Jeff Johnson Takes Us Inside BET's 'Mancave'

Jeff explains what he thinks is the biggest issue that black men face.

Photo credit: BET Networks

(AllHipHop Features) BET has certainly gotten a testosterone boost since the launch of it's new late-night original series, 'Mancave'.

The progressive talk show features a diverse group of black men sharing their unadulterated and provocative views on politics, sex, life, love, pop culture, entertainment, sports and more.

The show as well as its hosts are also giving viewers full access to the male brain while getting transparent about today's hot-button topics!

The worlds and opinions of 4 different guys plus those of a celebrity guest intersect weekly. Through humor, true emotion, and sometimes heated debates, the men have given all an unfiltered look into what men truly talk about in their inner circle of men.

Photo credit: BET Networks

AllHipHop had an opportunity to sit down with award-winning journalist and the series creator Jeff Johnson to discuss exactly what it is that goes down in the 'Mancave', and what it's like to navigate the world as an African American man.

AllHipHop: As a host and executive producer what was your ultimate goal with BET's 'Mancave'?

Jeff Johnson: The goal was 1. to put content on air that shows men talking about something other than sports. If you look at the content that features men, it lacks complexity.We're often caricatures of overly macho men or metrosexual men, but there's no real complexity, so the goal was how do we create a show that allows black men in particular to be their full authentic selves, and I think we've done that.

If I'm being straight up, I would've even liked to push the envelope a little more in having greater diversity in black men on the show, but I think that where we started in season one is something we haven't seen on TV anywhere else.

AllHipHop: How did the concept come about?

Jeff Johnson: A friend of mine and I had written a concept of 'Mancave' in 2005. Originally we wanted to go into actual celebrity mancaves and have conversations with them and their friends. That show was incredibly expensive to do, and I don't think it was the best idea. About five years ago because I had been doing some work with Steve Harvey on one of his books, I had pitched him the idea to co-EP it with me, and then we went to BET with the idea. So it took us about 4 1/2 years from our original pitch to get it on air. So that was the process.

I think the coolest part was our casting process. We brought about 30 plus men to LA from all different spaces to do a casting session in the course of two days. That's where we found Slink and Kosine. Tank had actually given his time during our pilot. We felt really comfortable about what Tank brought to the table before we even did the casting session, but all of that was a four and a half year process from originally bringing it to BET to bringing it to air.

AllHipHop: What has been your favorite topic on the show to discuss from sports, politics, sex, pop culture etc?

Jeff Johnson: My favorite thing is authenticity. I don't give a damn what we are talking about. What makes the show great is you have 5 men, when you consider the guest, being on TV unafraid of being themselves. I got people who complain that we curse too much, people that complain that we use the "N-word", and I'm like damn did you just hear the guy talk about the relationship with his father, or did you just hear this guy go deep into how he views relationships. The authenticity is what we miss that so many people are trying to be famous and trying to be someone else that they claim authenticity in the name of being a caricature. These are 5 brothers being themselves. That's my favorite thing about the show.

AllHipHop: Who has been the most entertaining celebrity guest?

Jeff Johnson: Steve honestly because here's the thing: Steve's a co-EP, so he's known about this show from the beginning, but I'm going to be straight up. I didn't know which Steve was coming on show. I wasn't sure I wanted Steve to come on the show at first because I wasn't sure if 'Little Big Shots' Steve was coming on the show.

Steve is making a shit load of network TV money, so he has a lot to lose coming on the show drinking and cursing, so I wasn't sure which Steve we were going to get. When Cleveland Steve Harvey showed up, it was amazing, and I think that's what speaks to the power of the show because I think it was therapeutic for him. He even said, "Listen I've been doing network TV a long time." He said, "This was the first show I've been on that allowed me to be my whole self." That's part of the reason why he was my favorite guest because in theory you think something is working, but there are some of those moments that show you that you've got it right.

AllHipHop: What do you think is the biggest problem African American men are currently facing?

Jeff Johnson: A continued narrative of beastly non-humanity. Sometimes whether that's looking at this through the lens of how we often see police officers treat us. Whether it's through the lens of how we treat each other. Black men in particular have been conditioned to not need anybody, to never be weak, to never smile, to never feel, and that defines inhumanity. And so, it's the furthest thing from the truth, but when you are allowed to continue a historic narrative of inhumanity, you actually get to a place where you treat yourself inhumanely.

AllHipHop: What do men talk about the most that women would be surprised to learn?

Jeff Johnson: Without getting all into it, it depends on the woman. I think that women are often not surprised about what we talk about but how we talk about it. Like there are times I hear women that think we sit in rooms and think we just grunt and snort at each other, or that we are overly intellectual, and we talk about the head of something but not the heart of something. I think the thing that I think women would be surprised about is how much heart we have in our discussion not just head. We talk passionately. We care about things. We've given ourselves to stuff.

