hey everybody. i wrote a book. i build funny things. I've done standup for over a decade. I co-founded the political blog Jack & Jill Politics. I'm hustling for Obama. i live in NYC (most of the time), and I've been looking forward to this. today my paperback edition of "How To Be Black" comes out, so I thought I'd finally do an IAmA.

Comments: 373 • Responses: 69  • Date: 

tomkaz89 karma

Did you catch any heat from your fellow African-Americans while #negrospotting at the Republican National Convention? Was anyone offended?

(Personally, I thought it was one of the funniest and most enlightening stories from the RNC. Keep up the good work.)

baratunde131 karma

i thought i might, especially from black republicans on-site, but the opposite was the case. they don't live in a total denial bubble and understand that the two percent black makeup of the GOP is terribly low. they were amused at the count, which made me feel good because it was a reminder that they're actual PEOPLE and not just distant ideas i dislike

best example of this was my interview with super black republican (super republican, not that he's more black than other black folk!) Paris Dennard

he ran african american outreach for George W Bush


AestLuxora46 karma

Why are you backing Obama? Personally, I don't back either candidate but I can't help but think that because he's black he gets the black support other than support from people(Regardless of race) that know and agree with his policies. I know its wrong, but I haven't seen him really do anything for the people that got him in office. He hadn't even addressed the violence that has been going on in his home city of Chicago, violence that happens mostly in black neighborhoods where Obama/Biden posters and stickers are everywhere. Granted, there aren't that many black people in America, but I think its safe to say that more people(Because of the black people who normally would not have voted) voted last election than the previous election. I'm black and lived on the West Side of Chicago at the time and heard people on the bus say that that was the first/only time they voted. I wanted to hear from a black person with a bit more insight into the political world, other than a person on the bus, about why they continue to back Obama.

baratunde108 karma

Keep the faith people. Other things happen in life outside of AMA, and there's a hurricane effect, no power, choppy Internet, etc. I said I'd be back, and I am.

Now then...

There are several reasons I support the president for a second term. There are also reasons I OPPOSE Romney for a first term, but I'll focus on the former. Before I get fully into it, I just will dig into your comment a bit in parts.

you wrote: "I can't help but think that because he's black he gets the black support other than support from people(Regardless of race) that know and agree with his policies."

So I'm in the camp of people that know and agree with his policies, which seems to me a great reason to support a politician. In fact, it's the BESt reason! :)

you wrote: "I know its wrong, but I haven't seen him really do anything for the people that got him in office."

Here are a few things the president has done that I especially appreciate

  • Obamacare. Getting this nation closer to universal healthcare than any president ever has is an historic accomplishment. Young people get to keep insurance until age 26 under their parents. Women can no longer get overcharged by insurance companies than men for the same plan. Limitations on pre-existing conditions are going away. this is an EPIC WIN in terms of healthcare and economics for the entire nation. I cannot overstate it: where president after president has failed, Obama prevailed to the benefit of everyone. Please don't think of this as anything other than a massive victory

  • Took actions that brought the economy back from the brink. If you listen to political news a lot, this will sound repetitive, but I'm guessing you don't so I'll risk repeating. We were losing over 800,000 jobs a month when the president took office. Wall street was in a spiral. Detroit was about to go out of business for good. He took corrective measures through the stimulus, auto, and bank bailouts that did more than stop the bleeding. For the record, I think the government as a whole should have done more to alleviate the housing crisis and invest in infrastructure projects, but there's no doubt that the president's actions helped us avoid true calamity. What we've experienced these past few years hasn't been great, but it's been so much better than where we were headed, and we need to keep going in that direction. Again, this counts BIG on my list of things the president has "done."

  • Reformed student loans. Cut banks and their profits out of the system so more money goes to actual education. As someone who recently paid off his loans, this is huge.

  • First act was to pass the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay act so that women have a better chance at earning the same pay as men for the same job. It's generally 77 cents on the dollar, and that's not a women's issue. That's an economic issue and a family issue.

  • Ended the war in Iraq which should never have been started in the first place.

  • Helped restore respect for us abroad. His first overseas address was in Cairo. He spoke directly to the muslim world, and I know folks in the area who said that address changed a lot of attitudes and inspired many who were behind the Tahrir Sq protests that overthrew Mubarak. This is huge.

  • support for innovation. the way this white house has used technology to engage with the public. the amount of data we have on how the government works (we actually can follow ALL the stimulus money, which is unheard of), and the way the administration has supported entrepreneurship is actually near revolutionary. I'm a geek/nerd and entrepreneur now, and this counts massively. More here: http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2012/07/31/quora-response-fueling-innovation-and-entrepreneurship

i think the president's job is about more than only helping people who elected him. It's about leading the nation, and overall, I'm really happy with how Obama has done that and even moreso when you consider what a mess the last president left the nation in. Just the sampling above has been good for ALL Americans, even those who did not vote for him. That's the test. Plus, if he only worked for people who supported him, he'd be a massive asshole.

