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"...with the people who say that I’m “difficult to work with,” I want you to look at where they are, and look at where I am."
Originally published Dec 17, 2017
Rickey Smiley is an incredibly entertaining comedian and radio host. He's been doing his syndicated radio show for 12 years now but he continues to supplement or leverage his radio career while continuing to do sold out weekend comedy shows. While he pokes fun at the black church he is a devout believer who feels most at home in it as well as away from all the pomp and circumstance of show business. During our interview, he was at a relative's house named Ms. Jenny, in the projects in Alabama. He had to let the elderly woman in the background know that he was on an important call when she was trying to have a conversation with him.
Rickey's somewhat of an anomaly like I have found most comedians, you know who they are on stage but what you get off stage may be completely the opposite. During our conversation, I noted that Rickey is an astute entrepreneur and family man to his children. He is not the type of comedian that jokes around all the time especially when it comes to taking care of his business. He eluded to what I have heard many Black entrepreneurs state, that having a dedication to hiring and helping our people can sometimes come at a high price when a sense of entitlement overrules respecting another black person's business. Rickey started his career in the radio industry in Alabama as a sidekick on a morning show before he achieved national fame for several years. He just released a book "STAND BY YOUR TRUTH: And Then Run For Your Life," Some of the points Rickey makes in his book are:
- How it’s impossible to come back from mistakes without self-forgiveness
- Why “The Deadbeat Dad” is a myth
How to break out of that comfort zone — because you are not a chicken
- The often untold ups and downs raising kids (and teenagers) as a single father
- Proof success can only happen when opportunity meets long preparation'
- Ways speaking up for yourself is nothing to be ashamed of, so “Handle Your Business”
- Why, now more than ever, our lives depend on what we stand for — and then sticking by it.
... all of Rickey's real-life experiences.
Kevin: So let’s talk about the book. Um, you, some of the statements that you made, I found pretty interesting, about forgiveness. Can you tell me about that?
Rickey: I mean, forgiveness is something that I am personally still working on, ‘cause I do hold grudges, but there are certain situ-, you know, as you get older, as you grow.
Rickey: You know? You have to learn how to forgive. You know, I had to forgive a young man that almost took my life. And, you know, sometimes we have to forgive, and not, uh, you know, uh, do anything in retaliation. Retaliation is sometimes you have to let God handle it, and it that case, uh, God did handle it. The dude served time in prison, served twenty-two years, I think, or twenty-three years in prison. And you have to read the book to find out what happened after he got out of prison, ‘cause, you know, we from the same community, and I was trying to set up a conversation where he and I could talk, you know, just where we wouldn’t run into each other. You know what I mean?
Kevin: So the name of your book is Stand by Your Truth, and Then Run for Your Life, which is pretty funny! (laughing) Is that in jest Do you believe to a certain extent that you, that your truth may scare you?
Rickey: Well, stand by your truth, but you have to run for your life ‘cause other people can’t handle the truth
Kevin: Oh, I see what you’re saying. Okay.
Rickey: You know?
Rickey: Yeah, yeah. Especially us, we don’t, we don’t like that.
Kevin: No, we don’t.
Rickey: Black folks, black folks want you to tell them what they want to hear. As a matter of fact, if you go, if you go to my Facebook page and look at a video that I put out, uh, you can get a lot of material and content from that, a video about using the word, “no.” And, and, and, uh stop, stop allowing people to bully you and pressure you into doing things that you don’t want to do. But you have to watch the video, it’s a fifteen-minute video that went viral that’s probably got about, uh, two or three hundred thousand views, if not more, uh, where people are sharing the video. Because we all Christians and have a good heart and trying to do the right thing, however, you know, we don’t, uh, we don’t know how to say, “no.”
Kevin: Right. Yeah, and then we’re like you said, we’re put in a position because we’re always in the position of need, you know, we want to help each other, you know to the extent of fault ...
Kevin: perfect sense. (older woman interrupts in the background)
Rickey: (talking to a woman in the background) Hold on, this an interview. I’m at this lady named Ms. Jenny’s house I’m sorry.
Kevin: (laughing) That’s alright.
Rickey: (more talk) Okay, I’m on the phone…Yes ma’am, but this a very important phone call…okay…oh my God, You see what I have to go through, Kevin?
Kevin: I was just getting ready to tell you or ask you, what is it like to be successful, ‘cause you definitely stay connected with the community,
Kevin: and with people that you came up with. Do you find that those people think that you do nothing all day and that you are just a resource for everything?
Rickey: Yeah, they, they, the thing about it is, man, you also get, you get tired of the celebrity part after a while,
Rickey: and then, and then, you have to boil down to being, being, being a regular person, just being yourself, helping people. If you don’t go around regular people and everyday people, then you wouldn’t have any type of content to talk about on stage as a comedian.
Rickey: You know, if you sit in your house and you forget about the everyday people and you don’t go to the barbershop in the hood, around the drunks, around the winos, around the senior citizens, you would have no content, you wouldn’t have anything to talk about. So, so, that’s why you have to continue, continue to go around people, and, and spend time with people, you know, and you can have something to talk about. You know, and that’s what you pul l material from, because comedians, they just can’t write jokes.
