'Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt' Star Tituss Burgess
Support for this podcast and the following message. Come from Comcast business having the nation's largest gig speed network was just the start. Now, they're providing gig fueled apps and solutions that exceed expectations and help businesses perform Comcast business beyond fast. I must start by a -nology and something that we share in common was creeping through your Instagram page as I do with all of my guests before interview them, and I discovered that you are a big fan of ninety nine cents store. Don't I just did like, you don't I guess you don't understand like I there are few things at send me into a police of euphoria instantaneously. From NPR. I'm Sam Sanders. It's been a minute data's Burgess really really really loves ninety nine cents stores. If you look at his Instagram there are these videos of him like walking the aisles confessing his love just about everything on every shelf. It is intense nine cents store most closely resemble jazz, do tell your there for one thing, and you come out with all sorts of gadgets and doodads that would make sense to anyone else. But once you have assembled the composition. I mean, it is just the best improvisation. I think I have ever discovered in retail form. My guest today is Titus Burgess veteran Broadway actor star of the networks show, unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and lover of ninety nine cent stores what I found out with Titus in this chat is that his career like his relationship with ninety nine cents stores. It's Jess it's improv. There are a lot of notes, and it's kind of full of surprises. Most of you know, tight. This Burgess from his role as Titus and drama done on commission. It he plays his gay black, man. Living in New York City desperately trying to make it on Broadway. But plagued by self doubt after years of rejection, and this character Titus and drama. Don is loud big in your face. But like I said Titus his career is improv it is jazz. And there's a lot more music in there than just that role. You'll find out in this chat that in real life. He is pretty much nothing like his character on unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. He's a lot quieter a lot more reserved. And he's got a lot more going on than just that show. For instance, Titus is writing his own musical right now, it is a side of Titus Burgess. You've never seen well heard before. All right. I was in LA Titus was in New York for this chat. Enjoy. Testing one two three testing one two three Titus. Hello. How are you? I'm busy. How you doing booked and visit boots and busy. Listen. It's it's better to be busy than that. Busy. Right. Yes. It is. When were you the least busiest, I guess before this all started for you? And you you were ascendant. Like, what was it like to feel not busy? I'm sure you had a time. And that was the truth. You do you know, I'm the least busy when I'm filming. Why is that because there's so much downtime? What do you do during filming? And when you're not filming and there's downtime. How do you? I I write while it's happening. And and I write was working on a musical. I've written how much can you tell me about that? Until you a lot about it. I bought the rights to the preacher's wife be still my heart. Yes, sir. Starred Denzel Washington. And he's okay. All right. Oh, and I wrote the book and the excuse me the lyrics and the score and a hired a young lady who is a writer on breakable to do the book, and we had really successful reading about two months ago. And we're going to London this summer to do a workshop, and then we'll go from there. That's exciting though. That is a lot of work is a great deal of work. But it is a labor of love. And I didn't have the idea just came to me. So I was obedient. What do you mean your obedient? What obedient to the call? I like that. Yeah. I mean, something's you. Something's you create and some things are created for you and sent to you I feel and those are the things that at least in my experience. A symbol themselves with very little effort on your part. That's how this is turning out for me. So I wanna talk all about the newest season of unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. You'll remember far more than I will. Because we've been done for like a year. I was been that long almost. Yeah. Okay. So for this last season. I don't want to give away spoilers because I've screwed up before and giving away spoilers up and heard it from our listeners, but how much can you tell us about Titus journey in this last season of commitment. He is feeling some fame. Thanks to his appearance on this net. Flicks is daredevil series. But I don't want to say too much. What can we say? I, you know, I think it's for me is less about plot journey Titus. Although there are some very funny things and situations that he finds himself in ultimately tied this greatest challenge, and the largest scale journey is one that he had been starting since the series began which quite simply is considering other people's feelings before his own the sort of crash course in optimism and relentlessness and resilience that he's learned from from Kimmy Elliott campers character and coupled with the unbridled in unexpected surprise of the love that he or the wealth of love gravity of love that he feels for Mikey has sort of ambushed him into becoming a different. Version of himself. And I think finally giving over to that and diving into the epicenter of that results in a lovely ark for him. And I think audiences will be pleased when they see the end. Yeah. And Mikey is his on again off again boyfriend and the direct. Yeah. Was it hard for you to channel all that you need to make in be a character. Who was so candid in so himself all the time. No, I'm very much like that. But what is very was very hard for me was the level of outrage and FM Anisi in his person. I have no problems with feminazi, but I'm not overly effeminate. And so to channel that energy at four o'clock in the morning and to be on a ten a hover around a one and. I don't like to be around a lot of people that really like, you know, dressing up and having attention drawn to me, I'm dressed mostly in black all the time. On the sued event. So I did not have trouble with that part of him. But you know, things that I just described that was the most challenging