As for Chicago, there's very little direct action a U.S. president can take to reduce violence in a particular city, so I don't hold him responsible for the tragedies there. On a wider level, a president can try to set priorities and actions that provide opportunities and a future for the young folks at the heart of the violence and for their parents, and this president has done that more than his opponent might have

You can search for things like List Of Obama Accomplishments and find campaigners, journalists, etc who have itemized the specific things this president has done. I've listed a few that stood out to me, but let me just say on a more general and personal note....

We have a great president. He's not perfect, and I don't support or approve of everything he's done (skynet drone warfare what's up!!?), and I wish he would prioritize things not discussed (ahem, we can't imprison EVERYONE), but I don't expect perfection from any president. I expect intelligence, competence, effective staffing of government positions by people who won't sell the job to the highest corporate bidder, empathy, and judgment. This dude has all that and then some.

I don't think Romney is a bad person, but I know he would not do nearly the quality of job as the guy currently behind the wheel. Also, you need to have some GREAT reasons to fire a sitting president. He's got to be truly terrible or the other candidate has got to be demonstrably better, and I think neither condition is met in this election.

We have a great president. His opponent is not nearly as good. These are our choices. I happily choose Obama.

Also, he's black, but that is SO LOW on the list.


baratunde25 karma

great question. i'm taking a pause and want to give you the depth of response you deserve. gotta eat some lunch though cause i forgot breakfast! thanks all BRB

ken2723838 karma

  1. what part of the book "How to Be Black" was the strangest to write? hardest?

  2. what was the funniest article that you wrote for The Onion that people actually believed?

And the most important question:

  1. When will you be on TWiT again?

baratunde53 karma


1a. strangest to write "The U.S. Propaganda Machine: A Middle School Paper" I found an old essay I wrote in 8th grade after I'd been reading a lot of Marcus Garvey. I was attending Sidwell Friends School (great private school in DC) and had only been there one year. I decided it made sense to write a scathing critique of America and white people in general as if I were the leader of all black people. this HAD to go in the book, but it was strange reliving that experience

1b. hardest. the chapter about my father's murder. i didn't expect to include anything like that when the book was initially sold to Harper

  1. funniest article I wrote that people actually believed so I didn't write very many articles for the onion. my full time job was Politics Editor (for a while) and Director of Digital which meant I did all sorts of things to bring the onion into the future. this is the FIRST thing I ever wrote for the onion http://www.theonion.com/articles/another-disgusting-operation-proves-john-mccain-is,6332/

and i can't remember all the headlines I wrote that made it through, but they were heavily political

the most MEMORABLE contributions I made there include having our digital team make a playable version of Close Range (http://www.theonion.com/video/hot-new-video-game-consists-solely-of-shooting-peo,14325/) and getting #horsemasturbation to be a trending topic on twitter, all in service of Onion SportsDome on comedy central

  1. (I'm correcting your numbering system) I will be on TWIT. THIS SUNDAY! Live in studio in Petaluma with Nick Bilton! I'm also doing a big event Saturday afternoon in SF for those in the area http://paperblacksf.eventbrite.com

electrifyyourlife34 karma

You're coming to speak at my school next week and I'm pretty pumped about it! I can't think of any questions, but I felt the need to voice my enthusiasm.

baratunde55 karma

My name is Baratunde, and I approve this message.

trollitc29 karma

  1. Have you ever gotten to the point where you're running with a spoof or bit of comedy based on some truth, and the line between the 'truth' and your 'spoof' begins to blur dramatically? Have you ever reached the 'Spruth'?

  2. If you were to fall somewhere on the Nerd to Geek spectrum, with Nerd being 214 and Geek being 218, where would you land?

  3. What makes you laugh?

baratunde50 karma

you're that person at a conference who stands up to ask a question and then breaks out a notepad with like 10 questions and three statements on it aren't you? :)

  1. I first heard of the Spruth from an old comic in Boston. It is only whispered about within comic communities, lest mentioning it pushes it further out of reach. When I reach the Spruth, and I will, you will know it. Everyone will know it

  2. 2.0116. and i would not fall because i have wide feet and am pretty good at keeping my balance

  3. so many things. mostly funny things. lately i've been laughing a LOT at The Eric Andre show and just running on loop the No Moleste joke by Tig Notaro. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HwqPeVkiDR4

inquisitive87216 karma

Why do you think black comics are more into situational comedy than satire?

baratunde37 karma

i think the market we see doesn't fully reflect the range of styles and ideas out there. for decades, "black comedy" was promoted as a very specific kind of voice, style, etc.

so on the whole, i'm not sure i buy that "black comics" are more into situational than satire any more than other comics are. i have no pure data! :)

it's also possible that the situations described by many black comics may meet the threshold of absurdity more easily than that of other people and thus gets closer to the realm of satire on its own, but that's just me making things up now

thizzle16 karma

How often do strangers approach you on the street because they've recognized you from your book or other appearances?

baratunde40 karma

it's increasing! and that's mostly cool and occasionally awkward / embarrassing. on the plus side, i was recognized in London last week just walking down the street. dude was like, "I follow you on Twitter," and I responded, "Great, please let's keep the following part to the online realm."

