You Gotta Go Through What You Gotta Go Through to Get Where You Need to Go

The old folks always say, “Never judge a book by its cover.” I have been very judgmental of this brother. As I sit in his office, preparing myself to interview him, I see, hear, and smell a lot of African ancestry, from the jazz we’re listening to right now to the many, countless books that line his bookcase. Judging by the titles, all of them have significant meaning. The brother I’m referring to is Ed Buggs: journalist, entrepreneur, and radio and television talk-show host. I was expecting a stick in his back (stiff, robotic) but instead, I got a brother who has learned gracefully the lessons that life has taught him and continues to teach him.

Jeramaine Jingles: How many years have you been in news and the reporting business?

Ed Buggs: Twenty-five years. I started when I was 19 years old at WBRZ as a full-time reporter while I went to LSU at night. I went to Columbia School of Broadcasting right after high school, in Los Angeles. I was fortunate enough to get on here when I was 19. Three years later, I went to work for a television station in Dallas-Fort Worth, where I met a charming account executive who was a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader. Being from Scotlandville, I took the opportunity to marry her.

JJ: I see you smiling on that oneÂ….

EB: A great lady, great lady – we were married 22 years, and I have nothing but great things to say about her.

 


JJ: I basically grew up with you on television. I guess all the brothers my age did. Coming from South Baton Rouge, it was the first time that we had basically seenÂ…

EB: Well, I was the first black prime-time anchorman in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, particularly at a major news operation. It was a great time to be in the business, a wonderful time to be in the business. When I got in, we shot film, we moved up to videotape, we brought in microwave trucks, we brought in satellite trucks, we brought in helicoptersÂ…

JJ: Yeah, I remember that black-and-orange helicopterÂ…

EB: ThatÂ’s right, flying over South Baton Rouge.

JJ: So, now you’re on 1300 AM WIBR, as talk show host from 2 – 6 p.m. weekday afternoons.

EB: Let me back you up here. In 1994, Channel 2 decided not to renew my contract. Fortunately, I had a business I owned in Eunice, Louisiana. Some partners and I bought the former Jansen swimwear plant in Eunice. We employed 155 people. We were America’s largest minority-owned apparel manufacturing plant. We made workout wear for Wal-Mart, Mervyn’s, Target, and Sears department stores. Fortunately, I had that to fall back on when Channel 2 said, “It’s been real.” That was in February of 1994, and that was the last rating period when Channel 2 was number one in this town. You do the math.

JJ: So, in other words, they dropped the ball. IÂ’ll say it for you.

EB: But itÂ’s all good. There is no animosity, no hatred. It was a business decision. Some moves you make in business reap rewards; some reap disaster. ItÂ’s just life. I do not have an ounce of bad feelings about Channel 2 in my body, not one ounce. In fact, if that had not happened, other good things in my life would not have happened.

JJ: I was listening to your show about “Do we still need to celebrate Black History Month?” Being a comic for five years, I’ve learned that radio and television hosts choose topics to get callers…

EB: Â…to push peopleÂ’s buttonsÂ…

JJ: Yeah, but people donÂ’t understand that. I didnÂ’t at first, but then my mind clicked, so I could understand where you were coming from.

EB: People only listen to a talk-show host for one of two reasons: They either love the cat, or they canÂ’t stand him. But they donÂ’t listen. We had one lady call during that show, a black ladyÂ…

JJ: Oh yeah, and she was hot, tooÂ…

EB: She was hot. She didnÂ’t get it. She didnÂ’t understand that by asking the questionÂ…that was to prompt dialogue. She didnÂ’t get it.

JJ: No, she got to the door, but she took it to the extreme.

EB: I was the bad guy, but here’s what happens. When that show’s over (picks up the phone): “Girl, did you hear Ed Buggs today? Turn it on 1300 right now! That S.O.B. makes me sick!” It’s magic! The first week I was in, I had to sit my family down and talk with them, my mother and my brother, and tell them, “Hey, people gonna look at you differently at church. People gonna say different things about you. People gonna look at you and roll their eyes. It’s a show; that’s all. I am George Bush’s biggest, black, on-air, registered Republican, talk-show host supporter. It’s a niche. Some people listen to see what this Negro’s gonna say. Others gonna listen to see, “has he lost his mind?” Others gonna listen to see if he’s still alive or did somebody shoot him overnight. You know, and for four hours a day, that’s what I do. That’s kinda why I am, and as a comic, I think you know where I’m coming from.

JJ: Yeah, thatÂ’s what you do.

EB: ThatÂ’s what I do. ThatÂ’s not who I am.

JJ: No, I understand that.

EB: ThereÂ’s a difference. I didnÂ’t always understand that. See, back in the day of Ed Buggs and Andrea Clesi on the billboards, I used to believe that. I wasnÂ’t able to separate, man, between the two. ThatÂ’s what IÂ’m telling you.

