After his recent acquisition of The Black News Channel, boss man, Byron Allen, owner of theGrio, joins Dear Culture to discuss the importance of Black people owning our own media platforms. Through his experience in stand-up comedy and philanthropy, Byron and host Panama Jackson dissect the intersectionality of media and the social and economic standing of Black people.
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Intro [00:00:00] You are now listening to theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, Black Culture Amplified.
Byron Allen [00:00:05] Because I’m never going to get my money back sitting here with a max maximum bet of $15,000. He said “if you want to succeed, if you want to win, the first thing you must do before you sit down is position yourself to win. Most people are positioned to lose. They removed the maximum bet of 15 grand. I thought Whoa. He sat down. He started betting 50 and a hundred grand, 250 a hand. 250,000 a hand. And next thing I know, this guy went from -$750 til he said, let’s cash out. When they cashed him out, they brought him over moneybags, and he was positive, $3+ million dollars. He got his 750 back, plus the three. And he said to me, You must always position yourself to win.
Panama Jackson [00:01:00] What’s going on? Everybody and Welcome to Dear Culture, the podcast for, by, and about Black culture here on theGrio Black Podcast Network. I am your host Panama Jackson and I am joined by an extra special guest today, somebody who owns seemingly everything on the planet, including this platform that we’re talking about here today, that we’re talking on here today, excuse me. And as recently has hit the news cycle, the Black News Channel, if you please put your digital hands together for the one and the only, Mr. Byron Allen. How are you doing, brother?
Byron Allen [00:01:33] I’m doing great, brother. Panama. Jackson. Man, you sound like an action hero. Man. Here comes Panama jackson. Like here. You look out now. Don’t mess with Panama. I’m only talking about Panama Jackson.
Panama Jackson [00:01:44] That’s what I try to do.
Byron Allen [00:01:47] You got a movie star name, I got the rock and Panama Jackson taking over the world..
Panama Jackson [00:01:53] If anybody could make that happen, that’s going to have to be you right there, brother. So you make the phone call. I’ll be there. I got to ask. I mean, since I mentioned the Black News Channel here, I just gotta ask. You cornering of Black America? Is that our plan here? Are we cornering of Black America.
Byron Allen [00:02:08] No, no. Nobody can corner Black America. We are too dynamic. We’re too we’re so diverse. We’re so brilliant. We’re we’re leading the charge. We’re cutting edge. You know, listen, I just feel like we as Black people, we must own our media platforms. We have to own them. We have to control them. That’s a seat at the table for us. We have to come together and have great conversations about how do we improve our communities and this country. You know, I’m committed to that singular idea of One America. One America is the reason Martin Luther King, you know, he was murdered. He died trying to achieve One America. And Panama, the one thing I want everybody to remember; together, we are unstoppable. We are invincible. We just have to really focus. And my number one priority in life is to close the greatest trade deficit in America, and that’s the trade deficit between White corporate America and Black America. And when we close that trade deficit, the one thing I always say to White America, you always want to talk about crime. And I say to you, I don’t want to talk about crime until we fix education and economic inclusion. And once we fix education and economic inclusion, your prisons will no longer be needed. Let’s close that trade deficit. Let’s close that education gap. Everything else will magically just simply take care of itself. That’s it, man. You know who I am? You know what my mission is. Let’s do it together. Because together there’s nothing we can’t do. Like, I mean, why did I buy the. I bought theGrio in 2016. It used to be owned by NBC. Right. And I was upset about the political outcome in 2016.
Panama Jackson [00:03:54] As many of us were.