Where it's odd are times I forget that I CAN be recognized, and I'll see a tweet in which someone says something like "just spotted baratunde. he ordered a latte." I'm like YO, JUST SAY HELLO TO MY FACE AREA!

HugeJackass15 karma

What are your feelings about the blatant racism against black people found on this site? Did it affect your decision to do an AMA?

baratunde19 karma

there's racism, both blatant and implicit in so many places, it would be hard to avoid them and still live in the world. i've liked this site for years and wanted to do an AMA since before the book came out. it blew my mind when the president did one. i didn't think about the racism here before or after agreeing in the same way that i don't think about the racism in america before a re-enter the country on a trip from abroad.

forums have a way of bringing out beautiful community and also ignorant showboating and a very narrow form of "courage" from people who feel comfortable mouthing off on something they'd never say to your face. it's part of how we work as people, unfortunately. and perhaps part of the norms set by the forum, whether online or not.


eemetwor13 karma

You forgot to mention that you founded #whiskyfriday. What's the background on this, and for someone who is about to move to New York...where are some of the best places for the imbibation of whisky (preferably in Midtown and Brooklyn?)

baratunde24 karma

urgent correction. i am not the founder of #whiskeyfriday (note the spelling). I'm more like its John The Baptist. Full credit to Whiskey Friday goes to my former colleagues at The Onion, especially former Art Director Rick Martin who kept a bottle of Jameson in his office and shared it informally every friday evening. This was a tradition before I arrived in Nov 2007.

Former features editor @JoeGarden also gets lots of credit for this noble institution.

My contribution was to build on this solid foundation. I started tweeting about it and treating it like a thing and got the facebook page and whiskeyfriday.com domain name and encouraged us to think about whiskey friday as more than an onion thing.

I knew we were onto something when I saw people I didn't know using the hashtag and checking in with what whiskey (or whisky) they were drinking.

We had another boost when I got Macallan to come to The Onion and do a formal whiskey tasting and demo with their Master of Whisky. this had two effects: 1) ensuring I would be loved at The Onion forevermore and 2) other whiskey companies got in on it including Johnnie Walker http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PiDHhaSglW8

So now when I travel I host informal whiskey themed meetups (if it's friday) and #whiskeyfriday belongs to no one. We at Cultivated Wit try to keep the spirit of our own version of whiskey friday alive (a space where tech and media and comedy folks get together), but it's bigger than all of us because #whiskeyfriday IS all of us

jperras12 karma

Does http://literallyunbelievable.org/ make you laugh, cringe or cry?

A mixture of any of the above emotions is also acceptable.

baratunde23 karma

i find i cannot spend a lot of time on that site. the onion isn't DESIGNED as a hoax site to trick people, so for me, when people take it seriously it's both a sign of the accuracy of the STYLE of the onion (journalism) but also the sadness of the WORLD.

tyrone_biggz10 karma

What's your favorite type of whiskey after your trip to Ireland?

baratunde18 karma


Middleton has jumped in the rankings. I'd never had it before, and I had some really expensive stuff over there aided by the fact that someone else paid for it.

minusbaby10 karma

I reported @realDonaldTrump's Twitter account as spam today. Do you think a worldwide spam-slam would be a good way to show solidarity against evil?

baratunde64 karma

i do not. I don't like using hacks to shut up idiots. I'd prefer if a) they just shut up on their own because they realize that their inner sadness cannot be satisfied by lashing out irrationally at the world or b) no one listens.

when it comes to trump the great tragedy for me isn't that he has twitter followers. after all, empty chairs have twitter followers. no, i am just very disappointed in people with power who feel no hesitation or shame in associating themselves with this poisonous clown.

included in that set are: NBC, Mitt Romney, many republicans, business people and others who not only SHOULD but actually DO know better.

they're all feeding the troll

billlwoo9 karma

Hey baratunde. Love your book! Been following you since you were on the nerdist podcast..good stuff! Uhh so can you just give us a rundown of your hurricane coverage and when you decided to go inside? Any crazy stuff you saw and what not.

baratunde9 karma

i'll get up my storify and soundcloud later today. i LOVE stormy things and being in wind and snow especially. i generally have the gear and just enough intelligence to not be completely idiotic about putting myself in harm's way. the most extreme is the story of how i cleared a Lakeshore Drive exit ramp with one shovel two winters ago


