The comedian talks inspiration, internet fame and Jamie Foxx.
With over 2.5 million views and counting of his hilarious YouTube sketch, “Sh*t Black Girls Say,” Billy Sorrells is having a very good start to the New Year. The Chattanooga, Tenn., native said he never intended for his video to take flight — it’s been featured on Jay Leno, Huffington Post and the New York Daily News — he just thought it’d be funny to put his spin on Kyle Humphrey and Graydon Sheppard’s popular web series, “Shit Girls Say.” Well, he inspired a movement of sorts. Since posting his parody, which he produced through his company, Arieon Studios, in late December, others were inspired to do the same — everything from “Sh*t Drunk Girls Say” and “Sh*t Black Gays Say” to Chescaleigh’s spot-on riot, “Shit White Girls Say … to Black Girls.” But Sorrells is here to let you know he’s not just trying to be internet famous; he’s aiming to be a “household name.” With his own satellite radio show in the works on Jamie Foxx’s Foxxhole Radio, and the release of his Dirty, Sexy, Funny DVD, get used to seeing Billy Sorrells. Read on to hear how he got his start, how Sorrells linked with Jamie Foxx and what he really thinks about critics of his “Sh*t Black Girls Say” (above) video.
How did you get started in comedy?
I actually had a journalism background and was always involved in theater — actually, as a student I was [a] correspondent with BET for Teen Summit back in 2000. But I always wanted to become a comedian. Living in Texas though, those outlets weren’t always available. But, with the help of my student body at Texas Southern University, I started performing and hosting at different events. Fast forward seven years later — I’ve performed at Howard’s Homecoming and over 40 other colleges and universities across the country.
So where did the inspiration from “Sh*t Black Girls Say” come from?
When I saw the original video, I was like, ‘This is funny. This is cool.’ But I really want to make something that relates to the people that I know. And loving Black women as I have over the 29 years of my life, I’ve accumulated a number of things that they’ve said and mannerisms that they’ve done. And of course, I’m exaggerating a little bit, but that’s what comedy is, it’s all about exaggeration.
Did you think that your sketch would garner so much attention?
It’s always good to see people who are inspired by your work and give their vantage point, and that’s the beautiful thing about comedy is that it’s not limited to one person’s vantage point. Everybody who is a living, breathing person has a perspective on every issue that occurs and they have their own sense of humor, and I think with this project, this whole “things people say” movement and comedy in general — people need to learn to laugh at themselves more. It makes it a lot easier for us to learn about each other.
What do you say to the people who took offense?
I’m a comedian, but before I’m a comedian, I’m a thespian, an actor. When you look back at the success of Shakespeare and in his early plays, there were no women in theater, so for me to impersonate a woman and to do it in a comedy or present dramatic points was not meant for me to be disrespectful, but just showing my perspective in a comedic way. I’m entitled as a man and as a person and moreso as an artist to express myself. And the numbers don’t lie, I have millions of views and you mean to tell me out of two million people, 350 hit the dislike button. That’s not even a .1 percentile.
You brought up a hot issue that many raise in the Black community about Black comedians dressed as women. Dave Chappelle talked about that on Oprah and people frequently criticize Tyler Perry. What are your thoughts?
[The conversation] often turns into ‘we’re discrediting our community,’ but guys like Martin Lawrence, Jamie Foxx and Tyler Perry wouldn’t have been successful or multi-millionaires or the stars that they are without those characters. Like, where would Jamie Foxx be without Wanda? Where would Tyler Perry be without Madea? You can’t criticize these artists, including myself, and base their art on one character. What about Robin Williams and Ms. Doubtfire? He pretended to be a 75-year-old woman and there was no criticism there? We have way more things to be focused on that need fixing in our community, and I don’t think that laughing at a female character is one that’s going to put us back. For the record, no one that watched my video was hurt or wanted to hurt themselves as a result.
Right. Tell me about your two comedy tours, which both seem to focus on empowerment?
Well, the 5 Degrees of Comedy tour is based around 5 comedians with college degrees — Blame the Comic, Derrick Keener, Nate Mingo, myself and Eddie B — performing at colleges and universities, improvs and nightclubs. And then there’s Back Pew comedy. We want to give families and people wholesome entertainment; the concept is “laughter that all can enjoy.” If you’re a good-enough artist, you create and produce so that people outside your targeted demographic can enjoy. All major comedians do family movies. Look at the success of Eddie Murphy working with Disney and doing family movies. I never wanted to become handicapped to where I couldn’t speak to children. I’m a father, I have a daughter and she helped to motivate me because I didn’t always want to have an art form that I couldn’t share with my child. That really pushed me to ... want to do stuff where my daughter at a young age can say, ‘That’s my daddy and I’m proud of what he’s saying and doing’ and laugh and enjoy it.
That’s awesome. But back to the grown-up stuff, how’d you end up working with Jamie Foxx and The Foxxhole?
I had been sending Marcus King and Guy Black my prank calls for their website and for the show. And just recently, we decided to go forward and develop my own show, which will be called The Billy Sorrells Show on Foxxhole Sirius satellite. It’s a spinoff of the main show and is set to air the first week of February. But you have to stay tuned in to foxxhole98.com to get more details.
So, come December 2012, what will you have hoped to accomplish?
Looking forward, I want to see that not only am I a household name, but a person who can express himself in all his different creative abilities. And I’m just grateful that God has given me these talents to share. I’m out in Los Angeles now working on some projects that I can’t disclose just yet contractually, but we have a lot to look forward to on the big screen and on television with Billy Sorrells.
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