Byron Allen [00:03:54] And what I wanted to say, as many of us were. And what I wanted us to understand, especially as Black Americans, what I wanted us to understand is that we must not forget or relinquish our power. We, as Black people and I touched on it, we must vote and we must donate, even if it’s a dollar. And the one thing I want us to think about is taking the Election Day, voting day, and making it a Black holiday. And how do we make it a Black holiday? We plan for it. We we put in overtime. We start working extra hours so we can take that day off to go vote because it’s been rigged for Black folks not to vote on Election Day. They put the polling place an hour away. They make you stand in line six or seven hours and then another hour or two driving home. They know by the numbers, based on your zip code that you’re making 40,000 a year or 30,000, whatever it is, you’re making a year. You can’t afford to take that day off. So they have put up barriers so you don’t show up and vote. You have to be smarter than them. You have to be ahead of them. You got to start putting in those extra hours so you can vote and you can take that day and vote because if you don’t vote, decisions will be made that will seriously impact your life to the negative. Now, I live in a richWhite neighborhood. Now, let me tell you how rich White people vote. When I pull up to a polling place, there’s valet parking and they don’t even turn my car off. Okay. That’s how rich White people vote. They don’t even turn my car off. They’re like, Hey, Mr. Allen, I’ll just put it over here because I’m sure you’ll be back. You’ll be right back out in 5 minutes or so. I go in, I vote and my car’s up front. I get my car. It is less than 15 minutes. That’s how they do it for rich White people. But that is not how they do it for us. So I’m going to tell you right now, we have to be ahead of the game and plan as.. We can’t.. Black people can’t act like we vote like White people. We got to vote like Black people. And we are sitting here and we have to now plan to take that time, take that day to vote up and down the ticket and vote for people who carry out that agenda, which is in the best interest of our communities. And the thing we must remember and understand is that we are the most powerful vote in America. We are the most powerful by far, which is why people work so hard to suppress our vote. Why are we the most powerful vote? Because the White vote is usually split evenly, almost 50/50. We as Black people, we are the deciding vote. We break the tie throughout America. That’s why they work so hard to suppress our vote. And so we have to understand that as Black people and I wanted to remind Black America that and say, look, when we show up, we can deliver a president, Barack Hussein Obama. And when we don’t show up. Right. Indeed, we did and can do it again. And when we don’t show up, we can lose somebody like a Hillary Clinton who’s extremely well qualified. And get yourself a Donald Trump. Right. We have to always show up like just even looking at Stacey Abrams in Georgia. You know, I’m a big supporter of Stacey. I called her up. I said, you know, my name is Byron Allen and I see you’re running for governor. This was back in 2018. And I said, I’d like to do a fundraiser for you. And she said, Wow. I said, Come on out. I want you to come out to Beverly Hills. And I said, I just have one question for you. She said, What’s that? I said, What was your biggest fundraiser? And she told me the number. And she said, Why? So because I don’t want to be your biggest. I want to be a second biggest because I don’t want people to say, oh, when you got your money from those Hollywood weirdoes. So she came out. We were her second biggest fundraiser. Amazing. I have folks like Jeffrey Katzenberg and Steven Spielberg donate it and support it. I had Hollywood come through and said, I need you to meet this young lady and know her and appreciate her genius. And when we lost in 2018, because I’m very numerical for me to get the work, I want to talk about the numbers. I look at numbers. And I called her up. I said, How much did we lose by? And it was less than one or 2%. I said, Yeah, I got that part. How much money? How much money did we need to raise? How much more do we need to raise to win? She said less than $10 million. Now, that’s on us as Black America that we could have had the first Black female governor in the United States of America for less than $10 million.
Panama Jackson [00:09:08] We’re going to get there.
Byron Allen [00:09:09] That’s like pocket change for Black America.
Panama Jackson [00:09:12] I think we see stuff like that. We’re going to get there. Yeah.
Byron Allen [00:09:14] That’s it. And we just have to come together and communicate and say, we’ve got Stacey Abrams in Georgia and we need to not just vote, we need to donate. And everybody, let’s go ahead and get on the on this mobile phone and drop ten, 15, 20, 50 bucks, whatever you comfortable. But we got to lean in and make sure our Black talent as well as White talent that is carrying the agenda of One America. So comedy is a way for us to get the door open. And for us as Black people, a lot of times the doors are not open and a lot of times it’s something like music or comedy or sports. But once you get the door opened, you open an even wider right and you open it wide enough for others to come through and you open it so you can position others to succeed. And I was able to. Really see that firsthand, how these very successful people bought, how they operated, being exposed to these unbelievable comedians and being exposed to the thought process and how they positioned themselves to succeed. And that helped me see the world differently. So that young comedian you see there, his first time on The Tonight Show with this squeaky little voice, he’s a little kid. He doesn’t know. He’s not understanding the process. And over the years, I got to see it. And, you know, I’ve said this before, you know, Coretta Scott King was a friend of mine and she told me, she said, you know, Byron, as Black people, we’ve had four major challenges. Number one, end slavery. Number two, end Jim Crow, which I think was more damaging in slavery because at that point we went from being assets to liabilities in their minds. And that’s when they started the genocide. That’s when they started murdering us and lynching us and incarcerating us. And then she said, number three, achieve civil rights. I was born without civil rights. I was born in April of ’61. And