Kevin: Right. So then the part about learning how to say, “no,” that you wrote about in your book. Has there been a time that you think that you said “yes” too many times?
Rickey: Yeah, you have to learn how to say, “no,” uh, and “no” is a complete sentence that warrants no explanation. And, and, and not allowing people to manipulate you into thinking that you’re mean because you said, “no.” And that is something that I talk on, if you read, if you listen to that post, I give a whole spiel on it, and it’s interesting, and I think a lot of people’ll learn from it.
Kevin: Why do you think that people don’t stand up for themselves, um, so I guess it’s all sort of related ...
Rickey: Well, you have to. If you don’t stand up for yourself you’ll get taken advantage of.
Kevin: Do you think that black celebrities are made to feel like they owe the community?
Rickey: Uh, I think, I think a lot of African-American celebrities just feel, they just naturally give back. And I think that everybody has good intentions to help people once they make it. Because when you grow up and you don’t have anything, then, uh, when you make the money you want to just try to make sure that other people get an opportunity, but don’t go through what you went through. You know, so, so that’s just something that’s just natural, and I think people just naturally like to help people and do the right thing.
Kevin: Right. But you’ve also seen people who’ve done it to the extent where they’ve hurt themselves. Other celebrities.
Rickey: Oh yeah, absolutely, a lot of celebrities get bent out, and don’t have anything to show for anything. And that’s just what it is, so, um, you have to learn from that, and learn from some of those documentaries, in order to become a better person, and to try to, you know, set yourself up for when you do retire, that you do have something put away for yourself.
Kevin: Right. So your show, you have a lot of fun on the show, joke a lot, how important do you think it is that you educate the community?
Rickey: Well, you supposed to lift as you climb. So yeah, you have to educate the community and, you know, just do whatever you can, um, to help people, um, you know, learn from your mistakes, and keep people from making some of the mistakes that you made. So yeah, it is a, uh, something that you just have to do. it’s called paying it forward. Somebody helped you, and you have to help somebody else. That’s what it’s all about.
Kevin: Okay. So, what prompted you to write the book Just life experience or you just felt it was time?
Rickey: Well, 28 years in the business and my manager is a literary agent. so he said, “Hey while we, you know, we’re coming up some, let’s go ahead and write a book.” So that’s how we kind of put it together and, uh, Cherise, uh, I forgot her last name, Cherise came all the way down from New York, and, we spent a lot of time together, and we put that book together, and, um, and, and, you know, it’s a great book, a page turner, and uh, people absolutely love it.
Kevin: Okay. So tell me, um, as far as your show is concerned, you just did a new, two-year deal, uh, you’re in, are you based in Atlanta or Alabama?
Rickey: Atlanta. But sometimes, you know, I work, I work from Alabama. But, uh, it’s a, it’s a two-year deal, but it’s really a five-year deal. Uh, uh ut has a little small renewal at two, at two years just to see that, hey, do we still like each other?
Kevin: Okay, I got you.
Rickey: Yeah, but it’s a five-year deal, uh, I’ve been with this company twelve years, and it’s been awesome.
Kevin: You’ve been doing your show for twelve years?
Rickey: Twelve. Yeah, we started off in Dallas. yeah, we were on in Dallas for four years before we got syndicated.
Kevin: Got you. I used to actually book your show.
Rickey: Oh yeah?
Kevin: Yep. Let me ask you another question, you, I’m sure you’ve heard that people have said that, you know, sometimes you’re not easy to work with. What do you, how do you respond to that?
Rickey: That’s, uh, typical of somebody that I was not going to allow to take advantage of me, somebody that didn’t come to work, somebody, uh, see, here, so let me explain something to you, let me answer that for you, Rickey Smiley is the boss of Rickey Smiley. I don’t work for anyone. And I don’t allow people to run me. I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. I don’t do drugs. But I also don’t allow anybody to run me. And whenever you don’t allow black folks to run you in this industry then they say that you’re difficult to work with. Now, to answer your question, how is it that I get up and go to work every single day for the past twelve years, perform, um, every weekend, don’t miss a show, don’t miss a performance, shake hands, give away stuff with the Rickey Smiley Foundation, kind to people, you know, unless people are rude, then I’m difficult to work with. And that’s just a black rumor, that all black people put out on all black people, when they don’t get what they want, the way they want it, when they want it. If I ran across and got somebody that was an ass, or that disrespected me or anybody on my staff, I am the lion, and I bark, and I will roar, loud. So they say that, and they run with it. Or, if they got fired, or I didn’t renew their contract, or if they didn’t get what they want, then they try to label you, as “difficult to work with.” And the people are the same people, that say you’re mean when you say “no” to something.
