Kid Fury and Crissle West are the creators of “The Read,” a brash, take-no-prisoners pop-culture podcast that reaches about 80,000 listeners each week. They’re also the Web’s most foul-mouthed advice-givers.
Fury, 25, and West, 31, have the chemistry of people who were friends in a previous life. They don’t just finish each other’s thoughts, they translate them.
Monday night, they performed a sold-out live show of “The Read” at Gala Hispanic Theatre, where they were lovingly introduced as “professional cussers.” Afterward, they descended into the theater’s dressing room — a hallway of white lights, Formica counters and folding chairs — for an interview (which has been edited for space and language).
How do you guys know each other?
Kid Fury: Twitter. Literally. I’ve been doing YouTube videos since 2009. I’ve been blogging since 2006, and so I kind of had a small following on Twitter. And she’s naturally funny, so she had a decent amount of followers, too. And because of her funny tweets, I followed her.
I was like, this girl’s hilarious. We would just tweet each other back and forth all the time. We knew each other through social media, and then New Year’s of 2012, we were both in Atlanta visiting friends and we met up. We’ve been friends ever since.
What did you think you were going to be doing after college? What did you want to do?
Crissle West: Nothing. I was so frustrated with being in Oklahoma and so sick of it, that I really did not have a good plan developed at all. I’m just going to go to New York, and the first place that hires me, I’ll work there. And I did. I worked with a magazine for a few months and it wasn’t really a great fit, so I started working a different job as an executive assistant, which I loved very much. A few months after I started that job, he came to me and was like, “Listen, these people approached me about doing a podcast.” And I was like, “Nobody listens to podcasts.” But he was like, “We can just go in the studio, we do one episode, it’s no big deal. You don’t ever have to do it again if you don’t want to.” So, we went in the studio and taped the first episode of “The Read,” and then it just [gesture of explosion]. And the rest is history.
KF: We’re still trying to figure it out.
What frustrated you about Oklahoma?
CW: I’ve always felt too loud for Oklahoma. I’ve always, since I was a child, felt like I was different from everybody else around me. At first, I thought maybe that had something to do with being a lesbian, but now I think it’s just me and my personality.
You guys and by extension, the show, have a very distinctive sensibility. It’s very unapologetic. It’s very brash. It’s very gay. Where does all of that come from?
KF: But we’re both naturally that way. It’s not something we do or emphasize for the show. Every time we record an episode of the show, or we do these live shows, we’re speaking the way that we speak to each other all the time. I think though, for me, it might have a lot to do with my childhood. I got picked on a lot. I was bullied a lot. And a lot of it was for being gay, although I didn’t even really know what that meant at the time. Toward the end of high school going into college, I was spiritually just over it. And that’s where it became, “!#%?& all of you. I’m going to be loud. I’m going to share my opinion, and I’m going to tell you why you’re an idiot.” So, I think that may be rebellion or something.
Can we talk about your grandmother for a minute?
KF: My maternal grandmother is very funny, and I don’t think that she knows how funny she is. She has no filter. I have grown up loving to hear my grandmother talk. She spent a lot of time in the same house as I did helping raise me, and so I’ve always loved hearing her speak. A lot of times, in her Jamaican accent, she would tell me to stay out of grown folks’ business but she, I feel like, the things that people talk about when it comes to me and humor and my personality, remind me of her.
What happens in the future if this takes off even more than it already has?
KF: I want for everything that we do to be as big as it can. I want to be able to have Oprah power and say, “This is one of my favorite things.”
CW: I don’t want Oprah power. I don’t. People think that — we’re friends first, and I don’t think people get that. A lot of times, we get comments from people who think we’re in competition with each other, but it doesn’t work that way. We’re just not. We have different goals.
KF: I think of this as business second, I honestly do. Cause every single week is, “I’m about to go to the studio with my friend and we’re going to talk about a whole bunch of bull, and then we’re going to go home. And when the money comes in, or we have deals, or we have things like that to do, it’s like, awesome. This is so cool. I don’t know where all of this came from. It started as conversations with my friend, and it’s going to end as conversations with my friend. And if it turns into a big thing where my parents see it and have no choice but to hear about it, I’m sure I’m going to get occasional calls from my mother saying, “You didn’t have to use the word !#%?&. I just don’t understand.” My mother says all the time, “You know you can be funny without using all of that foul language.” Yes, I know, Mom. I’m not going to stop. I’m really sorry.
So, it’s just the language?
