Help Is on the Way
Sometimes All You Have Is Your Pride
There is no better hustle than doing what you love so much you’d do it for free--and then still getting paid for it. On top of that, as a working comedian, I feel truly blessed to be given the gift of making people laugh so they feel better for a little while or longer. The way I see it, what I do is a healing, spiritual profession. They don’t call it “divine comedy” for nuthin.
I’m even more proud of what I do for a living because a) I didn’t fit the mold of what Hollywood and the show business system considered acceptable and b) I refused to give up after multiple doors were shut in my face. But most of all, I’m proud that c) instead of waiting for opportunities, I decided to create my own content and my own company and it proved to be more lucrative than I ever dreamt--for me and a bunch of other folks. Going against the grain, I have shown that you can be Kountry simple to break into the big time. That’s what I did--using only a cell phone, original story ideas, and God’s greatest creation: human beings.
No one took me seriously at first, but thanks to my pride, I didn’t listen. Even some of my trusted advisors worried that the Internet skits were just cute but not worth investing in, only to find out later that those early videos were the key to every success that followed. Those simple skits were like David’s rock and Hollywood was like Goliath. You know how that one ends.
Most people--maybe everyone--expected me to fail. At times I was discouraged, but giving up and admitting to failure was not gonna happen. Why not? Plain and simple, I was too proud to throw in the towel and have others be proven right.
If you look at all the billion-dollar businesses that made it out of someone’s garage, you might hear stories about hard work, innovation, and good business instincts. Not many of those billionaires will admit to the power of pride. Of course, I know pride is one of the seven deadly sins and it can get you in trouble and make you too vain or unrealistic about what you can or can’t do. But, as this first lesson tells us, sometimes all you have is your pride.
Pride, after all, can direct you to your true assets. It took me a long time to appreciate how much wisdom and humor was all around me--right there in Millen, Georgia. Of course, I never bought into the stereotype of Kountry people being “slow” and I felt that somebody like me could change that narrative. That’s why I related to the legendary rapper André 3000 of the Atlanta-based duo Outkast when he spoke up at the 1995 Source Awards by saying, “The South got something to say!”
The challenge for any of us from the Kountry--whether you’re Black/white/brown, or anything in between--is that other people like to call us ignorant. The thing is, ignorant only means lacking information. And that’s true no matter where you go. So you have to make a choice, every day, to challenge your own ignorance and to build up your appreciation for all you’ve got to learn.
The part that makes me proud about being Kountry is that without the City distractions, you can become a deep thinker. You don’t need as much stuff. In the Kountry, everything becomes a lot more simple. It’s down-to-earth wisdom. If you want to understand the most complicated issues in the universe, just like solving problems in math or science, you break it all down to its simplest form, and slow way down. Back to basics. I’m proud of that.
Once upon a time, we were all Kountry--back in the olden days when there was nothing but land and farms, before big buildings and social media. Back then, all you needed was a horse to get a girl. Or, yeah, let’s say a big horse.
Nowadays, you have to get a thousand-horsepower engine with a name like Ferrari to get that girl. Not as simple.
Most people all over the United States have some kind of roots in the South and some Kountry in their blood. You know how you can tell if it’s in someone’s DNA? By how easy it is to make them laugh. Good storytellers and good story listeners come from out in the sticks, where there’s no entertainment and you have to pass the time somehow. If you can’t find a way to be funny in the Kountry or if you don’t know somebody who’s funny, then you are missing out.
When you take pride in your roots, wherever they are, you can turn the world that shaped you into your brand--and make fun of it and make fun of yourself in the process. Pride can be powerful and lucrative. At the very least, it can help you keep your head up when you most need to. The key is learning how to use the pride you have.
So let’s get into the action--starting with an event that took place in March 2008. This was long before I even dreamt of being a comedian.
Pride versus Vanity
There is a huge difference between having pride and thinking you can talk your way out of accepting the consequences of your own actions. That difference was very much in my head as I approached the main entrance to the old Jenkins County Courthouse in downtown Millen.
Naw, wait, that’s an exaggeration. To be honest, Millen has no downtown. There’s a hint of a town center--a few small businesses, a police station with all of four jail cells, and maybe two other modest municipal office buildings. And then, plunked in the middle of all that, lost in time, is the courthouse. Dating back to 1910, the courthouse was built at a point in history when Millen was seen as a place of importance--after being named the county seat for the recently formed Jenkins County.
I’m not sure why they chose Millen for county seat. It has never been a destination on its own, rather a train junction for two different railways. More or less, it is a whistle-stop from the time when cotton was king. In fact, in 1852 Millen got its name in honor of the superintendent of the railroad of Southeast Georgia. Whenever people ask where Millen is in relation to other cities--like Atlanta to the northwest (about 176 miles) or Savannah to the southeast (about 85 miles)--most Kountry folk will point in the direction of where it is and say, “Over yonder, a ways.” If a town is closer, like Statesboro, 30 miles or so to the south, the answer is just, “Over yonder.”
With directions like that, you could easily get lost, but not if you’re looking for the courthouse. It is easily the largest, nicest building in Millen. In March of 2008, as I approached the entrance, I maybe would have liked it more if I wasn’t about to have a sentencing hearing and if it wasn’t designed in that Southern plantation style that white people still love to build in Georgia.
For $5,000, I had hired a lawyer who advised me to take a plea deal--guilty of possession of cocaine with intent to sell. This could mean a mandatory sentence of six to eight months in prison. Or longer. Still, with a couple prior offenses, though minor, a jury trial could get me up to ten years in jail. That was the reality of being even a small-time hustler. So was the fact that when you’re Black and poor in a backward Kountry town like Millen, you have few legit avenues for income outside of picking peanuts.
My lawyer, Jerry Daniels, did manage to convince the DA to make it an open-ended plea deal--meaning a judge would hear me as to why I should be given ten years’ probation instead of getting locked up for 180 to 240 days (or more). My lawyer had reassured me that, all things considered, “Wellllllll, it could be a lot worse.”
Then we found out that I was being seen by Judge Turner, the meanest, maddest, throw-the-book-at-you-just-because-he-could kind of judge.
Inside my brain, as I made my way up the sidewalk to the courthouse, I kept thinking, Wayne you done messed up now and you’ve only got yourself to blame. But then again, you’d think all the police waiting by the entrance to the courthouse would have had some other small-town crimes to solve instead of standing around foaming at the mouth waiting for me to get my jail sentence.
That’s when doubts started to set in. I reminded myself that, when it came to being likable and using my words to get myself out of tough spots, I didn’t have a half-bad track record. But then I thought of that line of Scripture—you know the one: “Pride goeth before a fall.” And I went back to worrying.