Five black Philly radio hosts talk superheroes and sci-fi—and show the world that geek culture isn’t as white-and-nerdy as the media would have us believe.
At 5 p.m. on a Saturday, Kennedy stands atop a bright red double-decker bus, microphone in hand. The Philadelphia Sightseeing Tours vehicle is waiting for a red light to change, and Kennedy, its host, is entertaining her flock by staring at the light and chanting a childlike attempt at telekinetic powers: “One, two, three—green light!” Amazingly, she nails it on the first try, and laughs in triumphant delight.
She’s always had that kind of sincere enthusiasm. “I remember in grade school, being tortured for liking Star Trek and being open about it,” says the 27-year-old North Philly resident. “I spent a lot of time trying to figure out if I was OK being a nerd, if I even was a nerd. You know, I looked at these guys who liked the same things, and I had better social skills, dressed better ... For me it wasn’t so much about being a geek as it was about growing up liking guy shit: watching Thundercats rather than My Little Pony, playing with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles rather than Barbie. I speak fluent ‘dude’—which makes it difficult to be well-versed in speaking ‘chick.’ I can do it, but it’s an effort.”
Today, as an adult and as an aspiring actress who worked the local improv sketch comedy circuit for years, she’s found the perfect balance of goofy eagerness and suave cool, talking on-air weekly with her Black Tribbles co-hosts about the HBO fantasy epic Game of Thrones and the supernatural adventure comic Hellboy with the same smooth ease that marks her day-job banter with tourists. And sometimes those streams cross: When her tour bus drives past the expanse of lawn below the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Kennedy spots a preschooler at play and blurts out: “Hey! That kid had a lightsaber in one hand and a Captain America shield in the other! He is prepared.”
It’s the same seemingly effortless riffing that’s the reason Len wanted her on the show in the first place. “Kennedy is the star,” he says. “I told her she would be. Well, her and Jason. She’s the lone woman in the bunch of us guys, and she’s sharp, and she’s pretty, and she knows her stuff.”
Listen to the show and you’ll hear Kennedy and Jason regularly clashing over feminist issues, as Jason casually tosses around explicit appreciation for female movie stars (though he deliberately never uses R-rated swear words) and Kennedy roars back indignantly to demand more sophisticated respect for the women of nerdkind. Off the air, it’s clear that the two like and respect one another, know that their battles make for good radio, and see the male-female debate as one more opportunity to showcase the diversity of perspective that makes Black Tribbles unique.
“I love that Black Tribbles is run by black folks—because other [geek-culture] podcasts aren’t,” Jason says. “I listen to all of them, and I like them, but they’re missing something, and it’s variety. They’re usually all guys, too. Or, if they have a woman, she’s a yes-girl—‘Tee-hee-hee, I’m pretty.’ Where’s the strong woman? That’s why I like Kennedy.”
KENNEDY: Ghost Protocol was amazing.
RANDY: Is it OK to like Tom Cruise again?
JASON: Yeah, I forget, why were we supposed to stop liking him?
KENNEDY: You don’t jump on Oprah’s couch.
JASON: Look, I don’t mind white people jumping on my couch. But black people, I don’t want them jumping on my couch.
KENNEDY: That’s ’cause you have issues.
JASON: Hispanics and Asians are in the middle.
KENNEDY: I don’t care what country they’re from—
JASON: Dunno about Cambodians.
KENNEDY: —you don’t jump on Oprah’s couch.
—Black Tribbles, episode 47, April 13, 2012
If Jason, Kennedy and Erik provide Black Tribbles’ off-the-wall antics, Len and Randy provide a quieter, more philosophical take on their shared geekery.