D.L. Hughley Talks to us about being the Radio Host of the Year 2018
We were thrilled to have D.L. Hughley Talk to us about his tenure in the radio industry. The thing I like most about D.L. Hughley is that he doesn’t take himself too seriously. I get people like him because I see myself in the same way. He is one of those rare people who has to be who they are in order to be fully beneficial to their purpose. He’s an independent thinker and he’s very modest and appreciative of his platforms.
It appears he’s not fully aware of his impact, which is fortunate because he can’t be swayed to move in the direction of his fans or their influence and he remains true to his own direction with little concern of who likes or dislikes his position.
This year DL has a best selling book “How Not to Get Shot” and his videos continue to make a HUGE impact online when it comes to expressing his opinion on politics. A very special thanks to Jasmine Sanders in helping me get everything in order for this great interview.
Kevin Ross: So let’s talk about radio. You’ve been doing it now for what, about 25 years?
D.L. Hughley: It’s funny. I did it as KJLH when I was the morning man I did it at Kiss-FM [WRKS/New York] and I’ve been doing the current show [Reach Media/Radio One] for about five years or so. I have always loved the medium. And it’s funny because I never got a chance to do it this continuously.
But I didn’t necessisarly understand it or it’s input. From a consumer’s outlook, I’ve always understood it because when I lived in LA and I didn’t know anything, it was my entry into the world. But I understand how, you know, from this side of the microphone how important it is to be clear. And so, uh, I’ve done it, you know, off and on, I would say about 12 years, but I understand how important it is to be clear in how important it is to make sure you take a side. You’ve got to take a side.
I thought it was longer than that because I remember you. I missed you at KJLH because I was on there for a while and that was like the early, I want to say maybe the mid-nineties?
Yeah, because, remember, I got fired by Stevie Wonder?
What did you do? I don’t remember that. What happened?
Because I said KGLH was so raggety that even Stevie Wonder could see it.
Okay. I thought it was longer. Now when you were doing KIIS in New York that was an interesting situation because you were not actually being paid for that, correct?
No, because, you know, it put me in a horrible tax situation because, you know, we signed the deal and I thought they would honor it and I thought that and they ended up not being that way. But I love the medium so much and I thought, well, you know, eventually they’ll work this thing out.
Unfortunately, that deal didn’t work out, but it did prepare me for this one. So I guess I’m balanced. It worked out positively, I just didn’t see it at that time.
So you’ve done TV, they even tried to get you on the political TV circuit. What was the situation with that? Why didn’t that work out?
Oh, well, CNN actually, we used to get a million people a weekend. And what happened was at the same time we were doing the show, it was that huge economic downturn. The bottom fell out of the economy.
So all the things people have money for in terms of frivolous – things like a black dude doing a political show on a news show – they didn’t have the money for it. And you know, it’s like everything else. Last ones hired first ones fired but I enjoyed the experience.
D.L. Hughley Talks about TV and Radio Appearances
Okay. So where do you think radio is going at this point? I know that you do a lot of your TV appearances and you go outside of just doing radio. What do you see as the future for radio right now? Do you think you could just be on the air and not do anything else?
Like anything else in the society right now. I think that standing on the sidelines or being benign and pretending like you don’t see what you see is not acceptable to society anymore. I don’t care what endeavor you’re in. I don’t care what it is. If Nike can take a side as a corporation, you have to take a side as a human being.
I’m not saying you have to be loud, but you have let people know where you stand and I think a lot of people in corporations in radio, you know, just an amalgamation of corporations want commerce without any [controversy] and that’s impossible in this environment. What you try to do is be who you are and hope that people understand that you’re being who you are. You’ve got to choose the hill you wanna die on and make sure you say something, you mean it.
Has there been anything that you’ve said or done later thought “maybe I shouldn’t have said that”?
I think the only thing I’ve ever said on the radio that gave me pause was when I supported Columbus Short and then he (allegedly) turned around and whipped the girl he was with.
Do you think that you’ve had to dumb down at times to fit in?
Well, I don’t have to dumb down because I’m not necessarily that bright a guy. It’s not that big of a reach. I don’t think I’ve had to do anything that I’m uncomfortable doing but I think some people have been uncomfortable with a lot of things I said.
Right, okay. That’s interesting. I actually consider you to be quite intelligent. I know that a lot of times when I was doing radio we couldn’t have an opinion and you’re able to do that, of course, because you do syndication, you’re a comedian, you bring leverage with you to radio, so you can afford to do that. What are your favorite mediums beside radio? Do you like podcasting? Do like YouTube?
