Jenifer Lewis, WALKING IN MY JOY: In These Streets

Jenifer Lewis, WALKING IN MY JOY: In These Streets

Zibby is joined by actress, singer, comedian, and activist Jenifer Lewis, star of Black-ish, to discuss her hilarious and vibrant collection of essays Walking in My Joy: In These Streets. Jenifer speaks candidly about living with depression and bipolar disorder, her unfortunate relationship with a con man, her exuberant trip around the world, and how a life-long dedication to journaling saved her life. (Oh! And Zibby also reveals how her nickname came to be!)


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Jenifer. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss your amazing —

Jenifer Lewis: — Thanks, Zibby. I love that name. Who named you Zibby? Where’d you get that from?

Zibby: A friend in my playgroup when I was one could not pronounce Elizabeth, and so she called me Zibbith. My parents shortened it to Zibby.

Jenifer: Oh, my god, that is so cute. Get out of here. That’s a great story. I love when kids can’t pronounce.

Zibby: I was so excited to talk to you today after reading your whole book, which I just loved.

Jenifer: Did you read it?

Zibby: I read the whole thing.

Jenifer: Oh, my god. Zibby, come on now.

Zibby: I did. I am telling you the truth. I read it all.

Jenifer: No, I know you read it, but did you like it?

Zibby: I loved it. First of all, I loved that you wrote it in a way where it felt like I was talking to you, like I was just sitting and talking to you. By the time, here we are, I feel like I already know you so well. You don’t know me, I guess, but I feel like we have this relationship going already.

Jenifer: When I read you interviewed Hillary and Jill, I was like, okay, come on. Zibby, I’m going to be good on this. I’m all yours. I’m excited to talk to you. Let’s just do it. I’m on your side.

Zibby: We’re doing it.

Jenifer: I’m so glad you liked it. Everybody’s saying that.

Zibby: I’m not surprised.

Jenifer: I wish one person would say, that one chapter…

Zibby: I am not surprised everyone’s liking it.

Jenifer: I put my heart in it. I really did.

Zibby: I can tell.

Jenifer: I got no secrets. Take it, kids, and learn. I’m sitting on top of the world. I got everything I wanted. Here it is, all my . I’m ready for you.

Zibby: It’s funny that you talk about Hillary and Jill Biden because I have not interviewed Barack or Michelle, but they are all through your book, your reverence for Michelle. You were so funny in your scene with them when they were coming through the line. She’s literally basically pushing you away from Barack Obama.

Jenifer: It was so fun, so fun. I told you, I woke up, they gave me three Christmas cookies.

Zibby: Then you faint in the White House. I was like, I don’t know anyone else who’s fainted in the White House.

Jenifer: I completely forgot. I usually go home and tell all the stories. My best friend was diagnosed with cancer the day we got back, so I forgot all about the faint, all about it, until I was writing the book. I had the storyboard on the wall. I had to go back to a date. You know from the first book I’ve kept a journal since I was in the seventh grade because I was like, I know I’m going to be a movie star. I’m going need my book. Then my shrink, when I got in, she reminded me, she said, “You didn’t know you were saving your life writing it all down.” I was. I don’t think I’d have made it if I — I checked my life. Something in me knew something was wrong. It becomes such a habit, the depression, the crying at night. Thinking everybody cried at night. In my twenties, I was on Broadway. What could be wrong? I told you in the first book, it was a performance. I made a performance out of it. I would look in there with those tears and say, what’s wrong, baby? You’re on Broadway. What’s wrong? I didn’t know. I kept living like that, living with the sex addiction and everything. It’s good to be here and have done the work. I stayed in therapy for about twenty years, twice a week. I’ve got the tools now. I don’t let too much get on me. I just lost my phone. It was such a stress build. I tried to retract myself. Instead of panicking, I wrote a song.

Zibby: Amazing.

Jenifer: “Jenny, calm down. It’s just a phone. Come on. Jenny, calm down. It’s just a phone.” You go by AT&T, you get another one. Shut the fuck — I’m going, mother — fuck that. I don’t do that shit no more. I’m far too medicated anyway. My body won’t let me do it. I’ll be like, why can’t I kill that bitch? It’s your Prozac and your goddamn whatever that other shit, Lamictal, that stop you from killing. Thank god. I want to say one thing else. I saw a documentary on Vivien Leigh, who was bipolar. They used to literally take her off the Gone with the Wind set in a straitjacket.

Zibby: I did not know that.

