In the 1990s and early 2000s, Flex Alexander had it all: an unstoppable career, including his own sitcom One on One, a beautiful wife in Grammy-nominated R&B singer Shanice and more money than he knew what to do with. Expensive habits didn't take long to develop, and when Alexander's show was canceled and the checks stopped coming in, he suddenly found himself broke and faced with some major life changes. The struggle — which includes having to move from his mansion into a rental house with his extended family — became the basis for the couple's reality show, Flex & Shanice, on OWN and within a couple of years, Flex has gone from rock bottom to climbing his way back to the top.
We chatted with Alexander to talk about his upcoming projects, including a graphic novel he wrote called The Joshua Run, and his plan to bring his family back to its glory days without forgetting the lessons from the past.
What inspired you to create the character and write the graphic novel?
Honestly, I just wanted to see a Black character in a really dominant role, almost kind of like a Robin Hood, a super hero almost. We hadn't seen it. It was a big fan of the Bourne Supremacy series and Enemy of the State and all those governmental-type movies. I just said, "This would be interesting."
Your reality show Flex & Shanice was picked up for a second season. You guys have been remarkably upfront about your financial troubles on the show. What was the reaction from audiences?
It's been great. It's been so much positive feedback. The glass-throwing, chair-throwing stuff... that's just not what we're doing. When we travel... people are saying, "Thank you. I can relate," or, "My whole family can sit down and watch the show." That, for me, is the most rewarding, because we wanted to be able to do something that can inspire people and let them know that you don't have to give up. You can keep going. We're entertainers, we're in this business, and we go through it just like you. We chose to talk about it as opposed to letting someone else talk about it.
A lot of marriages don't survive bankruptcy. How did you and Shanice make it through?
A lot of prayer. A lot of prayer and just communication. It was never a conversation about, "Hey, maybe we'd be better if I'm over here, you're over there." That never came up. It was always, "We're going to get through this. We're going to see that other side. We're going to get through this." We didn't argue about it. We just said, "Okay, we're in this situation. We hate that we got here."
How did you get there? You were making tens of thousands of dollars a week at one point.
We're not extravagant people. When you have expenses and you're making a certain amount of money, your expenses go up, then when money's not coming in, those expenses still have to be paid. What you do have saved, it's being pulled off constantly. It's being chipped off and nothing's replenishing it. Next thing you know, it's all the way down. That's what happened. Of course, [Shanice] was like, "What happened?" I'm like, "Babe, we both got our reports every month from our business manager at the time." We got reports. I said, "It was our responsibility. You can't point fingers at anybody but ourselves." She had the opportunity to go over them and had any questions, to call, just like I did. We were so busy in denial, I think that is what we did. Yeah, she was upset at first and everything, but I'm like, "OK, you can get upset, but it's not going to change the situation right now." It was on both of us. We signed our own checks. We'd get our packets, go over expenses, everything that was done. We signed the checks.
What are you teaching your kids about money?
It's a daily lesson. They get it. Our son, my wife just called me the other day, and he wants one of those boards that everybody's going around on, I call them "futuristic skateboards," everybody's using now. I'm like, "Why does he need that? Those things are expensive. He doesn't need it. He needs to take his money and get school clothes." Every now and then, we got to reel back in and put them in reality. I was a member of a country club, all that stuff. I had to let that stuff go. Would I have loved to have kept it so I could play golf? Yeah. Was it important, was it going to help feed my family? No, not at all. We have to teach them about saving money, only use what you need. They're really good. Our daughter's really, really good. They both are. But my son, because he's younger, every now and then just wants some outrageous thing.
You're a born-again Christian. Did you find faith before or after your bankruptcy?
I don't think I "found" it at any point in a sense of, "Now we're in trouble. Let's have faith." I've always been a person who I just know that good is going to come. Meeting my wife, knowing she was definitely a strong person of faith, we just had that same goal in knowing that God put something in us and we just have to activate it. So many of us get into a jam and say, "I'm going to pray, and I'm going to wait and see what happens." It unnerves me because that's not how we're wired. We're not wired to pray or meditate and "Let me just wait." We have to activate, we have to move and go after what we want.
How did the opportunity for the show come about? You got a call from Oprah one day?
We got some students from a film school, we didn't have money to pay them. We said, "We can give you gas, we can give you food. We can give you love." We shot it. Took it to OWN and pitched it.
You've worked with everyone in Black Hollywood. Who did you learn the most from?
I think Danny Glover I really learned a lot from. I worked with him doing a movie called Poor Boy's Game. I really learned a lot from him. He's very easy. If we were doing a scene, and I was pressing the scene a little bit and we said, "Cut!" He took me to the side and said, "Be easy. Be natural. Be easy. Don't press it." We would talk about everything from sports, acting, activism. I think he's probably the top of my list of someone that I've learned from.
Besides the reality show and Joshua's Run, what else do you have on your slate?
I'm producing a project for Mama Jones. She's Jim Jones's mom, rapper Jim Jones. It's a reality series about her family, about just her juggling her life. Grandmother, but yet she's young. She raps. She takes care of everybody in the neighborhood. She's really an amazing person. Just capturing all that stuff so it'll be reality, unscripted. We're just working hard on it. But, getting back to my stand-up is really key for me. My goal is to, by this time next year, shoot my own comedy special.
Rewind! Watch Flex and Shanice on Lift Every Voice below:
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