Wendy Williams on Being a Black Woman in TV: “The Struggle is Real”

At ease in her Chelsea office, the TV host, author, and designer shares her culture diet, thoughts on Nicki Minaj and Remy Ma, and what’s really on her mind.

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“I love nesting,” said Wendy Williams, cozied up in a satin green Gucci robe on a couch stuffed with shaggy pillows in her office in Chelsea on a recent afternoon. We were just outside the set of The Wendy Williams Show, her Emmy-nominated talk show now into its eighth season. The room was full of files of designs for Williams’s upcoming homeware line with HSN (on top of her third ready-to-wear collection for retailer, which launches on Friday), and gifts from “Wendy watchers”—from an enormous, pink rhinestone-covered sculpture of a swordfish from a viewer who went to Williams’s office to make sure it was transported safely to a miniature papier-mâché Wendy that two Canadians hand-delivered to Williams on a 24-hour trip to New York. (“And the Louboutins are still on, her wig didn’t pop off, and neither one of the boobs broke off,” Williams noted.)

Still, Williams, who in addition to her show has published seven books and had a 23-year-career in radio, had more pressing matters on her mind: her son Kevin’s driver’s license test, not to mention his grades, which she had just deemed good enough for him to take an Uber on prom night. She stopped her busy day to share her culture diet—along with how she got in the middle of things with Nicki Minaj and Remy Ma, and just how real the struggle is being a black woman in TV.

What’s the first thing you read in the morning?

My family. Read, as in, let me tell you something: You better do well in school today. Then I read the dog, like, You be a good boy, don’t give me a headache, because the dog chases after my shoes. [She lifts up a sneaker with a huge fur pom-pom.] By the way, this is Wendy for HSN, and that’s a clip-on. Sold separately. Anyway, then I come in, and what am I reading on the way in? Sometimes a magazine or a blog, but mostly I just sit.

What are the books on your bedside table right now?

I don’t have one right now, but I’ll tell you why: It’s still winter, and I don’t read books during the winter, because I don’t have time—nor interest. I save my reading for vacation. You know, I’m in the publishing business, I have seven books out, and I’d like to write more. But I think that reading a book is a luxury for most people, not a necessity. And I don’t have the luxury of time anymore during off-season. When I go on vacation, I love a good juicy book, and the book I’d love to have published already for the next one is by Kathleen Biden. Oh yes. You know the story? Joe Biden’s oldest son Beau was married to and had two children with a woman, but he passed away, and Beau’s brother is now dating his widow. So the book I’d like to read is by the soon-to-be ex-wife, okay. She’s going to be a singing canary.

How do you typically get your news?

Through TV. Cable news, as well as local; I love local news. I want to know what’s going on locally before I know nationally. When I wake up in the morning on Saturdays and I see national news, I’m like, okay, I’m watching, but I’m waiting for the local news. It’s definitely more TV than internet, because my phone gets hot real quick, and I’m like, I don’t even want to deal with that, ow, my fingers are burning. I’m definitely not putting that to my ear.

It’s a constant stream of notifications, I’m sure.

Yeah. I mean, I get it through Hot Topics and the stuff that we do, because Justin Bieber is as important to the news as Donald Trump—as important as Chris Brown, as important as anybody else, you know? So I go to a variety of sources, like I always have. I love my gossip magazines, and I love what I guess you’d call serious news. I enjoy AM radio—talk, not music—a lot, and also the talk channels on Sirius XM, whether I agree with the host or not. It’s important to hear all sides. That’s the private part of me. I like loud music, I like my disco and hip-hop, but I like my private corny time with my AM radio and my XM.

Do you listen to podcasts ever, too?

I don’t believe I do. Is that on my phone? Is that Jenny McCarthy? No, I don’t listen to podcasts.

What TV shows have you been watching lately?

Well, I’ll be honest. During the week, when I get home, I watch a repeat of Wendy at 4:00, always. Not in an egomaniacal way, but in a critical way. Did lighting get the lighting correctly? Are the cameramen—I love them, but I’m watching them—getting the right shots of the audience? Does everyone look wonderful and fabulous and exuberant? Is there too much clapping? Am I wrong? Is my outfit wrong? My wig? My makeup? Too much thigh or whatever? You know, I try to run this like a business, and I can’t watch everything, but I try to watch what I can, so I watch Wendy. Then I bounce into the 5:00 and 6:00 news, and then I love a little TMZ and Access Hollywood, Inside Edition. All I have to do is put on all the TVs and then walk from room to room while I’m organizing everything, and I get the message, and then I go to bed after lulling myself to Ashleigh Banfield at HLN at 9:00, and then the 10:00 news.