JJ: You got caught up into it.

EB: Got caught up into it. Remember, I told you, when I was 19 years old, I went to work at WBRZ full-time. Full-time.

JJ: And for a brother back then, that wasÂ…

EB: Come on, man! 1985, I’m driving that 911 whale-tail convertible in this town, OK? I met a cop the other night, a state trooper, retired now… “Don’t remember me, do you?” I said, “Yeah, I remember you from somewhere.” He said, “No you don’t.” He said, “Remember that day I stopped you on the interstate doing 118 miles per hour going to New Orleans?” I said, “Oh yeah, that was you, wasn’t it? Was it 118?” “Yeah, it was 118; thanks for stopping when I asked.” The point is: that was a different Ed Buggs. That wasn’t the cat you’re sitting across the table from today. See, today, man, God has moved on my life. Today, I drive a Volkswagen, but I’m happy. I’m fulfilled. I’m useful. I’m helpful to other people today. Today, I can make a difference in people’s lives. Today, I can differentiate the true from the false. I couldn’t back then. Couldn’t do it back then, but I had to go through those things. I had to try that stuff. I had to do all that stuff to understand what’s real and what’s not real. Today, I don’t have to drive one of those to feel good about Ed. I will drive another one, but I can stop and give someone a ride in it. Back then, I couldn’t give you a ride. Love you, but can’t ride in it. Wave at you, but can’t pick you up. That’s superficial. Today, it’s different, man, and I’m happy today. Do I have everything I want? No, but all my needs are taken care of.

JJ: Speaking of a Porsche… Growing up in the neighborhood, believe it or not, you were an icon. You were doing stuff at the time, when I was like eight or nine, that we didn’t do. You was a brother driving around in a black Porsche. You know what I’m saying? I have a cousin named Keith, and to this day, he is putting money aside to buy a Porsche. Every time I see him, every barbecue, he says, “You know, I’m putting that money aside for that emergency.” I’m like, “Emergency?” He says, “Yeah, 911.” “Oh, OK.” So, I wanna say something funny, like, “Be serious, Ed – now, was it the Porsche, or was it you?” Because I know you had a lot of women coming at you back in the day!

EB: Oh, it was the stuff, man.

JJ: YouÂ’ve always been well dressed and all.

EB: Yeah, well understand: I meant wellÂ…

JJ: Oh yeah, we always do!

EB: My father was in the army for 27 years. I was raised in an environment where, on Saturday, Clarence and I could rip and run all day long, just as soon as we finished every chore on this list. Every Saturday, there was a list. It was about responsibility, but that was on the outside, you know. My nails were clean, my shoes were shined, but I wasnÂ’t right inside. And today, not only do I know it, but I donÂ’t mind sharing it. It doesnÂ’t matter who knows today.

JJ: I guess a lot of brothers have the perceptionÂ…you know, everybody says that Ed Buggs talks different, he comes from a different angle than other black men in our community, from what we see. Sitting here, a lot of cats talk about hustling to make it, but in every category, every man has a different hustle. Sitting here, I realize that youÂ’re a hustler; you know what IÂ’m saying?

EB: I do four hours of radio here a day. IÂ’m not an employee here, you know? IÂ’m an independent contractor, a hustler. Like anybody else in this room, I just wear this and do this (mocks typing on keyboard), to boot, thatÂ’s all.

JJ: The thing is, being from Baton Rouge, you know, you go to big cities, and thereÂ’s all kinds of game, all types of hustling. ItÂ’s just that weÂ’ve never seen a brother hustling in the game that youÂ’re hustling. They just donÂ’t understand. IÂ’ll be honest with you: I was frowning up, stomping in the dirt, you know what IÂ’m saying, because when I first listened to your radio station, but then my mind clicked, and now I understand where youÂ’re coming from.

EB: Do you know that there are people who look like me who hate me ‘cause of what I do on air?

JJ: Yeah, but there are also people who look like you who donÂ’t hate you.

EB: Oh yeah, and thereÂ’s far more of the latter than of the former. ItÂ’s America, man.

JJ: But the thing is, Ed, you can take that group of people and put them in an auditorium with a microphone and a chair. You can have them get up and ask questions, and you can answer questions all day long. I promise you, what you’re perceived to be on radio is totally different than what you’re perceived to be in person. Like Grandma would say, “Never judge the book by its cover. Sometimes, you gotta turn the page to read what’s in the book.” And that’s just basically what some people do.

EB: That’s true. You said something earlier that I’m reminded of. Oftentimes when we break paradigms, when we break expectations, when we go against the grain, when we do what we don’t normally do, you end up getting some of that “crawfish in the barrel” kind of reaction. You ever see crawfish in a barrel? Pretty soon, one of ‘em is gonna be halfway up that wall.