then she said, number four, the. She choked up when she said this. And number four, the real reason they killed my Martin; achieve economic inclusion. She said, Byron, they didn’t kill my Martin, over the I Have a Dream speech. They killed him over the speech he gave in February of ’68 at Stanford University, where he said: There are two Americas. One, America has access to opportunity, education and economic inclusion. The other, America does not. There are two Americas, and two Americas will not succeed. We must achieve One America. And so from that point on, I’ve said, look, I’m going to build the world’s biggest media company, and as we build it, it will achieve that simple idea of achieving oOne America. And when we achieve One America here, by way of example, for the rest of the world, we can achieve one planet. And if we can achieve one planet, we can achieve heaven right here on Earth. And what does that look like? You know, One America, I call it the five E’s. We have to make sure everybody has a great education. My mother got pregnant with me when she was 16 and had me 17 days after her 17th birthday. But what changed the trajectory of our lives is that we moved from Detroit to Los Angeles and she ended up going to UCLA. And at UCLA she ended up getting her master’s degree in cinema TV production, and that helped her open doors. So she got a job at NBC as a tour guide, and then later publicity and marketing. And that exposed me to making television. And so I was on the set watching Flip Wilson do the Flip Wilson Show, Johnny Carson do his show, Bob Hope, Newhart and doing their specials. I was watching Redd Foxx tape, Sanford and Son and watching all of these shows being made. And light bulb goes off my head, I’m going to make television. So those are the five Es. Make sure everybody has a great education. Make sure everybody has equal justice, everybody has economic inclusion, everybody has environmental protection. And then that fifth E, empathy. Make sure we stop acting like we don’t see the food insecure. Stop acting like we don’t see the homeless people. Stop acting like we don’t see mental illness. And if we master and control and address those five E’s, we can have heaven right here on Earth. Most people right now, especially Black and Brown people. Are positioned to fail. By design. Positioned to fail by design because it’s an extension of emancipation. Oh, you Negroes are free, are you? Negroes are free. Okay, now let me set it up so you fail. You’re not going to get a proper education. You’re not going to get access to capital. That’s not predatory. You’re not going to get well-paying jobs because America is a tiny, tiny little tribe. We’re only 330 million people out of a global population. That’s rapidly approaching nine, 10 billion people. And we don’t have enough resources on planet Earth to support the bottom 5 billion. And the bottom 5 billion will perish. And we have to work hard as the American tribe to make sure our little tiny village of only 330 million people stays at the top of the pyramid because we will not survive as a country unless we become one. We have too much international competition to do the divide and conquer and not really become one.
Panama Jackson [00:15:24] Understood.
Byron Allen [00:15:25] I know I gave you a long answer, but I just wanted too speak on it. You know I appreciate that long answer
Byron Allen [00:15:30] You know, listen. You know, I want to get you. You Panama Jackson! We’re going to get right into the action.
Panama Jackson [00:15:34] I love that. And I love the I love the you know, I love the storytelling. One of the reasons why I’m really happy to be here at theGrio, because I love Black storytelling and I love the ability to tell our stories. And I love and that’s why I even like the Black News Channel idea. I don’t I don’t know what your plan is there necessarily how it all works together, but I love it because it’s another opportunity to sell Black stories. And as you specifically a person who start is, is, is, as far as I’m concerned, in Black storytelling as a comedian, because that’s like the that’s the genesis of Black storytelling, right? Like you use in your literal mind, you’re losing your words, you’re getting right to it. And you know, one thing we’re doing here at theGrio for this month is focusing on Black comedy. So I’m really curious and I want to wrap this into business and all that other stuff, like who are your favorite comedians and what did they in comedy teach you about business?
Byron Allen [00:16:23] Oh, wow, great question. I’m so fortunate that I as a kid discovered comedy because my mom was giving tours at NBC.
Panama Jackson [00:16:35] Your story is amazing, by the way. I just have to say that it’s an amazing story, like, where is your book, brother? But I don’t want to derail that. But where’s your book? Because you need to be right in one if you’re not already doing.
Byron Allen [00:16:46] Well still writing. Still working on the story.
Panama Jackson [00:16:48] Absolutely.
Byron Allen [00:16:49] But I appreciate that. Thank you. That means a lot to me. I’m truly, truly blessed. I’m just one of the most blessed human beings. I really am. To be born in April of 61. To. Two beautiful human beings, my mother and my father. To be born Black. That was an absolute gift. And when you look at. Detroit in the sixties and what I witnessed. As a kid. I’m in Detroit and sixties in the sixties, and I’m watching us make cars for the world. The world. We’re making cars for the world. You know, and I’m watching the you know, the Tigers win the World Series. And I’m watching these people in my neighborhood and down the street and around the corner make music for the world. And they’re calling themselves Motown. And these are people that are like walking down the street. They’re in our church. They’re in our schools. Right. And. I’ll never forget. When my mother and my grandmother put me and my uncle, who’s really like my brother, he’s only four years older than me. And they put us in the car and they said, Let’s go drive around and see where the rich White people live. And they’re driving us around and they’re showing that he’s showing us these amazing mansions. Throughout, you know, the suburbs of Michigan, Detroit, and this is where the Ford family lives and the Chrysler family and all of these industrial families mega wealth. And they said, and this is where Berry Gordy lives. And I went.
Panama Jackson [00:18:52] Whoa, love that house. Boston Edison neighborhood, right?