I think podcasting is an interesting arena, but it started out great and now everybody has one. And the end goal is to try to monetize it. So that will mean It will have the same kind of corporate infringement that everything else does. But I think the idea of it is dope. I just don’t like the application of it is because the same people who do radio want to get the same money that they are not getting in radio in podcasts. So it’s two parts to the same thing.
Have you won any awards in radio?
No. No, man.
So this will be your first honor?
What I want to be and what I understand is…I am saddened that so many people are indiffernt to my people and by my people, I mean human beings. I think that you have, at a certain point, if you have a microphone or a canvas or any apparatus, it expounds your perspective and you have an obligation to say what you see and it makes me sad that for commerce’s sake that people would do almost anything. It makes me sad.
And I refuse to do that now. Like if they don’t dig me on radio, I’ll just do the road. If they don’t dig me on the road, I’ll write books. If they don’t dig me writing books, I’ll dig ditches but I’m never going to be like that again in my life. I spent a lot of time when I was a little boy being scared. And I don’t want to do that anymore.
And speaking of which, I want to talk to you about that. You have a very interesting background. I know that I’ve heard you in various interviews talking about how you had some issues with your mom growing up. Give me a little more information about that and how, with those circumstances, you make a decision to go either left or right.
I don’t know if you make the decision to that. Listen, I’m a lot luckier than I am gifted. And I understand that, but I think now, I know so much now about growing up and what it meant, and that I have the tendency, like I think a lot of people had a tendency to put your parents in a certain place and, in the end, they’re just human beings.
My mother was a very young woman. My mother was about 16-years, 17-years-old. So imagine being a kid and raising someone, and you didn’t like the father or dude, and the little boy reminds you of the father. I think that played itself out a lot of times. But I don’t have malice and I do understand.
One of the things that relationship taught me is if you’re not certain whether you’re loved in your home, it gives you more freedom than I think a lot of people have. Because once you have affirmation, when you’re young, then you seek it when you don’t have it. It’s like if all of a sudden I was blind and everybody cut the lights off, I wouldn’t know the difference. And I think it has felt like that to me.
Let me make sure I’m clear on this. You’re saying that if you don’t know you’re loved, or if you do know you’re loved, that it is an advantage?
I think you deal with the circumstances you have, but I think a lot of people who know that they’re loved, or get positive affirmation, they seek it. They seek it. It is important to them. Because I didn’t have that kind of affirmation, I’m indifferent towards it. I like it when I get it, but I don’t necessarily need it to survive.
It’s not my goal. And I think it served me well in terms of a creative standpoint, because my goal is to be as clear as possible, not to get a level of affirmation from the people who listened to me on or who are around me. I believe that if I have a perspective, my only obligation is to be as true to that perspective as I can possibly be.
That’s a very interesting perspective because I actually think it can go either way. It’s like if you’re not sure if you were loved as a child, you DO seek it. And I think that if you have it, then you go out and you have more confidence.
It can go either way. You can’t miss what you never had. I really believe that there are too many people and I think it’s the function of where we are as a society is the function of a technical apparatus.
Look at the things that people are willing to do just on social media to get a like. That comes from somewhere. Look at the things people are willing to apologize for to [encourage] favor. It comes from somewhere.
So you went through that situation with your mom and you say that you think you’ve been lucky. You also said it served you. How did it serve you?
I heard an analogy and I agreed with it –I’m more like a rose, like a cactus can grow anyway. It don’t need no water. I mean it needs the bare minimum of anything. The bare minimum…it survives – and even thrives – without all the accutrements. A rose needs light and attention and pruning, you know, and optimum circumstances.
I’m more like a lot of black people than people can admit. I don’t know anybody, or very many people, who started out in optimal circumstances and became uber successful. I’ve known a lot of people that had horrible circumstances and now thrive.
I agree. I think it can serve you and I think that a lot of times it serves an independence. When you know you can’t go back home you’re going to make sure you never have to go back.
Right. You don’t want to. You ain’t welcome. Have you ever seen a homeless person on the streets? That person. He had a family, or she had a family, and whatever happened. That family is gone for whatever reason. So it’s a lot of people that they couldn’t do it, they didn’t do it.