I also just like to live-tweet things in general, like all kinds of things, but especially collective experiences: superbowl, oscars, twilight, debates


with yesterday's storm, i was going to ride it out at the betaworks office in the meatpacking, but my friends prevailed upon me with more common sense and i walked home to clinton hill in brooklyn, documenting my experience in photos and tweets along the way.

storms really bring out the best in people (unless you're donald trump), and traversing the experience on foot allows for a fascinating view of a city as you hop from intersection to pub and encounter the people and their attitudes and how they're surviving or struggling

so that's the theory. it's also fun to try to find the fun/smile/humor in something that's clearly intense and tragic. doesn't always work, but it's a real creative test i enjoy taking

lightwait8 karma


baratunde10 karma

i first spoke of it at DataGotham, a great conference in NYC a few months back. I followed Blake Shaw, their data science nerd, and he loved it. I assume people there are ok with it because I've basically been marketing foursquare around the world for a few years ;)

here's the talk I gave following Blake FYI http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WJ8ZECUxrqw

maj86147 karma

You seem to always be on the road. How many miles have you flown so far this year? And what are your favorite and least favorite airlines?

baratunde8 karma

I'm a United man. Star Alliance FTW. best conversion of miles to rewards and largest network for my erratic needs. I don't know how many miles I've flown this year. Lots. This year was designed for me to be on the road and promo the book, do speaking gigs, and learn a ton. Next year SHOULD be lighter. I've been gone over 50% of the time I think

Kevinflo7 karma

You've been tweeting today about how Trump is bad and should be ignored. Could you catch me up to speed on what prompted this? I know nothing about it.

baratunde20 karma

I ranted on an earlier question about my frustration with this damaging public figure. i've done a pretty good job of annoying this asshole since my semi-infamous seven minute rant of April 2011 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vX5ueEKsSWc)

but something in me snapped today. i live in NYC, and was out and about in the storm yesterday (like an idiot), and I woke up this morning hearing that America's Troll In Chief was STILL at it. He's been demanding the president show him his college transcripts and offered $5M to the charity of the president's choice. that was last week

TODAY, the collection of human feces that calls itself donald trump posted this


he's also basically claimed extreme foresight and intelligence regarding the crane at 57th (or 50th?) street that is dangling, and how he saw it and knew it would be trouble (but only publicly said this AFTER the fact).

anyway the disgusting part is that we have a real tragedy involving loss of life and billions of dollars in damage and this fucker is playing games with $5M that could actually be used to help people

so retweet this thing cause @katespencer gets it https://twitter.com/katespencer/status/263131597283397633

MissMichelleP7 karma

I absolutely loved your interview on NPR a couple of weeks ago. Luckily, I was on a long drive and was listening on satellite radio so I was able to hear the whole thing. I'm so glad I saw this on here. It reminded me to download your book onto my Nook.

baratunde7 karma

if it's not too late, and you have a Nook Color, get the enhanced version. it has video and audio and more photos and way more blackness

CollectiveNoun7 karma


baratunde8 karma

it's called ASK me anything. not SAY anything. RTFM please. jesus.

dabockster7 karma

i build funny things.

Tell me the best joke you've ever heard then.

baratunde11 karma

Penises and Lollipops by Baron Vauhgn http://rd.io/x/QGriK18iag

minormorin6 karma

You went to my highschool. Would you credit or discredit the private education you received to your success?

baratunde5 karma

hmm. depending on your age i might claim YOU went to MY high school. i give lots of credit to sidwell for the academic and social preparation i got there. both the positive and negative experiences braced me for the world beyond, and i'm grateful for both.

eemetwor6 karma

What's the most blatantly racist encounter you've ever experienced? How did you cope - sadness, anger or humor?

baratunde17 karma

Little boy taunted me and my (black) friend on a camping trip when we were around 12 years old. He yelled, "THERE'S NGGERS IN THE WATER!! LOOK AT THE NGGERS!"

Anger was our reaction, but we didn't act on it cause we were in the woods deep in Virginia somewhere and not idiots.

Later in life, at my 5th year high school reunion, a very drunk (white) dude came up to me and kept apologizing. When I asked why, he explained, "When you got into Harvard, so many kids talked so much shit behind your back and said you didn't deserve it, only got in because you were black, and I never defended you and felt bad. I'm really sorry."

So he wasn't the racist, but he let me in on a feeling that wasn't public six years after the fact and it tainted my high school memories a little bit. By that time, I already had the damn Harvard degree though, so... you know. fuck it!

eemetwor6 karma

The book has been wildly successful and the election is winding down in the next couple of weeks. What's next for Baratunde?

baratunde12 karma

i'm focusing on the new company i started, Cultivated Wit http://cultivatedwit.com as well as exploring opportunities to yell things out loud on television in a more consistent basis. just finding tv crews around town and jumping into the shot is really inefficient

GotsToHaveACode5 karma

I'm a huge fan. I live in DC right near where you grew up. In your book, you talk a lot about your mom being an old school activist and organizer in DC. My parents probably knew her; they were also black DC activists back in the day.