Byron Allen [00:18:56] Yeah. That’s like. I mean, what do you mean? This is where he lives. They go, Yeah, yeah. He has a bowling alley and an indoor swimming pool. What? Now. An indoor swimming pool? Now, you know, I was I was in I was using the ghetto pool where they were the fire department would come and open up the fire hydrants and water would splash throughout the street and we would run through the water going across the street to cool us off. So I was using the ghetto swimming pool and I and I used to have to walk probably close to 30 minutes to go to the community swimming pool and stood in line to jump in the pool with hundreds of other kids. And I thought, you telling me this guy has a swimming pool in his house? And they’re like, Yeah. And that was that was an epiphany for me. And I saw myself differently. And the way he made me see myself differently. I buy companies and I buy mainstream companies because I want young Black kids to see. You can buy whatever you want and own the game and not just be a part of the game. And when I saw him, I thought, Wow. Maybe I don’t have to go to the factory Ford Motor Company with my daddy who worked there for over 30 years. Or Great Lakes Steel with my granddaddy who worked there for over 30 years. And I was always looking forward to putting on my uniform and getting my lunch pail and driving with my daddy or my granddaddy to one of the factories, which is an amazing noble.
Panama Jackson [00:20:33] It’s a career.
Byron Allen [00:20:33] And I want. It’s a career and I wanted that. And I just saw myself differently when I saw him. And I thought. We can own this. We can own it and we can run it and we can build generational wealth and we can have a seat at the table and we can control our narrative, we can control our images, we can control how we’re being produced and depicted and seen around the world. And we can amplify our excellence. Because Motown wasn’t just producing music, right? They were putting forth some of the most powerful Black positive images we had ever seen. How beautiful and glamorous. Diana Ross, what an amazing couple. You know, Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell like Smokey Robinson, Temptations, Four Tops. You kidding me? Gladys Knight, the Jackson Five. Wow. The first time I ever saw myself in mass media. The Jackson five. You made me feel powerful. Invincible. Unstoppable. That’s the power of media. So for me, I knew then. I’m going to build something that is a game changer, that’s going to, show Black America in a way that we haven’t been seen before. For me, I knew then, and as a kid I remember always being fascinated by Henry Ford and Berry Gordy and John de Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie, the great industrialists, the great entrepreneurs. I was always fascinated by vertical integration and building businesses and building large scale businesses that dominated the category. And a lot of those you know, they were my heroes as a kid. They were the ones that I watched from. I remember studying them and watching them from the time I was seven, eight years old. Just always fascinated by business and great industrialists who reshaped America. And that’s what I want to do with my life.
Panama Jackson [00:23:02] We’re going to we’re going to hold that thought. We’re going to take a quick break here, on Dear Culture, and come right back with Byron Allen to talk more for Comedy Month. So stay tuned here on Dear Culture. Well, Byron Allen.
Promo [00:23:12] theGrio Black Podcast Network is here. Everything you’ve been waiting for, Black culture, amplified. Find your voice on the Black Podcast Network. Listen today on theGrio Mobile App and tune in everywhere great podcasts are heard from.
Panama Jackson [00:23:29] We are back here on Dear Culture with mogul comedian Byron Allen, who I know. You said something before the break that I want to I want to talk about a little bit, because was it always this vision that you had to to to go the business route in comedy was a way that allowed you and enabled you to do it in something that clearly was a passion of yours. I’ve seen it tons of clips, and I want to talk to you about some of those. I’ve watched lots of old clips of yours. But, you know, is it just fair to say that the heroes, the people that inspired you were all the business people and the comedy. Obviously, you have heroes in comedy. Just showed you a way to get to the business.
Byron Allen [00:24:09] No, I love I mean, you know, it was multi-dimensional. It’s multi-dimensional you love. For me, I don’t call it show business. I call it biz in the show. I love the business part of it. And if you master the business, you can do as many shows as you want. As a comedian, I remember in the sixties, my laying in the living room, on the floor, on the sitting on the living room floor and laying there with my mom and my dad. And they would be on a sofa with plastic on it because.
Panama Jackson [00:24:36] Of course you didn’t. My grandma had those in the eighties and.