KF: Yeah. The few times that she’s watched a video or listened to something that I said, or read a tweet, usually the only thing she says is, “It was really funny. It was just so vulgar.”
CW: I was just published in Essence magazine, the November issue of Essence, one of my essays. So, that’s really, like more of my whole thing. I wanted to get better at writing and maybe find more opportunities for writing, whereas he’s gunning for a media empire. If I just have enough money to pay rent . . . I want to be like Diane Warren. Do you know who Diane Warren is? Of course you don’t. Nobody knows who Diane Warren is, and that’s the point. She has gobs and gobs of money. She’s written like, every top-10 song ever. She’s a legendary songwriter, and she can still go to Wal-Mart whenever she wants to. That’s what I want to do. I want to have the money, and the respect, and the career and still be able to go outside, whereas he has no problem being the Kardashian.
(A pained look crosses Fury’s face.)
KF: Whoooooooa. That hurt.
CW: That didn’t hurt.
KF: Yeah, it did.
CW: No, I’m just saying, you enjoy the attention.
KF: I don’t enjoy the attention. In fact, sometimes, I don’t like it. Because again, I’m not used to being cool. I’m not used to people coming up to me and going, “Oh, my gosh, I love you.” I appreciate it so much. I really like it, but I’m still trying to figure out how to deal with that point. It’s not that I want to be famous at all. It’s that I like to entertain people. I like making people laugh. I like to be someone people can look to when their day is [rotten] and be like, “I’m going to listen to ‘The Read.’ ” I’m going to watch Kid Fury videos so that I can laugh and feel better. So, if that comes with people running up to me in the street occasionally being like, “Hey girl, you’re the !#%?&,” I’ll figure out a way to deal with that. I hate feeling awkward when people tell me how much they appreciate my stuff. I don’t want to ever seem ungrateful.
CW: I agree a hundred percent. It’s so weird, sometimes, for people to recognize you on the street or send you messages. Sometimes, people are really overzealous, but I think their hearts are in the right place, so I just try to remember that.
KF: It’s because when they listen to our show we’re . . . very animated. So, when people meet us, a lot of them are animated. That’s how they expect for us to be. But sometimes, I’m like, “Well girl, it’s like 12 degrees out here, and I really just came to Target to get some socks.”
CW: [Actress] Jenifer Lewis said that if you can’t deal with strangers coming up to you on the street and the attention from strangers and fans, then you’re in the wrong industry and you need to go do something else. Every time someone comes up to us like, “Hey girl!”
KF: Either I will say it, or Crissle will usually say it. “Remember what Jenifer Lewis said!”
CW: We have to be sweet.
What happens on days when you record a show?
KF: I pick hot topics out. I don’t tell her what we’re going to talk about. She chooses the letters from the listeners at home, and she doesn’t tell me.
CW: It keeps the show fresh.
KF: It keeps the show fresh ’cause that’s how we speak. I don’t tell her, “Hey girl, I’m coming over and we’re going to talk about this, that, and the other.” I come over, and we talk. We did an episode that never aired.
CW: Our second episode.
KF: Our second one, ’cause we were like, “Oh, we didn’t know what we were doing on the first one. We just went in there and started talking, and people liked it and I bet it’d be so much better if we —
CW: If we had notes and planned it. It was terrible.
KF: It was abysmal.
CW: It was so bad that we made the producer delete it. We told him, “We’ll come back in the studio another day, but we are not airing this show.” And we have not scripted anything since.
KF: Even this live show, I didn’t tell her what we were going to talk about. I didn’t know what her read was going to be. She didn’t know what mine was going to be. That’s just how it is.
Talk about the advice segment.
KF: It’s my favorite part of the show. Because it’s very important to people to feel like they’re a part of it. They don’t want to just listen. They want to feel like they have our attention, like they can interact with us, that we know how they feel. So, I thought that it would be really cool for us to have listener letters and add another segment to the show. Some people go through some crazy !#%?&.
CW: A lot of the stuff, it got to the point where I had to tell people, “This is a matter where you need to contact the police,” or “Don’t come to us if your stepdad is touching you. That’s really tragic, and we can’t help you. You need real help.” And that’s part of it, that responsibility that I didn’t see coming, with younger people especially, teenagers and people in their early 20s. They tell me, “I look at you as my big sister. You know things and you’ve been there.” It’s like, oh, man, what am I supposed to do?
KF: It was never intended to be an advice thing. It just turned into that.
