It was not my intention to ask a question that stumped comedian and actor Kim Coles.
"The Soul Man's" recurring Wanda and an alum of "In Living Color" and "Living Single," Coles recently dropped by Dunwoody College of Technology as part of the UNCF Empower ME Tour. She delivered a candid message about power, money and success from the perspective of someone who's enjoyed the ups and learned from the downs of Hollywood.
My favorite Coles character was Dr. Mary, the recurring part she played on "Frasier." How her homespun, non-therapist character perturbed Frasier Crane when they were paired on the radio! Frasier's biggest fear was that she would think he didn't like her because she was black rather than because their styles simply did not mesh.
"Have I gotten too uppity for you? You sherry-swilling, opera-loving, Armani-wearing elitist. You have no idea how difficult it is for a black woman in a white man's world," Crane said in a side-splitting soliloquy during which he adopted not only Dr. Mary's voice, but some new gestures, as you'll see on my startribune.com/video. Turns out Coles was practically a director when it came to assisting in the delivery of those lines.
Q Dr. Mary!
A OK? OK! [Delivering Dr. Mary's signature phrase in character.]
Q Were you as impressed as I was with Kelsey Grammer's impersonation of a black woman on that "Frasier" episode?
A I actually helped Kelsey. I was extremely impressed with Kelsey Grammer's imitation of a black woman because I helped him! [Finger pointing by way of illustration.] I helped him with that whole thing, 'cause he was doing it all this way [she shows the wrong way] and I gave him that [the right way]. That was my doing, thank you, and he was lovely to work with.
Q You said you are here and about being real, despite the fact that you are wearing...
A ... I'm a real woman, but yes, I am wearing false eyelashes and makeup and nail stuff. I don't think there is anything wrong with gilding the lily, and that's what I've done today. And I told the truth about my fake eyelashes [to the students].
Q You told the Huffington Post that a bunch of women fighting [as happens on "Real Housewives" shows] is not good TV.
A Contrary to the ratings, I don't think a bunch of women yelling and throwing drinks in each other's face and breaking glasses is good TV. It's actually not good TV.
Q You and I could not program for Bravo?
A I don't know anybody who acts that way. I wouldn't hang out with anybody who acts that way. I find it interesting that people seem to like it. It's drama. They call it "Reality." But there's nothing real about that. Even some of the women who've been doing these shows have been saying, Oh, we're just doing it to call attention to our charity. Just know that a lot of that is staged, and so much of it is so not real.
Q Do you like NeNe Leakes?
A I think NeNe is this high-spirited, beautiful, crazy, wonderful girl. I think she's a bit much, and she wants to be a bit much, so she is successful.
Q Are you on Team Mariah or Team Nicki?
A Do I have to choose one? Something I need to know? I'm Team Love and Laughter. That's the team I'm on.
Q Do you stay in touch with your "Living Single" co-stars, Queen Latifah and Kim Fields?
A I don't get to see them as much, because Kim lives in Atlanta and Latifah's doing movies. But I'm extremely close with T.C. [Carson], Erika [Alexander] and John [Henton], 'cause they live in LA. I get to see them a lot.
Q I see you describe yourself as a goddess on Twitter. What makes you a goddess?
A Yes, I'm a goddess because I have a tattoo that says I am a goddess. I am a goddess because I've chosen to be one. I'm a goddess in that I know who I am. I know what my power is as a woman. My power is to receive and give love.
Q Comedy-wise, you seem to have always played it safe, unlike Wanda Sykes and Chris Rock, who don't mind offending people. Is that just your personality, or is it a survival strategy?
A What you see is what you get. I'm not saying I don't get a little naughty or get a little adult. I tell the truth, and I tell stories, but I think that they are being themselves, too. Everybody chooses to put a persona out there that is a piece of who they really are.
Q As a black woman, have you been taken aback by the accolades bestowed upon Kim Kardashian's behind?
A [Laughter] Listen, we as women of color have booties, we've seen booties, our mommas have booties, our aunties have booties, and I am, ah, ah ... How do you answer that question?
Interviews are edited for space and clarity. C.J. can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.