for me. Yeah. I imagine one of the biggest challenges in playing that kind of character. And being the kind of person you are in real life is when fancy you in public there. So disappointed. Viewers come up to you expecting Titus and drama, Don they Titus Burgess. Are they what what what what's the most common response when they come to you? Everyone has been so far so wonderfully beautifully respectful and and and loving. But the what is uncomfortable for me is the level of familiarity with which they house when they come up to me and say my name, and then subsequently grabbed me and often time the grab comes before the acknowledgement. That's not right. It isn't a right. But is the, and I I think I'm gonna unique position because I think it is solely because my real name is Titus. Yeah. Are you? I mean when you first saw the first script for the first season for you. Like, what the hell is then I got it right away. Really? Why did you get it right away? I well, I mean I having had worked with them before I understood their tonality. And and you know, if anyone was going to make a comedy out of such a dark dark premise, it was gonna be Robert Carlyle Katina Faye. Yeah. Yeah. You have talked at length before. And I don't wanna make you drag it out again. But you've talked before about how your character tied isn't drama. Don, who is this eccentric the Atra goal black game in New York how he actually is the every man of this show. And I think that even that idea is beautifully quietly subversive, but I want you to let our listeners know why you think he's the everyman because I think a lot of folks watch that show might not see that I owe Titus is well, he's he's every minority ever. And you know, he's a guy with a dream whether he should be chasing, this dream or not as inconsequential he has a a want a desire, and he wants he's rallied by his roommate. He goes after it. But you know, in this economy, it is very difficult to often find work in the field that you were trained in and then let alone taking an account his age, and the fact that he's not white, and the fact that he is not skinny and the fact that he's gay there are several things working against him. And then he can't afford his rent and he living in a quickly gentrifying neighborhood. You know, so I can't think of a single character on television, currently that more closely resembles the hardship of you know, sort of the fabric of many many Americans right now. Then this guy, no matter how dressed up in cities. And and 'isms he he may or may not be. Yeah. All right time for a break. I'm talking with Titus Burgess one. Of the stars of a Netflix show unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt when we come back Titus tells me all about growing up in the country and how we got out. Also that one time he worked at Disneyland on a Lion King show. All right. Maybe. Support for this podcast and the following message. Come from better, health better. Help offers licensed professional counselors who specialize in issues such as the pression stress, anxiety and more connect with your professional counselor in a safe and private online environments at your convenience, get help at your own time and your own pace schedule secure video or phone sessions was chat and tax with your therapist. Visit better help dot com slash NPR. To learn more and get ten percent off your first month. Whether it's athlete protests, the Muslim travel ban gun violence, school reform or just the music. That's giving you life right now race is the subtext to so much of the American story and on coats, which we make that subtext text. You can listen to us on NPR one or wherever you get your podcasts. How much of the specifics of the challenges that this character faces in the show where true to you it points in your life. Several of them are forever true. I'm I'm still black. And that's still gay yet. I'm still overweight, and you'd be surprised even at my modest level of success. How difficult it is to convince I shouldn't take convince how difficult it is to engage people with preexisting ideas of what you can do based on what they've seen you do. But that is just America though, isn't it? I. I can't speak for another country because I don't live anywhere else. But you know, it is it is hard to consider this. And but rather it has to be you do this. You do this. Exactly, exactly. So unfortunate it is. And it's it's scary. I mean, it it must it's it's because like you recreate if you want to be able to do whatever the hell you wanna do and like you've done this. Now, I Kana Kroll on this show. I'm sure a lot of folks who call the shots in Hollywood on Broadway. Whatever I mean, are they gonna type cast you because of the way you did this role? They I don't know. But what I what I do know is that I am the author and finisher my fate, and I have control over how I'm saying. And I had the great fortune of in the world will see it very soon. Okay. This isn't a speaking to my level of skill at composing and writing. But I now have the opportunity to put content out that I have long since been creating because of Kim, Ian, something else. It's about to be announced shortly. I don't focus on casting directors and their ability or inability or producers, and and they're they're savviness and knew how I get it. I know what is commercially necessary to create the most money. I know how the system works. I'm not going to change it, but I can create another system. And but I will never do another job that is handed to me by someone who has not thought out the possibility that I could have been some other character. But just because they've seen me. You know, what else do the same thing? And you don't but journalists and and hosts the I've had more interviews with people who regurgitate question some content that I've already put out rather than listen to to the space in between the question, and my answer to figure out how I communicate and the things that I find thought provoking and to get a good soundbite to get a good interview. And it baffles me that people sit in positions of power and real influence how often they just miss whole opportunities because time is not taken to slow down. And and really do a little digging. I want us to dig and I also wanna follow up because now I'm being nosy. What was the most? I guess galling insulting. Or on careful question. You got