Name: Adam Bernard Home: Fairfield, Connecticut, United States About Me: Entertainment journalist with 15+ years of experience. Supporter of indie music. Lover of day baseball, fringe movies, & chicken shawarma. Part time ninja. Nerdy, but awesome. See my complete profile
For five years Renda Writer, who describes himself as “a kind-hearted poet who lives out of his car in Florida,” has been pursuing his goal of performing one of his poems, “Half Hearted,” on The Ellen Show. When he launched the Ellen Art Show last year some may have considered it a bit odd, obsessive even, but this year’s event doesn’t just feature the work of over 50 artists, all depicting Ellen DeGeneres in some way, it’s also working as a fundraiser for The Trevor Project.
Renda’s ability to move a personal goal into the realm of helping others hasn’t gone unnoticed. The second annual Ellen Art Show not only has a diverse lineup of artists, from Moss Waldock, who did a copper relief of Ellen, to Muzzy Jones, who did a portrait of Ellen on a skateboard, it also features a plethora of guests scheduled to appear, including Maseo from the legendary hip-hop group De La Soul, who will be DJing the event, and former American Idol contestant Brett Loewenstern.
With the show coming up on January 28th at The Terrell Moore Gallery in Los Angeles, CA, I caught up with Renda to find out more about it, as well as what drew him to Ellen DeGeneres, and the message he hopes to spread.
Adam Bernard: You have a poem, “Half Hearted,” that you’ve wanted to perform on Ellen since 2007, and you’ve put together the second annual Ellen Art Show. The first question has to be, why do you feel this connection with Ellen DeGeneres? What about her makes you want to work with, and celebrate her? Renda Writer: I’ve always been a really big fan of stand-up comedy. As an art form, I feel like it is a close cousin of spoken word poetry. Bill Cosby, Jerry Seinfeld, Paula Poundstone, Jake Johannsen, Steven Wright... I dig a lot of the comedians from the “golden era” of comedy, the late 1980s / early 1990s. As a poet, a lot of my inspiration comes not only from my respect for comedians from this era, but also from hip-hop and its own "golden era," which also happens to be from the late 1980s and early 1990s. I grew up watching Stand Up, Stand Up on The Comedy Channel (which is what Comedy Central used to be named) and Yo! MTV Raps. One of my favorite comedians has always been Ellen Degeneres. Her style – it’s just so real, so original, so quirky, and clean, too, and that’s an accomplishment. When she started her talk show I was really coming into my own as a poet and as a performer. I started hosting events all over South Florida, and I loved being on stage. I saw how well she combined her comedic talents with her hosting abilities and her show just seemed to flow so naturally. I began to really look up to her as a professional. She’s got an amazing energy about her. I also like seeing just how in touch she is with her audience. She surprises her viewers a lot and is always helping out people in need, and she seems to pay as much attention to the human interest stories of our world as she does the obligatory celebrity gossip and project promotion. To me, that’s what makes it feel achievable, this goal of mine. I just feel like although it may be lofty, it is achievable.
Adam Bernard: Let’s talk about this art show. Walk me through the process of how things came together. I know this is the second one you’ve done, but did you just put the word out that you wanted artwork of Ellen DeGeneres and the artistic community broke out with a “hell yeah,” or did it take some convincing? Renda Writer: There was some convincing, and some “hell yeah” factor. I am lucky because I know tons of artists already. I’ve actually been putting together shows like this for a living for about the past nine years, so my network is pretty thick. For the Florida artists, most of them are personal friends of mine, and for the artists elsewhere in the nation, a lot of that came from CraigsList, Facebook, and Google. Really, I could write a whole article about how the line-up for this show came together, because it consists of a lot of little mini stories of six degrees of separation, serendipity, and people connecting me with other people. Word of mouth is powerful. I also try to help out people as much as they help me out. The artists involved in this project are all amazing, and if I haven’t done it enough, I should take this opportunity right here to say “thank you” again to each and every one of them. I have a line in one of my poems called “Watch It Grow” where I say, “It takes a whole community of willing supporters to support the dreams that you dream of coming true.” I think of that quote a lot when I’m promoting this event.
