Kerwin Frost Wants You to Feel His Anxiety

Photos courtesy of Kerwin Frost. Collage by Maridelis Morales Rosado for W Magazine.

“Dead air is interesting sometimes," the DJ, comedian, and talkshow host Kerwin Frost says over Zoom on a recent afternoon from his home in Brooklyn. He’s wearing a turquoise and green foam hat in the shape of a coronavirus particle, as observed through a microscope. (“I just bought it on Amazon!” he adds brightly.) Also visible in the frame: his signature face tattoo which, admittedly, is hard to miss—it's the image of a pencil, which extends from his right eye to his chin. The look, while certainly out of the ordinary, falls right in line with Frost’s alternative approach to his career—and his whole life. The Harlem native got his start by hanging out in SoHo outside of the Supreme store and VFiles, linking up with his best friends Luka Sabbat and Mike the Ruler to just chill. In 2018, he began DJing on a whim at a friend’s party; a year later, he found himself playing music for the guests at the Kardashian-Jenner family’s Christmas party in Hidden Hills. He also started interviewing celebrities that same year for a show called “Kerwin Frost Talks,” a non-traditional YouTube conversation series in which the 25-year-old engaged in painfully awkward Q&As with the likes of Tyler the Creator, Post Malone, and Jeremy Scott. Often, Frost will say nothing for long stretches of time, as the camera pans between him and his subject. The series took off, with wild success and millions of views on YouTube. Today, “Kerwin Frost Talks” returns for season two. (His first guest? Mac DeMarco.)

What makes Frost such an intriguing figure is his ability to spin his anxious, awkward nature into gold. Whatever work he does—whether in the DJ booth or sitting opposite SZA in a large La-Z-Boy chair—is solely and categorically his: agita personified. In his Culture Diet Interview, Frost discusses his unique approach, the enduring appeal of the Destiny's Child Christmas album, and his daughter's favorite vlogger.

You appear to adopt an awkward persona during your interviews. Is this a character that you put on for “Kerwin Frost Talks” or is this truly your real self?

I like to tell myself it's an act. But the interesting thing about doing the show, or me doing on-camera things at all, is I'm actually very, very shy on camera. And I have painful anxiety. The whole thing is a huge play on my social anxiety.

But sometimes, it ends up making your guests feel more comfortable, or at least amused and willing to get into the bit. Is that approach intentional?

With the show, it's not intentional—I'm like that with everyone. Yesterday, I had to call TD Bank and I ended up learning everything about the person on the phone's life and his perspective on things. I genuinely love to talk to people. The artists I choose to interview are people who haven't been matched with the perfect interviewer yet. When I interviewed SZA, I did some background research on her previous interviews. I was like, ‘Oh, wait, she's only really spoken to people who are her fans, who are on an uncle tip.’ They weren't seeing eye to eye with her passion, or understanding what her come-up story was—little innuendos like that, which I can understand. I'm a fan of the culture, and obsess over it as much as I'm in it.

A big focus with the show is to not clickbait the guests. I want them to feel free to tell the story, in a way, biased toward them. Like, let's walk through and talk about these niche moments that no one brings up because there's so much more to talk about. And with that appreciation, people feel freer to talk on camera.

Often in the comments on YouTube, people claim you don't prepare for your interviews or write questions ahead of time. Is that true?

I think it depends on the person. I did an interview with Travis Barker—and that guy has been in, like, 12 different bands. Because he was in so many bands, that was one interview where I had to really stock up on notes; same with Diplo, who's someone who has done a lot. For my Chief Keef interview, I looked at his Wikipedia, and it is literally all his legal drama, tons and tons of negative things pertaining to the shit he was caught up in. That's someone who I think you've just got to talk to. I had never met him in my life, but I figured deep down, he's into video games and cartoons and stuff. If I'm just my normal self, I think he'll fuck with that. With Travis Barker, it was like, let's lock in the timeline of these different decades. With SZA it was like, let's help her tell her story from her perspective, not the perspective of trying to explain it to someone who's older. With Tyler the Creator, it was really weird because he's someone who's inspired me so much—along with Jeremy, Scott, ASAP Rocky, these are people who have paved the way for me to be able to do more than one thing at once. He was tough, because I knew him off camera, but in the interview, his energy was kind of like, “Alright, little bro. You think you could interview me? Let's see you do it.”

