It’s a Monday night, and Andrew Ti and Tawny Newsome are at Earwolf Studios in Hollywood, taping an episode of Yo, Is This Racist? Tonight the guest is Sasheer Zamata, the former Saturday Night Live cast member known for playing Beyoncé, Michelle Obama, Rihanna, and others. When a wife calls in about the lousy, racist impersonations her husband does, then lets him on the line to perform those very same voices, Zamata is quick to call them both out.
“Sir, you’re not funny,” the professional comedian says.
“I feel like I’ve been transported to a dinner party in 1952,” quips Ti.
As with many of the show’s callers, the judgment is quick and sure. “Get a divorce,” Newsome instructs his wife.
On the weekly podcast, Ti, Newsome, and their guests weigh in on voicemails left by citizens asking if that thing their crazy uncle or weird boyfriend said or did qualifies as bigotry, mere cluelessness, or maybe something in between.
“It’s really easy to answer these questions,” says Ti, who lives in Echo Park. “Because yes, it’s racist. If you have to ask, it’s racist.”
The series began life as a Tumblr blog in 2011 after one of Ti’s work pals at Comedy Central wondered if the phrase “cotton pickin’,” as spoken by the Warner Bros. cartoon character Yosemite Sam to his arch foe Bugs Bunny, is racist.
“I was one of the very few people of color [there], so anytime any racism stuff would come up, I could feel all the eyes on me,” the 39-year-old remembers. The encounter got him thinking about all the other things that people wondered about race, and not long after, Yo, Is This Racist? was born. At first it was a ten-minute show, with Ti answering one question each episode. Is dressing up as a Native American, if you’re not Native American, racist? Yes. What about white people wearing dreads? Yes.
“That’s our challenge—finding a new way to stay funny with this shit.” —Andrew Ti
The show’s popularity has exploded over the years, with downloads growing from 5,000 an episode to 45,000, and Ti and Newsome have expanded outside of L.A. to stage live versions of the show across the country, from Portland, Ore., and Seattle to Detroit and Philadelphia.
Newsome, a 36-year-old actress (IFC’s Brockmire), musician (the indie band Four Lost Souls), and Second City alum, joined Yo in 2018 after a guest appearance on the show. “Andrew was getting a little tired, and he was like, ‘Do you want to come and help me be less tired?’ ” she says.
The give-and-take between the cohosts has enlivened a podcast whose themes, as Ti and Newsome are quick to admit, can get repetitive. “That’s our challenge—finding a new way to stay funny with this shit,” Ti says. The two also bring in a wide range of guests, including folks like LeVar Burton, Jimmy O. Yang (Silicon Valley), Paul F. Tompkins (BoJack Horseman), and stand-up comedian Emily Heller.
So far 2019 has been good for the production and its hosts. Having left Comedy Central, Ti recently landed a writing gig on the ABC series Mixed-ish. Newsome is working on the CBS All Access series Star Trek: Lower Decks, an upcoming animated show about the slackers of Starfleet, due out in 2020. In November they’ll be appearing in Toronto, their first live show taping outside of the U.S. “We have a lot of Canadian listeners, and they’re always like, ‘You have to talk about how fucked up Canada is,’ ” says Newsome.
In the end both Ti and Newsome know they’re not fixing society or curing the world’s ills. “When real serious shit goes down, I want to encourage the listeners to go and seek out facts from multiple sources because we’re not pretending to be your news source,” says Newsome. “It’s a comedy show.”
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