But then we see a lot of people from those same circumstances who manage. Like, the reason I used to love Kanye is because of where he came from. The reason I can’t now is because [he doesn’t make reference] to where he came from. Like, I loved Jim Brown. But I think the old Jim Brown wouldn’t recognize the new Jim Brown.
Why do you think people don’t consider the fact that Kanye has mental issues?
Because he’s not the first person with a mental issue. Like for me, it’s different if he was sitting at home espousing, but you can’t do two things. You can’t want to be alone and be vocal in the political process.
Mental illness explains you, it doesn’t excuse you.. Let me tell you something – if you did something under the law, and you said he was mentally ill, you still pay a price for that. You don’t get to say he’s crazy and then let him go. I think that they’re not mutually exclusive. I think he is both mentally compromised and an opportunist. I think both those dualities don’t have to be separate.
People with mental illness have a poor perception of reality. They think everybody else is sick. The bipolar concept is grandiose.
That I get it. And if people weren’t dying, people are dying now. The worst thing that Kanye West did, it was normalizing a bigot. And not just a bigot, but an active bigot. People are dying because of the things that man is saying just this week. And when you normalize it, you make it more acceptable. And I don’t care how mentally ill you are, you’re complicit in people’s lives being taken and you make it look normal.
And you make it look not as bad. Black people are little more than a backdrop to Trump and I don’t forgive you when people are dying and I don’t forgive you when you vacillate. I don’t mind who you are. Just be the same whoever you are, wherever you are. I just wonder which Kanye is going to show up. That’s the thing. I want to understand what Kanye I’m going to get.
D.L. Hughley Talks about Friendships
I want to ask you a question about that, too. What do you think? What are your thoughts on who you surround yourself with? Some people say they don’t like a lot of friends or they like to keep their circle small. How do you deal with that?
I don’t think you have to keep your circle small. The time and circumstances, and mental and emotional output dictate that. Like, I’ve never had to try to keep my people small. It ain’t that many people that like me, so it’s not hard to keep it small. But I was responsible for a family to raise. I always had to check-in to make sure that no matter what I did or didn’t do, that I was able to take care of my responsibilities.
So that is a check and balance within itself and I just think those things kind of work out when you are a certain way. You will either attract or move people out of your space. That’s a natural function of just living. And so I’ve been very fortunate. The either dig me or they don’t.
When you say a lot of people don’t like you are you serious?
When I’ve heard myself described, it’s never been consistent with who I believed I was. I never believed that I was as bad as people thought I was or as good as people thought I am. I can’t say whether I’m liked or not. I can say what is clear is that radio has allowed people to get to know me and when they make a decision about how they feel about me, it’s more informed.
Okay. So you do a lot of videos and whenever I put them on the site, they’re always the hottest videos on the site. I’m constantly asking your reps for more of your material because the audience loves it.
I’ve never in my life ever heard that before.
Ever! No, no, no. Even my wife and children spend most of the time explaining me to people. They do! They spend a lot of time explaining it to people and so it’s weird to ask them. But I think the one thing I will say that radio has done, and I’ve always known I would love it, I just didn’t know I’d get this kind of opportunity, and I take it very seriously, but I always knew I would love it. I think the one thing that radio has done is that people make an informed decision about me whether they liked me or not.
They come away with enough information to make an informed decision. It’s not one of those snap judgment things. Before, it was something I’ve said in an interview, or something I’ve said in a stand-up routine. It’s something I said, you know, just in passing on TMZ or something like that. So it didn’t have context. Now if people listen to you long enough, I’m pretty sure they’ll get a good idea of who you are.
Well, you talk a lot about politics. Have you ever thought about running?
No, it doesn’t interest me at all. It does interest me from an observational perspective. I would never. But I would say this – if I believe that somebody who I knew were harmful and were going to do something, like when Stacey Dash decided she would run and if she just started winning in that district, I would have run.
Like if you’re going to take a clown seriously, I’m in it. That’d be the only way I would seriously consider it, is if somebody that I knew was harmful was running, like when she was going to run, if she got any traction I would have ran.
Okay. Just for the hell of it. What do you see for yourself in the near future?
I’m doing exactly what I love to do, but I don’t think I’ve gotten where I need to be. And I think radio takes such a long time because I’m learning something every day and I learned a lot. I don’t want to be a guy who’s on the radio, I want to be great at radio. And that takes so long. So many things I don’t know.
So if I’m still in a conversation with you and can be pleasant talking to me two, three years, five years from now, then I think I’ve accomplished my goals.