Byron Allen [00:24:40] You had those. And I remember listening to albums and I remember listening to Flip Wilson and Bill Cosby and Redd Foxx and Little Dirty and Richard Pryor. But my mom and my dad would just be laughing their heads off, listening to Cosby and Flip Wilson and even, you know, you know, folks like, you know, Mel, you know, Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner, the 2000 year old man, and and Bob Newhart and and Jonathan Winters. And these were my mother. I never saw my mother and my father so happy. You know, there was a lot of tension in the house, but the tension went away when they put on the comedy albums. And it was a slice of happiness. You know, the people who were the most important to me, my mother, my father, they’re not fighting. They’re not arguing. They’re not upset. The tension went out and quickly. I was taught the power of laughter and I was taught this is where my mom is happiest. This is where my dad is happiest. So as a kid, you quickly it clicks in. I’m going to make him laugh. I’m going to keep him laughing. I’m going to make him laugh. I want to. I want to keep the love and the peace in the house. So when my mom and I came to L.A. and my mother and father got a divorce and we came out here and things were really challenging. You know, we’re sleeping on a lot of floors and a lot of sofas. I mean, we weren’t in a car because of the good grace, you know, the good graces of just, you know, friends and family and. And then when my mom, you know, and it was interesting, one of the first jobs in my mother got, she went to the Los Angeles Urban League and had a job there. And they helped her get a job at the Salvation Army. And one of her first jobs was passing out. Whatever food close to people who were even needier more and more in need than us. And here we were. We were sleeping on sofas and floors. And then when she got into UCLA and. And then I saw these comedians, and I was. I just quickly fell in love with Flip Wilson. He was the biggest television star in the world when my mom was giving tours at NBC. And I’m just a kid. And Flip Wilson would talk to me because he would see me standing around. And I was as quiet as I could be. And I was just a little kid, and I would just watch him, and he would talk to me like I was his friend. And he was like, Byron, how you doing? Redd Foxx, So I never forget. Redd Foxx walked up to me in between taping episodes of Sanford and Son, and he walked up to me with a big, giant wad of cash. And he said, Hey, Byron, come here, come here, come here, come here. He wants some cabbage. Want some cabbage? And he pulled out this thick wad of cash with a rubber band around it. And he’s like, Yeah, his $20 go buy your mama something nice.
Panama Jackson [00:27:44] That’s funny.
Byron Allen [00:27:45] Remember, you only get one, mama, you only get one mama take great care you only get one mama. And I never forget just how they would talk to me, Red Fox said, like I was in the hallway just waiting to go watch him do the Sanford and Son, tape the show. And Redd Foxx said to me, he comes up to me and he starts talking to me. He goes, “I can’t believe the way they treat me around here.” He goes, “I got the number one show at NBC and my dressing room does not have a window.”
Panama Jackson [00:28:13] Wow.
Byron Allen [00:28:14] How are you? He goes, “Dean Martin just does specials. He’s got a window.” He says, “I’m not coming back until they give me a window.” I said, “Yeah, Mr. Fox, you deserve a window.” And “you’re damn right I do”. And he walked down the hall, got in his car, Rolls Royce, and left the set and said, I’m not coming back until they give me a dressing room with a window. Two days later, they were knocking a wall out. They were knocking a wall out, and they put in this giant window. And then he drove back and I said, “Hey, Mr. Fox, I hear you got your window”. He’s like, “Damn right, Byron. I got my window”. And and it was like just seeing that, you know, watching these guys, you know. And Flip was giving $75,000 an episode. That’s what they were paying them back then. And then I remember him and I remember saying, you know, like. “Hey, you know, Mr. Wilson, you must be so happy. You know, like you are the biggest star in the world. You got your own variety show. Everybody waits to see Gerald Dean and hear about Killer. And you’re having on these young comedians that people don’t know, Richard Pryor”. And he says, “you know what, Byron?” He says, “what’s better than being here was the journey. Enjoy the journey.”
Panama Jackson [00:29:36] It’s funny you say that. I was going to ask you about that. Yeah, because I’ve been watching a bunch of your old comedy clips. Right. Like the. And it’s amazing what the Internet allows us to go back and see. Right.
Byron Allen [00:29:47] I guess I’ll tell you a little about myself first. Just turned 19. Had to register for the draft. And how many people had to register for the draft? All right. I’m not worried about it, though, because the post office is handling the paperwork.
Panama Jackson [00:30:00] Do you ever do that? Do you ever go back and watch clips from 1980 and reflect on who you were then and knowing what you know now? I mean, you have the fortune to be like, you know what, on this day tomorrow, I’m going to change the world. Or this day. Like you can see. Who you were back then versus who you are now and know what steps are in between those those clips. Do you ever get a chance to reflect on your journey as a comedian and as a businessman in that same way?
