Comedian Thomas “Nephew Tommy” Miles, who will be hosting this year’s ESSENCE Festival, recently paid a visit to the ESSENCE office. We had a chance to interview him on what to expect from this year’s Festival, how much he enjoys working with Steve Harvey on his radio show, and his unwavering commitment to helping military families in need.
You’ve hosted the ESSENCE Festival a few times. What can people look forward to this time around?
First of all, don’t miss the ESSENCE Festival. There’s always something exciting. My biggest job this year is to not lose my voice by day two (laughs). You can look for me to have people rocking, from the electric slide to the cupid shuffle. You name it and we’re doing it. If you’re sitting down, I’m going to have everybody pointing at you. You participate when I host.
Why should people attend the ESSENCE Festival?
This is a once-in-a-year event people can enjoy. From an entertainment perspective, you don’t see these kinds of guest speakers all the time. And New Orleans is a great city. It is the flavor of America. There isn’t better food any place else.
Is there one dish you absolutely have to have whenever you’re in New Orleans?
I have to visit Brennan’s restaurant for the bananas foster. It’s prepared right in front of you. I’m a Southern boy, so I also enjoy everything from jambalaya to gumbo to crawfish.
How do you like co-hosting The Steve Harvey Morning Show?
Many people ask who writes our material. You can’t write that fast. It’s all off the cuff. I’ve been with Steve Harvey on the radio for over 10 years now. When I first started, I wanted to write my jokes down and he told me no. He said just do it. And now I’m the little Barney Fife and he’s the Andy Griffith.
As a comedian, you’re saying what a lot of people are thinking but aren’t going to say. Steve has turned me into a witty guy. That’s the pleasure of working with him. He’s a lot of fun and I love him to death.
Tell me about your organization Miles of Giving.
Two years ago, I visited U.S. troops in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and a few other places along with actress Minka Kelly, former NBA star Robert Horry and singer Jordin Sparks. I visited at least 50 military bases. We spoke with a soldier who had his legs blown off the morning we visited him and he was still coherent. He said to me, ‘I’d like to talk to you guys, but I need to get back to my men.’ It just messed me up. When you’re here in the U.S., you don’t think about the front lines. And that’s just one person out of thousands I spoke with who are coming home without limbs.
When you give money to organizations dedicated to breast cancer or AIDS awareness, you’re giving to research. You are never actually giving money to the person going through the illness. That’s where Miles of Giving came from. I’m organizing a celebrity golf tournament in September to raise money. If I raise half a million dollars, I can give $10,000 to 50 wounded veterans. It’s not a whole lot of money, but it’s enough to carry them over. It is a token of appreciation for what they do.