Deon Cole just wanted to wear some damn bell-bottoms, y’all.
The comedian and co-star of Black-ish and Grown-ish recently found himself in a tizzy after he rolled up to the 2020 NAACP Image Awards red carpet, rocking a Gucci velvet bell-bottom suit.
“You should be able to wear whatever you want, man,” Cole told The Root in a recent phone interview, noting that the influence was born from his Chicago roots, loving disco and house music.
Honestly, when I first saw the pants, I laughed with the strength of Chicago and riffed to myself, “that is country as hell.” But, of course, Cole has always been—for lack of a better word—eccentric with his red carpet looks. One thing’s for sure: it’s him. In fact, Cole is 100 percent Chicago, through-and-through, often tagging his social media posts with #justakidfromthechi.
Yet, what was “just jokes” turned into something ugly. Following the ceremony, Cole came forward and revealed he had been receiving a slew of hateful messages and slurs in response to his outfit. He posted an example from Instagram, where a person sent him a direct message (DM) with an image from rapper Freddie Gibbs’ story with the caption, “Gay ass nigga.”
He later followed that up with a 15-minute video with a mission to dismantle the “self-hate,” especially from his “own kind.”
“Why can’t you just let people be who they are? Like I said, I have tough skin, but it had me thinking of that 20-year-old kid that’s gay [and] scared to come out [of] the closet,” Cole said in the video, attempting to empathize with LGBTQ youth who are bullied on and offline.
“You considered my bell-bottoms gay, as if gay was bad!” Cole continued on IG.
Specifically, as the 48-year-old entertainer is considered an OG in the comedy space, I wanted him to speak on the internalized work that needs to happen within our community. For one, when it comes to toxic masculinity, we have to consider the unpacking that needs to be done in how that culture has been enabled and glorified in spaces such as the comedy scene.
“[It’s] something that we need to recognize and we have to bring some awareness to,” Cole told The Root. “Then we get the type of help that we need. We’ve got to recognize it first. Everybody [kept telling me] ‘Man, F that, get your money..’ and I’m like, ‘Nah, it’s a problem.’ It’s a problem with self-hate that needs to be dealt with. [...] Hopefully, we find what we need to break the cycle and start showing love for each other.”
So, knowing what needs to be improved upon is one thing. Subsequently, how do you move forward, especially with folks like Cole, who have the platform and influence to make a difference?
“We have to have as much conversation about it as possible and a solution to come out of it,” Cole told The Root. “[We should be engaging in] different panels, discussions, town meetings, get-togethers and try to figure out and work it out within your own space. Hopefully, it will work for the better. If people see you doing it, then they’ll do it and it’ll spread.”
Cole will be kicking off his standup tour titled Coleology on March 20. Since he is an OG, I asked Cole if there’s anything that he’s seen that’s changed for black comedians in the industry for better or for worse. For him, “comedy is bigger than ever right now”—and because of that, he does have one contention.
“I just wish we were acknowledged more,” Cole told The Root. “I was talking to comedian Earthquake [...] and he made a valid point online. [We have] all of these different black award shows —Image Awards, BET Awards, and they’ve got all these different categories, but they don’t have one for stand-ups. We’re on the front line when it comes to entertainment. Stand up has been around longer than anything. [...] We provide therapy [for] people [and we] show them a good time. [We should be] honored with a category [like] Best Comic, Best Touring Comic or whatever. For them not to acknowledge us is a slap in the face. Sometimes you’ve got to wait until you’re on the TV show or put an album out in order for you to be recognized.”
Finally, since we’re both Chicago natives, I asked Cole what he feels is the funniest and blackest thing specific to Chicago that people may not get about us?
“That we call the living room the ‘front room,” Cole chuckled, recalling the times people have been confused about the term. “It’s the front room—it’s the room that’s in the front.”