Byron Allen [00:30:29] Yeah, I started doing standup when I was 14 years old. And so you’re such a kid and you don’t know what you don’t know, right? All I knew was that I loved Redd Foxx. I loved Johnny Carson. I loved Flip Wilson and Freddie Prinze. And I thought, this is it. I’m going to make people laugh like these guys. I’m doing comedy. And I wrote a script for Sanford and Son, and I wrote it because I was just so in love with Redd Foxx. And my mother typed it up for me and I was 13, 14 years old. And I walked up to one of the producers. And it was Bernstein and Turtle’s Turtle Todd. They were the producers of Sanford and Son. And I gave them one and I said, Sir, I wrote the script for Sanford and Son, and I think it’d be something you might be interested in. I forgot I gave it to him. And next thing you know, I got a call from one of the head writers, gentleman named David Panich. And David Panich called me into his office and he said “I read your script”. I said, “thank you.” He said, “Who wrote that script?” I said, “I did”. He said, okay. He says, “I want you to know something.” He said, “I read your script and I think I laughed out loud ten times”. He says, “How old are you?” I said, “I’m 14″. He said,” Wow”. He said, “I just wanted to tell you that this is extremely impressive and rare and just know that. You can do this says we’re not going to buy it. Just know you can do it.” He said “the way it works around here is we all get extra money when we write scripts, we get our staff money and then we come up with the script idea. We get another check. So it’s hard to get into the rotation if you’re not on the staff”, I said, I get it. I said, I’m just so happy you read it. And I’m just so happy you laughed. That’s really all I care about. Just wanted to make you laugh. He said, Oh, yeah, I laughed out loud. So I ended up taking the jokes that I put in that script. And that was my first monologue. And I called the comedy. And then Gladys Knight had a summer show. Gladys Knight and the Pips had a summer show, and she had a comedian on. And I went to the comedian. I said, Hey, I love what you just did. Can I, how do I become a comedian like you? And he said, Go to the Comedy Store. And I said, Thank you. What’s once again what’s your name again? He said, Gabe Kaplan. I go, okay, what’s the name of that sitcom you’re going to do? He said, Welcome Back, Kotter. I said, okay, I’m going to watch it this fall. And so I go to the Comedy Store. I called them up and they said to me that. You come here for tryouts on Monday and you need to get here early because there’s a lot of people trying to be a comedian. I said, no problem. So I took the bus there and I got there at nine in the morning and they said they opened up at 730 that night. And so I went and I went and sat on the curb and I wrote jokes from nine in the morning until they opened at 730 at night. And then I walked in. And Mitzi Shore, God bless her soul, was sitting at the front door signing us in. And I was hoping she wouldn’t look up. And she said, okay, what’s your name? And I said, Byron. And she looked up and she goes, How old are you? 14. She goes, 14. You can’t be in here. She goes, I’m going to lose my liquor license. She said, You stay outside and I’ll have somebody come in when you’re ready. When I’m ready to have you do come on stage. And I went on stage and I did the jokes that I written for Sanford and Son, so I sounded like Redbox. In an episode of Sanford. This 14 year old kid, I’m like, “Yeah, it was like, Oh, she was so ugly. Oh, Elizabeth, I’m on a diet.” So I do my monologue, and this guy comes up to me. And he says, Who wrote those jokes? I said I did. He says, Oh, he goes, Wow. He goes, Listen, let me get your phone number. I know somebody may want to write with you. I said, no problem. So I give my phone number and then the phone rings like a week later and he’s and I hear this guy on the phone goes, Can I speak to Byron? I go speaking. He goes “this is Jimmie J.J. Walker. Now he is hotter than the sun because Good Times is now number one top five sitcom in America.
Panama Jackson [00:35:15] Yep.
Byron Allen [00:35:15] JJ And he’s calling me up. It’s like ’75, right? And I said, This is Byron. He goes, Yeah. He goes, My man Wayne Kline says, You’re funny. And if my man Wayne Kline says you’re funny, then you must be funny. I was calling to see if you want to come write some jokes with me and my boys. And so I said, “let me ask my mom”. So he goes “oh my God, he’s got to ask his momma”. So and then I hear this guy in the background, he says, “tell his mom not to worry. We’ll have cookies and milk for him.” And he was like and Jimmy was like, be nice. So my mom says, yes, I go to Jimmy’s apartment and sitting in his apartment is Jimmy Walker. It’s on Sunset, a couple of blocks from the Comedy Store. Sitting in his apartment is Jimmy Walker. In his own apartment, Wayne Kline, who had seen me at the Comedy Store, David Letterman, who had just driven out from Indianapolis in a red pickup truck. Jay Leno. Who was sleeping in his car. Martin Adler, who went on to write and produce Laverne and Shirley and Happy Days. Jeff Stein and Wayne Duke. And went on to do Mr. Belvedere. And I sat there and started writing jokes with them. And I was 14. They were in their twenties. They got 200 bucks a week, and I got $25 a joke. And the two biggest moments in my life were, were when when Jimmy Walker gave me 25 bucks for writing a joke, which I was like, Wow, I think I can work in this business. And Bud Freeman gave me 25 bucks to perform on New Year’s Eve. And I have both those checks in my office, 25 each, because when I looked at those checks, I was like, you know what, I think I can make it in this business. I like. I can write and I can perform and somebody is giving me 25 and those checks still are in my office. Right.
Panama Jackson [00:37:09] I love that story.
Byron Allen [00:37:10] And it was just great because I was able to sit with them and learn the art of writing comedy. It was my comedy university sitting with Jay Leno and David Letterman and Jimmy Walker. And Marty Nailer and Wayne Klein and just. You know, one of the TV shows I created is called Funny You Should Ask. And it came out of one of those meetings. Somebody in the meeting said, Well, okay, let’s come up with some ideas. And then somebody said, you know, for every question, there’s a funny answer. And as comedians, it’s our job to find that funny answer. And I was 14. And then that’s when I came up with the idea of Funny you should ask a panel of comedians, six of us sitting there for every question. There’s a funny answer give up on the answer and then give the correct or incorrect answer. And it came from being the kid sitting in Jimmy Walker’s living room.
