‘SuperFest’: Byron Allen shares life goal of variety show, opening hearts of Americans through entertainment

The following is the transcript of a conversation between John Kelley and Byron Allen about "Byron Allen Presents The Comedy & Music SuperFest."

Following the premiere of “Byron Allen Presents The Comedy & Music SuperFest,” Allen Media Group’s John Kelley spoke with Byron Allen, founder and CEO of AMG, the parent company of theGrio.

John Kelley [00:00:00] Tell me about the emotional high you’re on right now. And that was a night that is going to be beyond epic when the world gets.

Byron Allen [00:00:06] Well, before we go there, how great is John Kelley? OK. OK. First of all, come on, man. Listen, you. I mean, look at you. Funny you should ask. Oh, my goodness. The way you host that show, the way you host that show. And then if that isn’t enough, you jump on the plane on weekends, you do “HBCU Go! Sports” and you’re covering, you know, Black college sports, Black, you know, male and female basketball. Come on, man, this is John Kelley. All right. So now.

(Left to right) John Kelley listens as Byron Allen explains the need for a positive show centered around entertainment and variety. (credit: theGrio)

Kelley [00:00:34] I appreciate that shine, thank you.

Allen [00:00:35] No, no, no. No, no. You are excellent at what you do. I’ve seen you play all positions, man. Like, all positions like an all star. It’s amazing. So I really appreciate you, John Kelley. I really do.

Kelley [00:00:46] And I appreciate you. That’s high praise coming from THE Byron Allen.

Allen [00:00:50] Yes, indeedy, my friend. You are bringing it. So listen, I couldn’t be happier. This is something I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid. You know, when you think about Ed Sullivan. Ed Sullivan did his show from 1948 to 1971.

Kelley [00:01:08] And that was THE show.

Allen [00:01:10] That was THE show. That was Ed Sullivan saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis Presley,” “Ladies and gentlemen, Diana Ross and the Supremes,” “Ladies and gentlemen, the Beatles.” That was, you know, that — and somewhere along the way, superstars and superstar talent got pushed to the side and became like some peripheral act that was in the morning and on daytime television and late night.

Nothing wrong with that. But all of a sudden, you couldn’t find superstar talent in primetime television. And you’re watching all these shows and there’s all these people competing and they’re great shows. They’re wonderful shows. They’re competing and they’re trying to sing like Gladys Knight and sing like Toni Braxton and sing like John Legend.

I’m like, “Well, we don’t need somebody who’s trying. Why don’t you just have on Toni Braxton and John Legend and Gladys Knight and Boyz II Men and Earth, Wind & Fire. Let’s have those superstars on.” And we’re just bringing superstar talent back to primetime TV and creating family television where, you know, I remember being a kid and watching TV with my family.

I want the family to come together and watch it with their loved ones and celebrate and laugh and sing and dance. And that’s what I said at the top of the show, “We’re going to laugh. We’re going to sing. We’re going to dance, and we’re going to create memories forever.” And that’s what, you know, television is about.”

Kelley [00:02:42] And talk about that. Keenan mentioned it. He said, you know, it’s one thing,  you have a concert or you have a stand-up show. Yeah, Byron has created that magic to bring it all together to hit all those notes.

Allen [00:02:52] Yeah.

Kelley [00:02:53] Why did you feel that was important?

Allen [00:02:54] I think it’s just important just to make, especially in this world now. This world is crushing people like we are literally crushing people. It shouldn’t be this hard to live. It shouldn’t be this hard to have joy. It shouldn’t be this hard to have a smile in your heart and looking forward to the day. OK. I want to put a pep in everybody’s step.

I want you to feel good about being alive. I want to put a smile in your heart. I want you to feel good. I want you to just look forward to something. And if we can help provide that with this show and others like it, I just want you to be positioned, whoever you are, out there to be your best and to bring out the best in you. I just, I want life to be a joy for you.

Kelley [00:03:53] Well you’re bringing that. And, you know, I had the pleasure of talking with all the different performers tonight, and they came in here on emotional highs. What does that mean to you to know that you have a hand in bringing this all together?

Allen [00:04:04] Well, listen, you know, I’m really blessed. And these are … these are some of the most talented people on planet Earth. I mean, you think about John Legend. EGOT: Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony — one of the youngest to achieve it. And he hasn’t even hit his stride. And you think about Gladys Knight and all of the decades that she’s been at the top of the game and all the people who have come and gone. But she’s there and consistent. She’s a global icon.