I want to talk about your book for a minute. A funny concept. Did you voice this book? Is there an audio version?
Yeah, I voiced the book and the audio version and it actually got nominated for Good Humor Best Book of the Year, and it’s actually going to be a series.
Let me tell you something – that’s so funny you say that because I bought your last book, the audio book and I couldn’t quite figure out if it was supposed to be like a play or what it was. I heard a bunch of different actors and I couldn’t quite figure out what the concept was. Were you’re trying to do like a play?
That book right there. I had my honestly, I had no idea or no understanding of how important that my voice would be there. I was a voyeur on that one. It didn’t have the impact I would have liked. But I think part of it is because I was seen as more like a passenger then the driver of the train and that was something I learned and brought to the new book. I love writing. I think it’s all just the same conversation.
It’s all like water coming to your house. Same source, different uses. Some is used to wash the clothes. Some is used to cook and some to take a shower with. I think perspective is that way too. The same thing, just applied a different way.
But the next book I’m writing, I’m going to try to give black people the same protections as animals you can hunt. Because we would do better if we were whitetail deer and we would do better if we were protected by fish and game wardens than the policemen.
D.L. Hughley Talks about School
What kind of student were you in school?
I was horrible. I was definitely.
Yeah, but I was a class clown because I was afraid.
Who are you afraid of?
Uh, people’s knowing that was inadequate. People knowing when I didn’t know the answer. That’s all it is, man. And it’s one of my greatest regrets because I like learning, but I pretended like I didn’t because I didn’t learn like everybody else. I like learning.
You think some of that pressure also came from being a black male?
Well, you know, I think it’s so easy to categorize us. you gotta remember 75 percent of the teachers in America are white women. 75 percent. So if you scare me or don’t do what they say, they don’t see it as somebody being challenged. They see it as being defiant.
And I learned a long time ago that if I made people laugh or distracted them they wouldn’t see how inadequate I felt. They wouldn’t get it and they wouldn’t judge me for it. And I think the one thing I could say now is I’m literally not afraid of people seeing how inadequate I am.
I felt the exact same way as a kid. Did they ever put you in the special classes?
I was in the special class too. I don’t admit that too readily. But they put me in there because I was too creative.
I don’t know if I was creative, Kevin. But I’ll tell you what, I would be in that class saying I don’t belong here. I don’t belong here.
A lot of kids don’t learn the same way. I thrived at Performing Arts years later but when we were kids, public school was very boring. There was not a lot of the things that they taught that intrigued us.
Maybe that was you but I was just dumb. I really was. I didn’t belong in that class. I mean, I may not have had it together, but I ain’t this dumb. Come on now. It’s so funny that somebody else who is so eloquent and uses words for a living had the same experiences I did.
Oh, absolutely. Yeah. They put you in special classes when they see a problem and when they see potential, which is also a problem. I hope they don’t still exist. Those classes were the pipeline to prison. I agree some of those kids were completely out of it but there were others, mostly black males, that were geniuses.
Isn’t it amazing how when you’re a kid and you’re powerless and you don’t see things, then you grow up and you understand. Like you said earlier, that all the things that have happened have really prepared you for where you are. No matter if it was abuse or if it was mistreatment or if it was, you know, an inadequacy or insecurity. It’s like all those things, at some point, you know, they come to serve you.
That’s the point. It not that all of us get the same lessons, or the same nurturing. But all of us get indications of who we are. All of us do. Now I’m not saying that we know what it means or what to do with it or how it works. All of us started to get an idea of what the universe has given us.
If you’re fortunate.
Yeah, that’s right, if you’re fortunate, you’re listening. If you’re fortunate, two things will happen… people will listen and it will matter.
Because it’s your purpose.
Yep, it is. Everybody wants to co-opt people’s purposes. Like I know people who are tremendously successful in the industry. They say and get to do things and they get all these shows. I’m like, I’m good. I love where I’m at. I love me. I love what I do, that I get to. I believe in what I’m doing.
You get to be who you are, but the funny thing is, I know people like that who are miserable in those positions. They do it because they’re taking care of 30 people and they think that they have to and it’s their purpose, when it’s not. The question is how do you turn that around? How do you walk away from that?
It’s so interesting how the way I see things now and it’s interesting that we [being put in special ed classes] would be maligned for being different and not being able to do the work and communicate. And we do that for a living now. That’s hilarious to me. And I think that’s more important to know than people realize. I call it notes from the GED section, because I have one. I have a GED.