Akilah Hughes is a breath of fresh air in the dusty, white male-dominated world of satirical news. Her witty commentary on politics and pop culture is trusted across the internet, with a growing fanbase of over 150K subscribers on Youtube and over 160K followers on Twitter. I had a chat with her to discuss her daily news podcast What A Day and her recent memoir Obviously: Stories From My Timeline, and I had the pleasure of picking her brain on all of today’s trending topics. Our conversation was as delightful as you’d expect — you can read it for yourself below.
First things first: is Akeelah and the Bee really based on your life? Because I’m convinced it is.
The jury is still out. I did some research and apparently the producers were scouting in Kentucky before they began shooting the film, so…
That sounds like convincing evidence to me.
Listen, Keke [Palmer]’s legacy is my legacy. I feel honored to share it with her.
So you’re the co-host of the podcast What A Day. For those who aren’t familiar with the show, what makes you guys unique in comparison to other news podcasts?
Well, I think that the daily news podcast space, for the longest time, has been dominated by a very specific old traditional media, which is very white and very male and very both sides-y for the sake of appearing unbiased. I think the benefit of What A Day is that you have two millennials, and millennials are charged with saving the world, being politically active, fighting climate change, and having all this pressure to do so after having graduated into the recession. I think people are ready to hear the news from people who are like them.
What’s great about our show and what’s different is when you listen to other daily news podcasts, you leave with a sense of dread. You listen first thing in the morning and you go to work and you say, “Okay, things aren’t getting better. Everything is bad. Can’t wait to listen tomorrow.” With our show, we have a ton of call to action. We’re constantly giving people resources, and a preview of what might happen so that people are prepared and so people don’t feel unempowered or uninspired and stagnant and stuck in this political hellscape. What’s really wonderful is we get to have real conversations and tackle stories that may not be big news today, but like most young people, we’re three weeks ahead of when the other places do it. There are a lot of reasons to listen to What A Day, but if you want to stay informed but you don’t want to be beaten down by the news, this is really the place to turn. And it’s short, so you don’t have to listen for an hour and a half and get the same information when we can just tell you very quickly on your way into work.
How do you personally stay motivated and politically active outside of hosting What A Day and doing your YouTube videos?
I’ve been politically active my whole life. I canvassed for Steve Beshear when I was in school. My mother has worked at the same public inner-city elementary school in Northern Kentucky my entire life. It’s sort of inherent that I would be a politically active person, but beyond that, I give to candidates I believe in. Currently, I haven’t given money to any presidential candidates, but I think that congressional races are really important, I think local elections are really important. Any way that I can share that information and use my audience online to elevate awareness on those sorts of things, that’s really where I’m at right now. Unfortunately, about the show, it’s a daily podcast. We record 5 days a week Sunday through Thursday. Currently we’ve done 35 episodes. We’re very strung out.
You guys are busy. You’re doing your part.
Especially in Spring 2020 we want to do more live shows, but we also just want to be more active in communities, and just connecting people with more ways they can be involved. The Brexit vote just happened, and it wasn’t great. It’s not necessarily a wake up call. It’s not like people in America were sleeping on this, but I think it just really drives the point home that we all have to be doing more, and we also all have to be really getting people to vote, because still some of the largest voting blocks in this country are people who just aren’t voting at all.
How do you remain funny delivering the news in today’s political climate?
Humor is the easiest part of my job. I’m a comedian, and my style of comedy is very observational, so I’m always just trying to process whatever bullshit is flying at us. With all of the bad news in politics, it’s so easy to react. I think it just comes from a tradition in comedy. The reason we go on Twitter when we know things in politics are bad and America is divided is because someone is gonna make a joke that’s gonna make us feel better. I find it to be the most natural part of the daily show podcast.
Speaking of politics, you’ve been keeping your listeners up to date on the impeachment and the presidential race. Kamala Harris recently dropped out of the race, and many people are pointing out that her absence might leave many black female voters without representation on the stage. How do you think that will affect the race from here on out?
I think historically, regardless of how unrepresented we are in politics, Black women overwhelmingly show up when white women do not, in a way that white men do not, when black men do not, when Hispanic people do not. Black women are the backbone of the Democratic party. So I don’t forsee a time when that’s going to change. I think what will change is the demand from Black women. I think it’s become increasingly apparent that we are depended on for votes. 10% of Democratic votes end up coming from Black people in every election. You can’t win the presidency as a Democrat if you don’t have our vote. I think, if anything, Black women now feel like, “Okay, we can call some shots,” and that means you are going to have to address the Black mortality rate in this country, which is the worst in the developed world, and you’re going to have to address the fact that Black women’s net worth over 30 is $5. It’s $5.
