Going Viral Gets PRETTY

Going Viral Gets PRETTY

Written by Katherine Webb, Photography by Bob Farley

Imagine a man dressed as if he’s been invited to a premiere party for a hip-hop mogul.  The man appears as if he frequents private palaces of the rich. He is not a large man. His appearance nonetheless demands your attention. Shoes polished, expensive suit pressed, neck decorated with a silk ascot, hair relaxed and shiny. In his hand, a sparkling chalice.

See him? That’s Tony Taylor. “Pretty” Tony to his friends. If you’re genuinely employing your powers of imagination, then the nickname comes as no surprise.

Native to Birmingham, Tony Taylor is working to bring national attention to the city — for its wit. Working with videographer Nik Layman, Tony stars in Black Folks Feud, a sketch comedy series on YouTube. The skits are filmed on location in Birmingham and feature locals, a collection of Nik and Tony’s friends and colleagues.

Tony, who graduated high school before the Internet was even a thing, grew up idolizing television’s skit comedy geniuses like Robert Townsend, Eddie Murphy and David Allen Grier. For Tony, race appeared to be an interesting entrance into what’s funny. Black spoofs on popular culture peaked his interest — black westerns, the bold the beautiful and the black. Twenty years of admiring such work would eventually manifest itself as Black Folks Feud, a spoof on The Family Feud, with Tony-tailored topics.

“Name a white person black people love.”

“Name something that black folks spend they income tax money on.”

Tony’s castmates deliver well and are particularly adept at playing to Tony, who holds court like a king in the scenes, jeweled and stoic, his chalice glimmering. (The cups, he said, cost anywhere from $100 to $800.) Wearing yellow polka-dot ascots and gold hoop earrings, he looks famous. Although on screen Tony plays the straight man, the skits are his creations. Tony writes, directs, edits and stars in the Feud. The Feud is Tony.

When I met with Tony and Nik at a local café, both were dressed like regular guys, nothing spectacular. Tony has small, sharp eyes, and without the pretense of his show, he seemed shy.

“Pretty” Tony was raised in Pratt City. The seventh of seven children, Tony says his was a happy childhood.

“Growing up we had a dirt basketball court. I was Pigpen-on-Charlie-Brown dirty. We were just balls of dust. My mom and sisters used to take me shopping with them, which is how it all started,” Tony says, meaning how he got to be pretty. “They gave me good fashion sense.”

Tony was a small kid. He kept out of fights using his wit. More interested in solo pursuits — writing, studying history — Tony wasn’t involved in clubs or activities. He was, however, from a very early age, a self-proclaimed “fashion guy.”

“I was always fly,” Tony says. “I would go to school with sports jackets with patches. I was a black Michael J. Fox.”

He spent a year at Jacksonville State but admittedly partied too much. He was known in town for his dance skills. “It was hip-hop back then,” he says. “Hip-hop golden age. Flattop fades. Martini glasses and three points in your head.”

Tony returned to Birmingham, got an associates degree in electronics — “just to do it” — and began waiting tables. “I’m a master waiter. I love waiting tables. But I’m ready to do other things,” Tony says. “I’m doing this to put a spotlight on the city. We’re not country bumpkins who are slow. I’m quick-witted. I’m fast. I like words. I like quick metaphors.”

During those early years waiting tables, Tony tried rapping. The poet-like lines of Tupac and Big Daddy Kane inspired Tony, but he was also intrigued by the rappers’ quick wit and bravado. “When I heard Big Daddy Kane rap, it was like listening to an English teacher. He was using rhymes and metaphors I’d never heard. He made you think,” Tony says. “He was rapping like he was it.”

“I like people who have charisma when they show up. When you see Michael Jackson, Prince, Morris Day, Julius Irving, you know this guy is it,” Tony says. “I get a lot of that from my dad, too. He was always fly. Superfly fly. Big gold Cadillac. Always had a sharp hat with hair hanging back.”

Tony had been it since his big sisters dressed him up and called him so.

Not until social media networks hit did Tony find a place for his humor. Still waiting tables and writing, he began to cultivate a following online. He swapped jokes with big- time writers, guys like James Hannah, who works for Steve Harvey. Eventually, he was part of something huge, an online comedy group with thousands of followers. For the boy who refused choir to spend time alone as a kid, this felt momentous.

The Black Folks Feud began there, online. Mornings, Tony posted topics to his Facebook page, swapping lines with other comics. Afternoons and nights, Tony waited tables at Surin West, where he still serves and where he got to know Nik, whose wife regularly sat in Tony’s section.

The two decided the Feud was perfect for video.

“Good enough to get a million hits,” Nik says.

Both Tony and Nik are passionate about the Feud, scouting filming spots, generating new material, searching for on-camera talent. Already, an agent in L.A. contacted one of the women featured in a Feud video. Tony has yet to receive such a call but is gaining local attention. When I met with him, he was guest hosting on 95.7 with Roy Woods Jr.

But Tony is thinking beyond local.

“I want to do it nationwide,” he says. “I want to fly out to Miami to do a topic. Dallas. Idaho. You don’t see a black man in Idaho.”

Now approaching middle age, Tony hopes Black Folks Feud will be his career catalyst. Using online venues to build a network of fans and followers, Tony’s approach proves it’s possible we’ve passed the age of stand-up.

But it’s also possible that becoming an online sensation has less to with talent than it does luck. Look at Antoine Dodson, whose appearance on WAFF-TV news in Huntsville propelled him to celebrity after his “bed intruder” interview went viral. Dodson makes cameo appearances in many online videos, the most impressive being “Beauty and the Beat,” a nearly perfect spoof on Beauty and the Beast with Belle living in a black neighborhood. Coincidentally, the creator of “Beauty and the Beat” is Todrick Hall, a performer whose fame was achieved via Internet.

We’ve entered a new era for fame-seekers. For Justin Timberlake, it was Star Search. For Justin Bieber, it was YouTube. Why not Tony, too? He already looks the part. Pretty Tony is it.


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4 Responses to “Going Viral Gets PRETTY”

  1. RayRay says:

    Pretty Tony is the man and I approve this message!!!

  2. carol James says:

    PTT is the greatest up and coming Sar I have seen.He can look elegant or sexy n his jeans.Tht program is so funny I can’t miss one.The article was great I am going to Birmingham just to get him to wait on me.

  3. Autumn says:

    Hey Pretty Tony!It me Autumn!You have became a super star!lol I miss you!

  4. Congratulations PT, keep moving forward and keeping the prayers going up, and all will fall in place!!!!!!!!!!
    Watch out WORLD Pretty Tony is in the HOUSE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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