Anyway, my question is more of a request. I teach at Howard University and my students are reading sections of your book for class. Any interest in doing a Skype/Twitter guest lecture or Q&A? I've never seen them respond to a text like they've responded to yours. I know they'd love it. I know you're busy, but if you think you could find the time any time between now and the end of November, let me know.

Also, I just have to say, I was actually in Jack & Jill growing up. I once had the pleasure of telling Cheryl Conntee that at a conference and she laughed. It's a certain kind of middle class Southern black person who actually did Jack & Jill when they were young.

baratunde3 karma

i'd love to. i'll be in DC for thanksgiving and have an event at busboys and poets monday the 26th. if your class meets around then, especially that day, i'll do it in person. contact me through my website so we can coordinate through people who are better at planning things than i am.

baratunde5 karma

BRB. taking lunch break likely until about 230p ET

thizzle5 karma

Ok, I'll ask for the obligatory proof.

baratunde12 karma

yeah though i'm not sure how to prove that twitter account is mine. oh wait watch this bitches! i'm going to take a screenshot of me writing this and tweet it here https://twitter.com/baratunde/status/263312816382017536

jdunck4 karma

Are you a comedic writer because you're black? Can you imagine being funny without being black?

Somewhat more seriously, thank you, Baratunde, for being a slightly-less-crazy but totally honest voice. I love your work.

baratunde28 karma

i'm only doing this IAmA because I'm black.

FaustusRedux4 karma

It's my understanding that you've worked with Tim McIntire a bunch. Is he as devastatingly handsome in person as he is in pictures, or is he just regular handsome?

baratunde5 karma

scary handsome

sj4theworld3 karma

Did you see me in the audience at the Trinity Sanctuary on Saturday and think, "I would LOVE to hang out with THAT GIRL," did you?

baratunde5 karma

yes. i said that probably 50 times. good lookin audience!

baratunde3 karma

Sorry to leave you all for so long. I went back into Manhattan. No power. No lights. No cell phone. Decided to interview people and chronicle the journey. I just got back and can't get the audio out of my soundcloud app and am hella tired. I didn't want to leave you, but this felt like a once in a lifetime opportunity. I'll share it when I can manually pry the audio bits off my stupid iPhone. Meanwhile, I'll answer more questions below and try to resume

mamayama3 karma

You were hilarious and intelligent, a joy to listen to, on Aisha Tyler's podcast. Would you ever consider doing one yourself?

baratunde2 karma

i have a pseudo podcast on http://soundcloud.com/baratunde

back in 2003-2005 or 2006 i had a podcast in boston based initially around my low power fm radio show on Allston-Brighton Free Radio. then I moved it to full digital production in Garageband. then I got tired cause it took too long to get from ideas to produced show, and I had no producer assistance.

I'm happy with the soundcloud process right now. I can capture thoughts and do light interviews and be on the road. mostly it works except right now when there's a conspiracy to keep my AMAZING hurricane coverage from you. technology can be very racist, I've found.

as for a more produced and recurring show, not in the cards right now, but i like listening to podcasts of friends and people i respect, so i will list those under the theory, "if you like baratunde you might like these podcasts" which could be a pretty dope podcast actually

  • Myq Kaplan. Hang Out With Me
  • Jesse Thorn. Bullseye
  • Elon James White. TWIB Radio
  • Chris Hardwick. Nerdist
  • Ben Kissel. The Last Podcast On The Left
  • Jacquetta Szathmari. Hey You Know It

Also Pod F Tomcast, WTF, Comedy Bang Bang and KCRW Left Right And Center.

TWiT with Leo Laporte too. duh.

dorje_the_vibe3 karma

look forward to seeing you speak at colby next week

baratunde3 karma

next week? i'm supposed to be there this thursday assuming i can get there from NYC. did they tell you it was next week? was i not supposed to tell you the correct date? i think i said way too much out loud here.

clivecleaves3 karma

I follow you on twitter!

What is the biggest contributor to your following?

What are you currently most known for (stand up, twitter personality, etc)?

