“The Next 15” Star Karamo Brown Talks Being A Gay Dad, Reality TV Drama, and “Crazy-Ass” New York
If you haven’t heard, Real World alum Karamo Brown is making a return to reality television with The Next 15, which follows him and five other reality stars as they plot a TV comeback.
We caught an early peek at the first episode, and it was definitely giving us the L.A. gloss we so desperately need while trudging through a New York City February.
We caught up with Karamo to get the scoop on his new non-profit, returning to reality TV, and of course the shadiness and messiness that comes with the territory.
Queerty: How is this show different than other reality shows?
Karamo Brown: First of all, because it breaks the fourth wall, meaning you actually get to see production talking to us, telling us what’s going on, which is really interesting, because a lot of time you see this drama where they’re talking about someone being three hours late on Housewives and you don’t realize production has a hand in all of this.
It’s actually taking reality to a very new place, especially being on The Real World because Real World was real reality. In the beginning stages when I was on it, they put us in a house and locked us up, now we’re back to that so it’s kinda cool.
Carlos King is the exec producer, correct? Word on the street is that he gets into it when it comes to producing his shows, are we gonna see any of that in the show?
Oh, definitely. Carlos gets into it like you wouldn’t even imagine. Carlos is constantly telling people what to do, what to say. He got that “king of reality” title for a reason and you’ll be able to see that.
Would you say he’s almost as much of a character as you all are?
Oh, he’s more of a character. Every time you hear someone say “yaaaaaaaasssssss” in the background, that’s Carlos.
Who did you bond with most in the cast?
Claudia Jordan. She and I did not know each other before. We’d see each other in the hallways when I did stuff for HLN and CNN, and we’d be like “haaaay, you’re black and I’m black.” We met the first day and there was an instant connection, first of all because we both base our shade in fact.
So I’m not gonna be shady to you unless I have the receipts for it, and she’s the same way. And secondly, she’s just a genuine and honest person. She’s not crazy. I mean, New York is a crazy-ass fool and I can’t deal with crazy. I need sane people in my life.
So New York is a crazy-ass fool?
Yes, she is. I wouldn’t be surprised if we find out that she has mental health issues. She clearly self-medicates with alcohol which is a problem in itself that you see get exposed on the show, but there’s something deeper that’s going on there. There’s some demons that she’s grappling with.
How did that come out during filming?
Her being crazy and me telling her ‘girl, go get some mental help.’ One of the cast mates Laura actually took her to get some anger management classes but it didn’t help and she was back to being her crazy self.
So is she the one you clashed with most in the cast?
You know what? I don’t clash with…no, she would be. The only time I told someone to fuck off was her. Yes, she’s the only one. My role in this show is as a conduit for the truth to be told. So if someone’s lying I’m gonna make sure that it comes to light and all parties are aware. People can call it messy or shady, but that’s moreso my role in this.
How did the opportunity come about?
Carlos King is a good friend of mine. He’s been seeing me hosting for a while now, and he said, “boo if you want to take your career to the next level, you need to get back into the public eye so that people remember you and see you.” And he said he’s got this reality project that I think you’d be great for and there are five other reality stars that will be involved and I said “great.”
What sweetened the pot was that he said it’s also going to be attached to a talk show. So what you also see is us producing a talk show that will be on a network very soon, so it was originally supposed to be with all five castmates being a panel for this talk show, but of course everybody doesn’t make it. I can tell you that I make the cut, and that’s all that matters.
Was it the talk show aspect of this show that made it a good fit for you?
One hundred percent the talk show aspect, but also I trust Carlos King. Being an openly gay black man, unfortunately I’ve had experiences working with individuals who’ve tried to exploit my blackness or my gayness in a way that doesn’t make me feel comfortable, or they try to manipulate me into being a caricature of myself.
Being with Carlos I felt very comfortable in knowing that I wouldn’t get edited or portrayed in a way that wasn’t who I authentically was. And also that he would understand the importance of the media seeing a single father who is black and also happens to be gay. That is something we really never see. We always hear about black men being deadbeat dads, but you see me raising my child on my own. I think that’s groundbreaking.