Adam Bernard: How did you get the show associated with The Trevor Project and why was it important to make that happen? Renda Writer: Back in June, when I was first brainstorming the idea to do this show, I got the idea in my head that it would be good to make the event a charity fundraiser. I started thinking of different charities that I could talk to, and then I just figured it would be best to go with a charity that Ellen is aligned with. I went on her website and noticed that she had a section that said “Help Stop Bullying.” When I clicked it I saw that there were three charities that she supports that do work in the anti-bullying field. The Trevor Project seemed like the most reputable and solid of the three, and I noticed that they had an office in LA, so I emailed them and followed up a few times until I established a contact over there - shout out to Kevin Holt - and he told me to fill out the forms for a “third party event.” I filled out the forms, locked it in, and I’m proud to be donating to, and supporting, such a cool organization. Even though they focus on gay and lesbian youth, the concept of just plain being nice to each other is very much mutual amongst people of all sexual orientations, and kids need to be reminded to be nice. I think that kids are very impressionable, and the temptation to pick on another kid is great, but finding your own self-worth, loving yourself, and loving others is the best way to stay clear of that idea of picking on someone that is different than you.
Adam Bernard: Did you experience bullying when you were growing up? Renda Writer: I wasn’t exactly bullied as a kid, but I really didn’t get fair treatment either. In middle school I was in the gifted program, so me and all of my other nerd friends were alienated from the rest of the school, and no matter how many pairs of Z Cavarricis or Skidz we owned, we just couldn’t be cool. Some of us randomly got jumped between classes for no reason other than the fact that there were kids in the school with low self-esteem that were looking for easy targets to throw a quick punch at, and then run away.
Adam Bernard: That’s terrible. Back on the topic of the art show, you have a long list of special guests, including Maseo from De La Soul. I’m guessing you two didn’t bond over a mutual love of Ellen DeGeneres, so how did you come together and get him on board? Renda Writer: I grew up listening to De La Soul, so let me first just say that it is an absolute honor to have DJ Maseo involved in this event. I first met him a few years ago through our mutual friend DJ Stevie D. I used to publish a magazine about local music and art in South Florida, and shortly after Stevie introduced me to Maseo I did a joint interview with the two of them. That kind of started our business relationship. If you talk to me for even two minutes I’m eventually going to mention my goal of appearing on The Ellen Degeneres Show, so of course that topic came up when meeting Maseo, and pretty much every time I saw him after that he would ask me if I had gotten on the show yet. Maseo had told me several times that he really respects my hustle, my work ethic, and my commitment to my dreams. When I first got the idea to put together this art show, I thought it would be cool to have some sort of a celebrity DJ, and Maseo came to mind right away. I ran it by Stevie first, and he said I should ask Maseo and that he saw no reason why he would say no. I asked Maseo and he said yes. Of course I got Stevie to co-DJ with him. It feels good to keep it all in the family, and although Maseo’s not the typical Ellen fan, he has admitted to me that he likes her and would like to meet her.
Adam Bernard: Speaking of coming together, I know an underlying theme of this show is that of connecting. What kind of connections do you hope this show will foster? Renda Writer: I just love bringing people together. I always have. It feels like my purpose, like what I’m meant to do. I live my life according to several well-known slogans, sayings, or axioms, and one of my favorite sayings is “variety is the spice of life,” so every time I do an event, whether it’s a small open mic, an art show, or a giant event like this one here, my goal is always to bring people together – a variety of types of people. It would be cool if some of the artists involved get some commissioned work out the connections that will be made. I hope some fans of DJ Maseo will enjoy seeing him, hearing him spin, and maybe getting a picture with him. I hope a lot of money is raised for The Trevor Project. I hope Brett Loewenstern (from American Idol Season 10), who I have scheduled to perform at the event, gains a few new fans. I just hope that everything works out the way it should. I hate to sound too much like a hippy, but at the end of the day it really is all about love and togetherness and bringing different people together so they can see just how much alike they are. That’s my goal with everything I do. Even with the poetry itself, and with the particular poem, “Half Hearted.” It’s a love poem I wrote in Central Park in NYC, shortly after 9/11, at a time when I felt like New York, and the world on the whole, needed to turn toward love a little more. Love is great. Who doesn’t love love? OK, maybe some haters don’t, but whatever, love makes everything possible. I’ve got love in my heart and I’m just trying to share that shit with everyone.
Adam Bernard: Finally, if Ellen never takes notice of what you’re doing are you eventually going to have the first annual Ellen Bonfire and throw random Ellen stuff into the flames? Renda Writer: Probably not. I’ll just keep focused and stay the course. Winston Churchill said, “Never ever ever ever give up.” I tend to think like that, too. This is a fun challenge.
B-Listers are a select group of artists that were featured in my Artist Of The Week series that ran every Monday from April of '06 to April of '11. All of these artists have two things in common; extreme talent, and a flight path far too under the radar for my liking. They took on the title of B-Listers as they embraced being featured by me, Adam B. Check out the AOTW Archives for all the interviews.