Karamo Brown is good at talking to people. The man can hold a conversation. He’s even better at getting people to open up and then listening to and understanding their fears and hopes and feelings. He makes them interrogate their relationships with themselves, their sense of self, and how they treat others. He asks more of the men and women who come on to the show and, given his significant training in social work, he actually knows what he’s talking about. More so: the dude genuinely cares. That’s why he’s such a great fit as the defacto therapist — or “Culture Guy” — on Netflix’s Queer Eye.
While Karamo loves being one of the new fab five, he’s not content for that to be his only gig. In the last year, he penned the memoir Karamo: My Story of Embracing Purpose, Healing, and Hope, launched the advice podcast Karamo: A Podcast, and just announced I Am Perfectly Designed, a children’s book he co-wrote with his son, Jason. Fatherly sat down with Karamo, Queer Eye’s only dad, to discuss mental health and writing for children. We also asked him for his go-to parenting advice, because, why wouldn’t we? The man’s got lots to share.
In the last year, you’ve released a memoir book, launched a podcast, completed another season of Queer Eye, and are about to release a children’s book. How has navigating all of this work, fame, and family been?
The same way that we navigate our physical health, it’s important that I navigate and talk about mental health. I’m always checking in with myself, and making sure that I’m not feeling too stressed, sad, down, or isolated. Things happen when you are, all of the sudden, thrust into a new adventure in your life that we all wish for. But when you actually get it, you have to make sure that you’re really making sure that you’re okay.
Given the really heavy emotional work you do, what concrete things do you do to take care of yourself in between all of that?
I’m not afraid of the word ‘no.’ A lot of times, people are afraid to set boundaries. I’m aware of when I hit my emotional fatigue and my compassion fatigue. I’m aware of when I’m no longer able to give what I know the other person deserves in that moment. It’s about being able to say and articulate “Right now, I’m not able to give. But here’s a resource for you to get what you need.” I think that has really helped me take care of myself, but it’s also helped other people to know that they can trust, when I’m helping them, that I’m actually there, showing up fully and wholeheartedly versus giving them a half-assed answer that’s not going to really help them or be tailored to what they need.
To that point: Much of the work you do on Queer Eye seems to really not be bullshit. It is honest. Is that because of your training as a social worker, or because you take care of yourself? Or both?
I mean, I’ve been through many challenges in my life. The beautiful part of my experience — being on television when I was 23 years old, on The Real World, is that people have actually seen my growth. So not only am I professionally trained [in social work], but I’m also able to say: “Look, you’ve seen be crazy Karamo on the real world, but you’ve also seen me change to someone who can be an empathetic listener, who is taking care of themselves and wants to encourage you to do the same.” I think that’s reassuring for a lot of people. It also gives me the mindset that I know that I’m in the right space and at the right time, and that I’ve put in the work.
When you’re filming Queer Eye, you’re away from home for a long time. Does a work-life balance even exist during those filming months? How do you stay connected?
A lot of pizza, Coca Cola, gummy bears, and good, trash TV. There’s nothing like coming home after a long day and ordering some Domino’s and enjoying a good marathon of Housewives. Don’t underestimate how that can recharge you. I do a lot of that for myself.
I also connect with my fiancé and kids. I prioritize that. I carve out the space. A lot of times, we, as individuals, assume that we’ll ‘find the time.’ You don’t realize that the same way that you’re at work where you have to schedule out your lunch, is the same way that you have to schedule out calls. We do it in business, but we won’t do it in families. I think it’s important for people to realize that you should do the same in your personal life. If it’s important to you, you need to carve out the time, and stick to that. Between 8 and 9:30, I’m going to carve out time not to be looking at work, at my computer, but to connect with my fiancé. I carve out the first hour of my day to make sure I’m checking in with my kids to see what’s going on with them.
What’s your go-to parenting philosophy?
