The second in a series of stories on the people behind your favorite YouTube channels, new and old. The first featured Alison McDonald's "She Got Problems."
Patti LaHelle's "Got 2B Real" is that bit of Internet magic that happens when you create something for your own joy and it turns into an accidental hit. The anonymous, under 30, African American, Philly-resident by-the-way of Virginia had no clue that her love of theater, music, the "divas" and multimedia would lead to a quote-worthy web series full of hilarious "shade." But that's what happens, and TV on the Internet is all the better for it.
Shade, an art form, is all about the sly dig, diss or bit of dirt thrown on someone else's ego parade, best defined by the 1990 film "Paris Is Burning."
Now part of the diva vernacular, "shade" pops up everywhere. Among our entertainers, among bloggers, in Tweets on Twitter. SHADE. Shade is spreading and "Got 2B Real" is a hilarious homage to the art form featuring all my, our and your favorite R&B/Pop divas of the past and present. It's Aretha Franklin throwing shade on Dionne Warwick. It's Patti LaBelle throwing shade on Aretha. It's Beyonce pulling a sly giggle shade on Rihanna. It's Toni Braxton giving husky shade to Mary J. Blige.
And it's hilarious. All hilarious. And mostly written, edited and performed by Patti LaHelle. But the shade never feels like "hate," its more like a diss-filled celebration. LaHelle's interpretation of Mariah Carey, for example, seems so close to the various bits of "shade" Mariah has thrown on others in real life -- like Madonna and Christina Aguliera -- that you start to forget this is a lib-dubbing interpretation and not the real thing.
In fact, I've decided to just pretend that it's real. If only because real-life Patti LaBelle does have a quick wit and a mean side-eye and Dionne Warwick's persona got really real when she threw shade all over Celebrity Apprentice more than a year ago. It's more fun to imagine it that way, like an insider cartoon into the outlandish lives of the golden throated and famous.
The parody started in 2011 with a pair of lip-dubbed, "shade-filled" tribute videos to Patti LaBelle, then turned into a series, starting with a reality show reminiscent story line of a disasterous dinner party thrown for the divas by Patti, then later, a weave snatching at an engagement party for Aretha Franklin. The most recent video is episode 5 of season two: "Crispy Business."
If I had to pick a favorite, I'd probably answer "all of them," but if you held me down, "Crispy Business," "The Uninvited" and "Don't Call It A Throwback" were the ones I re-watched the most. This is, with all the fast and furious shade throwing, a show worth rewatching over and over to catch what you missed. "Don't Call It A Throwback" has the distinction of being made all from archival images of the singers from the 80s and 90s. I admired LaHelle for being able to dig up some Destiny Child-era Beyonce shade of her eye-balling the other children of Destiny during interviews.
It was after becoming addicted to the videos, I had to interview LaHelle.
In a Q&A with The Snob, LaHelle talks about how she came up with "Got 2B Real" and why she chooses to remain anonymous (for now).
Snob: Where did the idea for Got 2 B Real come from?
LaHelle: Well, this was right in the thick of what was going on between Lil Kim and Nicki Minaj. And I thought it was the pettiest thing. I thought to myself, you know back in the day you could have beef with someone, and most people would never know because these women were trained to carry themselves respectfully and not badmouth a contemporary.
But, this doesn't necessarily mean that they never had problems with each other. So what I did was I wanted to bring old school divas to the forefront and act as if they had no filter anymore, as if everything was was going to come out into the open by creating this outlet. I wasn't only poking fun at the younger artists for the conflict they got involved with, but I wanted to reflect also what their fans/stans sounded like, going back and forth with each other in the name of their "fave."
Snob: What's the process like, putting the episodes together, the dubbing, finding clips?
LaHelle: Throughout the day and conversations and thoughts I have in the span of it, I have a complete list of random sayings or "shade" that I come up with on the spot. I never fashion anything in the form of a script or have the slightest clue as to when any of my lines will be of use to me. This is usually the first thing I do. Then, I look for clips. I try to get a good feel for their facial expressions and completely block out what they are actually saying. What they say is irrelevant anyway, so if movement and body language sticks out to me, the choice is made.
