Ryan Hall swears that he has the best job in the entire world. On any given day you’ll see him with a camera crew in tow traipsing from Harlem to the West Village asking the dwellers of New York City their views on everything from sex to the divides between race and class.
Hall is the host of the YouTube show “Stereotypes,” found on Pharrell William’s YouTube Network, I Am Other, a network dedicated to creating a cultural movement of thinkers, innovators and outcasts. In the course of it’s production, “Stereotypes” has given hundreds of men and women the opportunity to share their differing thoughts on race, culture, style, music, relationships and politics. As the host of the show, Hall has come to view “Stereotypes” as a way to create positive change through conversation. Chatting with NMR from the Big Apple, Hall shared with us his original reservations about hosting the show, his desire for “Stereotypes” to preserve the art of conversation and his fantasies about hitting ignorant people over the head with his mic.
How did you originally get started with “Stereotypes?”
Ryan Hall: I was recommended by a friend who also moved from Cleveland around the same time. He had a mutual buddy who was working with I Am Other to shoot the pilot for “Stereotypes.” We ended up meeting up, sort of begrudgingly on my end, and after a couple of cancelled promised days of shooting I finally met up with him. I really didn’t care much about what was going to happen because I didn’t think that I was actually going to get the gig. And to my surprise a couple of days later, I was told that the I Am Other team, being Robin and Mimi, really liked what I had done. Pharrell was really entertained by my presence, and the rest is history.
What were you involved with before that?
Before working with “Stereotypes” I was the man of all sorts. I think living in New York, you just have to do anything and everything to get by. And originally my take moving to New York was to work in the fashion industry, but by some hap-hazard manner, I ended up meeting up with my comedy troupe that I’m with to this day called POYKPAC. It was with POYKPAC that I got involved in online social media. It’s been like seven years that we’ve been a group.
Are you guys online or perform primarily in person?
We’ve had various stages as a performance groups. We’ve done the live shows, we just recently did a competition where — I don’t even know if the show is still on the SyFY channel — we did a competition called “Viral Video Showdown” that we won surprisingly! [laughs] We pretty much knew that most of our success came from posting our videos online. That’s the medium that we’ve clung to for the most part, but we have done some very rankity [sic], sketchy live shows in various venues.
So I’m guessing you’re not begrudging against “Stereotypes” anymore?
No. You know, I look at it as one of the most amazing experiences that has happened to me in the last 10 years, at least within my adult life — if I am an adult yet I don’t know. I love “Stereotypes.”
You sound adult-like.
Okay, I’ll agree to that! I’ve been working on my adult voice, so you’re welcome.
How have you guys developed the show since it’s infancy? Have you had any concept and goals that have stayed the same and some that have changed?
The original premise of the show [has] always been about stereotypes and people’s perceptions of others. Originally — so I’ve been informed — the concept was walking up to people on the street, listening to music, be it through the radio or with their headphones on, and asking them about music and how it relates to various topics. I think people were even supposed to vote who the artist was, and you choose A, B or C. I just didn’t really connect with something that simple. I thought that it was a great idea, but I thought that there was so much more that you could expand upon as it relates to music and more so even as it relates to the individual. Once the headphones are off, it’s amazing what someone will say to you.
Were you ever nervous approaching people?
Yes and no. When I was in my teens up until I finished college I used to do surveys, and so I had to fill all these — it was a horrible, horrible job. Like I worked in the most hood-ass, ghetto-ass environment, and it was in a mall. Like imagine a mall in the Midwest, some tall, awkward dude — right at the time I had hair like long dreadlocks so I was just this weird anomaly. I had to figure some way to get past that, so I just forced myself on people. I developed this disposition that anyone and everyone would talk to me. It was almost that urgency that they had to talk to me, and I think it’s just kind of rolled over on everything else I’ve done, like “You will speak to me. I will get information that I need from you.”
Do you have a favorite topic to interview about whether it be race or culture or gender?
I really love conversations of race, all types. I was raised by a very politically aware, culturally astute mother. She was probably the most aggressive Pan-Africanist a boy could have for a mother, a very angry light-skinned woman. And she just taught me that things are never going to be better unless you make the changes. People are never going to fully understand or respect your position unless it’s made clear, and so I felt that there are so many hang-ups and issues related to race relations yet no one wants to talk about it. No one likes to put it out in the air you, know? They all have opinions about it, which is the most impressive thing! Like everyone is so extremely opinionated yet no one ever talks about it, so I figured, hell, once you get somebody in front of a camera, and at least give them the room to express themselves, most people actually open up and start to share.
