Kym Whitley scored her first movie role by being different — and ridiculously funny.
The Ohio native had been in the popular play “Beauty Shop” and a few commercials. But when she auditioned for the part of Suga in “Next Friday,” she knew comedy was her calling.
“I went into the audition and … I was hungry for it. I looked at the room and I saw all women that didn’t look like me,” Kym told me on this week’s “Renaissance Man.”
“They were thin and young, in shape. I mean, I was young then, but I was not the size [they were] thinking of [for the character] Suga,” she said. “I was like, ‘Well, that’s going to be tough.’ So, I remember keeping my coat on. I didn’t want them to see me. I had a little dress on. I wasn’t confident.”
But her comedy chops superseded whatever expectations they had for the part.
“I went in to the audition and Ice Cube was in there. And I cut a fool. And I remember Ice Cube busting out laughing and hitting the floor,” Kym said. “That was when I was like, ‘Oh, OK, buddy, I can do this.’ So I think that was the beginning of really saying, ‘I want to be in the comedy lane.'”
More than two decades on, she’s been in numerous TV shows and films, including Monena in “The Car Pool Lane” episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” She also starred in “My Wife & Kids” and “2 Broke Girls,” to name a few. Now, she’s in “Act Your Age” on Bounce TV, which is an edgier version of “Golden Girls” starring black actresses. And Kym and her friend, Sherri Shepherd, have taken their podcast, “Two Funny Mamas,” on the road.
Kym learned to perform at home, where she and her brothers regularly put on shows for their parents.
She said, “I’m not even the funny one in the family. My brothers should have been out here, and they say it to my face. But they wanted to become architects like my dad.” Her father had a firm and they were expected to go into the family business.
“I was the only girl. So I was like, ‘Oh, I think I’ll go pursue this,'” said Kym, who got her degree and headed to Hollywood, California. Instead of tending bar like so many struggling actors, she became a teacher in Compton.
“I absolutely loved teaching in Compton … Those kids needed the love. They needed someone to show them the way. And I was their teacher, but I became their friend. So, it was hard to transition out of teaching into working,” she said. “Like I started getting commercials. And I remember the principals that used to come because they used to call me the general. I won’t tell you why, but they would say, ‘Hey, we need you at this school. Come on, General, you got to come back.’ And I was like, ‘I got a Pringles commercial.'”
There were also dark days. She said her apartment was destroyed in the 1992 earthquake and she had to live in her car. Kym also had a food stamp card, which she has kept.
“And I look at it and say, ‘Wow, you had a food stamp card,'” she said. “And I remember going up in the line and being embarrassed and thankful at the same time, but I had to eat.”
Even with her impressive résumé, she still has her eyes on an Emmy and an Oscar. But Kym has many sources of happiness that don’t come from a statue. For example: “It used to be basketball players and football players,” she said with a laugh. “But I’ve gotten older and I have a son. His name is Joshua. He’s 12 years old now, and he has brought me joy from Day One. Heartache. But joy.”
And, of course, there’s touring with Sherri — and there’s nothing like working with friends.
“If we went on the road for just work, why do it? Because we both are making money in the industry,” she said. “But to go along with your best friend and to bring joy to other people, that’s what brings me joy.”
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 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.