Do people ever recognize you? If so are they like 'what up baratunde' or 'hey you're that guy!'?

baratunde6 karma


my growth on twitter has been pretty steady. i joined the day before SXSW in March 2007 because I heard it was THE way to know what was going to be happening when I was in Austin

the first spike came from my live tweeting activities (oscars, etc. see below)

then it was my show on Discovery Science Channel in 2009 (@futureof - no longer :()

then Twitter put me on the suggested user sublist for comedy. i'm kind of glad i wasn't added to the general suggested user list they started with because those folks got hundreds of thousands of followers who had no interest in what they were saying

right now, i think i'm most known for How To Be Black, especially due to the media surrounding it (still can't believe i met Terry Gross!) and for my digital/comedy stylings at The Onion and now my startup.

there are pockets of folks who know me because of This Week In Tech appearances or cable news appearances talking about politics.

people do recognize me, but it's not all the time, which is nice. i answered a version of this below if you want to search for "london" you'll find it

smithy133 karma

What did you think of Hill Harper's "Letters to a Young Brother?" I know some of the black community didn't really appreciate his book.

baratunde3 karma

i haven't read it yet. a friend gave it to me but made the mistake of giving it to me in dead tree format. now it's in a storage unit in jersey with most of my other stuff. i'll get to it on ebook though.

rabbles33 karma

How much research did you put into your book?

baratunde7 karma

I don't know how to quantify that. Wait, no I do. I put 65 units of research into the book. Maybe 67. Out of what scale? You'll have to research that.

More seriously, here's how I approached the book.

On the memoir part, I reviewed lots of photos, journals, and had conversations with people from my past. I used Google Street view to recreate journeys and trigger my memory. I used Wikipedia to fill in blanks and Google Maps to get geographic and distance estimates where that was relevant.

On the satirical How To chapters, I looked inside my own brain mostly :) I also researched the particular format I was satirizing. For example, in the How To Be The Black Employee chapter, I do this whole thing about corporate diversity committees. I had my own memory to refer to but I also looked at LOTS of diversity initiative materials online to inspire the right note of satire. Those chapters work best when they ring true, so I did some digging for the appropriate real world analog

Then there are the interviews in the book. For each person, I looked at a lot of their work and developed questions and followups that I thought would bring out their best, funniest, and most relevant responses.

Last, I had two interns when I was putting the book together: Zane Latta (@i_verb_nouns) and Karla Ovalle (@k_ova). They and my editor Barry Harbaugh deserve extra credit especially on this answer

marco_esquandolas3 karma

Will you help me get into Harvard for grad school, please?

baratunde5 karma

sure no prob.

sircamelotc3 karma

Hey there! Thanks for taking the time to do this AMA. After seeing you be awesome on Attack of the Show (#Sarahtunde) I was wondering if you'd be interested in moving to television/other forms of media or if you think you'll largely stick to writing in the future?

baratunde3 karma

I'm going to agree to disagree with Ganjatarian below because I don't think I sucked, but that's the beauty of the Internet: everyone can have several opinions. :)

I've been doing TV and radio for years, just not as a regular job. I covered both political conventions for Yahoo News (video series called Hashout) and WNYC radio in NYC. I had a show on Discovery Science Channel three years ago. And I'm on CNN/MSNBC every month or so talking shit about politics, America, etc. I have a great time doing that and have a bunch of ideas for how/where to do more of it, but nothing to announce right now. If you wanna go ahead and give me a block of prime television time, I'll fill it with awesome. Unless you're Ganjatarian, in which case, I'll fill it with suck!

VaneBaker702 karma

What next for you?

baratunde5 karma

selling this book :) building new startup Cultivated Wit more below. search for "yell"

Warlizard2 karma

Black or African American?

baratunde12 karma

black. more efficient.

MAD_JIHAD2 karma


baratunde6 karma


baratunde2 karma

Lost good Internet connection. Will try later

TheJoePilato2 karma

Hey, I lived in NYC a few years ago and always took visitors to Sage Comedy if they were in town. I love the way that you ran that show. Great timing, great audience-handling, great content. I knew the majority of your, Sam's, and Harrison's sets but they still made me laugh (mostly). I'm working on comedy myself and if I ever MC a show, I'm definitely going to use something similar to your Sage Rumble. I'm glad to see that you're doing well. Have a great day.


baratunde2 karma

oh man thanks joe. i hosted that show for almost five years and probably never made more than $100 TOTAL but I got so much out of being able to test things every week and play with the audience in different ways. I still use the rumble and hope to see you make it even better. cheers!

MeRyEh2 karma

How did you end up getting into your line of work? Did you just wake up and go... "Shit I want to be a funny writer"?