Jenifer: Then they interviewed a friend of hers in London. She said, “Vivien would still be with us if they had had the medication and the research now.” That’s true. When my shrink said, “I think you might be bipolar,” I was like, “What, bitch? Bi-what? I’m not bisexual. What is that?” I didn’t know . That’s how grateful I am that they have the treatment now to treat mental illness. Vivien suffered. Then she said, “She called me. We were going to play cards.” She was brilliant. I loved it. She said, “But I was late. It was raining. When she came in, she came in from outside. She’d just had a sexual tryst in the park.” That’s the sex addiction that comes with the mania. That’s one thing. You spend a lot. You’re rageful because you don’t know where it’s coming from. That sex addiction, that need to control, when you feel out of control inside, you will create that on the outside so it can reflect back to you. You think, okay, I’m used to this. Misery loves company. You’re miserable too? Okay, let’s go. It comes together when you don’t take care of yourself. I’m good now. I’m on top of the world, kid.

Zibby: I feel like part of helping others through mental illness is exactly what you’re doing in the book, here today. So many people still — I know stigma, blah, blah, blah. People still don’t talk about it a lot. They’re still afraid. The more you put out there how you’re actually feeling, the more you can get back in. Every time I debate if I should share something, once I do and I get positive things back — it’s actually on us to share with other people, other women, everybody else, so that they can have a place to share back. Otherwise, where are you going to do it?

Jenifer: I became the legal guardian — this is going to be on radio?

Zibby: It’s on a podcast. It’s a podcast, so anywhere podcasts are available.

Jenifer: Anyway, there was a kid that I took in. It was my cousin’s daughter. Oh, god, I lost my train of thought with that. What were we talking about right before?

Zibby: We were talking about mental illness and sharing it with each other and how you have to be open and share it.

Jenifer: Yes. I would share that I was having so much trouble with her and a boy. They both were — I think that’s why I got them. I saw they were so broken, broken open from the things that had happened to them. I shared it with other parents. Sure enough, everybody’s child was going through it. The millennials were depressed. They had been raised on the computer. They were watching porn at seven. They never learned manners and morals. They all woke up at maybe twenty-two with arthritis in their fingers from playing video games, looked up at their mother and father and went, wait a minute, where the fuck did my childhood go? You are going to take care of me, right? Those little shits. Really, what? We all have to take responsibility for what happens to these kids. You set them in front of the TV so you could do this and do that. You let them be on those video games. You let them be on the internet. Take care of them now. Don’t send them out into the world so selfish. That’s the most selfish little — they are little shits. God bless them. I love them. I do, Zibby. I ain’t going to lie to you. I try to take care of them. When they get real bad, I say, honey, you got to go. Get the fuck out of here. Not that. Lying, stealing, what? Got to go. I tell a lot of people, you reach out. Go on, reach out to that cousin that’s naked on the picnic table. Go get them about three times. If you love them, give them about three. Then baby, keep it moving. You can’t change anybody. You can lead the horse to the water. You can’t make them drink. Let it go. Let people live. Allow them to do what they want to do. You know what my saying is? Let the children live. Other people’s happiness ain’t none of your business because you can’t make them happy.

Zibby: True.

Jenifer: It’s hard to accept reality like that, but you know me, I’ll call it like I see it.

Zibby: Jenifer, can we talk about your relationship? I loved reading about how your first meeting at the gym with this man developed despite your better judgement. You finally opened up to him and let the relationship begin, started introducing him to all your friends, really got invested. Then… I don’t want to give anything away, but dealing with —

Jenifer: — Here’s the thing. I wasn’t paying attention. I was running off to send 11,000 seniors off into the world at my alma mater. The president of the college called and said, “We want to honor you with a doctorate.” I was silent. I said, “Dr. Stroble, can I just call you right back? I need a moment.” She was depending on me to deliver a good speech. I wanted her to be proud of me. I was writing that speech. I wasn’t paying attention to that asshole. He was a sociopath. I’ll tell you, he was as good at what he does as I am with what I do. He’d been doing it since he was fifteen years old. He was a fucking pro. I don’t know if you saw Tinder Swindler, but he did it by the book, all of it. Navy Seal, for Christ — what the fuck was wrong with me?

Zibby: I believed it. I was right there.

Jenifer: Oxford. He was brilliant, Zibby. He really was, but he wasn’t more brilliant than me because he got caught, you asshole. He’d been in and out of jail. He was good. By the time he got to me, he was fifty-two. He knew exactly what he was doing. He had researched me on the internet. He knew all of my buttons. He knew I loved children. I said this in the book. When he said Cary Grant was his favorite actor, I should’ve clocked it. I should’ve clocked it. The only time I had told somebody that was in an interview years ago. That son of a bitch went back into my history, studied me, and made his move. When I saw him at court, I looked at him. I think that was in the book. I said, “You know you fucked with the wrong girl, right?” I won’t give it away, but fuck him. He’s in jail. I can’t say that either. Anyway, it came out great. The part where I had to give it to the public — my shrink actually tried to do a little reverse psychology on me. I wanted to kill her for it. She said to me, “You know Jenifer, you don’t have to give this to the press. This was personal. You give so much. Think about it.”