JJ: Another oneÂ’s gonna grab him and pull him down.

EB: But thatÂ’s OK. One of the many things I love about America is, if youÂ’re willing to get up on that stage, if youÂ’re willing to sweatÂ… You know how some nights your shirt will be wet all over? You remember some nights, back in the day, five years ago, you remember how, some nights, it just wasnÂ’t working.

JJ: ThereÂ’s some nights now when itÂ’s not working!

EB: I did 18 months, OK? I was on blue comedy – Churchill’s on Tuesday nights. The point I’m making to you is that you gotta keep on going, and when one or two say whatever, man, you just gotta keep on going. Sarge raised me and Clarence, and my sister Jacentha, but particularly me and Clarence because she was ten years younger, he raised us to believe and understand that we live in the greatest country in the world. Not a perfect country, not a problem-free country, but a country in which, if you’re willing to get up and hustle, you can get some stuff. And I believe that.

JJ: My grandfather raised eight kids. He was a concrete mason.

EB: Yeah, but that was back in the day when he would be a concrete mason, but heÂ’d also grow his own food. Like my daddy, he also slaughtered his own animals.

JJ: He built his own house. He would work eight hours, but then when he got off work, to make some money, he would go pour driveways.

EB: Now, you gotta beat some folk over the head to work eight hours. Because I say that on the air, some people get real angry.

JJ: The thing is, the truth hurts.

EB: The truth will make you angry, man. Sarge told me and Clarence, you gotta have a job and a hustle, you hear me? You do! So, this is the job, and from here, I work the hustle.

JJ: Like I tell a lot of people, I do comedy. I don’t let everybody know that I do comedy, for apparent reasons, ‘cause everybody wants to hear a joke on the scene.

EB: How do you remember all that?

JJ: I donÂ’t. Believe it or not, I donÂ’t remember anything.

EB: It just comes? ThatÂ’s beautiful.

JJ: Yeah. I donÂ’t write at all.

EB: You just flow with it?

JJ: People find it hard to believe. If you ever see me on stage, basically I donÂ’t write anything.

EB: It just comes. Well thatÂ’s a gift.

JJ: IÂ’ve been doing it for five years.

EB: You work off people in the crowd? ThatÂ’s what I did.

JJ: Oh, don’t talk. Please don’t talk. I let you know before I get on stage, this is like a job to do. I don’t come to your job and bother you; don’t come to my job and bother me. We gonna have some fun, but… I was doing a show at the Lincoln Theatre, and there was a white guy who was just drunk. He would just open up his mouth and I’d say, “Hold up. Now I don’t think you want a fight. Don’t you know that I can make one phone call and it’s over? Now, I’m going to talk about you, your momma, your grandma, your gun rack in your truck…” The little white lady that was with him was like, “Shut up! Shut up!” So I’ll play off the crowd.

EB: (laughs)

JJ: IÂ’m looking at your office, and IÂ’m checking out your books, and IÂ’m impressed. Should I be? Yes. The reason IÂ’m saying yes is because as young, black, African-American men coming up today, we are just beginning to get black people in high positions, making moves on Wall Street, on radio stations, on television stations, so I am impressed. I mean, do I agree with everything you say? No, but I am impressed that you are doing what you are doing. When a kid out there turns on the radio and hears you, youÂ’re inspiring him to do what he wants to do. I just want to say that I appreciate you.

EB: Well, IÂ’m glad youÂ’re here. I mean, look at you!

JJ: Well, it was a lot of work, but I made it.

EB: Well, hereÂ’s the thing, man, for me. Once I learned to put God first, all this other stuff was easy, once I learned the importance of my relationship with him. You see, IÂ’ve been through five CDUs, but by the grace of God. That gentleman you see walking Florida Boulevard or Airline Highway? But by the grace of God, man, that was me. I wasnÂ’t walking out there, but the road I was on wouldÂ’ve taken me there. ThatÂ’s why, any Saturday morning, youÂ’ll find me at 8:30 at the parish prison for visiting hours, with some guys I was in treatment with who still donÂ’t get it. It helps me. It keeps it real fresh for me. Sitting up in here, talking with you, and all this other stuff, makes a guy like me forget, and sometimes we want to forget.

JJ: CanÂ’t forget.

At the end of the interview, I realized that there are a lot of things I have in common with Mr. Buggs and a lot of things I donÂ’t have in common with him. I do understand this: that the goals that he aspires to achieve, he will achieve them, simply because he has the hustle, and not everyone has it.

Jeramaine Jingles is an angry black man – a VERY angry black man. If you want a piece of this, holla to angry@redshtickmagazine.com.