And then you look at Boyz II Men, hit after hit after hit. And Toni Braxton — wow! I mean, these people are part of our DNA. Earth, Wind & Fire. That is a global brand. This is … these are some of the most talented people on the planet. And when you bring them together, it’s an event and that’s what you want. You want to have an event in our lives. Just events like, “What are we doing?”

And then the comedians — like for me — it was just calling up my friends, the people who make me laugh, the people who I think are funny. You know, my first call was Kenan Thompson. You know, I called Kenan and I was like, “Man, I just did this deal with NBC.

I need you to come in here, be my co-host, because you put a smile on my face. You make me laugh. You bring joy to the world.” It’s my first call. And when you look at the comedians, I called Howie Mandel. He’s a friend of mine for over 30 years. Cedric the Entertainer, another one of those is just one of those human beings. Yeah, he’s funny, but he’s a good person and you feel it and it comes through and you love him and you root for him because he’s rooting for others.

Tiffany Haddish I mean, she’s like my daughter. When I met Tiffany, she was in foster care. She was a teenager. She was like 14, 15 years old. And she was I met her at Comedy Camp at the Laugh Factory, where we were teaching comedian — you know, kids in foster care how to be comedians. And Tiffany was one of the kids in foster care. And we were teaching her how to do comedy to build up her confidence. She went on stage and she started talking about being in foster care and she started talking about the painful things she had witnessed.

And she was so open and honest and so talented. And I’ll never forget watching her for the very first time, one of her first times on stage. And I remember saying to her, “You know, you don’t know this, but you are beyond phenomenal. What I just watched you do — go on stage and talk about your pain unfiltered. You were just like, just open.”

Kelley [00:06:46] At 13 years old.

Allen [00:06:47] Like a teenager, right? I said it took one of the greatest comedians of all times —Richard Pryor — 20 years to do what you did your first day on stage. You just hit the stage and you just talked to us like we were your best friend. People can’t open up like that. And I’m not surprised she’s the megaforce she is today. And just the comedians. I mean, Loni Love, I mean, all of — Jon Lovitz — you name it. Roy Wood, Jr.

I mean, you know, I woke up one morning like three, four in the morning. I couldn’t sleep. And I just started looking at YouTube and I said, “You know, I haven’t seen Roy in a while. “And I watched his — I said to “Let me, watch five minutes of Roy, his Comedy Central special.” And next thing you know, an hour later, I’m watching and I’m going, man, I watched his special on YouTube, and I called him up and said, “Man, I need you to get on a plane tomorrow and I need you to come do this show.”

He said, “I’m there.” He jumped on a plane and came and did the show and went back and did you know “The Daily Show.” I mean, these are just some of the greatest performers on the planet. Come together, bring the joy, because God knows we don’t have enough in our lives today.

Kelley [00:08:05] I know you well enough to give me the wrap, but I want to get this in.

Allen [00:08:08] I don’t have anywhere to go.

Kelley [00:08:09] OK, man.

Allen [00:08:09] I don’t have anywhere to go. I mean, because. Hey, I all I know is the show’s over. I can eat what I want now, but go ahead.

Kelley [00:08:16] And you look good. 

Allen [00:08:18] Thank you.

Kelley [00:08:18] You know, I know how you operate. You put something on your vision board and then you crush it. And when you do it like this. Fresh off theGrio Awards. Now, you got your SuperFest. I have a feeling we’re going to see a few more of these things coming from “Byron Allen Presents…”

Allen [00:08:32] Yeah. Listen, I really — if I could write the script — I would love for this show to be a regular show. I’d love for this show to be on, you know, Sunday nights at 8 where Ed Sullivan was for almost a quarter of a century. This show, you know, my mentor, God bless his soul — Al Masini — he created “Entertainment Tonight,” “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” “Solid Gold.” And I met him when I was 19 years old.

And I remember he said to me, “Watch television and figure out what’s not there and then put it there.” And I remember watching TV and saying, “You know what? This isn’t there.” I’m going to put it there. And I would love to do this on a regular basis as long as the talent wants to do it.

(Left to right) Jim Cantore and Byron Allen attend the Allen Media Group upfront presentation on April 26, 2023 at Avra in New York City. (Photo by Chance Yeh/Getty Images for Allen Media Group / The Weather Channel)

There’s so much talent out there that deserves to be primetime. They they also … the audience deserves to have them primetime and to come together as a family to watch it. So if I could write the script, I don’t want to do this once a year or even two to four times a year.