Scripted TV is not so much my thing, because I can’t stay up at 10:00 at night to watch a dramedy on a Sunday. I like comfortable TV—a Sex and the City marathon is always comforting. And I do enjoy some reality TV. I enjoy the ratchet shows like, Love & Hip Hop and the [Real] Housewives. But my nightly TV is no longer what it used to be. I’m super busy with this show and this Wendy thing, and also really super busy being a middle-aged woman who understands: sit down, moisturize, and breathe. And then I’m busy preparing. You know, there are people relying on me to be here in the morning. I can’t stay up until midnight or catch a cold and then not show up. I’ve shown up every single day in these past eight years. Every single day. And by the way, I could miss a day if I’d like; I could miss five days if I’d like and they’d totally understand. We have a couple of shows in the bank to send out to seem new. But I never have, and I’ve never been late. You know why? Because there are people here who have families. People who I met eight years ago who were single—and now you’re married? And now you’re expecting twins? Oh my god, Wendy, look what you’ve created. I always look at that at my own creation, in a weird way. Like, wow. So you show up. Barring detriment. I’m not stupid, but you know.

Do you ever go to the movies?

No. The movie I would love to see that I missed was The Founder, the one about McDonald’s. They tell me there’s something called On Demand; I guess I’ll press a button one day. But I don’t go to the movies because I don’t have proper movie partners. Kevin [Hunter, her husband] and Kevin [Hunter, Jr., her son] don’t want to see the Sex and the City movie, and I’ve got girlfriends, but it becomes a long, arduous process once you place the call. They want to do more than just go to the movie. They’re like, alright, Well can we go for breakfast, and I’m like, No, just meet me at the goddamn theater! Nobody really gets the drill, so I don’t bother them. Plus, I have very little patience for sitting in a dark room for two hours. The mice around my feet, the roaches crawling into my bag, that disgusting buttery popcorn.

What’s the last piece of art that you bought?

No comment. A big deal.

Do you buy a lot of art?

We buy art for our house, and we shop art as a family, the three of us. We enjoy a day off to go to a gallery and look and see stuff. That’s one of the family things we do. We buy stuff.

What’s the last song you’ve been listening to on repeat?

I mean, Remy vs. Nicki: stop, start, listen. Stop, start, comprehend. Stop, start, listen, only because…. I’m involved. It’s the kind of stuff that, you know I’ve been a broadcaster for 30 years, and a lot of people look at this show who don’t know me from that time, and they see me and say, Why is she getting involved with this? And what I say is, Well, because I come from that era, and every time I try to get out, [deep voice] they pull me back in.

What’s the last concert you went to?

Concert?! You mean sitting in a seat?

Or standing up.

Standing! Pssht. This morning on the Wendy show, DJBooth played. No, listen, I don’t do all that stuff. I like a concert, but I don’t have the attention span to sit for the whole thing. I would love to see Nas and Mariah [Carey] and Jennifer Lopez and Lionel Richie and [Lady] Gaga and Beyoncé. And I get invited, because it’s great having a show, you get all these opportunities, but then you realize what is important. I could not possibly go home after work to change into an outfit and make it back to Madison Square Garden to see Gaga and still be a good mom and wake up with reasonable bags under my eyes. So I go home. That’s what I love about doing a live show; it gives me a fabulous excuse and way out of accepting invitations. Not that I don’t usually like the people or don’t want to, but I’ve got a family, and I’ve got to rest.

What are your favorite social media accounts to follow?

I have an IT department, so they handle everything here. I’m too grown, and perhaps way too hot-headed, so I don’t need to know passwords to get in there and argue with you at night. It used to bother me when the show first got started; everything I want to post has to go through about 15 people before it actually shows up, and at first, it was very insulting to me. Like, what is going on? But this is the main stage daytime TV, and that was subtly explained to me, and it’s worked. So whatever they say is what my favorite account is. I know my YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter accounts have been pretty successful, and would be more so if I posted more regarding my real life, but I can’t. Our account is basically used as a vehicle to let people plug into The Wendy Williams Show, not Wendy Williams, because Wendy Williams is really Wendy Hunter, which is my marital name. But I do have an app that’s in beta testing right now. It’ll be out later in the spring, and it’ll show you the Wendy Hunter side, with no makeup and no eyelashes. You might see me walking my dog or something like that. I don’t like all access. I don’t like it, but they tell me this is what you have to do under duress, so I try to play. It’s very difficult, though; I’m very private, and I feel like I give up enough just sitting out there in the chair and talking. I love my Wendy watchers, but I have to respect my family’s privacy, but even if I didn’t have a family and was just a single woman, I would still be the same.

Do you ever read your horoscope?

Yeah, there’s my horoscope book right there. I check up on everyone who works on the show. It gives me an idea of who they are.

What have you discovered?

I can’t recall about them, but I’m not really a horoscope person, honestly. That particular book was given to me as a birthday gift 20 years ago, and it read my own—Cancer, July 18th—so accurately that I said, This is a book I’m going to keep with me to check up on people.

