This week’s episode of “Renaissance Man” is dedicated to those people living in their mom’s basement. My guest was once dwelling in his mother’s subterranean space, where, in 2013, he started making online comedy sketches. Now, he has more than 7.5 million Instagram followers, a bona fide stand-up and acting career, and a fan base that includes Snoop Dogg, Chance the Rapper and yours truly.
“The only thing I would tell them, that I stick to all the time, is to never allow anybody to tell you what you can’t do,” he told me. “Because when I was down there grinding for three and a half years, she was telling me, ‘It’s time you go get a job.’”
He insisted he was going to “pop off.” But it didn’t happen immediately.
“So I say, now, don’t even let your mom tell you what you can’t do. I mean, obviously, we got to listen to our parents, but we can’t allow them to tell us what our dreams are.”
Known as “Big Fella” (which inspired the name of his podcast, “F3LLAS”), he grew up on the gritty, crime-ridden east side of Detroit, which he said helped him learn how to hustle. But he’s also immensely talented and driven. To make it out of that area of the city is a steep climb. To make it to Hollywood from there, well, that’s like scaling Mount Everest.
Then, there was Andy Griffith. Yes, Andy Griffith.
“My mom used to watch a lot of ‘Matlock,’ that was classic. I used to be watching ‘Matlock’ all the time. I’d get to a point where I wanted to go out and just start investigating things on my own. I was a big ‘Matlock’ fan.”
Instead of becoming an amateur sleuth, he became an amateur comedian. But around 2015, Snoop Dogg took notice, and his endorsement led to more followers and eventually more money. By 2018, he was a massive internet star.
And then he started doing stand-up. But he was in a unique scenario in that he was already famous, so he was performing in big venues without the benefit of actually knowing the finer points of stand-up. Or, in hoops speak, it’s like going into the starting lineup without getting to practice alone in the gym.
“So that’s what it was me like being thrown in front of 4,000 people and having to take my lumps on the chin and bombing in front of 4,000 or 5,000 people and then going back to the comedy clubs and getting my set right. It took me three and a half years to become a real comedian. There’s a difference between being funny and being a comedian. I’m a comedian. And, of course, I was funny. Now, I’m a comedian that’s funny,” he said, adding that “being funny is just you going up there and you can riff. Being a complete comedian, it’s going up there and telling a story and allowing people to come into your world and laughing at it and believing that it is true.”
A few hard truths about HaHa: He loves a Detroit Coney dog with everything on it and he is making movies with legitimate, seasoned actors. He just signed on to star in the action-comedy “Stealing Jokes” and he was in “The House Next Door: Meet the Blacks 2” with Mike Epps and Katt Williams, who put him through a little hazing on set.
“At the end of the movie, he came to my trailer and was like, ‘Brother, I’m a fan.’ And it was just dope to see that,” he said of Williams.
It’s also been cool to see HaHa transform. He’s committed himself to a life of fitness and health, dropped a ton of weight and gained a lot of career momentum.
“The difference now is that I’m confident. The confidence level went to a whole other level because I’m a smaller guy. I’m 5-foot-6, 201 pounds, looking like a ball of meat. This ain’t gonna work. So, I lost 50 pounds. When I look in the mirror now, I’m confident. I feel great. One of my goals is I want to be Michael B. Jordan. I want to be considered a sex symbol too.”
Detroit native Jalen Rose is a member of the University of Michigan’s iconoclastic Fab Five, who shook up the college hoops world in the early ’90s. He played 13 seasons in the NBA, before transitioning into a media personality. Rose is currently an analyst for “NBA Countdown” and “Get Up,” and co-host of “Jalen & Jacoby.” He executive produced “The Fab Five” for ESPN’s “30 for 30” series, is the author of the best-selling book, “Got To Give the People What They Want,” a fashion tastemaker, and co-founded the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, a public charter school in his hometown.