Is it ever hard if you ask someone a question and they respond with a view that is really offensive and close-minded, to not be judgmental against that person while they are speaking?
You know, I definitely have had fantasies of whacking people over the head with my mic, and it’s a sturdy mic. I know that if it ever came down to it, there would be some assault charges against me.
That’s definitely good to know.
[laughs] Yeah, but as much as I fantasize about it, half the time the dream of beating someone to get comments out of them is nice. I just fantasize about them as they spew their ignorance. And also at the end of the day, that’s my opinion versus theirs, and I really do believe that there is no right opinion, you know. What’s more important is the manner in which people respect one another’s opinions where we are not all gonna agree, and I’ve learned to accept that. It’s just a matter of giving people their due respect and understanding that not everything is going to go as you believe. So long as they do it in a respectful manner, hey, I say talk all day long! It creates conversation, you know? If we had a peaceful and cult-ish setting where everyone agreed with everyone, we probably wouldn’t be sitting here doing this interview right now.
That’s a good point. How long does it take you to film one episode? Is it a day-long process, or are there a certain amount of people you aim to talk to?
We try and just always have the attitude of go, team, go! I don’t think that I could ever interview enough people; I don’t think there is enough time in the day, you know. I’m a relatively lazy person for the most part, but when we get the camera crew together and we have a rhythm going, I kind of lose track of time. It might sound cliche, but it really is my dream gig. Like I can’t believe people even pay to watch me, because I feel like I’m just doing what I always want to do. It just comes so naturally to talk and learn and explore and expand my understanding of people’s views. To answer the question we usually go from sunup to sundown and try to get as many people in that interview. We go on anywhere from 8 hours on a shitty day when the weather is not behaving to trying to do 12 hours. Of course, we allow for breaks so the crew is allowed to rest, but I could do it all the time.
What have been some of your most memorable moments and responses on the show?
Recently I went to Europe, and it’s fresh in my head. That was amazing to kind of see how people differ but are still so much the same everywhere. You realize that it’s not so much the major differences, it’s the subtles that really mix, show how society is different, show how they stand apart. I think that every time I’ve been out there’s been some moment that kind of sticks in my head, you know? We were in Harlem, there was a black nationalist who had very strong opinions about the way society worked; he had some very personal issues with white people, and in the same day we ended up down in the West Village and met a white preacher and his partner who happened to be gay. I just remember the extreme, the polar opposites of both people within one day. It just stood out to me how diverse and complex New York is. And while I had my own personal opinions about who was right and what issues were more justified, I just saw the day as something so beautiful. There was so many different ways to see the world and within just a tiny little island, you kind of get everything.
What do you hope that people take away from this show?
I just hope that people understand that there are a multitude of views on even the same subject. Just in talking about God you have a number of varying, contrasting issues at play, and you have to learn that there is not necessarily the right answer. There is no perfect answer, but there is a way to respect one another’s positions. I love that the show opens up room for debate; I talk about it often, but conversation is a dying art form in this technological age, which is more about showing what you got or giving instant gratification, summing up everything in 160 characters or a picture. People run to Wikipedia to solve their arguments or make their points. The art of debate, the art of conversation, the act of exchanging words and letting other people know your perspective, there is something beautiful about it, and we have to embrace it. We have to keep pushing that sort of mindset. I just think that it rounds out a person; it makes for a healthier mind. The art of conversation is what I would push.
When you’re not running around NYC thinking about bashing people with your mic, what do you do in your spare time?
I sit on the phone and talk to cool people like you [laughs]. I would say — how do I say this without sounding like a douchebag — I really love to spend as little money as I can, so I occupy my time with going to museums. I love to go to the Met; it’s probably one of my favorite places in the world, or New York to just kind of relax and reflect, see what humanity is capable of, kind of like my away zone. It brings me back to zero starting point. I love going around the city on my bike; I bike like all the time without a helmet, so if anybody wants to give me an awesome helmet for Christmas! [laughs] Just hanging out with friends. I’m a big audiophile junkie, so whenever I’m with buddies I just sit around and listen to awesome, sometimes-pirated music. That was funny; that was in jest.
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