In search of your next binge-worthy obsession? Look no further than the new Queer Eye series, starring Karamo Brown, now streaming on Netflix. Queer Eye follows a group of openly-gay men who are masters in their own areas of self-improvement, going beyond simply the exterior to inspire other gentlemen with inside-and-out makeovers. One standout individual on the team is Karamo Brown. Karamo recently opened up to Candid about his experience on the show, reveals the top priorities in his life today and acknowledges his unique platform to do some real good within the LGBTQI community.
Some readers may remember you from MTV’s Real World: Philadelphia. Did that early reality-show experience help steer your path to this point, for better or worse?
Yeah, definitely. Real World turned me into an activist. It was already lingering inside of me. I was arrested falsely just because the police thought I had a gun on me, because I was the only black guy in an all-white club. I had to speak about my sexuality, so it turned me into someone who didn’t shy away from talking about things people are scared to talk about or don’t know how to talk about.
Now you are one-fifth of the gentlemen’s squad with Netflix’s new Queer Eye. What should viewers expect and what’s your focus on the show?
Viewers should expect to have fun and cry. I’m the ‘Culture Expert' on the show and the first time around, the culture guy only talked about Broadway and things of that nature. For me, with the advancements in technology, culture is at our fingertips and a lot of people don’t know how to handle the culturally-relevant conversations anymore. So, I sort of facilitate those throughout the show, to get to the root of why you feel the way you do, why you think the way you do, and how if you change that, you can be a better person.
This is a reboot of the 2003 hit show. Do you guys try to pay homage to the original series, or is this a fully-refreshed, modern take?
It is a fully-refreshed, modern take but we do find ways to pay homage because the original ‘Fab Five' passed the baton off to us and we love them.
Do you feel any pressure to present yourself in a particular way on this show, as you will be an on-screen depiction of the gay community at large?
No, not at all. So, luckily for me, I have been on reality shows and hosted other shows that I’m hosting right now, where I’m discussing my sexuality. I don’t feel I need to fit into any roles or be anybody. I can just be me and be confident in that. I’m just happy people on a broader audience will get to see a black, gay man who’s also a father and passionate about his career.
Some may argue that ‘straight', heterosexual men have become somewhat better dressers in the last few years. What makes you believe that this is still a much-needed time for a show like Queer Eye?
That question is twofold. First of all, you’re right. Straight men are more advanced and not these lost creatures in the world, but we don’t treat them like lost creatures. Especially for me, as the Culture Expert, it’s not all just about “Can you dress better?” “Can we fix your hair?” It’s about “Can we heal your inside?” It shows that men are multi-layered and we all need support and I feel I do a really good job bringing that out on the show.
How would you describe Karamo Brown's personal fashion choices?
My fashion choices? I’m really breezy, relaxed, everyday guy. I like to look sleek and stylish, but like right now, I am sitting in my car with a pair of jeans on, a gingham shirt, and a LA Dodgers blue hat. For me, style has to be easy. If it’s too constricted or too tight, it doesn’t work for me. It’s all about the ease of it.
Beyond your TV work, you are often credited as an activist? What are your biggest passion projects in 2018?
I think for me right now, the biggest thing is supporting LGBTQI rights. I worked with the Obama administration to create policy. I spent a week at the United Nations advocating for LGBT human rights globally. Besides the work I do in the community, it’s also to make sure I’m supporting women. We’re in a time right now culturally within the shift. As a gay man, I have been able to be critic in a lot of conversations that my straight brothers don’t get to hear, because a lot of times, they are the problem. It’s really supporting them right now and making sure they’re heard and that there’s equality among the genders, because that’s really important.
Readers may be surprised to learn that you have a 21-year-old son. Would you say you’re a family man?
Oh, I’m completely. I have a 21-year-old son and a 13-year-old son. My second son I adopted. I have full custody of them. Family is important to me. The beauty of it is that I think a lot of times, men get this bad rap that we don’t support our kids, we’re not emotionally involved, that stereotype that, culturally, men just provide. I don’t just provide financially. I provide emotionally. I am there at every game, for a college application, and everything they do. Family is really important.
Karamo Brown – Photographer: Zach Alston | Stylist: Raven Roberts
Being on Netflix and not network or cable television, do you feel there are advantages and more things you can get away with doing on Queer Eye, due to this popular video streaming outlet?
I don’t think there are more things we can get away with, but I do think that there’s advantages. There’s a lot of places in the world that have never been exposed to gay men from different backgrounds. In one instinct, they will be able to be exposed and binge our experience instantly. I think that’s the power of what Netflix has. We shot the show on the outskirts of Atlanta, because we didn’t want be in New York or LA, where you’re dealing with men who interact with gay people. We wanted to go to places where people weren’t exposed and didn’t get that attention and Netflix is going to provide the ability to do that on a global level.
What’s your greatest hope that viewers will take away from you and your team’s work on Queer Eye?
My greatest hope for Queer Eye and the viewers’ take-away is that we all learn to respect each other more.
Read Jeff Conway's recent interview with Alex Roe here.