Funnyman Rickey Smiley thinks of comedy as his calling. The stand-up comic and star of TV One’s original docuseries Rickey Smiley For Real grants viewers a backstage pass into his life at home as a single father raising his two biological sons and his adopted children. The series simultaneously provides a glimpse into the synergy the 47-year-old comedian has with his staff at his nationally syndicated radio program, The Rickey Smiley Morning Show, and its sibling entertainment news series, Dish Nation.
The second season of Rickey Smiley For Real focuses on Smiley’s children managing their romantic relationships. The veteran entertainer’s staff explores various opportunities and their personal entrepreneurial aspirations. Smiley, on the other hand, vacations, tours with other comedians, interacts with his children, plans to record a gospel LP and continues to seek spiritual mentorship and guidance.
When Smiley sits for an hilarious, informal conversation, the multi-hyphenated man clarifies that the most important component to his non-scripted series is to show balance in both his work and professional lives. “Single parenting is hard,” says a throaty and extremely hospitable Smiley.
“I do a lot, but I still have time for the kids. It’s a crazy life, but I do get that time in.” Smiley raises his family as part of various co-parenting situations. The down home Birmingham, AL native, who also lives in Atlanta, maintains stable relationships with each of his children’s biological parents to ensure he provides them with proper guidance and awareness of their identities.
“I’m a grown man, and I have baby daddies and baby mamas (laughs) for establishing rules and regulations,” jokes Smiley. If Smiley is on-air, it’s not uncommon for him to multi-task, whether it’s washing loads of laundry, playing music between segments or sometimes styling his daughter’s hair before school. Wearing many hats, Smiley says, is how he leads by example as the head of his household.
“Women get their confidence from their fathers,” continues Smiley. “It takes a man to teach a boy how to be a man. A father is very important, so don’t ever disregard us.”
Raised by both his grandfather and uncles, who were all members of the military, Smiley takes implementing structure seriously. He considers himself to be a non-negotiable disciplinarian despite making his kids laugh and taking good care of them. “Don’t no kids run my house,” warns a stern-faced Smiley slapping his palm across the table. “I run my household. I have the last word and the last say. When I say something, that’s the end of it. I demand respect in my house. I don’t play.”
Smiley often uses analogies and euphemisms to impart wisdom on his children. He elaborates on why he chooses to use colorful language as a method. “It paints the picture,” continues Smiley. “When people can see stuff, they respond better to graphics. Seeing is believing.”
Always giving out the kindness of his heart, Smiley’s greater sense of purpose comes anytime he can pay his success forward. His nonprofit organization, The Rickey Smiley Foundation, hosts various activities that enhance the quality of life for diverse people. Every Christmas morning, Smiley, his kids and the Birmingham Police Department deliver gifts to over 20 underprivileged families. The philanthropist puts on free comedy shows for senior citizens along with a fish fry. Smiley often feeds the homeless at The Salvation Army and donates toiletries.
Far before his career reached its current magnitude, it was nothing for Smiley, a former recipient of Section 8 public assistance, to self-fund most of his outreach efforts. Before the school year starts, Smiley rents out Legion Field to arrange for boys to get free haircuts and a backpack. The selfless Alabama State University alumnus returned to his high school in April to develop a College Readiness program that encourages students to pursue college degrees. He also donated 8,000 books to a school in Jackson, MS.
As Smiley segues into addressing humanitarianism, he randomly morphs into impersonating his elderly character, Ms. Bernice Jenkins. The humorist synonymous with his slapstick on-air prank calls pulls his eyeglasses below his nose and scrolls on his iPhone screen slowly with his index finger immediately before explaining his selflessness. “I have a responsibility in radio,” proclaims Smiley. “Sometimes God gives you a microphone and puts you in a position to see what you gonna do with it.”
“You got to get out here and help somebody,” adds Smiley. “You got to love and care about somebody. It ain’t about you. I don’t care nothing about none of this celebrity stuff. I’m not in this for that. I’m trying to be reunited with my grandmother and God someday. I don’t have nothing to prove. I ain’t trying to impress nobody.”
Smiley upholds building cohesive families and communities with high regard. It’s common for him on any production set to prepare big meals for his kids, employees and crew members. The self-proclaimed “best cook” and true Alabamian lists all of the scrumptious dishes and desserts he prepares. As quiet as it is kept, Smiley has anonymously paid utility bills for struggling individuals and funded burial arrangements for deceased people.
Rickey Smiley For Real’s executive producer, Roger Bobb, is always impressed with Smiley’s courtesy, respect and professionalism. “I only work with people who I respect and whose message I want to get across,” comments Bobb seated to Smiley’s left.
“I have a very specific purpose for the content I put out. We want to make you laugh but at the same time educate you.” Smiley, who cracks himself up the entire chat and offers an array of inspirational messages, reiterates why his family and professional lives are in sync.
To Smiley, raising a family and being a comic for the last 26 years are interchangeable. “I just learned to love,” he confirms. “Comedy is a ministry. We make people laugh. You have to feel people, make them comfortable and feel welcomed. Life is about loving and giving. This is what I have to do.”
Rickey Smiley For Real airs on TV One on Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET. Check local listings for availability.
This post was written by Christopher A. Daniel, pop cultural critic and music editor for The Burton Wire. He is also a contributing writer for Urban Lux Magazine and Blues & Soul Magazine. Follow Christopher @Journalistorian on Twitter.