The "Jack of all trades, master of none" logic doesn't apply to everyone who's multitalented. Marc Lamont Hill's ability is spread across different mediums, and, in direct defiance with the classic figure of speech, Hill excels in multiple areas. Boxing him in with one title would be a fool's errand.
Morehouse College professor, activist, BET News host, CNN contributor, and author are among the many cards Hill holds. The 37-year-old Philadelphia native gained popularity by fusing his academic background with an innate passion for popular culture, which led to notable stints as the host of Our World with Black Enterprise and HuffPost Live. This Sunday night, he'll enter the late night television sphere as the host of VH1 Live, a weekly vehicle indulging Hill's range of interests by dissecting pop culture in an intelligent, appealing fashion.
Because Hill isn't just one thing, there are a couple of intangibles he'll definitely bring to VH1 Live: an activist's willingness to meet people where they're at and sharp insight. Ask Ben Ferguson or Harry Houck.
Do you feel like the timing of your show is perfect considering some of the world’s current affairs?
This show is an opportunity to flex different muscles. I’m always going to be talking about the heavy stuff. This will be an opportunity for me to stretch out and do the things that people knew me for at Huffington Post and Black Enterprise, which was doing entertainment—talking about current events, but not necessarily heavy political stuff. It’s the stuff that I care about.
There are more black faces in late night television now, but black people are not a monolith, we’re all different. What do you think this show, specifically, is going to bring to the table that’s different?
First of all, this is a show everyone can watch: black, white, whatever. I think the other shows fill other important lanes. Trevor [Noah] and Larry Wilmore, they do hardcore politics in a comedic way. My goal isn’t to do hardcore politics on this show, my goal is to [invade] the pop culture realm, but to also talk about the shit that matters in a responsible, smart way. My strength and the thing that I love is listening to people; interviewing people, and being able to get celebrities on the couch and get them to talk about the things going on in their lives, but also in the world.
So you’re going to be talking to entertainers about world issues. But that’s a slippery slope. They have elevated voices, but their opinions aren’t always advanced or evolved. For every Jesse Williams, you have Jennifer Lopez saying “All Lives Matter.” How much weight do you think should be given to these opinions?
Everyone’s entitled to an opinion, but when you’re in a public position, you have a responsibility to have an informed opinion because people follow you. For me, my job is to challenge them to be better, and the great thing about Twitter is that it works both ways. When Jennifer Lopez or whoever gets a response from their fan base that says, “Hey, this is more complicated than you think it is,” she has a chance to change her perspective. She has a chance to take the information and be good about it, and from what I’ve seen, Jennifer Lopez is always open to new ideas.
People really struggle to see the fundamental issue with saying “All Lives Matter” and how divisive it is, ironically. Or that Black Lives Matter is about seeking equality as opposed to supremacy. Do you think being in entertainment often puts people at such a distance that they’re out of touch with reality?
I don’t think it’s that celebrities are any more out of touch than everyday people on this issue. I know people in company break rooms at the local factory who also think “All Lives Matter,” and I know plenty of everyday black people in church saying “If you don’t commit a crime, then you ain’t got nothin’ to worry about, right?” That’s why we need more education, we need more engagement, and we need everyday people to pick up the cause and become stars of their communities—not necessarily celebrities or superstars, but the kind of stars in their communities that are organizing, teaching, and building.
What do you think is missing in late night TV? There’s definitely a void, whereas there were a lot of black faces on late night during the ‘90s.
There are a lot more platforms these days, and if there are a lot more platforms, then people of color should occupy them like everybody else. I’m excited at the possibilities that are in front of us. Seeing The Daily Show decide to make Trevor Noah the host is kind of dope, right? At the same time that Larry Wilmore took over for Stephen Colbert, [Comedy Central] could’ve said “Hey, we already have a black guy in here,” but they didn’t. They didn’t make it a black choice, they decided to get the best talent they could get to make the show and condition continue. I think that’s great, but I would be lying if I said I think we’ve turned this corner and that the opportunities are equal. It’s far from equal, just like the rest of the world. TV in general is deeply, deeply, deeply unequal, but I do think it’s possible to create more space for us. More space is about producing. More space is about ownership. More space is about writing. The question is how can we have diversity in all aspects of the corporation, from the executive suite down to the control room.
Do you think of yourself as a leader?
[Pauses.] Not in a formal sense. I see myself as a thought leader. I prefer to be of the [W.E.B.] Du Bois tradition. You might say, “W.E.B. Du Bois wasn’t on TV,” and I might say, “Yeah, because TV wasn’t invented yet.” But he did do newsletters, he wrote books, and he wrote for popular magazines. There’s different ways to exercise the intellectual leadership, and that’s what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to have fun, I’m trying to change the world, I’m trying to laugh, I’m trying to talk trash, and I want my Sixers to win a championship.
That considered, you’re probably going to look to have a wide range of guests on your show, right?
It’s about who I think is interesting, and who can make the show better. It’s not a gimmick, like “Ooh, let me get Cardi B, then let me go get Bernie Sanders.”
It'll all work out as long as, when necessary, you bring the same fire that you unleashed on Harry Houck this week.
[Laughs.] That was an interesting moment. I think we have a responsibility to remain civil and deal with facts for the benefit of our audience, and I just try my best to do that every time I’m on TV. Hopefully, the next time we’re on together, or on separately, we’ll have a chance to really continue the conversation.
Is it hard to strike a balance between passion and civility? On the one hand you are invested, but on the other you don't want your point to get lost in the crossfire.
I believe that civility is good; it’s just who I am. It wasn’t like I was sitting there like, “Yo, I’m about to give Harry Houck these hands.” I actually believe that the best thing to do is engage each other in good faith and love. Everyone who knows me knows that it takes a lot to make me angry. It takes a lot to make me uncivil or disrespectful to people; I do my best not to do that, because it’s just not who I want to be.