Zibby: Maybe she meant that.

Jenifer: She did, I think, but still. She knew better. I can’t not help when I saw how much pain I was in at the disbelief of it all. I lived the spectrum. I’m from the street. I should’ve seen it coming. I told her, I said, “You know damn well I got to give it back. If I’m in this much pain, what other women must suffer? I have tools to work through this. I’ll get better. I have to give it up.” He was loose in the world. I knew he would get another woman.

Zibby: I want to know what some of the tools are. Teach me a tool.

Jenifer: Journaling. My therapist told me I saved my life by writing every day. I wrote every day. When I wrote The Mother of Black Hollywood, which is my memoir, my first book, I had to read sixty-seven journals and get those details out of there. I could tell you what I ate, 1979 after school.

Zibby: What was your snack?

Jenifer: We had ice cream. We went down there. We shouldn’t have. I stole a sponge cake out of Mr. Miller’s store today. I hope nobody tells my mama. It’s all there. It was all there, but it still wasn’t easy to write. I will give you this. This is so deep. I got so mad at God after that son of a bitch came into my life. I went down to Venice Beach. You sent me a fucking con artist? I stayed mad a long time. What was I saying before that? I want to finish that thought.

Zibby: We were talking about journaling. We were talking about tools, things that your therapist —

Jenifer: — Tools. The journaling is first. It’s the most important because like she said, “That journaling saved your life.” The other tool besides journaling is, keep your ass in therapy. Check in. If some dumb shit happens, if somebody you love dies and you’re fucked up, go check in. Don’t fall apart. Stay alive, for god’s sake. There’s too many of the living dead running around here, especially after COVID. People, they don’t even know how in shock they are. The world is mourning. Every time I get a stress pill, I try to think, it’s COVID, Jenny. Don’t do it. The food is going to be slower. The waiter is not going to move as fast. Stop all that privilege shit. Stop it. Where is the food? Bitch, go grow some. You can pick it out of your garden. Even things like — I think I said it — 157 flavors of ice cream, you Americans. You stand there for an hour trying to figure out which one you want. You always just go back to vanilla. You get your vanilla cone, and then you lick on it on your way to storm the capitol. What did you just do? Unbelievable. Then I saw one thing where some white man was up there, tall and had a shirt, and he went, “Let’s go kick some ass.” I was like, what fucking century is this? We’re in space, you son of a bitches. Be nice.

I’ve been all over the world. I just got back from India and saw all that shit. That’s not in the book because I actually was still writing the book in Cambodia. I took a trip around the world. I get on this private jet, and I go around the world when I get a month off. I have to hit everybody. It’s exhausting, but you’re always yearning for the next stop. I can tell you where I just got back from. Cambodia and , Nepal, Kathmandu. Took a helicopter through the Himalaya mountains. Saw Everest. Little girl from Kinloch, Missouri. Then to Agra, India, the Taj Mahal. I told my mother when I was thirteen, “I’m going to get married at the Taj Mahal.” All those big dreams. The mania, the delusions of grandeur that comes with that mania, we don’t say we’re going to get married at that little church over there. Give me the Taj Mahal, bitch. That ego’s a motherfucker when you’re having an episode. Anyway, after India was Abu Dhabi, the Grand Mosque. It’s like, are you kidding me? It’s a forward-thinking country. I forgave them for the ornateness and the opulence. I’m like, goddamn. I knew it was the oil. It’s so beautiful, every inch of it, precision. It is the modern-day . Then the helicopter over Dubai to see the islands, the Palm Island and the Crown Island. We played camel polo in Dubai at the polo club. It’s also popular. When you’re a celebrity, I can only travel like that. I can’t go schlepping around the world by myself. One last place, Jordan, Petra. Jesus Christ, that was just a mindfuck, how they carved that thing. You know why they did that? Because they weren’t watching Dancing with the Stars. was built because they didn’t know the Kardashians. What a world we live in.

