by Cesca Janece Waterfield
In her 20-plus years in show business, Kim Coles has filled many roles. The Brooklyn-born beauty was a plus-size model in the 80s and a lifelong fan of funny women Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett. After seeing a Broadway performance by Whoopi Goldberg, she decided to do stand-up comedy and share her own gift for creating characters. Shortly after moving to Los Angeles, she won the role of Synclaire James-Jones on the hit sitcom, “Living Single” starring Queen Latifah. After a five year run, she won over audiences as Dr. Mary in a recurring role on “Frasier.” Today as host of “Pay it Off,” the BET game show in which contestants compete for money to pay their bills, she has the distinction of being the first black female to host a prime time TV show. Kim recently claimed her most authentic role yet. She’s creator of Open the Gifts, a motivational program using humor and inspiration to help others find and focus on their life purposes. She talked to Urban Views Weekly from L.A.
Thanks for talking today. What have you been doing lately?
First and foremost, show business is still around. It’s pilot season so I’ll be auditioning for everything that I’m appropriate for. But all of that comes from somewhere else – from the studios, networks, casting people. I have been working really diligently on creating projects that come from me. The first one is something I call ‘Open the Gifts.’ It’s the beginning of me as an empowerment speaker or a motivational speaker. Some people call me a ‘laugh-ologist’ using heart and humor in telling how you can live a really fulfilled life. Basically going through these principles I’ve developed called GIFTS – Gratitude, Intention, Forgiveness, Triumph and Self-Love – you find out what gifts you have inside of you. I went searching for all this when the magic question started to appear more often, ‘What are you working on now?’ Those questions become stab wounds if you’ve got nothing. You’re only as good as your last project. That really stands for everyone, even people at the top echelon. Halle Berry is looking for her next project right now. Julia Roberts, as amazing as she is, is looking for her next project right now, and wants to be able to answer that question with truth and depth. So out of that came, what is my true purpose?
What makes Open the Gifts unique?
I’m coming from a perspective of humor. Humor for me is a connector. When I do my inspirational speeches, there’s always a true thread of humor in it. I’m going to laugh at myself and you’re allowed to laugh at yourself. It’s all about permission for me. Permission is a big word in my life – believing that you have the permission to live, love and laugh out loud. It’s coming from my testimony. You look at people on the red carpet – which by the way is the most unnatural thing in the whole wide world. There’s nothing natural about being photographed on the red carpet. It is insane and ridiculous. And yet, I’m there and I want to tell the story from that perspective and how I am the same as everyone else. We’re all the same, and yet we’re all different. I find that intriguing. This is my own experience of me going through the homework myself. I’ve been in therapy, I’ve had life coaches and I’ve taken the best of that and now I am a devotee I should say, of personal exploration and development.
If fame wasn’t your career drive, what has motivated you?
I’m going to date myself. But I wanted to be one of three people. First, I wanted to be Carol Burnett. I lived and breathed Carol Burnett. And I’m 48 years old so I was watching the show when it was originally on. She was funny and she was glamorous and she was doing sketch comedy. The other person is Lucy from I Love Lucy. Then in the 80s, someone took me to a show and said, it’s this woman named Whoopi Goldberg, you’ve got to see her. I got to see Whoopi’s show live on Broadway and all those amazing characters. That was when I said, ‘Okay, I’ve got to do it.’ I didn’t say, ‘I want to be famous.’ I wanted to do what they do. Fame was a byproduct.
You lost weight as part of “Celebrity Fit Club.” How is your fitness progress going?
I lost a great deal of weight. But it was a competition. I was working out two times a day. I was eating diet food. Of course I was going to lose the weight. But I have since put the weight back on. It’s really true that the camera does add weight. It adds ten, twenty pounds. A woman saw me the other day and said, ‘How did you keep off all that weight?’ I was like, ‘Honey, I weigh more than I did on that show!’ Everyone is smaller than you think they are. But I enjoyed it.
How do you take care of yourself?
I go for regular walks. Well, by the time this comes out, I will have gone on regular walks. [laughs] I’m a big believer in facials. I’m also a big believer in drinking a lot of water. I have every lotion and potion known to man. More importantly, I’m really happy from the inside out. I’ve been doing the work on my soul. The soul shines through. It sounds cliché but it’s true. I am in an exciting phase of reinvention. I will be emerging soon in a way that feels very connected for me. I’m creating and reinventing myself and you can do it too. You can be do or have whatever you want. That sounds cliché but all you have to do is believe a little bit of it and take some action and it really does work for you.
You have family in nearby North Carolina. How are they?
Both of my parents live in North Carolina although they’re divorced and they don’t live together anymore. I’m just Kim when I go home. I told the story on Facebook during the whole holiday season. I went to visit my mom. The mattress in her guest room is super soft and it hurts my back. But she won’t let me buy a new mattress. So I went to Bed Bath and Beyond and bought one of those foam mattresses. So I sleep on the floor at my mother’s house! When I go out, I’m taking pictures, I’m on the red carpet, I’m signing autographs. When I go to visit my mother, I’m sleeping on the floor like I’m camping out or something! [laughs] Same with my dad. I made soup for him and he’s like, ‘You know, it’s a little salty.’
Status Check: “I have a tendency to put my head down and get to work and move forward. Sometimes you have to stop and look up and go, ‘Where am I? How far have I come? Let me celebrate that.’”
L.A. Landmark: “I came to LA to do ‘In Living Colour.’ Sketch comedy and the variety show had been dead for years and certainly [there wasn’t] one from a black perspective.”
10 Items or Less: “I wish it was still in production. It ended with my scene. Man, that was a great show to do. The process was completely different. It was an all improv show. The producers give you a direction they wanted to go in. They set up the core scenes but it was up to you to make it up as you went along. They just sort of let you play. It was the most amazing experience. You could just have fun with it. We actually shot in a live working grocery store while it was open. When it got cancelled I was disappointed because it would have been a nice feather in the cap. They let me name myself. Murphy P. Jones was my name!”
Fitness Goals: “I’m embarking upon another weight loss challenge. It’s not about becoming super thin. But I’d like to lose 25 pounds for my joints and so my knees won’t ache so much.”
Working Birthday: “I went and got a massage and we went to get Chinese food and then I was back on my computer by 4pm. My birthday is everyday. I have days that sparkle all the time. This was not a sparkly birthday for me. I’ve been working so hard in building this website. I’m working with a speaking coach and I’m working with a writing coach.”