CW: I thought they were going to ask us, “What’s your favorite flavor of Starburst?” but then people were like, “Crissle, I don’t know what to do. My boyfriend is terrible.”
KF: This girl knew we were going to tell her to leave his !#%?& alone. But people want that confirmation. They want to hear someone else say it.
CW: I try to pick things that don’t sound all the way outrageous, but sometimes, outrageous is the only thing in the inbox.”
People really trust you.
KF: Yeah, they do. Usually, I’m not like, “I can’t believe you would share something like that.” It’s usually, “Damn, I didn’t even know this happened in real life. I thought [screenwriter] Shonda Rhimes wrote this kind of stuff. ” But the letters are dope.
Can you explain where the name of the podcast came from? [“To read is to insult imaginatively — in opposition to the blunt gay-bashing taunts of the straight world. Reading is gay-to-gay sparring.” — Former Post movie critic Desson Thomson (née Howe).]
KF: I knew the direction I wanted the show to go in. I knew I wanted it to be pop culture. I knew I wanted it to be us sounding off. I knew we would have things that we wanted to read or sound off about randomly, outside of celebrities. I didn’t want it to be complicated. I just thought that “The Read” was a decent name, ’cause I figured we’d just be reading people quite often, and that’s what we do. I’m actually terrible at naming things.
SM: When I hear that, the first thing I immediately think of is [the gay ball documentary] “Paris Is Burning.” But not everybody is familiar with that.
CW: You have to have a certain amount of knowledge of gay culture to make that connection.
CW: So normally, people figure it out after they listen to the show. A lot of non-gay and non-black listeners figure it out by listening. And since there’s a section of the show called “The Read,” they figure it out. I can only imagine how many people download this podcast thinking it was about books and are like, “Oh, !#%?&. Unsubscribe. Delete! Delete! Delete!”
Whom is the show for? There’s a show where you guys say, “Yay for white people who get it.” What do you mean by that?
KF: I’m talking about white people who listen to all of the crazy !#%?& that we say. We talk about race. A lot. Duh. When I say “white people who get it,” I just mean white people who are open-minded and realistic enough to see where we’re coming from and not be like, “Oh, you said something about white people, and you guys are just racist.” I wouldn’t say we have someone specific that “The Read” is for. Obviously, black women love it. Gays love it because —
CW: That’s who we are.
KF: Right. So, they identify with us. But the point is laughter. The point is to sit back, grab a drink or go to the gym, or wherever you feel like listening to the show, work — don’t get fired — wherever, and just laugh. Get all of that baggage, all that stuff off your shoulder and just laugh. So, I say that the show is for anyone who likes laughter. Anyone with a sense of humor.
CW: Yeah. It is. But also, I think it’s easier to listen to if you are open-minded to people being very frank about race. Because we don’t make apologies about the way we feel about race. And specifically, with Trayvon Martin, the trial played out during the show. The verdict came back as we were taping the show. It was very personal for us, very emotional, and we did not hold back. We are never going to censor our opinions because we feel like somebody listening is not going to like it. But with [George] Zimmerman, we had a few white people contact us and say, “All white people aren’t like this. You have to understand blah, blah, blah” and that whole tired . . . the same excuses a lot of white people bring up whenever we talk about race. But then we had a lot more people say, “I didn’t realize just how !#%?& up this was.” That’s crazy. I’ve figured this out: A lot of people don’t understand just how fed up black people are. When you give a specific example of racism and you force people to pay attention to it, that’s what we’re doing. And it opens eyes. It makes people see the other side.
KF: And that’s what I meant when I said “white people that get it.”
How did you guys decide to take the show on the road?
CW: The listeners pretty much demanded it. People were very vocal about it. They really wanted to see the show in person.
KF: But the live show was our idea. We had been thinking, “Oh, doing a live show would be something cute,” and I think Essence did a tiny piece on our show once.
CW: Oh, my God! That’s what happened.
KF: They asked us, “What are some of the things that you plan on doing in the future?” We just kind of uttered, “Oh, you know, having celebrity guests and you know, live shows.”
CW: Even though we had literally nothing planned.
KF: We had nothing planned, but we said that’s something we could see ourselves doing in the future, not thinking —
CW: — that it would actually happen.
KF: And they put in the magazine, “The Read” will be having celebrity guests and LIVE SHOWS! And everyone who read it was like, “LIVE SHOWS? Word?”
CW: So, then we were like, “I guess we have to do live shows.”