The world needs comedy. Flex Alexander specifically needs to laugh. It’s been years since he’s been on a stage since battling the inconsistencies of Hollywood and bouncing back from bankruptcy—see his number one show on OWN, Flex & Shanice. But now he’s back on stage hosting the third and fourth volume of the Urban Movie Channel’s The Comedy Underground Series.
All Flex can do is smile with thanks. “Because people have seen my story unfold on the show. Me getting back into standup,” he says of Flex & Shanice. “People seeing me doing this, and then I get the call. Which is why it’s so important to watch what you think and speak. Because you can speak life and death, and I choose to speak life into everything I do. And I’m thankful for the opportunity. Just thankful.”
Fans of his reality show know where this humbleness comes. His success on TV in the 1990s and through the early part of the millennium with comfortable run starring on One on One (which he wrote and produced) ended after five years. The subsequent fall of the UPN network led to a stall in Hollywood work among many Black TV actors, including Flex. Income gained from small roles in films and on TV weren’t enough to match a lifestyle that led to a financial overhaul, forcing Flex and his wife, R&B star Shanice, to sell nearly everything.
Now 45, with a high school daughter and 11-year-old son, Flex has nothing but wisdom for who he was in his younger days. “I’d have told him to find a mentor financially back then. And really invest well. And don’t spend frivolously,” he says with a laugh. “I’d have told [young] Flex back then to savor the moment a little more. And I appreciated it. But you think it’s going to be there all the time, and you find yourself flying through life.”
Being financially savvy or reckless is a learned trait that makes the difference between one who grows money or spends it as fast as water flows. “All I saw was my mother and father working check to check. That’s all I saw. I’m not blaming them for that. They did what they was taught. So I didn’t have that training,” he says.
“So you’re 20, 21, 23 years old making… at that point, maybe my standup was about $1,500-$2,000 a gig. But when you first get in TV, it’s $10,000 an episode. And then it goes up to $30,000 an episode. All this access. And no one tells you: half is going to Uncle Sam. And some more is going to your representation. So you can’t spend it. You get $100,000, you can’t spend like it’s $200,000.”
But the clarity of hindsight can be the glaring light that eventually brings a vision for the future. And now, Flex’s moves are all about what’s next—from stacking away cake to working with the next incarnation of Netflix, the Urban Movie Channel. It’s a paid service that, after a two-week free trial, charges viewers $2.99 for access to content filled with people of color. The Comedy Underground is a laugh out loud show featuring up-and-coming comedians along with those with longer résumés like Talent and Capone.
For Flex, who started comedy in 1988 after getting into the business as a teenage hip-hop dancer for Salt-N-Pepa, the journey from then to hosting his show now is nothing but a blessing. “I still take it as a lesson, because now I know what I need and don’t need. I pace myself. And that’s what the journey is about, going through the foolish stuff and coming through it. Battle tested.”
He’s currently waiting to find out if Flex & Shanice will be renewed for another season. “Everyone can relate to growth, and going through and having that second chance. I think it’s our opportunity. We’ve been given something to do on this Earth, and I think it’s our responsibility to say, ‘we learned a lesson, and now let us teach.’ We just chose this medium to teach.”
To check out The Comedy Underground Series, go to the Urbanmoviechannel.com.
Raqiyah Mays is an author, journalist, radio personality, and activist. Her debut novel The Man Curse will be released by Simon & Schuster in November 2015.