cleaned up and singing regular-ass music. Because she does have talent.
Crissle West: She does have talent, the packaging is just all wrong.
And who do you want to see more of in 2014?
Crissle West: Well, we know Beyoncé is coming, so we’re very excited for her album and for whatever else she decides to do this year. I want to see more from Michael B. Jordan.
Kid Fury: Absolutely.
Crissle West: And I’m really excited about Janelle Monae. I think The Electric Lady is the best album of 2013, and I just love her energy, her spirit, her music, her work. I’m so completely here for her and for what she’s doing. I would also love to get more music from Lorde.
Kid Fury: I want to get more from HAIM. I just love their music. I feel like the people I really want to see more of in 2014, I know that I’m going to. [Laughs]
Crissle West: Just people who are doing good shit. Not just for the money or for the attention.
Kid Fury: I really want to see more from Issa Rae. She’s actually developing a show with Shonda Rhimes and she’s absolutely brilliantly and so funny and extremely nice. I want to see her on a huge TV.
Crissie West: I want Issa Rae on TV like Shonda Rhimes. Because Awkward Black Girl is very funny. I definitely want her to succeed.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed.