James Davis’ Two Worlds Collide in Hood Adjacent on Comedy Central

He may not realize it, and it may not be intentional…but has two entries on IMDb.

His work as a writer on The Late Late Show with James Corden, star of Comedy Central’s Snapchat series Swagasaurus, and his @midnight appearances are highlighted on one profile, while his work on BET’s Real Husbands of Hollywood and MTV’s Wild ‘N Out live on another. The projects they refer to are all the work of one man, and yet the idea of there being two Jameses is central to the perspective of Hood Adjacent, debuting June 28th on Comedy Central.

Hood Adjacent is the latest iteration in a series of projects Davis has undertaken to help bridge the two worlds, and two versions of himself, in which he exists. Born in South Central L.A., just a few blocks away from what many would consider “the hood,” but educated in private schools and later a liberal arts college, the contrast inherent in his surroundings has driven a great deal of his writing. The early seeds of Hood Adjacent were sown during his time as a writer on The Late Late Show with James Corden. He found himself developing ideas that had comedic potential, but didn’t always fit Corden’s voice (an experience that Davis nevertheless appreciates and looks back on with “no shade”). One of those ideas, a segment called “Urban Dictionary,” came to mind as he was searching for a themed show to present at L.A.’s Nerdmelt. He reframed it as a live show, where he incorporated his voice as well as other comics (including Roy Wood Jr., Hannibal Buress, Chris D’Elia, Neal Brennan, Damon Wayans Jr., and more) to school the audience:

“That show was me performing, and explaining that I’m ‘hood adjacent,’ as a way to tell them why I am this authority on Urban Dictionary stuff, but can still talk to you in the back of a comic book store about it. Then I would break down two to four words from the Urban Dictionary. Newer words, some more popular like ‘on fleek,’ some others like ‘curve,’ or to reject somebody. I would present the words, comedically define them. I would previously send those out to the comedians, and they’d tried to infuse those words into their stand up. They’re not doing stand up about those words, but they’re trying to creatively infuse those words in- honestly, to help the crowd learn the word and how it can be used.”

Comedy Central loved the concept, and enlisted Davis to headline their Snapchat Discover series Swagasaurus (rebranded from “Urban Dictionary” mostly for expense- [Comedy Central] “don’t wanna pay for that!”), where Davis and his matter-of-fact way of reframing language for the mainstream soon merited “a TV show pitch that went well, that turned into a pilot that went well, that turned into an eight-episode order.”

Developing a persona and perspective on Snapchat, a platform that Davis acknowledges he was skeptical about at first, but “literally wouldn’t be here without,” informed the way he and his writers attacked developing the show, which will bridge cultural gaps on topics like golf, gangs, black Twitter, and “black girl magic” during its first season. As he explained the premise of the golf episode to me, it was incredibly clear how focused he and his team were on making the show not just hilarious, but informative and liberating for each “side” of the conversation:

“The Golf episode is a lot about me telling the hood, ‘Don’t believe this stereotype that this world is not for you. It’s an open door, I have a foot in it right now, come on in here.’ But I’m also showing the mainstream audience, ‘Don’t you believe the hype that black people don’t play golf either.’ Even if it’s just me talking to a golfer, you’re going to see my love for golf. It’ll be my vision of a young black man that people haven’t seen there before. I’m not Carlton! A week ago, I was just with a gang member. And now here I am, talking about golf with the same enthusiasm as I was just talking about [Michael] Jordan [, the topic of another episode this season].”

Hood Adjacent allows Davis, as one whole person, to serve as an ambassador of types between two worlds that are so often framed as separate.

He went on to say, “[We] have fact-based premises, statistics-based premises. Once we have our statistic and what we’re trying to say, then we think [about] how far we can take the comedy.” His approach was most evident as he talked further about what the episode on gangs would consist of. “We give so many politicians and other public figures a pass and ignore their dark side to focus on their positive side. For gang members, we ignore their positive side and we focus on the dark side. So for twenty-two minutes, let’s focus on the bright side. We’re owning up to the other side, but we’re saying ‘We’ve heard that side. Here’s something different.’”

Given that Davis sees himself as having a foot in each world, keenly aware of the chasm that separates his feet, I asked him what he hoped each “side” would get from watching Hood Adjacent. His answer? He wants it to highlight the commonalities between groups who think they don’t share anything. “Hood Adjacent is a nuance,” he said, “and I want people to understand the nuance so we can find the similarities.” He wants the show to shine light on moments where people will be able to say “I’m the same way, I didn’t even know!” Hood Adjacent allows Davis, as one whole person, to serve as an ambassador of types between two worlds that are so often framed as separate. But according to him, those two worlds are far more similar than we’re taught to believe. “I feel like, in a time where we’re so divided on so many issues as a country, I think this show is going to highlight a lot of the things we have in common.” And on June 28th on Comedy Central, we’ll have the opportunity to find that out, together.

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Amma Marfo

Amma Marfo is a writer, speaker, and podcaster based in Boston, MA. Her writing has appeared in Femsplain, The Good Men Project, Pacific Standard, and Talking Points Memo. Chances are good that as you're reading this, she's somewhere laughing.