That Evening with Norman Lear

“Took a whole lot of tryin’ just to get up that hill.”Janet Du’Bois, Movin’ On Up


Kenya Barris, creator of Black-ish, and Baratunde Thurston, author of How to Be Black and probably the internet’s favorite negro, were on stage with Touré and the incomparable Norman Lear when Kenya asked a question. “How do you do this?” The this being putting out a comedic show that’s about something while Lear, during the height of his run, had six top shows on the air, all doing exactly that. It takes a while to get there but Touré eventually gets back to this question. Norman, with the cheer, clarity, humanity, and thoughtfulness he had shown all night, immediately responded (and I’m paraphrasing), “Oh, there was stress but I think there’s a kind of joyful stress…You work incredibly hard but at the end there’s great joy. You’ve made something that you can be proud of. You’ve made something that matters.”

It’s been a little over a week since I had the pleasure of being in the audience for the Television Academy’s An Evening with Norman Lear (thanks, Catherine!) and that’s the part that’s stuck with me. Well, that and Marla Gibbs still being the best thing in the room whenever and wherever she appears.

My mantra for 2015 is to make good shit. Every day. And this, while I doubt I will ever make work as compelling as Lear’s incredible run of TV series and movies that matter, is what has been motivating me this year. What am I doing on a daily basis that helps me tell the kinds of stories I want to tell? Can I highlight people and ideas and issues that matter? Can I entertain you while I do it? This is the work I like. This is my desired contribution to the people’s history of this planet.

The GRAMMYs are this weekend. I’m grateful that much of my 2015 so far has been spent in trying to tell interesting and entertaining stories about what it takes to put on the series of events that make up GRAMMY week and why they matter. The stories are for a small audience, at least for now, but I got to interview amazing people that are leading teams doing the hard behind-the-scenes work of putting on these epic concerts and ceremonies. I got to talk to the president of the Academy about Bob Dylan and Jimmy Carter and how MusiCares helps musicians. I got to talk to the people who do the surprisingly hard work of setting up the red carpet for this kind of event. I got to talk to the executive chef behind the food that people will eat in the suites and parties happening at STAPLES Center. I even got to interview my mom about GRAMMY fashion and LA style.

We turned these conversations into stories. Entertaining ones, I hope. And there was hard work and stress but also, joy. Joy in the making. Joy in the delivering. Joy in the complications and negotiations and consternation. It might not have looked like it at the time. At the time, there was sweat and furrowed brows and even cross words on occasion but at the end of those hard days, I was smiling.

More days like this. More days like Norman’s.

And more evening conversations that remind you what life and your role in it can be.

Those are the good times.

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