some of these interviews were kinda referencing. Not so much of the they weren't so much. Appalling or offensive as much as they were either not pertinent to the thing that I was there to promote or insensitive. I in a way that or they don't listen. My Lord that is my of all the things in v world, the if you want to send me into a fit of rage is if you don't listen because I take care to explain it and give you as as thorough an explanation or question as possibly can because I hate for people to waste my time, and I refuse to as anyone else's time. When did you get to the point in your life where you were like, my time is important. I was a cat words. But really, yes, sir. You were that kid. I I'm an only child, and my grandparents I spent summers with them, and because my mom had to work, and I wasn't old enough to say at home alone, and I chose and they were up at a crack of dawn in the garden and would their horses and and. You heard the rooster crowed and you you smell the biscuits cooking. And you knew it was time to get up and as Georgia right at rule, Georgia's and Stephen shorter and just because you were a child didn't mean, you didn't have things you could do the house had to be taken care of and you needed to be fed. And there were only two people, and there was a, you know, several cousins, but it they were with their parents 'cause both all my cousin had both parents in the home. But they would often come now for daycare. Anyways. The point is I I knew that time is of the essence. So you grew up in the country. What kind of kid were you were you enjoying that life? Were you dreaming of another life? Oh, I hated it. What did you hate about being in the country? I didn't want to be there. How'd you know? How did you know you like girls? I don't how you like boys. I did how do you know? Exactly, you just I. Yes. Yeah. Yeah. So when you knew what did you do I dreamed? I sang I did plays. I didn't think that closely resembled the the the life that I wanted to live that I had access to as as much as my mom would admit an folks would allow and until I could make more decisions all my own, you know, to get into a place where I could call some of the shots in my little corner of my own little world. You know? I I am. That's what I did. So then walk me through. I mean, you end up on Broadway. Was it hard to get there? You just did you finish school into San going into Europe York now or I mean, like, no I went to DisneyWorld for a little bit to give equity card, and then I left after one contract, and I went to New York and went through the few little dozens of dollars that I had and was it hard to it wasn't that hard to get on Broadway. But it was hard to not have a job and it again. It was hard to convince the ethical casting directors that you can be something other than what you appear to be as you walk in the world, and people can only suppose represent you. As far as I reach goes. And some people just don't reach that the truth is true. Ain't that the truth? You know, I would spend literally an hour talking with you about the work. You did at Disney because I find that fascinating. But like briefly what were you doing at Disney has in some show called the festival of The Lion King? I should not have been there. The festival of the lion. Cain had nothing. Do The Lion King? What just use their carriages in some of the songs, but people were bouncing around swinging entropy, aren't and things like that. It was fun. It was fun you character that is subsequently not in The Lion King. That's why I'm like, it would even do for me to tell you because you have no idea they just sort of through all these things together. Okay. When we come back Titus. Burgess tells us how he'd write unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. If he ran the show. Support for this podcast and the following message. Come from hymns hinge is the dating app, that's bizarre kind to be deleted. It's for people who want to get off dating apps show off your personality with icebreaker prompts and see who likes you. So you can easily start a conversation on hinge three out of four first dates leads a second dates, and they're the number one dating app mentioned in the New York Times wedding section. Download pins in the apple store or Google play. Horsa and next time on that. You know, USA we talk about Alaska. No, not the state the famous Spanish recording artist who sang the definitive LGBTQ anthem in Hispaniola. Alaska. That's next time on the USA. When I talk to folks in the biz my favorite part of the conversation, especially the ones that go to New York to make it is asking them about their girl. I was so broke moment because everyone has one you know, you like the last check is you've run through it. You're waiting for the next gig. And not getting the calls back. You're in the Roach motel with five other roommates like you must have like that moment where you would like to God, I might not make it I'm so broken. Always feel like I'm not gonna make it. Some money. I a certain memorial memorials like oh my God. There were several moments, but they all look the same. They they weren't so story worthy though. But I will say I don't know how I managed to survive. Really? Yes. And I talked about that with my friends often because. My my work early on was so infrequent and I worked. You know, saying some churches and little one off concerts inside the check would be like, maybe seventy five hundred bucks here and there, but that's that. I may have had one or two of those every two weeks and I count hot. And and I tell you though that the dollar slice is your best friend. And I would get my literally my pennies together region in couches and such just to try and get enough money to to eat. What was that like on enough? Biggest lesson you learned in that struggle slice hardy your life that I can survive anything. And it's all I have it all to tribute to the leanness and the meat nece. And they they they both. Exacerbate something about who. You were have always been in who you will be on. So it allows me to walk around not questioning that because it got a lot of other stuff to be dealing. Yeah. I do wanna ask a bit more about the show and commitment because you know, hearing you talk about being the master of your own narrative all that. I read about the show itself. It is very much. A production where they write the