Jesus, I did not know that.
So we are living in an even post-Civil Rights — we’re living in a world where things haven’t changed that much for Black people, Black women especially — even though we are the most increasingly educated group of people in this country. I think there is power in that. With Kamala dropping out, you know, I’ve been very outspoken about this. She’s never really been my candidate, but not seeing her onstage when she’s polling at 6%, and then you have Andrew Yang or Tulsi [Gabbard] who are polling at zero making it to the debate stage, and she has to drop out… I think it’s a pretty apt metaphor for this country. So, to answer your question, I don’t think Black women are going to be less involved, but I do think if you want our vote, then you have to speak to us and you have to address our needs because it is easy to sit at home and not go to the polls. I would hate for that to happen. I doubt that it will, but we’re also tired of being taken advantage of.
You’re an alum of the Sundance Film Lab, and in the wake of the disappointing Golden Globe erasure of women in film and TV, there still seems to be a lot of room to be made for female creatives. How did you feel about the nominations first of all?
Well, let me first say that there were some exciting surprises. Awkwafina getting nominated for best actress for The Farewell is incredible. I think it’s cool that you could go by the stage name Awkwafina and get nominated for best actress. Those are the times we’re living in, and I think it’s tight. And so I think there are moments like that, but overall I was very bored and a little confused by most of the people who were nominated, the shows that were nominated. I just don’t think it’s reflective of what people who watch film and television actually felt about most of those shows. It’s kind of a bummer. I’m still going to watch, but I’m not going to have a big party like I did last year. I’m just going to sit on my couch and just say, “Okay, here’s some more bullshit.”
Just like live-tweeting and eating chips.
What is your advice to young women who might feel discouraged from making their own content today?
I think the first thing I would say is it can’t be about accolades or awards. If your reason for wanting to make art is so that people can tell you you did a good job, then you’re not an artist. Because most of the time people do not say anything, and when they do it’s usually to say, “That could be better.” I think it takes a very thick skin to be an artist. The most important thing about making work that you think is representative of your life and your beliefs and everything else is that you enjoy it. I would say it requires that you take other people’s opinions, unless they have done something or are very talented, with a grain of salt. But also you have to really sit with yourself and decide why it’s important to tell your story, why it hasn’t been told so far, and what the best way to tell that story is. Also, just try it. You know, everything in life if discouraging if you think about it: there’s always a barrier of entry for anything. I think that your voice is needed. We need more women speaking. When women speak up, beautiful things happen. So I would just say please don’t be discouraged.
There is hope.
You say in your book that comedians consider you a YouTuber, but Youtubers consider you a comedian. How would you define your own voice?
It’s hard to say. My definition of myself and my voice isn’t really related to my career. I think if anything I’m an agitator, and I’m the punk who points out all the things that are wrong with you. I think I have a very low threshold for caring about authority and about pomp and circumstance. I think I’m very good at pointing out absurdities in our institutions. I’m a comedian and I’m funny everywhere I go. I’m funny on the internet, I’m funny on stage, I’m funny in your ear, I’m funny in a movie. It all comes back to growing up in a place where I didn’t see myself reflected, finding the internet, and knowing that all these observations I’m making as an outsider are going to be very helpful later in life. That has just rung true throughout my entire life and career.
It’s important that you knew to trust your instincts and perspective.
Oh yeah! One great thing about calling bullshit is all the time is that you also call it on yourself. So I think people respect your opinions on the world when they realize you’re actually trying to be objective.
Okay, on a lighter subject, I saw on your Twitter that you and I both share an imaginary husband in Yahya Abdul Mateen from Watchmen…
This is a bit of a Brandy + Monica moment.
He’s so hot.
He is. It’s, like, actually uncomfortable to look at him.
I’m blushing just thinking about him.
So we can share the same imaginary husband.
To keep up to date with the 24 hour news cycle, you can subscribe to Akilah’s podcast What A Day here. Purchase her hilarious memoir Obviously: Stories from My Timeline here just in time for the holidays. Subscribe to her YouTube channel Akilah Obviously and follow her on twitter @AkilahObviously.
Header Photo by Nick Rasmussen Courtesy of Shark Party Media
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