What is the weirdest thing that's ever happened to you in an interview? Was it when Tyler, the Creator started slapping your kneecaps?

I haven't had [my weirdest] moment yet. But I will say the Tyler interview was a reshoot. That was a part two—there was a part one that never will come out.

What happened to part one?

I was just super nervous [laughs], so it was a little intense and crazy.

Is there any interviewer or journalist that you admire or you grew up watching?

I take inspiration from a bunch of different interviewers and shows. I really love Big Boy's Neighborhood, and of course, Nardwuar. There was this show that inspired the entirety of Kerwin Frost Talks, and it was called Iconoclasts. There’s an episode with Dave Chappelle and Maya Angelou, and they just spoke for an hour, having such a great conversation. I once saw this VHS tape with Luke from 2 Live Crew: he did this special interview series where he went to Atlanta and spoke to The Geto Boys, and then flew to New York to talk to another rapper. But he was a terrible interviewer. He was so bad. You could tell he was trying, though, and that made it endearing.

Who is the person you'd like to interview the most?

Bjork. 100 percent. That would be crazy. That's the top—I'm done after that.

Now, onto the Culture Diet questions. What time do you wake up in the morning and what is the first thing that you do?

It depends if my wife Erin and I have a nanny—I'm usually waking up at 6:30 or 7 AM, because that's when my daughter Waffle normally wakes up. Then she's just immediately running around in her room—we start playing and then go eat breakfast.

How do you get your news?

Not in any way I would be proud of repeating, ever.

So you’re trawling through Bossip and World Star?

Yeah, but also just social media at this point. You don't have to go anywhere. That's how everyone gets their news. I try not to touch the phone when I first get up, though; I recently bought an alarm clock for that reason.

What's the last song that you had on repeat?

Yesterday I was listening to this song from Moana which is called “Know Who You Are.” It's kind of a deep song. And then I've really been listening to Destiny Child's Christmas album, 8 Days of Christmas. The beats on that album are fucking crazy.

Beyoncé was a co-producer on that album.

Insane. I'm just like, what is this? It would not be in the same category at all if it dropped today.

What's the last thing you Googled on your phone?

It was a tracking number for a package. I'm waiting for Adidas samples.

Do you remember the last movie you saw in theaters?

Yesterday, I watched that LaKeith Stanfield movie, Judas and the Black Messiah. It was amazing; Ashton Saunders was incredible in that, too. But the last movie I saw in theaters was Uncut Gems. Erin and I went to Canada for the Canadian premiere, but it was too intense for me. I didn't feel good watching it. But when I watched it at home, I loved it.

What is the TV show that's keeping you up at night?

I've been more of a movie person recently, but I think Lovecraft Country was cool—until mid-season, then they got a little too science-y. Then something really crazy and racist would happen when the story died down, and it got too weird. Like we got it, bro. It became hard to get invested in another show, so I just started watching old things I used to love, like King of the Hill, Home Movies, or Space Ghost Coast to Coast. And I'm always looking for things to show Waffle.

What does Waffle like to watch?

She was watching TV really early, within five months of her being born. It was mostly Pee-wee's Playhouse and Yo Gabba Gabba!. I don't know if I fucked that up, though, because those are two overstimulating shows. It became hard to show her something that was just calm. But now she's easing into it. She's been watching Moana a lot. There's this one YouTube channel for this little girl named Diana, who lives in Ukraine. She's a vlogger, and you just watch her day go by. It kills me. I hate that she watches it, but she does love it. It's the guilty pleasure, like, 2021, showing your baby this shit, which drives me crazy.

What books are currently on your bedside table?

None. But lately, I've been collecting style guides for TV shows. This was the style guide for The Pink Panther—it shows how to draw him for merch, the do's and don'ts. And then I have one for Mad Magazine, and one for Dr. Seuss.

Are you into podcasts at all? If so, what do you listen to?

I've never been into podcasts, but not because I don't like them. I just think my ADHD is too off the charts for them. But How I Built This is, of course, one of the best podcasts.

What is the last thing you do before you go to bed?

Almost every night, I have to try and stop my brain. So I'll play rain sounds and then I'll throw some Christmas jazz over that, to make a remix. That'll be good enough.

Maybe put the Destiny's Child Christmas album on top of that.

That's not before bed—that's a turn up.

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