Derek Gaines stopped by Jeffrey Gurian’s crib to talk about Season 2 of MTV’s Broke Ass Game Show (BAGS), the day after he wrapped shooting the second season. This half-hour comedy show is filmed in the streets of NYC, asking passersby to do crazy things for cash. No fancy lights, stages or expensive props, hosts David Magidoff and Derek Gaines it’s all about “broke a$$” challenges and games all promising cold hard cash in exchange for contestants’ dignity. Needless to say, when Jeffrey Gurian sits down with Derek Gaines….hilarity ensues.
Although the intent of the interview was to focus on BAGS I felt I had to ask a little bit about Derek’s background, since he went from being a janitor in a church at 18 years old to being the host of a successful “comedy show with some games in it” as he describes it.
His Mom had gotten him a job working in the church as a janitor when he was 18 years old. That entire year he “audited shows at The Laff House in Philly” besides attending his one year of art school at The University of the Arts in South Philly, thinking he’d become a jazz musician. He played the conga drums and timbales, studying Afro-Cuban percussion. He got scholarships despite the fact that he couldn’t read music.He was that good. The day after he turned 19 he got onstage after being urged by his high school friends who told him he was funny. He got his buddy to switch shifts with him at The Church and he got on the mic at the Laff House for the first time. He said he bombed hard, “but the only thing that kept me, … one girl laughed. One chick out of the whole audience just went (he chuckled), and that little bit was all I needed. I said, I’m gonna come back next week and try and get two a dem bitches to laugh! And I never got offstage after that. I needed the smallest validation to keep me on stage. I just took it in stride. I never had that quittin’ spirit.”
He did open mic for two years at The Laff House before they gave him his first spot to host. He also did Rascals in Cherry Hill as well, aside from a lot of rooms in Philly and what he calls “bullshit bars” in Jersey. “Rascals was in a hotel, and at Rascals I got cool with the manager and he’d let me come in an practice during the day to an empty room, just to get practice on the mic, and get the feel of the stage. Sometimes guests from the hotel would come in and catch me trying to practice my shitty act, and sometimes I even made ‘em laugh.”
I didn’t learn about Keith Robinson, or should I say “Poppa Keith” until I got up here. And that was the dude that you HAD to talk to as a young Black guy trying to get mainstream. It was like he was the fuckin’ Wizard of Oz.
And then once Derek came to New York, his whole crew came with him like Chris Cotton, Chloe Hilliard, Monroe Martin, and Dave Temple, who now call themselves the Six Foot Nothin’ crew. He explained Six Foot Nothin’ as “my comedy rag-tag team of friends, and just funny, funny people. My best friends that we all moved from Philly with the same idea, let’s just get really funny!”
Broke Ass Game Show, which will hereafter be referred to as BAGS, came at what he describes as “a low point in my life.” When he first came here he was sleeping on Pete Davidson’s couch in Brooklyn Heights, and Pete was only 19 and Derek was 28.
“To watch somebody 10 years your junior just killin’, gettin’ everything, and you sittin’ there like when is MY chance gonna happen! And you battle with never wantin’ to be jealous, you never wanna covet, cause you just wanna support your friend, but you just feel so fucked up, thinkin’ ‘Damn, when I’m gonna get a shot? Then– true story– me and him went to LA for pilot season, and I gave him money just to sleep on another couch. I had small money, cause I was livin’ off The Bank of Mom. I didn’t have a job anymore, I was doin’ comedy full time. This was about two years ago. Me and Pete was cool on the scene, and we even had the same managers. And they told Pete that I was driving back and forth between New York and South Jersey just to try and get some spots and Pete offered to let me sleep on his couch. That’s how that happened.
“To watch somebody 10 years your junior just killin’, gettin’ everything, and you sittin’ there like when is MY chance gonna happen! And you battle with never wantin’ to be jealous, you never wanna covet, cause you just wanna support your friend, but you just feel so fucked up, thinkin’ ‘Damn, when I’m gonna get a shot?
They shot a pilot, got 8 episodes, and now there are 17. The night before we spoke, they had just shot the Christmas episode. I asked him what was different about the 2nd season than the first. He said, “to push an envelope is an understatement. We’ve taken steps in the ridiculous, in the lunacy. It’s so fuckin’ ridiculous some of the things I did to people this summer for money. And it’s mind boggling how these jokes came off. Me and David and the rest of the crew knew for certain that half these games weren’t gonna work, and we were all wrong. Somehow people just do shit that gives us the jokes to just start, and every single time we go, ‘how the fuck did we get that done?” And we did it 219 times this season.
Black people LOVE this show man. They be like ‘Oh snap! Dose da motherfuckers wit da money! But when you try playin’ games with the 1 %, with people that already got money? They don’t like us man! They want us out of their neighborhood.
The nuttiest shows were in Times Square and Union Square. “Every time we did Times Square I called it my own personal Vietnam. It was a shit show. And second place shit show was Union Square. Holy G-d Jeff. You should have seem some of the things we went up against just to make people laugh, and the things we did to people that everyone laughed at! “ One of the Union Square best moments was getting five out of shape construction workers to dance on the Union Square steps wearing nothing but G-strings. They called the game “Tragic Mike” cause Magic Mike had just come out. They got paid $100.
But not everyone was cool. There was always some threatening stuff. Like a homeless man who approached Gaines with a Bible in his hand, but under the bible half his dick was sticking out. “We called him out on it and he was about to fight my assistant director and we all had to rush the guy, and we chased him out of the park right in Columbus Circle. It all happened so fast and I’m trapped in a chair in a Santa costume. And that was the beauty of working outside cause you never knew what was gonna happen.”
I asked him what was the best part of town for them. He answered with no hesitation. “Brooklyn Heights was so down to play every damn game. To be honest, Black people like this show even more than White people. Black people LOVE this show man. They be like ‘Oh snap! Dose da motherfuckers wit da money! But when you try playin’ games with the 1 %, with people that already got money? They don’t like us man! They want us out of their neighborhood. But every time we went to a Black neighborhood –other than Harlem, cause Harlem was weird– they loved us. We were like an adult ice cream truck. “
Derek said he is grateful for the opportunity. “I gotta thank MTV for the opportunity. Lauren Zins cast me, and fought for me to get this show, and I’m very thankful to her. She knew I had potential but I had bombed so many auditions and pilots before for her, but she believed in me and kept working with me. She didn’t have to but she did and now I got this. And the B17 crew came up with the concept, and they come up with all the games.”
I think BAGS Season 2 is the start of the New Age Gene Wilder/Richard Pryor-esque type thing, like for this generation. That tag team duo type shit, and I can see a movie comin’ out of this shit. If me and this dude keep workin’ together it’s gonna happen, cause we’re two compatible minds in comedy, so it can work out.
Needless to say Derek is not sleeping on couches anymore. He’s got a nice little place in Bushwick, Brooklyn. He ended by saying, “the Christmas episode airs Christmas eve, and I’m gonna be in people’s houses for Christmas.”
Watch the video to hear more stories about Broke Ass Game Show, and hear Derek tell about how 6 participants all threw up while filming the Christmas special from a game called “Egg Jog.” and watch Season 2 of Broke A$$ Game Show starting on October 8.