Highlighting Black Creators: Actor and Comedian Stacey Harkey

February 21, 2022

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Every year we do a Black History initiative here at Her First $100K. A big part of feminism, especially financial feminism, is recognizing intersectionality and supporting BIack creators and other marginalized communities. This year, in an effort to support the Black community, we’re sharing stories from 4 incredible Black creators and their businesses.

Here’s how you can support these creators:

  1. Follow them and their businesses on social media and share them far and wide. This is a completely free way to support Black creators –– and it doesn’t have to stop with the four we highlight.

  2. Spend money with these creators if you can do so. Supporting Black-owned businesses is one of the best ways to practice financial intersectionality.

Today, we’re chatting with Stacey Harkey, an actor and comedian who wrote/acted for the sketch comedy tv show, Studio C. He currently owns a media company with his friends called JK! Studios. Check out his interview to learn more about how you can support Stacey and other Black creators year round –– not just during Black History Month.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: Share a little bit of your background and what led to you becoming an actor/comedian/artist.

I’m from Dallas, TX and I grew up LDS (Mormon). The LDS church is very homogenous and very white, but especially in Texas. I always had a secret in my heart –– being attracted to boys. But of course, that was a no-go. It was the ultimate “you’re going to hell on a one-way ticket” kind of thing. I worked hard to dig in and ignore that aspect of myself, sort of put it off, and focused on school.

I grew up pretty shy, but I loved school –– I was very into books. I ended up graduating and getting a full scholarship to BYU, which was the perfect place for me at the time. I actually really enjoyed it. After a year, I end up leaving BYU to serve a two-year Mormon mission in Brazil. I was there for two years, just vibing. I learned Portuguese –– I still have dreams in Portuguese!

I come back from my LDS mission, and at this point in this conservative Christian community, the vibe is get married, have multiple kids, multiply, and “replenish,” (like put babies on the earth –– weird way to put it but that’s the term they use). So, I find myself in a situation where all of a sudden, this secret that I’ve buried and hidden away is rumbling. And as is the case with sexuality, no matter how much you want to run from it, it’s always going to be there. It’s part of you, right? So things kind of blew up a little bit in my face. 

I had to really start facing this part of me, but at the same time, I’m in this comedic world in Utah. I was an RA, and I worked with some of the freshmen, and one of my boys wanted to audition for the sketch comedy group, and I was like, “Good, I’ll support you!”  He asked me to do it with him, which I told him no, as I was planning to be a lawyer. 

But, I did it because I wanted to support him. Ironically, I got in, and he didn’t. So, I’m thrown into this situation where there’s this new sphere. It was really hard, but it also pushed me to grow. 

The show (at the time called Studio C) eventually gets picked up by a local network that has national reach, and we have a video go viral that ESPN starts to cover. At the time this starts to get picked up, I’m coming to terms with my sexuality, but still, back in the Mormon community and it started to feel like it was too much. I thought I’d maybe just be single, like a monk, and develop a new variant of tomatoes at a monastery. But really, I was at the lowest of lows.

I’d have people saying to me “I want my kids to be just like you!” and in the meantime, I’m thinking, “how do I not be gay?”

Religion was always a big part of me, and I eventually took it to my maker and had a come to Jesus moment where I was like, “what am I supposed to do?” and for the first time in my life, I felt a sense of peace. This feeling of “why are you fighting your nature –– lean in.”

So I tried, but it wasn’t that simple. Because it wasn’t that simple. I’m in this very homogenous, straight space. But this is where I think being Black is like such a superpower –– because what happened was, I found myself in the situation where I was like, “people are going to judge you for something you can’t control’” and I’ve been there. It’s just like being Black my whole life –– people are going to try to tell you how you should feel about certain things without having any experience in it. People are going to try to make you feel like you have to earn your worth.  All these lessons that I’ve been learning and developing as a Black man in America, in Utah, helped me come out and do it boldly. 

I find myself in a space now where, since then, my comedic career has taken all sorts of twists and turns. We were on NBC’s Bring the Funny. And I’m embracing more of who I am. And the more I embrace how gay I am, the more I’m embracing how Black I am and how great it is. 

