Words and Art Direction: Alexis Barnett

Photography: Kanya Iwana

You’ve probably seen the video while scrolling through your feed: a woman, wearing thigh-high boots and an auntie-style wig, paired with audio of an audience chanting “go Mary!” That was Khadi Don, the talented comedian doing her best impression of the iconic R&B singer’s side-shuffle. It was one of many Khadi sketches that have gone viral, and her hilarious, spot-on impressions of ‘90s and 2000s artists recirculate often.

You can’t talk about Khadi without going back to 2013, a simpler time in social media, dedicated to six-second Vine videos and an early wave of comedians using platforms like Twitter and YouTube to create new sketch styles. At the same time, Khadi was just starting to create content, parodying hip-hop and R&B music videos, creating humorous characters and giving satirical advice.

Hailing from Grand Rapids, Michigan, Khadi’s creative foundation partly came from sports. “I played basketball my whole life,” she remembers, on a call from Los Angeles, where she’s now based. “At the same time, I was always the class clown and the overachiever. Like, in art class, if we had to draw a simple smiley face, mine would have all types of hair and three-dimensional things going on.”

Khadi recorded her first comedy video at the age of 13, foreshadowing a full-time career that’s been expanding alongside the Internet’s distribution platforms. Today, she remains a growing figure in the world of Black comedy, helping to empower the next generation of female comics. And though social media has changed drastically since she uploaded her first video nearly a decade ago, Khadi’s always ahead of the curve.

We caught up with Khadi to discuss the future of comedy and the Air Jordan XI Jubilee.

What was your upbringing in Michigan like, and how did you discover your interest in comedy?

I have three brothers and a sister, so we all would crack jokes at each other. We would be laughing all day, every day. In my family, everybody’s funny, so it kind of rubbed off on me. It wasn’t something where I was like, “Oh, I want to be a stand-up comedian.” It just came naturally to me. I was also into film. I did film all throughout high school. I did fine arts, drawing and painting. I’ve just always been creative.

Remind me: what’s your sign?

I’m an Aries.

What’s the most “Aries” thing about you?

I’m hot-headed and impatient. I’m competitive, and I have strong confidence. I’m brave and creative. I feel like my personality and my energy are super strong.

You’ve been doing this for a long time now. What’s the biggest challenge you face when trying to create new content?

That’s a good question. There are so many challenges, like staying relevant, staying up with the new trends and not over-saturating yourself. You don’t want the audience to be like, “Alright, we get it.” The other hard thing is battling between moving forward and moving into a different part of yourself. Sometimes, I don’t want to do comedy, but it’s like, damn, that’s what I’m known for.

Definitely. How would you say you’ve evolved your approach to comedy and creating content for such a fast-paced digital world?

When I started, it was more about doing random skits. Now, I think deeper into it, and I try to make it relevant to what’s going on today — what people can relate to. I try to give people that comfort of, “Oh, I’m going through this, as well, but here it is in a comedic form.” I also upgraded my cameras and things like that. My comedy videos basically went from being an appetizer to being a full-course meal.

How do you strike a balance between using comedy to uplift others while also navigating a year like this, one that has been especially draining for Black women?

The more we shine light on it, the more it becomes a sensitive subject. So how can I balance making something appropriate, and that you can relate to, without offending you? Because some people don’t understand the joke. You have to walk on thin ice. I’m the type of person who doesn’t care. I mean no harm, but this is what you get.

Outside of comedy, what are some ways that you practice self-care on a daily basis?

By spending time with my dog and talking to family. I’m really into watching cartoons to escape the real world. I watch cartoons, paint and teach myself guitar. Every day, I try to find a different task from what I usually do.

I’d like to chat about the different characters that you’ve created over the years. When you reflect on your favorite sketches, who are some characters that stick out to you?

I created a “Karen” character, in order to open up people’s eyes to what happens when people call the police for no reason. I did a skit where I called the police on my dog. Then, I have somebody who’s off the wall. They’re doing what we wish we could do but low-key can’t. So yeah, that’s where those characters came from.

What draws you to the ‘90s era, and how has it influenced both your work and personal style?

It’s influenced my work a lot, because I grew up in the ’90s. It’s when I first started hearing all the good music, TV shows and movies. I feel like there’s nothing really comparable to that era. All of my friends and family share the same culture. The ’90s are really big, I feel, in the Black community.

What other influences outside of basketball do you think helped shape your personal style?

Hip-hop was a big influence on me, when it comes to streetwear and sneaker culture. We would stand in line for hours trying to get a shoe, and we’d brag like, “Yeah, I got this new Jordan!” We’d always try to top each other. I just enjoy the stories behind the shoes, the moments that happened in the shoes and of course how they look.

Do you have any favorite Air Jordan silhouettes?

Right now, the Is and the IVs are my go-tos. Those are my favorites right now. There’s just something about the AJIs that have always captivated me. I really love the Air Jordan XIs this year. They bring me back to some of the music videos and award shows, where they were worn off the court. The first thing I noticed about these was the chrome Jordan logo. It stands out! The original design of the shoe is a forever classic. I like to be simple, but I’m also going to have something on me that stands out.

What does the future of comedy look like to you?

I think comedy is becoming more about healing. I also feel like there are different variations of comedy now: there’s a fast comedy, there’s a comedy you watch with your family and there are parodies and things like that. Hopefully, comedy becomes more open, and there won’t be as much critiquing it. As a Black woman, I’m hopefully one of the people opening up doors to more Black comedians being who they are and laughing at what they find funny.

The Air Jordan XI Jubilee is available in full-family sizing starting December 12 from SNKRS and select retailers.

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