I really if I could, I’d love to do it as a weekly and just give something — just put something out there people can look forward to. Just make people happy. Man, it’s hard to find your happiness in this world, man. You have to. We’re all leaning in and I just want to help. I just want to help lean in. Just lean in and just help people get there.

Kelley [00:09:49] A gift from Byron Allen to the world.

Allen [00:09:51] That’s. Man. Let’s get that smile in our hearts. And when you’re better, we’re better. When you are positioned to succeed, we all succeed. When you’re at the top of your game, we all rise. And I truly believe that. And I think our goal as human beings just position people to succeed, bring out the best in them. And that brings out the best in all of us. Put that smile in their heart.

Kelley [00:10:16] That’s what I’m talking about. Last question. One of my favorite snapshots to share with people of you is when you were 13 or 14 sitting with Jimmy Walker, David Letterman, Jay Leno. Talk about that journey and how you can even verbalize coming from that day sitting there to what you’re doing now.

Allen [00:10:33] Oh, man, I was a kid and it was just one of those things. It was my first or second time on stage at the Comedy Store and this guy walked up performing at the Comedy Store on a Monday night tryout in ’75.

I was 14 years old and this guy came up to me after I got off stage and he said, “Who wrote those jokes? I said, “I did.” He goes, “Wow, that was funny. You wrote those jokes?” I go, “Yeah.” He goes “How old are you?” “I’m 14.” He goes, “Let me get your phone number. I know somebody may want to write with you.” I said, “OK.”

I gave my phone number and about a week later I got a phone call from this guy goes, “Can I speak to Byron?” And I go, “This is Byron.” He goes, “This is Jimmie ‘J.J.’ Walker.” And he was hotter than the sun because he was on “Good Times.” And he said, “My man, Wayne Kline says you’re funny. And if my man, Wayne Kline, says you’re funny, you must be funny.” He goes,” Do you want to come write with me and my boys?”

I go, “Let me ask my mom.” And he goes “Oh, my God. He’s got to ask his mom.” So this dude’s in the background, “Tell his mother not to worry. We’ll have cookies and milk for him.” And then Jimmie said “Oh Dave, be nice.” And then when I was like, “Who is that guy? You know, joking on me like that?”

Allen [00:11:41] So my mom says, “Yes. We go over there and I walk into Jimmie Walker’s apartment to work with him. He and his writing staff for his stand up. And sitting there was Dave — was David Letterman who had just driven out from Indianapolis in a red pickup truck. And Jay Leno, who was sleeping in his car. And Wayne Kline and Marty Nadler, who went on to write and produce “Laverne and Shirley.”

And I sat with these guys in Jimmy’s apartment every Tuesday and Thursday and learned the art, the science of writing jokes, comedy and making people laugh with some of the best comedy minds on the planet.

And I remember selling Jimmie a joke and he gave me a check for 25 bucks and he handed me the check. And I did not know what that was because I had a paper route and I was throwing the ‘Herald Examiner’, which is out of business. I had to throw two newspapers to make a penny. And so when he gave me a check, I’m like, “What is this?” And my mom says, “A check, you’re gonna to cash it.”

And I didn’t want to cash it because I wanted to keep it. And I cash in and got the 25 bucks. And Jimmy gave me the, you know, the check, the canceled check. And I framed it and it hangs in my office today. I have it hanging. It’s always with me that check for $25 for when I wrote a joke and the check for $25 for the very first time I performed.

And that’s when I was 14 and 17. And those were the two checks that said to me, “You know what? You might have a place in this business.” And so it’s just that’s one of my favorite pictures, me sitting there, I never knew I had plaid pants and a big afro.

And I’m sitting next to, you know, David Letterman and Jimmie Walker and Marty Nadler and Jay Leno and trying to figure out how to make the world laugh just once again, put a smile on your heart.

Kelley [00:13:23] Now, a couple of years later, you’re doing it, man. All right. Congratulations. This is this is phenomenal.

Allen [00:13:27] Oh, thank you. Thank you. I really appreciate your kind words. We just we just want to make you laugh. Show up for the party.

Kelley [00:13:34] Trust me, this guy’s just getting warmed up.

Allen [00:13:37] You got it. Thank you.

Kelley [00:13:38] Appreciate you, man. Thank you. Appreciate the love, too.

“Byron Allen Presents The Comedy & Music SuperFest” is currently streaming  on Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Roku and other platforms

“Byron Allen Presents The Comedy & Music SuperFest” is currently streaming on Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Roku and other platforms.

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