Walter Latham is in a league of his own. The visionary who helped Tyler Perry break into the movie industry is also the mastermind behind the hugely successful Kings (and Queens) of Comedy tours.
The Bible-reading mogul with the Midas touch admits he was “scared” before kicking off the Kings tour that featured four of the country’s hottest black comics: Cedric the Entertainer, Steve Harvey, D.L. Hughley and the late Bernie Mac.
Ignoring the fear in his gut and the naysayers who could not see what he saw, Latham tested the show in a few cities before rolling it out across the country to large, sold-out venues. The tour went on to gross more than $40 million in two years, leading USA Today to call him the “King of Comedy.”
He followed the Kings with the Queens of Comedy tour and a movie version of the Kings directed by Spike Lee that grossed $37 million.
Latham has an uncanny ability to foresee entertainment trends and is clear enough about his life’s purpose to forge ahead even when doing so appears risky to others.
The single father of two sons is one of four blacks to partner with YouTube to bring urban entertainment to the free online digital giant. The others are rapper and business mogul Sean “Jay-Z” Combs, NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal and singer/songwriter, Pharrell Williams.
“YouTube is trying to compete against cable.” Latham explained. “They want to launch this network of channels and see how people respond to them. Eventually, make people say ‘I can watch my YouTube channel for free or I can pay $50 a month for Direct TV.’ It’s advertising supported as opposed to subscription supported.”
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Latham will film Comedy After Dark, one of the channel’s first shows, in South Beach in February. His deeply spiritual outlook helped to temper a seeming disappointment when rap legend MC Lyte backed out of deejaying duties because of a scheduling conflict. The snafu resulted in the super popular DJ Khaled joining the show, a switch that Latham said, “put us in a better position to succeed.”
The 41 –year old visionary said he had an idea for a digital venture five years ago. “I tried so hard to make this same thing happen years ago and it wasn’t ready, it wasn’t time. It didn’t make sense.”
The person with whom he shared his vision was employed at Paramount at the time. In what appears to be a divinely ordered experience, that person was fired from Paramount and hired at YouTube prior to Latham landing the digital deal.
“That was supposed to happen,” he said.
Latham explains the many ups and downs he has experienced in his 20-year career like this: “You can’t question the bad or the good because all of it works together because (God) is in control of it all.” He is confident that his YouTube channel will be a success.
“Most of the black channels that they gave are celebrity-supported. I’m not a celebrity, I’m a business man. They’re banking on me, not because of celebrity, but because of my ability to know talent, to create talent and to succeed.”
His love for Jay-Z, Williams and O’Neal notwithstanding, Latham said of the four urban channels, his has the best shot to succeed.
“You want black comedy and you want it at the highest level, you know where to turn.”
The channel could launch in either April or July, but an April launch is more likely because Latham said, “it’s the spring,” which represents new beginnings.
Some on Latham’s staff have jitters about the unchartered territory, he said. “I tell my staff, this stuff looks hard, but before I promoted my first concert, I didn’t know how to do that either. It’s going to be a learning curve for all 99 channels.”
And his work ethic places him on an even playing field. “If you work hard at anything, it will succeed. Period.”
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Photo: Walter Latham