Interview by A.J. Niles
Comedienne Kim Coles has had an amazing career in television and comedy, as she is best remembered for black television staples In Living Color and Living Single. She now returns to television as the Co-host of a new show Are You Normal, America?, which currently airs on OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network Mondays at 9 pm. Kim also runs the non-profit G.I.F.T.S. which she uses comedy and inspiration help one identify and express their gifts, to live life out loud, to experience greater joy, and to be more fulfilled as they share your gifts with the world.
Kim took time out of her schedule to speak with Urban Belle Magazine about her acting career, the new show on OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network, the importance of having a good balance of images of black women on TV, natural hair in Hollywood and President Obama’s stance on same-sex marriage. Her positivity, energy and wisdom shined through every word in the interview.
Kim, you have had a long and successful career acting, specifically on television. How did you get started acting and what made you want to pursue a career in television?
Kim Coles: I actually started out as a stand-up comedian. I grew up watching TV in the 70’s and 80’s. There were a lot of specific things going on at the time. There were many variety shows with amazing comedians on television. So I grew up watching TV and wanting to do that. I developed a love of laughter and knew early on how laughter is a great connector of people and a great way to communicate.
So I started out in stand up then that led to the first season of In Living Color then after I left that show, Living Single was created for me and Queen Latifah and then if was off and running!
You are also most known for your role as “Synclaire James-Jones” on the cult classic Living Single. How was it to be apart of a show that helped set a standard for African-American Television?
Coles: Well you said it. I call Living Single the sparkling jewel of my career. It was an awesome experience. I knew instantly that this show was going to connect with people but I didn’t know it was going to last this long. I didn’t know… it was going to be what dare I say iconic and I only say that because other people tell me that. It felt amazing to be apart of something well thought of and thought about. As we were creating [the show], thought went into creating characters that are positive, [they] love each other and [a show] to be proud of.
I love that we created these characters that endure and represent us well.
Do you still talk to any of your former cast mates from Living Single?
Coles: I do. I am very Close to Erica Alexander who played Maxine on the show. She is actually one of my very best friends. I am very close to T.C. Carson and I recently saw John Henson at a comedy show we did recently. Those are the three I keep in closest contact with. Kim [Fields] and I text or tweet one another every now and then. [Queen] Latifah and I do not see each other often but when ever we do, it is nothing but love between us.
So although you have been acting, you are shifting to becoming a host. How has the transition been from actor to host? How is your preparation as a host different from your preparation as an actor?
Coles: I watched games shows like Match Games, To Tell the Truth and the old Hollywood Squares [growing up]. So I feel like I’ve been preparing all along and I didn’t even know it at the time; watching how these things are done. The real preparation in any of this is to just be your self. When I tried out to be the co-host of Oprah Winfrey’s new game show, I showed up as Kim Coles. There are things you are taught as a game show host such as how to ask questions. I love that I get to be an actress, and a comedian and love to be myself.
Lets talk about your latest show. You will be Co-Hosting a new show called Are You Normal, America?, which will be airing on Oprah’s new network, OWN. Can you tell us a little about the show? How did the opportunity to co-host this show present itself?
Coles: Well I auditioned like everyone else. I earned this one this old-fashioned way. I would love to say she called me. [laughs] But she chose me and that is the next best thing. A lot of people auditioned for the job I am finding out. I learn of another person that audition just about everyday recently. [laughs]
Are you normal was a segment Oprah did on her own show, and I am told that she found it to be such an interesting question to ask people. She contacted [Barry Poznick] and asked him to produce the segment into a full-blown game show. He produced Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader so he was the perfect guy to take the segment and make it a full-blown game show. It was a lot of fun.
We asked a cross-section of Americans things they feel are normal and 2 contestants on stage compete to win up to $100,000 by guessing what they think America said. And additionally, there is a panel of ten people who are my responsibility. They call them the poll posse because they polled America about what they think is normal. My job is to interview them.
It becomes an interactive, fun game. I also get to go in the street and ask people what they think. We get to get to Skype people and see what they think.
It’s all just one big sociological experiment, as I like to look at it.
So what is your favorite part of this project?
Coles: My favorite part of the project is when I got the gauge myself to see if I was normal. There were some questions where I was abnormal; off the charts. And you will see that on the show because I get to answer some of the questions on the show. I get to share a piece of my self.
Lets switch things up a little bit. How do you feel about the current state of black television? Do you think that we need a more diverse group of characters on TV? Do you also feel that networks need to do a better of job of portraying African-American women?
Coles: How about I make it easier on you and say yes to both?! [laughs] But yeah man, I was discussing with someone about these “reality shows” and I don’t quite know why they are resonating with people other than people enjoying watching the train wreck of other people’s lives.
But look, I don’t want to butt myself into other people’s lives and bash their opportunities to make money. But I also think we have to be careful about the images that we are sharing with our little girls.
My thing is that if you are going to have the wild and crazy side, then make sure there is a balance of positive images, of things we can be proud of. I don’t like the stereotypical, loud, yelling…
I have never thrown a drink in anyone’s face. Never. Ever! [laughs] Nor would I hang out with someone who did. So I just don’t know whose lives those are. So it’s negative stereotyping but I am intrigued because some one is producing it and someone is watching it.
I know about it only because I have to be aware of whats going on in the industry. But I don’t watch because it’s negative. I don’t want that in my psyche. So when that is on, I’ll just turn off the TV until something I really want to watch is on.
Maybe the industry doesn’t want to hear me say that because advertisers have to do what they have to do. It’s a business. But I would say that we counter this for our your young women with positive images. This is what they are growing up with and its disturbing to me.
It’s not real!
Did you know that some of these people are driving around in cars that the production company rented for them? Living in houses that are rented so they can appear wealthy? Now don’t get me wrong; but there is very little that is real about it.
We are a publication that strongly supports natural hair. Our readers would love to know how long you have been on your natural hair journey and why did you decide to be natural in Hollywood?
Coles: Let’s see…
The Date I cut out my extensions is December 26th, 2011. I considered myself natural [already] because I had no chemicals in my hair but I had braided extensions. There seems to be a level of what’s natural and what’s really natural.
So I started wearing my own hair the day after I cut out my extensions and I did it for me. I didn’t do it for anyone or Hollywood purposes. I didn’t do it because they said it would add to my resume or brand. I had no Idea it would take off the way it did. I did it so I could feel more authentic and look in the mirror and be happy about how my hair grew out of my head. I was hiding.
I am not saying everyone should be natural but for me, I needed to look in the mirror and be happy with what I had. It was time for me to look in the mirror and to be happy with what I was given. If I do hide [my natural hair], I know the reasons why. Like maybe I am putting my hair away because I am working on a set and there is no one that knows how to style natural hair.
But It was mostly a self-love thing. I didn’t want to go into my 50th birthday hating anything about me. Life is too short to hate anything about you. You need to love all parts of you and if you don’t love something then work on it.
Before, I wanted to adopt a more European standard of beauty, which is pretty much the standard in Hollywood, however I think this is changing. Being who you are is beautiful and I hope more people accept themselves as who they are.
Many Black celebrities are throwing their support behind President Obama and his decision to publicly back same-sex marriage? What is your opinion on Obama’s stance?
Coles: I support it! I support people loving each other. If two people want to be together, let them be together. Understand that I work in Hollywood. There are a lot of creative people here. There are a lot of gay people here and I want them to have all the freedoms that you and I have. However it shows up, I support love!
Kim’s new show Are You Normal airs Mondays at 9pm on OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network.