Panama Jackson [00:38:04] I love that. That’s that’s a such a great story. And I appreciate you sharing your background, how you got there, how you got here. You know, just as a comedian, it’s. You don’t always have a front row seat to a very successful comedian turned business mogul turned entrepreneur. You’re all of those things. So I thank you for that. We’re going to take a real quick break here, Dear Culture, and we’re going to come back. So stay tuned right here on Dear Culture.
Panama Jackson [00:38:40] All right. We’re back here and Dear Culture. Still joined by Byron Allen. Mogul, businessman, comedian. All the things you’ve been sharing these great stories with us about your your past and your history. And you said you had another one you wanted to share with us, yet another another story you wanted to share.
Byron Allen [00:38:57] I loved, you know, just being on the set with a blessing, you know, NBC and like I would watch an unknown sportscaster do the local sports on KABC because the NBC was right down the hall. Bryant Gumbel and I would watch an unknown weatherman do the weather went on to become Pat Sajak, you know, Wheel of Fortune. And I was it just became my playground. And Johnny Carson was a huge hero for me. I love, love, love him. And I used to go and hang out in the parking lot. And wait for him to arrive. And he would show up like clockwork at 2:00. Like you could look at the gate of the studio, NBC, Burbank, and he would turn onto the lot and he would pull into a parking space straight up at 2:00 and jump out of his car with a little pep in his step with a brown paper bag set. Watch one side. And I would always make the point. Hello, Mr. Carson. Good to see. That was a funny joke, Mr. Carson. And over the years I would always say Mr. Carson, Mr. Carson. And I give him my little feedback. And over the years, he got to know my name. So thank you, Byron. Nice to see you, Byron. Really appreciate about this, about a, you know, four or five year period. And that was just me hanging out in the parking lot. Wow. Mr. Carson, that was a really funny joke. I love that. Blah, blah, blah. And and and and he would get back and he would do his he would do The Tonight Show from 530 to 630 like clockwork live to tape. And he was back in his car at 645 driving the Malibu. And I used to go sit on his set. I would sit at his desk. I would take the sheets off of the set, sit on the sofa, sit in the guest chair, sit where he would sit, stand on his mark. And I would read all of his jokes from his monologue because they were all on cue cards. And I just made the studio my own. And when they asked me to do The Tonight Show, I was 17 and I turned it down and my mother said, Why? And I said, Because when I do The Tonight Show, I plan to do very well. And I plan to get a lot of offers, and I want to be able to accept them. And I cannot accept offers at 17 still in high school. So I will get a little older because I know there is no dropping out of high school, right, mom? That’s right. I go, so let me do I’ll do it later. So they offer me The Tonight Show, and I did it a couple of weeks after my 18th birthday, and I knew I was going to graduate from high school. I had been accepted into USC. And I remember standing behind the curtain and waiting to come on, and I was joking with some of the stagehands who I knew, and they knew me from the years of hanging out. And I was just joking. And all of a sudden my back was to the curtain and all of a sudden they got real serious and they were like clear their throat and kind of nodded, like, turn around. And I turned around and was Johnny Carson. And he it was in the commercial break. He was about to introduce me. And he got up from behind the chair, his desk, and he said, Listen, kid. He says, Don’t worry. You’re going to be great. And I went, Whoa, I can make chairs laugh based on him saying that. And then the guys, the stagehands said to me. They’ve been opening the curtain for people to walk out there for 15, 20 plus years. They said he has never gotten up from behind that desk and spoken to anybody. And I said, is that right? He goes, Yeah. I go, watch this.
Byron Allen [00:42:39] And like the last movie he saw there was like one of those macho films. You eveer hear the radio advertisment for these type of movies. It’s always so dumb. It’s always something like, “Leroy was a mean dude. Tough Rough, until one day somebody cut off his arms and his legs and his head. So now he’s out to get revenge.”