The trailer shows a bit of your interaction with your kids. How much will be included?
It’s a large part. They’re following our lives. Outside of being a television host, the most important thing to me is being a father, and you see the ups and downs of me and my child — only one of my sons is being featured, my eldest son — and you see the ups and downs of raising a teenage boy and what it is for him to have a gay father, and you see me trying to guide him and to say ‘real talk, we unfortunately still live in a place where people will try to devalue you as a black man and also will judge you because your father is gay, and you have to be equipped to handle that negativity that’s gonna come your way.
How do you feel about the state of gays on TV?
The state of gays on television could use some work, and I say that to say we’ve gotten to this place where we only see certain subgroups of the gay community, and it’s time for us to move beyond that.
And by “certain subgroups” what do you mean?
They love casting the feminine gay guy which has never changed, they love casting the transwoman of color which I think is amazing, but we don’t see any trans Latinas, we don’t see trans men…it’s like these pockets they want to show. OK, we’ll give you trans men, effeminate black guys, and we’ll give you overly sexualized, muscle-bound white guys. Or we’ll give you a variation of those.
So you don’t see the real lives and real perspectives and things that we’re going through. I’m tired of not seeing a good array of lesbians, a good array of the gay community of different races with different careers, but I’m happy that there’s more opportunity and we’re making strides.
What about black gays on TV?
First of all, black gays, there’s about five of us. There aren’t too many. You have Jussie Smollett, you have the new guys on Love and Hip Hop Hollywood, you have Don Lemon, me, Lloyd Boston, B. Scott…we don’t have enough representation, and I’m talking about men who are open about their sexuality. When you talk about the ones who are open and doing it, you have Chris Witherspoon who also does some stuff, but you’re counting on 10 fingers and 10 toes even if you can get to your toes, so it’s a problem.
How do we solve that?
First of all, creating unity and support amongst ourselves. So, similar to you and I, you call me, I call you, I ask you for advice, you ask me for advice, we support one another in our projects. There’s power in us supporting ourselves. We also need to know that if I’m not up for a project, I need to be passing it onto you. And we also need to be creating our own content, and I’m not talking about YouTube content. YouTube content is cute and all that, but c’mon. I know enough people in development at networks that are interested. We also need to know our power.
The reason that black women are so popular is because they mimic everything we do. I was at an event with two straight men and they were talking about ‘I hate when other men throw shade and try to read me’ and I looked at these two straight men and I was thinking ‘you just say read and shade’ and I need you to know that came from my community. None of ya’ll were talking about reading or shading until we started saying it. So, we are dictating pop culture and we need to go to these development meetings and let them know we dictate and run this, so respect what we do.
Tell me about your experience at Creating Change.
So I have a brand new non-profit organization called 6in10.org which brings awareness to the 6 out of 10 gay and bisexual black men who are likely to contract HIV by the age of 40, and we’re trying to figure out a way to support the mental health and self esteem of these men. I’ve partnered with the CDC and the NABJ as their health and wellness ambassador. So they asked me to come down to speak on a panel about HIV/AIDS awareness, but my panel wasn’t the most important thing about my experience at creating change. I saw a group of young trans women do one of the most amazing things I’ve seen in the past 10 years.
There was a panel going on before and unbeknownst to the organization and to everyone there was a man on there who was talking about his love for trans women and nobody knew that he’d actually been victimizing trans women and these trans women banded together, stormed the room, protested, took over the stage, got that man off and had him kicked out, and had a real conversation about being trans and African-American with them being on the panel. It was that power that inspired me and let me know that if you want change, you can get it. It was special to witness.
What’s next for Karamo Brown?
I’m going to be stepping into a lot more television roles. Right now I’m hosting the live red carpet for the NAACP Image Awards. I’m also stepping into the producer role. I’ve sold my first unscripted show which will be airing soon, which I can’t wait to drop the details. It’s exciting to say that I’ve created and developed and sold a show. I also believe we’ll be having a second season of The Next 15 so I’ll be doing a lot more work with TVOne so it’s really great.