Dubbing. If I'm collaborating with someone else, I allow them artistic freedom in whatever it is they want to say and whoever it is they want to address. What they say can be completely off the wall, but it's up to me as the creator to make it work. To make it look as cohesive as possible. Now as for me, a lot of times I end up making lines up on the dot by playing the clip for the first time and recording my voice over simultaneously. Even if it doesn't come out the way I want it to, but what I said was of some value, I keep that line and just do it over until it's perfect.
Contrary to popular belief my main goal is not matching up the dub with the actual clip. A lot of the time it happens on accident. But if their movement is or mouth is exaggerated, I will try my best to match it up, even if I have to change the wording of what I'm saying around.
As far as editing it all, there's a certain way I want it to look, a certain rhythm I need for it to have, so it can take hours, days, weeks and beyond just for me to have an episode come out the way I want to. Every choice I make, from what scenery to use in the intro, to what music will be played at the end, is just as important to me as what goes on in between.
Snob: Some of the beats in the show remind me a bit of how reality shows are put together and shot. Do you draw any influence from reality TV?
LaHelle: Yes a lot of influence. I actually fashioned it all in the form of a reality show with a mix of an ongoing group therapy session. Because this is my goal, I enjoy when people can look at the work and talk about it as a show. Addressing the women and events for how they are presented in the show.
Snob: What's the feedback been like with both seasons so far?
LaHelle: The overall feedback has been great. A lot of people expect to watch and be able to laugh right off the bat, but being funny was never what I intended. I only wanted people engaged in what was going on, and the majority are.
A second season was never supposed to happen, but when I saw how many people had been watching and wanted more, I didn't see the harm in starting again. Although, I knew that if I had taken on the challenge, that the bar was going to have to be raised, and I had hoped, and am hoping, that I have done that by not trying consciously trying to top myself.
Snob: What's your background? Have you done writing, film, voice work or editing before? Have you worked in entertainment or music?
LaHelle: I've always been a writer. When I was a kid poetry was my thing, but as I grew older it morphed into stories, and then finally, into songwriting. Which if you ask me, is a bit of poetry and a bit of storytelling. My background, for the most part, is in music. Theater, chorus, band. Editing was just something I did for fun on the side, because it was just another form of creating that satisfied me.
Snob: Are you doing the show anonymously or are you comfortable with people knowing who you are?
LaHelle: I'm doing the show anonymously, for now. This way I feel it's so much easier for people to take the series for what it is even if they still want to know about who is behind it. They want to know what it's made of and by who to soothe their own curiosities, not because they really need the information. They aren't used to being left in the dark because often times people are so quick to want to be recognized and have everyone know "Hey! I did it! It's me! I'm the one!" In refusing to do this, I've realized that when left in the dark, everyone's senses can become heightened towards Got 2B Real. Who I am, what I look like, what I do for a living, all of that is not a factor when it comes to what I've created. They can just see the work. Not me.
Snob: What do you hope will come of this? What's next for you?
LaHelle: Honestly, I've gone into this with no expectations at all. Besides, making people happy and giving them moments to share with friends and family that others might not understand, is fulfilling enough. What's next for me, only God knows, but I am thankful for what is present in my life. The people who watch, the ones who share it with others and come to me with stories about how their aunts, uncles, parents, grandparents, and bosses watch and enjoy it just as much as they do. It's a great feeling.
Snob: When's the next video come out?
LaHelle: I try to do at least one a month, because if I rush into a video it's certain to be the worst...although some can argue that I have already made one of my worst. And that's fine. I like to remind both people who think what I do is amazing and those that think it's foolish that no one is truly right in the matter. We all like different things and there is nothing "universally funny" or relatable.
But, I'd like to add that these women are supposed to be caricatures of themselves. An element of what's real and true about them, and exaggerating it to the point where it can become a flaw.
Snob: That's what makes is so much fun, the exaggeration.
You can check out both seasons one and two of "Got 2B Real" on YouTube here and learn more about LaHelle on Facebook here. You can also follow her on Twitter here. Up next: Issa Rae's hugely popular "Misadventures of An Awkward Black Girl," and Tanjareen's "The Celibate Nympho."