My kids and I have these long conversations that happen all the time, long and honest communication, about what we’re both feeling. I think a lot of times, parents come into a space where they feel they are the arbiters of everything, and that their opinion is the only opinion that matters. I don’t subscribe to that. If a young person, whether they are eight years old or 28, has their own thoughts, opinions, fears, and hopes, I think those should be validated. I give my children just as much respect to talk about what they’re feeling, as much as I talk about what I’m feeling and what I think is best, so that we can help them grow at a pace that is going to be comfortable for them.
What’s the best part about being a dad, to you?
The biggest joy that I have as a parent is seeing my kids succeed or fail. I think it’s one of the greatest gifts. But the other part of that is my biggest fear, which is seeing them succeed and fail. It goes hand in hand.
People are afraid of failure because that’s where they believe the hardships come. I understand that failure actually gives you lessons, to propel you where you need to go. Sometimes, success can be a lot scarier than failure, because a lot of people don’t know how to navigate success. They don’t know how to navigate what they’ve been asking for [when they get it]. We all ask for a job and a relationship, and then we get it and then don’t know how to handle it. That’s scary for me, as a parent. What happens if they don’t know how to handle the success they’re getting, just as much as they don’t know how to receive the gifts of failure?
Why did you decide to launch your podcast?
When we started Queer Eye, the one thing that made me sad was that I’d get home and I wasn’t able to give the same amount of help to other people. I wondered how I could take this to a bigger platform. How can I have people from around the world call me, and help them navigate their relationships? I just thought, let’s do a call-in show.
Everyone told me that there have been call-in shows in 20 years. But just because it hasn’t been around in a while doesn’t mean that we can’t do it again. It’s been working out amazingly. I’ll get about 20 to 30 calls per episode, and then we’ll whittle them down to the two or three that go in the episode.
I would say that, for all five of us, is that we all get people saying: “Teach me how to do my hair. Teach me how to cook. Teach me how to help my self-esteem.” Because my [skill set] is not so much of a tangible and physical thing, it’s more of an emotional gift, I felt like I could help many people.
The more that you work with people, have you noticed any common themes of what we struggle with?
Most of us feel alone. Most of us feel alone in our relationships, with ourselves, with other people. We feel alone in our feelings. We feel like we’re the only ones having hardships, and we’re the only ones that are feeling sad. If we just found the confidence to open up and acknowledge what we’re feeling in a public way, then we would realize we’re not alone.
Our society tells us that if you share, and talk about what you’re feeling, you’re somehow a burden. That people are going to not want to hear it. We got to this place where when someone asks how we’re doing, we say: “I’m okay.” Instead of saying: “You know what, today I’m not that good.”
We get into this space where we think the rest of the world is going to be judging us for what we’ve been through. We end up being our own biggest critics. We want to beat somebody to the punch. The isolation of: “No one can understand what I’ve been through, so I’m just going to make a joke about it.” You don’t have to be the bad guy to yourself. You can be a good guy for yourself. And that’s okay.
You just announced a children’s book, too.
My son and I have a brand new children’s book coming out called I Am Perfectly Designed. It’s a message I’ve been telling him since he was a child, and it’s something that I share when I give lectures around the country. It’s a very simple mantra that means that you have been given all of the tools that you need to create the life you want. The biggest tool you have is the ability to ask for help. I think sometimes we hear a narrative that we’re never going to get the life we want or deserve. So I remind myself every day that I am perfectly designed. I remind myself that there is nothing wrong with me, even if I am on a journey to change something for myself. That’s part of your perfect design. By knowing that, you can use every part of the intersecting of your identity to create the life you want.
The book is for kids, but it’s also for adults. It’s for everyone. It’s got great illustrations and we’re really proud of it. My son did such a great job of co-authoring it. I’m really proud to see him blossom.
It seems like, in some ways with this book, you’re going to the source of our problems. You’re helping kids talk about their feelings early on.
One-hundred percent. There are pages in there where we’re challenging toxic masculinity in a very digestible way. Most parents or kids reading it aren’t going to realize that we’re challenging some of the narratives of masculinity. There’s no “you have to have a toy truck.” It’s subtle: it just says, whoever you are, whatever you like, that’s part of your perfect design. I’m proud of that as well.