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'We are all perfectly designed': Karamo Brown's advice for Duke students

Karamo Brown, pictured in 2018, spoke at Page Auditorium Monday night.
Karamo Brown, pictured in 2018, spoke at Page Auditorium Monday night.

In his talk Monday, “Queer Eye” culture expert and therapist Karamo Brown opened up about his past, behind-the-scenes dynamics with the Fab Five and gave advice to an audience he insisted be called “friends” and not “fans.” 

Many students know him from the popular life makeover TV show, but Brown gave insight into less public parts of his life, like his struggle with addiction and domestic violence. He also discussed the frustrations that have come with “Queer Eye,” which he describes in further detail in his book, coming out March 5. 

As the first openly gay black man on reality TV, Brown isn’t immune to challenges. His TV career took off with the Netflix show, and he has balanced fatherhood and his mental health ever since. 

Gearing up for the third season of “Queer Eye,” premiering March 15, Brown reflected on the first two seasons. 

Because he needs to squeeze therapy sessions into four days, Brown ends up spending about 20 hours with each subject. A moment that particularly stood out to Brown was in the first season when he was able to get to know one of the “heroes” behind the scenes. 

“I still keep in contact with Cory, the police officer,” he said.“He is literally a living representation of trying to be a better person every day for his daughters, for his community. [He was] what people assume is the problem and [he is] literally the solution now.” 

Cory Waldrop, the officer in question, now focuses more of his time on community activism.

Brown admitted that he could barely even speak to him at first, and spent the first few hours by himself in their trailer. But after a four-hour car ride alone with him, he was able to connect with him.

“I realized that by asking questions without judgment, just being open to him and listening empathetically, it got me to a place that made me not see him as the enemy,” Brown said. 

Although the Fab Five were always excited to see the transitions of the people they worked with, they did have frustrations with some elements of the production. 

“We did all this work, and it got cut down to nothing," he said. "I felt ashamed by how I was portrayed on-screen after all of the time I spent with the heroes.” 

In describing the “roles” of each member of the Fab Five, Brown likened himself to the dad, Bobby Berk to the mom, Tan France to the grandmother, Antoni Porowski to the wounded middle child and Jonathan Van Ness to a “toddler with a handgun.” 

Brown is excited for the heightened level of exposure in the new season. Fans also get to look forward to a more balanced gender ratio of “heroes” and the first lesbian to be featured,, but the overall goal of the show will remain the same.  

“We don't want to change them,” he said. “We are all perfectly designed. We all could use encouragement to grow and be our most authentic design, but we aren’t going to change who you are. We know what it’s like to be told that who you are is not enough.”

In front of an audience of college students, Brown emphasized that the prioritization of mental health felt necessary. 

“We are so ready to talk about fitness, but not our mental health,” he said.“I schedule time for my mental health just like I would a workout. I don’t call it meditation, because that makes me think of sitting still for an hour and I have too much energy for that, but I just give myself time to check in with myself.”

Brown ended his talk by doing what he does best: giving meaningful and applicable advice. 

“Never let someone else’s timelines or pressures be put on you,” he said. “Comparison is the thief of all joy.” 

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