Rickey: So, so, you know people can say whatever they want to say. “Difficult to work with,” if I was “difficult to work with,” I would never have hosted BET ComicView for two years, 2000 and 2004. If I was “difficult to work with,” I never would have worked with Alfred and Cath y Hughes for twelve years, I wouldn’t have had two deal for TV One and I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing. Now, with the people who say that I’m “difficult to work with,” I want you to look at where they are, and look at where I am.
Rickey: ... and you tell me whose, “difficult to work with.”
Rickey: Now, now, now you run back and tell that.
Kevin: Yeah. Well, you know, the proof is in the pudding, and you don’t have to say anything, and trust me, I’ve been running my own business for 23 years,
Rickey: No, I’m, yeah, I’m actually glad you asked so I could clear that up.
Rickey: But you just make sure you run, you run back to that former, that ex-girlfriend, or bitter employee that not, uh, ‘cause, why don’ you ask one of the people that are from my morning show that’s been with me for twelve years? You know, ‘cause, I don’t, I don’t, I don’t take no shit from nobody, and I don’t play no games. So, in the black community, that makes you difficult.
Kevin: Right. Right. What are your goals as far as with the show? I mean, outside of doing your shows during the weekend and you know, maybe some, some philanthropic work, what are you other goals as far as taking the brand to the next level?
Rickey: I’m okay with where I am. If I get a new show, or another TV show, fine. If I don’t, I’m fine. I’m happy doing radio. I’m happy performing on the weekends because I don’t get caught up in trying to go the next level because there are consequences coming with going to the next level. I enjoy my peace, I enjoy my quiet, I enjoy laying on the couch, I enjoy going fishing, and I just don’t let this business and entertainment industry run me. And, and, you know, that’s difficult for some people.
Rickey: Some people say I’m difficult because I say, “no” to a gig. I don’t want to perform in a comedy club, I want to sit at home all weekend. I worked my butt off for 28, almost 30 years, doing stand-up comedy and twelve years of radio. I’ve shaken almost millions of hands, took millions of pictures with fans, and I’m okay with where I am. I’m happy for Kevin Hart, Katt Williams, Deon Cole and the rest of them, but I’m just not, being in the mix, on that level, is not my comfort zone. I’m a little older, and I’m more focused on raising my kids and looking out for my, you know, my little one-year-old grandson, and, and, I’m okay, and I’m happy with, I’m very happy, as a matter of fact, I’m happier now then I was when I was on top. I’m happier now, ‘cause I’m older, I know who I am. I love going to church on Sunday, I love being on the usher board, I love going over Mr. this person's house, or Ms. that person's house to sit down and have a nice quiet dinner, and all that kind of stuff. I’m, uh, simplicity at its best.
Kevin: You know what? I totally, totally get that, You realize what’s important, you know, and the grind is not as attractive.
Rickey: Exactly. It’s like, I’d rather drive then get on a plane. I’m over it.
Kevin: Well considering all that, what you’re saying, that you want to live a pretty normal life, then that must be a challenge living in Alabama.
Rickey: Uh, I live a real normal life in Alabama, why is it a challenge, living in Alabama, not to live a normal life?
Kevin: Well, I’m saying, not normal, but I’m saying like, if you lived in LA, per se, or New York, it would be, I mean people treat you differently in Alabama, right? Aren’t you constantly running into people who want autographs and who...
Rickey: No, everybody, everybody in my community, where I grew up? I’m just Rickey, like, “hey Rickey.” Nobody, nobody over here, in these projects, where I’m sitting at, right now, as we speak, I’m sitting in the projects, right now. When I pulled up to my friend’s house, everybody was on their porch, and nobody asked for a picture, and nobody cares. And I love it! And that’s good enough for me. I don’,=eed people going crazy, and screaming my name, uh, to validate me.
Rickey: I like being, me, and walking in neighborhoods to walk from an uncle’s house to an auntie’s house, to my granddaddy’s house, nobody bothering you, nobody, nobody has asked for a picture all day. So today is a perfect day.
Kevin: Yeah. So, you want, you like balance.
Rickey: Oh, I have to have it, or I wouldn’t be able to do it.
Kevin: Okay. So you, I know a lot of your comedy is about church, um, but I also know that you’re a believer, in, in religion and church, so do you, how often, you mentioned earlier, you said you go every week, or you go more than once a week?
Rickey: Probably every week.
Kevin e can we get the book? Um, I know it’s like probably available on , and I know it’s Simon and Schu-
Rickey: yeah, you can go to www, uh, let me see, you can go to uh, www.rickeysmileybook.com. Or you can go to , or Barnes and Noble.com, or .com, but definitely rickeysmileybook.com.
Kevin: Okay, and so I want to close by saying, this book is about lessons in life, it’s a little bit of everything, I take it, comedy and we can learn more about you?
Rickey: So you gonna get some great stories and good inspiration at the end of it. It’s a great book, you gonna absolutely love it, and, um, I hope that everybody read it, and enjoy it, and, uh, they can really find out how difficult I really am.
Kevin: (laughing) I knew you were still thinking about that! Rickey, I appreciate it, thank you for addressing that. Continued success!
Rickey: Thank you.
See Rickey Smiley video on saying no here.