LOS ANGELES – Charlamagne tha God has made a living on radio calling out popular figures like Kanye West and Floyd Mayweather Jr., but now he’s taking his talents to a new late-night talk show to focus on political and social issues.
The shoot-from-the-hip radio host — who once called himself the “Prince of Pissing People Off” — enters into a new television phase with “Tha God’s Honest Truth with Charlamagne Tha God,” which airs Fridays on Comedy Central. The half-hour weekly series, executive produced by Stephen Colbert and “Boondocks” creator Aaron McGruder, also features sketches and social experiments.
Charlamagne, whose real name is Lenard McKelvey, has been a co-host of the nationally syndicated morning radio show “The Breakfast Club” with DJ Envy and Angela Yee since 2010. Before then, he had been a co-host on Wendy Williams' radio show. On "The Breakfast Club'' he became widely popular for his controversial on-air interviews. Among those he's interviewed are Birdman, Mo’Nique, Lil Mama and then-Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden — who was criticized for his “ain't black” remark made during his appearance on the show.
Last year, “The Breakfast Club” trio was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame.
Charlamagne is an author of two books, one a best seller. He's partnered with iHeartMedia to establish the Black Effect Podcast Network, a joint publishing venture to amplify Black voices and creators. He also founded the Mental Wealth Alliance, which supports mental health services to Black people.
Not bad for Charlamagne — a former drug dealer who was fired four times from four different radio stations.
In a recent interview, Charlamagne spoke with The Associated Press about the new show, his relationship with Colbert, the genesis of his name and his biggest regret.
Answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.
AP: In your first episodes, you spoke on topics like the FBI’s history of protecting white supremacy while policing Black people. What do you want viewers to take away from your show?
CHARLAMAGNE: I want it to be a teachable moment for people. I’m introducing something new, one topic and unpacking it in a real way. I want people to take these things that we’re talking about and discuss them among themselves. I hope some of these politicians that we’re talking about are listening.
AP: You’ve hosted other TV shows like “Guy Code,” “Uncommon Sense with Charlamagne” and “Charlamagne with Friends.” What did you learn from them – good and bad?
CHARLAMAGNE: It was all good. I was listening to the suits a lot. I had never hosted a talk show because I’m a radio guy. I was listening to MTV 2 a lot. I just learned how to host a show — like really host a show. But it really wasn’t me, per say. When I had “Uncommon Sense,” it was a little bit more me, but it was just me hosting a show and using the platform for other voices. All of that just prepared me for this. Just understanding the mechanics of what it takes to do a talk show. I really know who I am now as a human.
AP: What’s the difference between your radio and TV show?
CHARLAMAGNE: With “The Breakfast Club,” it’s a team thing. Even the things we discuss, we all have to agree on it. And truthfully, there’s a lot of stuff I don’t give a (explicit) about, to be totally honest with you. Radio is very music driven. It’s very hip-hop music driven, which is great. A lot of things that we talk about is a lot of things surrounding hip-hop news. I don’t give a (explicit) about that either, because a lot it is low vibrational (explicit) stuff. The frequency I want to vibrate on is a lot higher nowadays.
AP: How did you come up with your name Charlamagne tha God?
CHARLAMAGNE: I created the character Charlamagne when I was around 17 or 18 in high school in South Carolina. I was studying the five-percent teachings of Islam, so that’s where “Tha God” came from – the Black man of God. But just reading the history book about Charlemagne, who was an emperor that led the Carolingian dynasty. He went about spreading religion and education. His name was French for Charles the Great. I used to call myself Charlie Chronic. That was my alias. That character was created to protect Lenard.
AP: You’ve had several on-air controversies. What’s your biggest regrets?
CHARLAMAGNE: I got a million of those — intentionally and unintentionally. I remember when the Floyd Mayweather situation happened. Everybody was clowning Floyd about not being able to read. I remember when 50 Cent did his video about having him go on Jimmy Kimmel to read a Harry Potter Book. I remember my producer at the time saying we had audio of Floyd reading. ... I heard him. I told (my producer) that we were going on the radio with that right now. She was like “No.” Literally, everybody in the room was like “No.” Angela, Envy, everybody was saying “Charlamagne, you can’t do this.”
AP: You obviously released it. Why?
CHARLAMAGNE: I was like “He’s got a fight to sell. We got a fight to sell. He’s trying to get people to tune in. We’re trying to get people to tune in.” There was nothing to it other than I’m trying to beat all of these people to the punch, trying to get Floyd to come read. When I say immediately, I felt regret. I immediately felt bad. Nobody pressed me. I didn’t get in no trouble. That was me as a man like “That was (explicit) up." Especially when I started seeing all these people started hitting me up on social media saying it triggered (them). Someone told me that they used to get called in class to read. I didn’t realize there was so many people out there who had that struggle. That was definitely one of those moments of regret.
AP: You and Colbert are South Carolina natives. What have you learned from him?
CHARLAMAGNE: I watched him be an actual character and me being a caricature, but then him evolve from that to host late-night television as himself — the actual Stephen Colbert that you see every night. ...But just seeing him bet on himself, him understanding that he himself was enough.