Comedian James Davis wants to take you to the hood. His new program, Hood Adjacent, is a little like Planet Earth set in South Central. Davis is an affable tour guide; the show’s title stems from one of his long-running jokes. It premieres tonight on Comedy Central, the logical next step in a relationship that began last year. That’s when Davis hosted “Swagasaurus,” a series of shorts on Comedy Central’s Snapchat Discovery channel in which Davis would define things like “on fleek” and other hood slang words. So, maybe not the most auspicious start, but everyone is coming from somewhere.
And Davis is heading places. Namely, he’s heading back home. The first episode sees Davis land in some hot water when he returns to Crenshaw to renew his hood pass. People confront him–why the cameras?–but he’s able to defuse the situation with humor and his Comedy Central credentials. Code-switching as he does is a hard-won skill. Davis grew up in the hood but attended middle and high school at ultra-tony Crossroads in Santa Monica. That’s where he met Brody Jenner, and that’s where he learned to slide easily between cultures.
In person, Davis is quick with a joke and quicker with a smile. As he sits to interview, he’s exchanging texts with his showrunner about an editing question: It’s clear that Davis almost never stops working.
We spoke with Davis about Brody Jenner’s birthday party, why white people make some of his friends uncomfortable, and how his show is a clapback to Trump.
Hood Adjacent feels almost like a travel program for one zip code over from where you grew up.
In a way. It’s more like a metaphorical travel program. I mean—so my perspective is based on the fact that I am hood adjacent, but my adjacent is, like, not even five blocks. It’s really, like, one block away from, like, where it—like, Crenshaw Boulevard, scenes from, like, Baby Boy and Boyz n the Hood and stuff like that. But then, I went to school, private school, private middle school, high school in Santa Monica, around here. Crossroads. And I went to Pomona College in Claremont. Liberal arts school. So, also, Hood Adjacent is also just these experiences that are just adjacent to each other; this phenomenon of just bouncing between worlds. And so I feel like—I almost feel like everyone is five blocks away from my experience, whether you’re in Maine, Idaho, Canada.
I feel like, certainly, there are things that go on in the hood that are very specific to the hood, both negative and positive, but there’s also these nuances, this culture that is appropriated and borrowed from—without everyone fully knowing the full story behind it. I think I’m rounding out peoples’ education and knowledge about certain half-truths or stereotypes that they’ve gotten from the media about the hood, whether it’s gangs or just the way people in the hood operate and police themselves or just the vision of young, black men and women as shown from people who come from outside the hood versus showing from somebody who operates within the hood. My show is very inclusive of just, “Listen. This is where I’m from or where I have some kind of expertise, and, you know, I’m allowed to be around here. This is where I’m from.”
Anybody can come along with me and take somewhat of a tour of the concepts or just parts of this lifestyle, and get more information. Like, I have a golf episode, but it’s from a Hood Adjacent perspective. So, you’re gonna learn about how me—from growing up a block away from the hood—how my golf experience was at my predominantly black home golf course. And, like, how that golf course is, when I was there, especially, was damn near like the movie Barber Shop but on a golf course. But I’ll take you to that place even though my episode is about golf. But it’s not Golf Channel golf. It’s not Sunday afternoon, CBS, Jim Nantz, soft-talking golf. It’s golf from my viewpoint as someone who also, you know, knows gang members, listens to hip-hop, and has all these other experiences as well. So, I’m leading everybody through those connections or through those communities that I align myself with with a very, like, “Listen. There’s gonna be stuff you don’t know. If you don’t know it, I’m gonna tell you. I’m not gonna make you feel stupid about it, but I’m gonna educate you so we can go deeper and deeper than if you were just to try to, you know, learn about golf or gangs or Michael Jordan or whatever on your own.”
One of the only other people that I know that made the commute to Crossroads that you made would be Baron Davis. What was it like going from, as you say, a block away from the hood to literally Crossroads High School?