The thing that make's men's conversations and authentic men's conversations so important is the space. Men are looking for a place that is safe to be themselves. Black men in particular always got to be on. I got to be on on the street because I can't let nobody get me. I got to be on on campus because I don't want anyone to try to challenge my intellectual nature. I got to be on in the boardroom because I have to be twice as good. I have to be on in my relationship because my woman doesn't want me to be weak. Men when they get together, is one of the most liberating experiences because I ain't got to be on for nobody. I think that's the thing that a lot of people don't understand.

This is the reason why we talk the way we do in the 'Mancave', the reason why we can talk about anything. The other thing about it is we don't have any gotcha moments with guests. We aren't trying to invite any man on to say what he wouldn't say somewhere else. We want men to come on and say what they feel comfortable saying nowhere else. That's what make it the 'cave. We talk about grooming as much as y'all do, it's just different. A man's barber is one of the most important people in a man's phone. We talk about clothes as much as you all do, we just talk about it differently. We're much more alike than we are different. The issue is that men in a lot of ways.... I think men in a lot of ways are less open to transparency, and as a result when we find a place where we can be, we go 1000%.

AllHipHop: Who are your "Top 5" rappers dead or alive?

Jeff Johnson: Oh sh-t you really trying to do that to me? Um, this is in no order, I need to be clear on that. I'm going to say Biggie, I'm going to say Rakim, Method Man, Nas, my curve ball entry is Wise Intelligence.

AllHipHop: Who are you currently listening to?

Jeff Johnson: I'm currently listening to all kinds of sh-t. I'm almost overwhelmed by music because when you open yourself to all that the groundswell is creating, I'm getting songs sent to me all the time, and I'm loving songs and I don't even remember who it is. I got songs that I'm listening to, if I was honest I wouldn't even be able to tell you who it was until I asked my daughter.

I never thought I was going to be a Cardi B fan, but I am one. I probably never take Kendrick out of rotation, and that's new and old Kendrick. Recently I've really been in this '36 Chambers' place. I am currently listening to a lot of The Internet. I've been on this real weird kick lately. I'm in a creative mode. We have a production company called Mancave Stories, and we're currently in the mist of pitching 6 shows on multiple networks.

When I'm in creative mode, I almost always am in a Miles Davis space. From the time I was in college until yesterday. The sh-t that just takes me there is "Kind Of Blue." Music is such a dope ass therapy. It's not only therapy but it's aspirational. There are times I listen to music to reflect where I am, then there are times I listen to music to project where I want to be, and I need both. Sometimes where I'm at is not where I need to be. I need music that pulls me out of that and takes me to another place.

AllHipHop: What's next for Jeff? Are there any other endeavors you are tapping into? Are you working on any music projects?

Jeff Johnson: Man Stories Media is what I'm currently working on. So the success of 'Mancave' has opened us up to be able to pitch some other content ideas, so my goal is to create content that features men. It doesn't mean that it's just for men, because Mancave has probably more women that watch it than men. We want content that is authentically about men. So we have a travel show that we are doing. We do have a music show, I can't talk about it in depth, but it features Kosine. So it's a show where Kosine as a producer let's just say is a guide into music.

We have a game show that we are working on, and a reality show that we're working on. So I'm having a hell of a lot of fun creating content. I own a bureau agency with Marc Lamont Hill called Elite Voices. Everyday I run a strategic communications firm. We have Fortune 100 and Fortune 500 municipal and entertainment clients, so I'm busy.

AllHipHop: Do you feel that celebrities are stepping up to use their voices and platforms to address social issues?

Jeff Johnson: I think social media gave cover that five years ago, ten years ago artists didn't have. I don't think that artists now care more. I think that artists now feel safe. If you pull up the artists 10 years ago, it wasn't like they didn't give a sh-t. A dude would step out and say something, and then when the label comes for them, or a brand comes for them, they are out there by themselves, and everybody is like damn what the f-ck happened to them.

Now social media says to brands, it says to labels, it says to networks, that this is the stuff that we care about too. So I think what was so funny was, 10 years ago I would be on a college campus and I would be talking to people and they would say we are waiting for these artists to lead us. Finally the streets realized that they didn't need an artist to lead them. They were the leaders. As a result of the movements that we've seen in the last 3-4 years, there are artists who have felt more comfortable to be a part of the movement that these young people have created, and that to me is what's so dope about it. So I think we are going to see more and more artists and more and more celebrities feel free to speak about what they feel because now they know they are not out there by themselves.