Then we were supposed to go to Sicily. No, baby, I’m talking about Sicily. Her name is Cecily. She thought I was calling her. That’s my . That’s so good. There was a COVID breakout on the jet. They let a woman back on there that had tested positive. Because she got a negative, they put her back. The doctor that we travel with came over. I said, “Don’t patronize me. Don’t you dare. Y’all don’t know nothing about this fucking thing. Positive, negative. Negative, positive. She has those symptoms two days ago. Now she done tested negative, and you let her back on this fucking plane. You guys were supposed to keep me safe. What’s wrong with you?” I came home. I missed Sicily. I took a three-hour drive across the Jordanian desert. I stayed at the Four Seasons, made them pay for it. I had a six-hand massage that night. Baby, if you ever to go to Amman, you go to that Four Seasons. I’d never seen one like that. It was so everything. You know I’ve been around the world. I’ve been in every luxury . Four Seasons in Amman, Jordan, tore me up. Took a flight back to JFK. I was so happy to get home. I wasn’t going to wear a mask on a private jet, bitch. You know how much money that shit cost? Why’d you let her back there? I said, she must have been the CEO’s cousin or some shit. You sacrificed everybody on that plane. No, I’m not staying. They were so sad I left because you know I bring the party. I was like, fuck all you republicans. See you later.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, Jenifer. I have another question for you.

Jenifer: Okay, sorry. I will go on with the story, girl. I promise I will. What’s happening? What’s your last question?

Zibby: My last question for you, after everything you’ve gone through and being a celebrity and having people mistreat you, like this guy, how do you know who to trust?

Jenifer: That’s a very interesting question. How do I know who to trust? I’ll tell you something about myself since the con artist. Some shit like that happens to you, and you wake the fuck up. Another thing I say to myself, check, check, double check, Jenny. I do a background on every motherfucker I say good morning to. I do. I’m like, who the fuck are you? No, don’t tell me. I’ll find out. Anybody that comes close, very close — Cecily is new. I do a background check, you little thief. What’d you steal? She’s laughing. I found out she had a speeding ticket or some shit. It was a waste of fucking money. I should’ve known a little blond, white girl ain’t did too much shit in the world. What are you, twelve? She’s in her twenties. I check, check, double. I don’t let anybody new in my life anymore. I’ve got enough friends. I’m sixty-five. Get the fuck out of here. I want new friends? I trust myself more. Like I said, I just sang that little happy song and got that stress off me. I walk the walk now. I greet everybody with joy. That’s why I named the book that. Hey, how you doing? People have been asking me for pictures all day. Even though I put shit in front of my face, they just see the afro. Of course, I’m in bright yellow. How can I be missed?

I give everybody a picture. I tell them, stand there. I’ll get in the back for COVID. I can’t say no. These are the people who pay my mortgage. These are the people who have watched me over the years. These are the people you give a picture. You be nice. I tell my other celebrities when a phone — everybody had a camera. I said, you don’t want to give a picture? Keep your fucking ass at home. Those people, they just want a picture. I don’t say no to anybody. I say this. This is my last sentence. I’m an alpha. I don’t care if it’s an earthquake, which I talked about in Mother of Black Hollywood. I had to kick down seven doors. I don’t care what’s going on. I will leave no man behind by any fucking thing. What do you need here? I got everything I wanted. I know how it feels to be poor and desperate. That’s what makes me who I am, that spectrum from nothing, literally, to everything I’ve ever wanted. I’m going show you something. I’m sure you’ve seen it.

Zibby: I saw. I posted it. I was like, look at this. I’m interviewing her. I can’t wait.

Jenifer: Can you even believe it?

Zibby: The Sunday Styles cover. You look amazing.

Jenifer: I open two full pages in the Sunday Times. Now, I’ve been in The Times many times. I have, but not two full pages. It just felt fucking good. Fuck that digital shit. You let me see that . I’m old school. Fuck you and your digital shit. Kids ain’t doing nothing but watching porn. Everybody’s . Everybody but me. That shit gives me a headache. I never watched that shit. Okay, last night, but listen. Get out of here, Zibby. I leave no man behind, little girl. You hear me? That’s who you’re talking to.

Zibby: You’re amazing. That was the most entertaining half an hour I think I’ve ever spent. I feel like I just got a personal performance of the best show ever. Thank you. You’re amazing.

Jenifer: Last thing. When you say I’m amazing, it has to be in you to see it in me. Now get out of here. You’re getting on my nerve. Go. Go somewhere. Let me eat. I hate all these interviews.

Zibby: Goodbye.

Jenifer: You’re an angel.

Zibby: Bye. Thank you.

Jenifer: You are. You’re an angel. Get out of here. Bye, baby.

Zibby: Thank you. Bye.

Jenifer Lewis, WALKING IN MY JOY: In These Streets

WALKING IN MY JOY: In These Streets by Jenifer Lewis

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