Byron Allen [00:43:05] Bam. I hit the mark. And I knew, standing there as a comedian, I was standing there and I was saying, you know what? In the next 5 minutes, I’m going to change my mother and my life forever. We’re not ever going to look back. I’m going to nail this 5 minutes. I’ma make these people laugh, and we’re never going to look back. And that’s every comedian knows those two birthdays the day they were born and the day they did The Tonight Show, the day I was born, April 22nd, 1961, and the day I did The Tonight Show, May 17, 1979. The next day I got ten offers. And one of them was Real People. And and I said, let’s go with this one, because this is a reality show and this is different from all the other shows. Somebody who wasn’t a comedian taught me so much because I love boxing and love Ali and Frazier and Foreman and all of the, you know, Sugar Ray and Mayweather. You just love boxing, right? Hearns. And I was in Vegas watching the Foreman, Michael Moore fight. And Foreman won. Oldest heavyweight champion. And a friend of mine, Roger King, was there. And I ran into him in Vegas and I didn’t have two nickels to rub together. He says, “Oh, man, because I just lost 350 grand on our buddy Michael Moore” because he was betting on Michael Moore. Because I knew Foreman was going to win, but I didn’t want to bet against my buddy. My buddy. He lost 350. He was down 350. And he says to me, Come with me to the crap tables. So I get this money back. So I walk with him. We’re at the MGM Grand. I go over to the crap tables with him. He’s down 350. Mind you, I couldn’t pay my phone bill. Right? So I’m, like, nervous for the guy. He’s playing craps, and next thing you know, bam, he’s down $750,000. And he says to me. Oh, man, he goes, I’m down 750 now. Roger King, he was a syndicator and he sold television shows and TV stations. Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy! Oprah, Inside Edition, the best, right? He says, Come with me so I can get this 750 back. I go “dDude. I think you should go to bed. You’re negative $750. You should take a long, long nap.” He walks up to the baccarot section and he starts talking to the pit bosses in tuxedos. And then the conversation escalate. Then he started barking, and he starts kind of almost shouting out, I don’t give a deal. You go make it happen. But just like he’s like going full on that, these pit bosses in Vegas at the baccarat table. And then finally they get on the phones and they start waving at the cameras up there and they’re talking on the phones. And it’s a big deal. And then they start now and hang up the phone, and then they start to remove the signs off the table. And I said, What was that all about? Because I thought we were about to get kicked out. He said they had these signs on the table. Maximum bet, 15,000 a hand. He goes, I’m never going to get my money back sitting here with a max maximum bet of 15,000. And he said, If you want to succeed, if you want to win, the first thing you must do before you sit down is position yourself to win. Most people are positioned to lose. They removed the maximum bet of 15 grand. I thought, Whoa. He sat down. He started betting 50 and 100 grand. 250 a hand 250,000 a hand. Next thing I know, this guy went from -750 to he said, let’s cash out. When they cashed him out, they brought him over moneybags and he was positive, three plus million dollars. He got a 750 back plus the three. And he said to me, You must always position yourself to win. Most people are not positioned to win! And it’s just those kinds of interactions helped me understand, okay, when we go into this business, how do we win? How do we do this.
Panama Jackson [00:47:31] Understood
Byron Allen [00:47:31] See? Look at the Black News Channel. We started talking about the Black News Channel. Look at that. It was positioned to fail. How do you tell the Black News Channel? I want you to be as good as CNN, Fox News and MSNBC, but I’m going to pay them a dollar to $2 per subscriber per month. But I’m going to pay you zero. Hmm. That’s how you employ 300 people. You don’t have enough revenue. You pink slip 300 people because you didn’t have enough revenue coming in. And you’ve failed. So I saw that and I said, I’m going to buy the Black news channel now. I’m going to position it to succeed because we as Black people, we have to have a seat at the table. We have to have our voices widely heard and distributed. And we need to control our images. When others control our images, they’ll put us on a talk show and we’re dancing and saying, Thank God the DNA came back and I’m not the baby’s daddy. I don’t know those men. That’s not my daddy and that’s not my granddaddy, and that’s certainly not me. We have to control our images and we must position ourselves to succeed.
Panama Jackson [00:48:47] That’s right brother. I appreciate it. I appreciate the words of wisdom. I appreciate the walk down memory lane. Thank you so much for being here at Dear Culture. We love having these conversations with people who impact the culture and affect the culture and change the culture and provide the culture a new outlet to succeed. Right? Positioning the culture and opportunities to succeed. Wise words from Byron Allen about planning. Making sure we do what we need to do to get what we need to get done done, for the best interests of all. I learned a little bit of something about voting in White neighborhoods because that definitely aint what happens in my neighborhood, I’ll tell you that much. I walk I walk right over there and I stand in line, you know. But listen thank you so much..
Byron Allen [00:49:33] And that’s by design.
Panama Jackson [00:49:35] Yes, it is by design. You are right. Thank you all for listening to Dear Culture with Byron Allen here. You like what you heard? Make sure you download theGrio app where you can get all this original content from the podcast to the editorial stuff. So you can check out some amazing movies. You can check out anything you need. We got it in theGrio. So you make sure you go download that app to get all this amazing original content here at theGrio. Please send all email suggestions, concerns, email scams, whatever you got to send, make sure you send them to podcast at theGrio dot com. Look Dear Culture is hosted by myself, Panama Jackson and it’s an original production brought to you by theGrio Black Podcast Network. Camille Cruz is the producer. Cameron Blackwell is the editor. Justin Sloan stepped in and helped produce this episode. Taji Senior is our logistical associate producer and Regina Griffin is our managing editor of podcasts. Thank you all for checking out Dear Culture this week. Have a Black one.
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