Any advice for those wishing to pursue a similar career?

baratunde2 karma

i won't recount the entire story here (my appearance on Aisha Tyler's girl on guy may have been the best to capture it though: http://girlonguy.net/podcast/girl-on-guy-42-baratunde-thurston/) but suffice it to say that I just started doing it. I had several inspirational moments dating back to late high school and early college that got me playing around with comedy and satire. other breakthroughs came with what seemed like random opportunities at the time but in hindsight were building toward what i'm doing now.

advice for you and others: start.

don't wait for permission or a break or some magic introduction. start.

there's very little holding you back outside of your own creativity, discipline, and patience. start.

start small. maybe you start carrying a notepad or keep an evernote file. in it, write down the things you think are funny or notable. do this all the time. then refer back to it and consider crafting it into an essay or article or blog post or just really awesome facebook status update

that's next. publish/produce/release get your creations out into the world. the platforms are free. the audiences are there (though not necessarily paying attention to you just yet). get the stuff out of your mind and into the world.

then. repeat the two steps above over and over. several things should happen. first, you should be honing and defining your voice. when i first started with standup, a comic told me it takes 10 years to find your voice. so get started now. second, your audience and community will find you. it's not just about you blowing up and finding an audience. it's about them finding you. and this is made easier when you leave markers out there in the world for them to discover you by

oh, also, start all this on a tuesday. don't ask why. just trust me. tuesday or bust.

Quentin_Compson2 karma

Just came by to say that I first heard you on Amelie Gillette's Hatecast, and you are one of the funniest people to ever be on there. I wish you guys would come back! You have some awesome projects going on right now too though. Keep up the great work!

baratunde3 karma

omg thanks so much. i miss the hell out of amelie. i think i was on the hater podcast twice. so much fun. too much fun. according to my doctor. medically risky levels of fun were achieved. please be careful replaying those

JoshuaRWillis2 karma

No question, just came here to say you're pretty damned amusing when you're on TWiT. That is all.

Willis out.

baratunde2 karma

guys we got someone else here who doesn't understand the verb TO ASK. are there no moderatos on this forum?

TheSlothGeneral2 karma

I own your book, college has yet to give me the proper amount of free time to read it. I'm sorry.

Now tell me sir, what do you think will be my favorite part of the book?

baratunde2 karma

change your major to something that forces you to read my book for credit. like organic chemistry. or sociology of food.

your favorite part will be the section where i explain how to graduate college with honors by skipping all your classes and taking advantage of the resulting free time to read books that will change your life

Chaings2 karma

I thought every one with the name Thurston had The Third after it, why dont you have this?

baratunde2 karma

"the third" is silent.

BonChicBonScott2 karma

Why did Terry Gross chuckle when you mentioned your mother was a COBOL programmer? She was all "Oh, COBOL? Heh."

baratunde3 karma

it is well known within NPR circles that Terry is not a fan of verbose syntax programming languages.

crazygoalie392 karma

How hard was it to not always be staring at Sara Underwood when you were a guest host of AOTS?

baratunde2 karma


RecluseGamer2 karma

Do you know hashtags don't work in Reddit?

baratunde2 karma

yes, they hashtags always work in your heart.

maruraba2 karma

Why did Mitt Romney cross the road?

baratunde4 karma

to get to the side where the 53 percent were hanging out.

nofind1 karma

Any chance you will be doing " Future Of " again?

baratunde2 karma

safe to say no chance. the show only had one season, and the network has probably moved on fully. the concept could emerge in some loosely related form down the line. it was a lot of fun to run around the country and the world interrogating scientists then playing with and trying not to break their inventions. it always bugged me though: the Future Of Sex and Future Of Pleasure episodes were two different episodes. doesn't bode well for sex in the future.

groundshop1 karma

I heard your interview on Fresh Air! a while back, really fantastic. How was being on that show? How did you actually get on (did they call you / you call them, etc.).


baratunde2 karma

Harper, my publisher, set it up. Being on was incredible. Terry Gross is gracious and smart and SO DAMN SMALL!


i thought i was going to break her, and that would suck, because then all the literate people in america would hate me for good reason

Polite_Werewolf1 karma

If there was a zombie outbreak, what would be your zombie plan?

baratunde2 karma

team up with a sheriff named rick. try to stay out of his way.

SunshinePils1 karma

You're awesome.

Two questions:

What's your favorite/funniest/strangest/whatever butchered pronunciation of your name?

Who's your favorite stand up comedian?

baratunde3 karma


my favorite comedian title goes to an ever-changing cast of humans. always humans though. right now it's Hari Kondabolu.

others who have held the title include Myq Kaplan, Sam Morril, Tig Notaro, Bill Hicks, Whoopi Goldberg

arbiterbear1 karma

You came and performed at a stand up comedy show at my camp at the behest of your friend Myq Kaplan. Was that the single smallest venue you ever performed in?

baratunde2 karma

nope. did a show with my friend Corey Manning in Boston at The Vault. audience of three people. show changed my life

allthecats1 karma

Just wanted to say thanks for coming to Brooklyn Beta! You really brought an awesome perspective to a room full of white programmer dudes and completely killed it.

baratunde2 karma

yo thanks! that event was awesome. i had no idea so many people were down for brooklyn startups and tech stuff. kind of overwhelmed me in a good way. plus it was whiskey friday

digitalmediamaster1 karma

I enjoyed your SXSW keynote. What does it mean for politics if Gary Johnson gets more than 5% of the popular vote in the election?

baratunde2 karma

in the most practical sense it probably means nothing. electoral college!

in the broader sense, he's yet another libertarian-ish candidate who's couldn't get traction in the republican party and those votes represent some real number of folks who aren't being effectively served or represented by the two-party choices.

him getting more than 5 percent could also simply mean people like his name. i'd love a Gary Johnson as a neighbor or postal worker or something. just sounds like a really swell guy.

pungkerton1 karma

We waited in line for free SquareSpace food truck snacks at SXSW in 2011. My wife arrived a short time later (she's short) and it was cold and windy. Do you remember me?