I mean that was life-changing for me. It represented the first time that I was just exposed to, really, yeah, life outside of the hood. I mean I am in a nicer part of the hood, so I knew that I still was privileged and blessed, but I didn’t know privileged till I went to Crossroads. And, you know, going to people’s summer houses. Like, you have a house for a season? Or just—my eighth grade graduation, our party was on Bruce Jenner’s front lawn. That’s how big the lawn is. The whole eighth grade just partied on the front lawn. He had a little, small train that went up to, like, the second and third levels of his house ‘cause Brody Jenner was in my eighth grade class.
So, I was exposed to that, but I also just saw these as human beings who just have worked hard or whatever happened for them to be in this position of wealth, they’re still normal people. So, it kind of inspired me to just really believe in my dreams and feel like, hey, I can do it 'cause I’m seeing the fruits of success. But it also enlightened me to how different people are living on different class levels. And I was very aware that I was probably one of the poorer people at school, but I didn’t feel necessarily bad. I just was now aware of how rich it can get. And the gap between this family and my family, knowing that my mom works really hard, educated, and just starting to understand the systemic things that cause those gaps. So, that slowly but surely sunk into my head. But at the same time, I just felt comfortable around all people. I have friends who just get uncomfortable around white people, wealthy people. Just people who aren’t from the hood. Or they feel so much more confident to have a conversation with somebody from the hood about hood topics. And when you take them out of that comfort zone, they shrink as a person, and they’re not able to express themselves with as much confidence and showcase the cool person that they are. And so that extreme difference just equipped me for being around different types of people. And it definitely made it easier to go to Pomona where I was around more rich white people.
You said that people were only comfortable discussing hood topics. What are hood topics?
I feel like even in comedy, there’s certain urban—the black/white comparison or sex jokes or just, you know, hood tropes like gang stuff, police stuff. Almost the world that we’re shown and the world that we—because we’re only shown that world and exposed to that world, people in the hood expect that that’s all that other people in the hood want to talk about. And so there’s, like, a narrower discussion, you know, border or—yeah. The dialogue just seems to be certain topics and just hitting those topics over and over again where, you know, it’s less talk about politics, less talk about, I think—I would say, you know, I want to back up. There are things that everyone’s talking about, but there’s just a side of the argument that doesn’t always make it to the hood. And there’s also a side of the argument that doesn’t always make it to our mainstream or to Brentwood. And so I like bringing those sides that aren’t discussed to that group. So, if we’re gonna talk about gangs, I’m gonna talk about the responsibility of gangs to people who are familiar with gangs who only see gangs as just a harmless—just affiliation. But then, I want to show the people who have no idea about gangs that gangs aren’t all murderers by membership and that every gang member isn’t about to do a crime right now. And if we’re allowed to give politicians and, you know, other groups—even, you know, a Bill O'Reilly or Roger Ailes or just other people passes on past blemishes, we should hold all groups to that same standard and be like, okay, there are some of you who do things bad, but we have to also recognize that there are good people within that group as well.
I guess we have to ask about Trump. Do you find Donald Trump funny?
Yeah. Donald Trump is funny. Donald Trump is a funny person. But the things that he’s doing and what he stands for are very serious. And so at this network, I feel like I have colleagues that do a great job of, like, pointing out the daily misgivings of Trump. And I feel like my show is about—I just remember how Donald Trump—he doesn’t even realize he’s doing it, but a lot of times, when he discusses the black community, the black youth, he does this in this blanket way that it’s like he’s not saying the stereotype but it’s almost like pushing that whole group under that umbrella of a stereotype. And so I feel like my show is a response to those type of notions by showing the nuances, the specificity, and how even just for 22 minutes, an image of a young, black man that what is opposite of what you hear coming out of his mouth or people in his camp’s mouth about, you know—and I feel like I represent a young, black male in Chicago. I represent a young, black male in the inner city 'cause I come from that or I’m just adjacent to that, but there’s so many people who are just adjacent to that experience that don’t reflect that horrible, sad story of a narrative that he’s discussing. And so I feel like my show just—and its existence is just an optimistic clap back to Trump.