We eventually left Studio C and started our own media company, which I wouldn’t have been able to be “out” anyways. And that’s where we’re at now!

Q: Tell us a little more about your community –– not just your comedy community, but your community in Utah. You seem to be really focused on starting local conversations.

Through this whole journey, I’ve had a great support system. And I find myself in this place now where I really, really, really want to make my community a better place no matter how white and straight it is. So I’ve gotten involved with some nonprofits –– I offer nonprofit consulting, corporate trainings about diversity, sexual diversity in the workplace, and race in the workplace. 

I’m involved in some areas politically, but at the end of the day, I think my mantra is, “if anyone makes you feel like the only way to belong is to edit who you are –– run!” 

We want to make your communities a better place, and we have to go about it strategically. There’s a time and a place for the protest. There’s a time for the gentle conversation, for voting.

Q: I’m sure that being a Black, gay man in comedy certainly has it’s strengths –– but I imagine it can also be quite challenging. How do you walk that line and handle the good and the bad?

One of my big mantras I have (and I have a lot) is “one of the best things you can do is to invest in your own authenticity.” Because investing in you is investing in your community. I think you can have so much power by just being your authentic self. 

I teach fitness classes in the morning. That’s where I get a sense of community, and I love it. Predominantly everyone that comes to my classes are super Mormon, LDS, very involved with the church. And just since I’ve been teaching, I can see a shift in the people that have been coming just by me being myself and having fun. The other day, a bunch of sweet Mormon women showed up in their rainbow socks to show support for pride. I’m not going to preach to you today about what it means to be Black. I am Black, and I’m not going to shy away. I’m not going to edit myself for you. 

To answer your question, it’s being authentic but also having boundaries. Establishing that I welcome your feedback, but I don’t welcome disrespect. And I will respond accordingly. And you know, some people respond positively, and if they don’t, that’s their problem.

Q: Since we, of course, talk about money here at Her First $100K, how do you navigate the ups and downs of income when you’re a performer?

When I graduated college, I was already working for Studio C. I didn’t know if it was going to pan out or what it was going to look like. But, I studied PR and marketing, and my goal with that was to make sure I had a backup. It ended up really helping in restarting our company. 

I try to spread out my income –– consulting nonprofits and fitness classes bring some income to the table. I think a really important part of amassing wealth is saving money.  Being wise about how I’m using money that comes in has been a really big lifesaver, especially on the heels of or in the throes of the pandemic.

Q: If you could go back and talk to 10/15 year old Stacey, what would you want to say?

I love plants. I always feel like I’m  taking life lessons away from nature. 

The Venus Flytrap is a really glitzy plant. It’s super cool. It eats bugs! Everyone loves a venus flytrap. But the reason that Venus Flytrap eats bugs is that it has a terrible root system. It’s roots aren’t really that  established it can’t really get any nutrients out of the soil. So, it has to compensate by getting nitrogen from elsewhere. Super fickle with water, too. If you use tap water, it can kill a Venus Flytrap. It needs really intense sunlight. And if you change the sunlight, the Venus Flytrap will struggle. It’s a cool glitzy plant, but it needs external resources like insects to be able to thrive, right? If you change any of those external resources, the Venus Flytrap will struggle and will suffer. 

Well, there are some less glamorous plants. One I love is called the ZZ plant –– it’s not a remarkable-looking plant. I like it, but it’s not a showstopper when you see it. But the thing about the ZZ plant, they call it the plant of steel because you can take that bad boy and put it in a dark staircase, like Harry Potter, and it’ll grow. You could forget about it, forget to water it completely –– it’ll still grow. The plant is so resilient because its root system is so stable. It has these bulbous, thick, potato kind of roots. It stores its nutrients within –– its resources come from within. 

When I think of confidence, or your sense of worth, I think so much of us are like The Venus Flytrap. We get so much from external validation. Our confidence comes from our accomplishments and what people think. That’s not a terrible thing all the time –– but the con to that is that you are controlled by your external environment. 

I wish I could tell myself to be like the ZZ plant growing up. That my sense of worth needed to come from an internal place. Take those good things that happen and store them, remember them hold them in, that’s great –– but don’t let them be your only source. I want to be like the ZZ –– if something happens around me, it’s not shaking my whole system.

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