Extra hint: I have a large, bald head.

baratunde2 karma

often the memory of the people i meet in line is overwritten by the foodstuffs for which i was waiting in line. especially tacos.

Boronx1 karma

I was going to ask you how to spell your name.

baratunde2 karma

i'm so glad you didn't

karma_will_get_you1 karma

No questions, but recently heard you on NPR, and picked up your book. I really liked the bits about your strong, hippy mother. You're an okay guy.

baratunde2 karma

i especially appreciate this given your username

[deleted]1 karma

I know this isn't a question but when I realized that you were doing an AMA, all I could think about was listening to you on Fresh Air with my dad, who's been not at his best lately because his mother just died (understatement). We both really enjoyed it, and my dad in particular thinks you're the man.

baratunde2 karma

oh man. thanks for sharing this. losing a parent is rough, and watching a parent lose a parent must be its own trying experience. big hugs to you both.

Buoie1 karma

I just wanted to drop in and say I recently watched your "debate" moderated by Tammy Haddad, with Christopher Hitchens et al, and really appreciated your commentary in that segment. It's definitely interesting looking back at that conversation and looking at the current status of news, political and social commentary, and so on, given that it wasn't even 5 years ago.

baratunde2 karma

oh yes that panel was something else. i think hitchens ARRIVED drunk and then got even moreso during our discussion, and he still made a lot of sense. i might have to go replay that for old time's sake. did we predict anything awesome? could you have become rich based on the info in that panel? that would make me happy

youmustknowderrick1 karma

You must know Derrick Ashong, right?

baratunde2 karma

did you really set up this account just to ask people if they know derrick??



ZaneBrooklyn1 karma

Is it true you have an awesome friend named Zane that you need to get a beer with ASAP?

baratunde3 karma

good question!

Runnergeek1 karma

Holy crap, I just heard your interview on NPR a week ago and ordered your book. I am about a quarter into it now and love it so far.

So my question...I am a white parent of two adopted black sons. I really have no idea how to prepare them for being black (dealing with racism and such). Any advice?

baratunde2 karma

no but really you've asked some SERIOUSLY HEAVY SHIT HERE JESUS

having raised exactly zero humans, take this with some spoonfuls of salt.

focus on providing them a loving home. push them toward opportunities. be honest with them about what you know and don't know. that's the ultimate respect a parent can offer a child. all this is universal stuff that will prepare them to be human beings.

on the black side, get some black friends! :) have folks they/you can use as a reference. and they will probably meet folks on their own in the form of friends, teachers, coaches, etc.

this may be akin to a single father raising daughters or a single mother raising sons. my mom was in this situation, and there's just some guy shit the didn't know, and so she made sure I had guy influences in my life, and they really did create a good model and acted as a reference (which i only saw in hindsight btw).

you'll do fine. worst case scenario, you'll raise two u.s. presidents.

HandstandMan1 karma

I bought the book the day it came out and I enjoyed it greatly. Now, do you feel like what you went through was a strictly "black" experience or can other minorities (including whites in different cultures) relate to your stories?

Also, there exists a picture of me (who's Asian) holding that book with three of my black friends. I was told that picture is offensive but I feel like you would appreciate it (the picture has been deleted I'm afraid).

baratunde2 karma

on the first part YES! that's why i wrote it. black is a variable in many ways and can be interchanged for other identities. all kinds of folks have connected to it, and that's been a magical experience.

not having seen the photo, i'm pretty sure i would love it. context and intention are everything, and your friends clearly weren't forced to be in the photo with you.

actually, i just assumed that. if you FORCED your black friends to appear in a photo of you holding How To Be Black, that would be pretty messed up and yes, offensive. don't do that.

IanAndersonLOL1 karma

I loved How To Be Black, no question, just sayin.

baratunde2 karma

hooray. now how do you feel about all the other books released in 2012?

davidrab1 karma

is being on TWiT as much fun as it seems? What is Leo Laporte like off camera?

baratunde2 karma

leo is very physically abusive. it doesn't come across on the podcast or livestream, but he's well intimidating and people tremble at his outbursts. the only reason i even do the show is that i fear for my safety and the safety of my loved ones if leo thought that i was for a second being disloyal. i should not have even said this much here. please help me. help us all.