words in y'all say them like was reading somewhere you like there's not that much improv in the show. There's no improv. Wow. What is that? Like for someone who for me is brilliant. Do you like that thought me calling what? Okay, I'm not. I'm not I'm not a stand up comedian. I don't know how to do that. I'm not I'm an actor like give me tell me what to say, I, but I know how to say it. Yeah. You know, that is where my strength is. And where we're where my contribution to to that is, but you know, Tina Fey does not need anybody improving upon her words. Good good. Have there been any moments in which some of the words you had to say, I don't know. I mean like, yeah. Whatever where it didn't come out. Right. No. You didn't feel good about it? Yeah. Yeah. And we go to them, and they other chains them or give me alz. And we do it every which way, but at the end of the day, my job is to find a way to say it as convincingly as possible because whether they changed the line or not is inconsequential because once they get to the editing room Ewing. You gotta choice. Don't don't don't think about it too hard. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I bring this up because and you've answered questions before. But I have to ask them, you know, there have been some critiques of Tina face work in this show throughout its Ron about some of the roles in the way the deal with race and stereotyping, and you know, not seeing people races fully. Do any of those critiques in that regard. I'm talking about the geisha episode. I'm talking about the native American plotline do any of the critiques of those things hold water with, you know, why not well, if if people watch standalone episodes, which it's hard to do with this show right into watchful, exactly. So already that's told me that they don't understand how to properly critique anything because in order to. Critique you must understand the scale and the beginning and the end if you were Sohn's those things I'll know it inside your critique. And so then I can't have an our discussion with you about it because it's unbalanced and unfair. And you're night quipped to discuss this with me. So no, I watch it. And I've watched thirty rock watch this show. And there are some times as someone who loves Tina phase work. I think I read. Pants three times. Like, I'm fan. I stay in. But there are some moments. You know when when when when when she tackles race in her writing where I'm like. I get it. But also, should I if I kind of makes you like go. Well, first of all that's the point what you're doing now. And the second point is that we're talking about it long out long afterward. But third of all. Her job is to exacerbate the folly in and the ridiculous nature of stereotypes that seemed to be a part of the fabric of our country. And if it is offensive to you, then it does it means one of two things that you disagree with the stereotype. And you you feel protective of the thing that is being stereotyped, which then means you will probably go into the world and more severely be protective of it and try to push against it. Or at least change how it is seen. So she's not promoting it. She's leaning into it. You know, America is is on the whole airing on the side of not making the best choices and chasing or following leads. That are are not thought through and that are. Haphazard an impulsive and shows you just who those episodes are meant for in hopes that they watch it. And and that it is such a glaring offensive portrayal of a thing of a person that they too will will go. Whoa. Is that is that how I think is that what I you know, what I mean? So I think that's why they do it. Would you? Were you making a similar kind of show, and you were in charge of everything about it? A similarly trying to force viewers to examine race in the way that Tina Fey is doing would you do anything differently? I am we're black people. But that's just because I would because I think black people are are fascinating people's that still have not been mine for as severely or x the sides to them have not been sufficiently exposed, you know, that's how I would tell it. You know, just because you got to write what you now that is the only thing I would do differently just out of sheer necessity. Yeah, I'm trying to imagine. Now. I mean, like how would Titus is character live in that show? If there were like two or three more black people in it regularly mono. I didn't even know Titus would be the black. I mean, I think L Kimmy would be black Manley in in instead of a, you know, a bunker. It would probably be about, you know, just getting away from some sort of familial incest or something like that or or or, you know, rape by a family member which happens more often than. And we care to admit than we care to emit Calkins characters. She would definitely black some some educated black lady who owns the building or something like that. And then, you know, Jane's character would probably be maybe her older sister who got out before you know, any of the startup. She probably knows about it. You know what I mean? The unbreakable Kaniche SHA Smith, she wouldn't be caucus through. There's some. That's another stereotype, I know Canea. Ellie? Yes, you're right. You're right. You're right. You know, you have given me some truth bombs of the course of our conversation. And I know that listeners would love any advice, you could share for folks still on their way up trying to make it China trying to come through and get through. They give you don't take a no from someone who doesn't have the power to give you a yes. In the first place. Yes. Framing that. Amen. Amen. I appreciate that. This is great. This is so delightful. I am so grateful for your time and your body work. And I just look forward to all that you do and I cannot wait for that preacher's wife musical. I can't wait to give it to you. Thank you so much for having me minute. Yes, sir. Take care. Many many thanks Titus purchase for this chat. Final episode for his Netflix show, unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt for all out on net. Flicks right now go into that show. If you have not already and while you're enjoying that show. Let us know that you're enjoying this show. Leave us a review on apple podcast. Tell your friends about the show singer dog photos to me as well. All the good stuff. Thank you so much for listening toxin.