Who are your dream guests on the show?

I don’t have any. My dream guests are my co-hosts. My favorite shows are all Hot Topic shows. Amy Schumer was here today, and she was wonderful and fabulous. But this show is about who wants to come to play. If the guests want to come to play, fine. If they don’t, I’m fine. We can do all Hot Topics and Ask Wendy. We can have our silly games and our fun with us. But I don’t have dream guests because when you first start a show, unless you’re a big star, the majority of people don’t know who you are. The tristate area knew exactly who I was when we first started the Wendy show: I was a syndicated radio personality across the country, and I’d even been syndicated in Berlin and Japan—and was a New York Times bestseller. But that was for a segment of the population. If you want to be successful, then you need all those people out there [the audience], and if all those people are looking for Brad and Angelina during your first season, they ain’t gonna get it. Brad and Angelina, those kinds of people, they come to New York, and they go where they’re comfortable—Matt Lauer, Kelly, Fallon—and then they fly back to L.A.

So it’s taken us a moment to build our sea legs here. We’re in our eighth season now, and I know people know who we are, but I always leave the house feeling like I gotta get out there and make more people know, even eight seasons in. You know, I’m a black woman holding down my own talk show. If I was a white woman whose name was bigger than Wendy Williams from urban radio, I’d be flying high right now. The struggle is real, and I acknowledge that. So what we—meaning me and all my staff—have done is build a show based around, If a celebrity comes by, fine—if not, guess what, let’s do Hot Topics. And my job as the host is to always get out there and make it fun. It’s the most natural thing when the doors open, even though I sweat, I cry, I laugh. But I am not scared to be my authentic self in front of millions of people.

Do you have any goals for the show going forward?

No, my main goal right now is to make sure my son gets his driver’s license and doesn’t get anyone pregnant on prom night, even though he doesn’t have a date.

Oh no!

Oh, please, neither did I. Look, dumb boys, they missed out on a whole lot, okay. Stupid boys. But anyway, this HSN line is going really great, and I want to make great homeware, because I love all that s–t. I want my app. I want to be able to authentically give authentic content that’s separate from what people see in the show, like the way you and me are talking right now: I’m just sitting here, slumped, with no eyelashes, just talking. I want to do more with our Hunter Foundation, which is still starting. We’ve had a few generous sponsors, but it’s seed money and seed ideas, so it takes a moment to get really started up. But I want to do more charity work, and I don’t mean the type of charity work where you write a check. Yeah, Oprah taught me—through articles. I don’t know the woman.

What kind of charity work would you like to do?

Well, through the Hunter Foundation I’d like to first of all make sure young children are not illiterate. You know, kids don’t have cursive writing lessons in school anymore? I’ve forgotten so much about it that the only thing I know how to write in cursive is my name. I’d love to be able to employ a band of after-school tutors and help kids, whether it’s with homework or whatever, stay out of trouble.

Also, coming from a place of addiction, I really do want to help people straighten their lives. If I did it, you could do it. I am very real about substance abuse and things like that. I don’t have time to go to shelters and stuff, but I make the time I can, which is very few and far between. In the future, I’d like to see the Hunter Foundation do a whole lot more for families, and eventually the culmination of it would be to have a community center, where your kids can go and get after-school help until you come home from work, and maybe you have an issue when you come home? Go in the back and get your counseling, and your kid is fine right out here. Then there’s feeding more people—there’s too much hunger, and still so much food waste in our country. But most of all, I want to stay standing. Which is an issue. If you’re not standing and twerking and working and having a zestful life, then what good are you to anybody else? In the future, I just want to stay Wendy.

Have you found yourself more motivated to pursue these causes with everything that’s been going on politically lately?


Have things like the Women’s Strike and the Women’s March been on your radar?

Yeah, they have, and those things are nice, and I think in order to effect change, you have to have layers of motivation to effect that change. You being a better woman at your house with your kids and your man and your job is the first line. You know, protect the fences around your s–t. Protect your four walls, because these politicians out here are so far removed from what is actually going on in your house. So I am grassroots. I go four walls first, then the community and town I live in second. Then, my state of New Jersey, along with New York, third. That’s why I love the local news. I want to know what’s going on here—while I’m listening for the garage door to go up to know my black husband is coming home safely. Because, ultimately, that has nothing to do with what’s going on in Russia. That has to do with what’s going on on the turnpike, with my black husband driving a foreign car, coming home at 11:00 at night, and some cops throwing him down on the ground for no reason. Or my black son, who’s about to get his license. The scariest part about that is now he’ll be driving around, so now what the hell’s going to happen? He—and my husband and I—are not a “do you know who I am,” so we take our racism at face value.

Last thing: what’s the last thing you do before you go to bed?


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