Culture / Entertainment

Underground Houston Rap Legend Gets a Nightly New York TV Show

The Crazy Life and Creative Loves of Fat Tony, a True H-Town Original

BY // 04.08.19

Fat Tony is an underground Houston legend. He’s appeared on songs with Bun B and A$AP Rocky, and has collaborated with fellow independent stars such as Maxo Kream, B L A C K I E, and Juiceboxxx.

He fronts a noise-rock duo, Charge it to the Game, who have released two excellent records on Ghost Ramp, the label shepherded by Wavves frontman Nathan Williams.

Now, Fat Tony is part of a four-person ensemble known as Vice Live, a four-nights-a-week show on Viceland broadcast live from Vice Media’s lobby in New York City.

His co-hosts include comedian-musician Zack Fox, screenwriter Sandy Honig, and comedian/actress Marie Faustin.

The show, which premiered in February, is a lawless mix of conversational hot topics, standup comedians, musicians, pre-taped sketches and videos, in-studio games and gags and more.

It’s kind of a messy experiment, but that’s the point: What can these four people mold out of four hours of live TV a week? It’s freedom that doesn’t exist anywhere else on the dial — and is a major new platform for this unique and sometimes underappreciated Houston star.

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The Fat Tony Story

Fat Tony, real name Anthony Obi, has also been a friend of mine since I first met him my freshman year at the University of St. Thomas.

We were only casual friends at first but quickly became close, and in 2015 we decided to apply for an Idea Fund grant through DiverseWorks and funded by the Andy Warhol Foundation.

Two years ago, our vision was complete: Obi and I collaborated on the first issue of our zine, Found Me, focusing on the experiences of artists/musicians/writers of color in Houston. We spoke to the likes of WWE hall-of-famer Booker T, New York Times-bestselling author Shea Serrano and Project Row House’s Robert Hodge.

In 2018, Obi released his latest full-length record, the country- and new wave-inspired 10,000 Hours.

Additionally — and unfortunately — that same year, his excellent YouTube series, Thrift Haul, where artists/internet-famous personalities put together themed outfits from clothing purchased exclusively at a southern California Goodwill, was canceled, when its channel, Super Deluxe, was put to pasture by parent company Turner Broadcasting.

Thrift Haul was often laugh-out-loud funny and Obi as host was impeccable. To borrow a term, Obi is a “good hang,” and always a good interview, so his natural charisma at the forefront of the show was no revelation to longtime fans. But it did garner new eyes his way.

The show was also frequently inclusive, featuring a variety of LGBTQ comedians as well as turns from stars like Rosario Dawson, Hannibal Buress and future colleague of Obi, Zack Fox.

Following Thrift Haul‘s demise, the ever-resilient Obi was offered the Vice Live gig.

Tony on Tony

I caught up with Tony recently to talk Vice Live, Thrift Haul, trying out comedy and more.

Photo taken of VICE LIVE Host Fat Tony, by Piotr Sikora, in the VICE Office
Fat Tony in the VICE offices. (Photo by Piotr Sikora)

How did you land Vice Live? Was it in the works while you were at Super Deluxe, or did it come out of Super Deluxe’s demise?

Super Deluxe were talking to Viceland about selling co-creator Stephanie Ward and I’s show Thrift Haul to their network for awhile. [Unfortunately] I didn’t meet Viceland until Super Deluxe shut down.

The week it shut down, Viceland’s Tracie Morrissey wrote to me on Twitter and asked me to come do a screen test for a new live show they were working on.

I like to think my face being on the front of Vulture‘s Super Deluxe R.I.P. article helped. Maybe Padma Lakshmi’s tweet about the show helped too. When Super Deluxe shut down I felt like a positive opportunity would come from it thanks to Thrift Haul having been a fun, well-received show.

What’s the process when it comes to thinking of things to talk about live on air?

Every day, the hosts meet with the “hot topics” team of story producers to discuss the articles they’ve gathered from the daily news, or a Vice.com article, what’s trending on Twitter, and whatever seems interesting. We go through the list until we cut it down to just a few topics that matter to us. If all four hosts don’t have a strong take on it, then it ain’t worth discussing on the show.

Do you get to pitch your own ideas for taped segments?

Absolutely! The show wouldn’t be right if we didn’t put as much of ourselves into it as possible. We’re always pushing for our ideas, interests and taste to be reflected in the show as much as possible. It’s taken a lot of push on our end to make it happen, but we’re relentless.

You’ve always been funny in interviews and on podcasts, so this to me seems like a natural step for you. Who is an inspiration to you comedy-wise?

I don’t think of myself as a comedian, I’m on Vice Live to be myself and play the straight man. I’ve always loved comedy, though. Some of my favorites are Jaboukie Young-White, Patti Harrison, Jamar Neighbors, Paul Mooney, and Robin Harris.

I love musicians with a sense of humor too, like Prince Paul and De La Soul. I love artists that can make fun of the entertainment industry and celebrity culture. The industry is often ridiculous. Shows like Atlanta, Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Larry Sanders Show do a great job of that.

Fat Tony as a Polaroid.

How did Vice pick the cast? Did you know any of them beforehand?

I knew Zack Fox because he appeared on Thrift Haul. I didn’t know Marie or Sandy until we started the job.

With Thrift Haul and now Vice Live, are you more comfortable in front of a camera?

I definitely am. Filming a live television show four nights a week is giving me tons of practice. I feel more comfortable every night. I haven’t always thought about being a TV or web personality but I enjoy it.

I’d love to act in film and television. I always want to do more projects that give me stability and allow me to be an artist for the rest of my life.

How do you think Vice Live fits with the Viceland channel as a whole?

I believe Vice Live is the signature show for Viceland. It seems like every area of Vice from Broadly to Motherboard to Noisey gets a chance to shine on this show. I totally get why this project is important to Vice as a whole.

I think Viceland is an open canvas, still figuring itself out. Our show is the same way. Two months from now you won’t be seeing the exact same Vice Live.

What has been the most memorable moment that’s happened live on air thus far?

For me, rapping with Spike Jonze as he directed my “music video” live. I asked him to make my next video during our interview and he said, “let’s do it right now!”

I’ve been a fan of his for years, from his music videos to his skate videos. Having an opportunity to collaborate with him in any way is a dream come true.

What has been the biggest lesson you’ve learned as a host?

To be patient with the development of the show. We were all thrust into this thing pretty suddenly and it’s a big work in progress. Every week the show gets better and gets closer to our vision of what the show should look like.

Vice Live is on Viceland four nights a week, Mondays through Thursdays, from 9 pm to 10 pm.

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