Comedian, Author, Entrepreneur, and
CEO & Co-Founder, Cultivated Wit
Baratunde Thurston is an Emmy-nominated writer, activist, and comedian who has worked for The Onion, produced for The Daily Show, advised the Obama White House, and cleaned bathrooms to pay for his Harvard education. He hosts the iHeartMedia podcast Spit, wrote the New York Times bestseller How To Be Black, and serves on the boards of BUILD and the Brooklyn Public Library. Baratunde makes media, delivers keynotes, and promotes action with his unique blend of criticism, humor, and optimism. He’s most invested in topics of race, technology, democracy, and climate because the hard stuff has already been solved.
Baratunde has an uncanny ability to crack the shell of any uncomfortable topic through a personal, accessible, and intelligent point of view.
With an ancestry that includes a great-grandfather who taught himself to read, a grandmother who was the first black employee at the U.S. Supreme Court building, a computer-programming mother who took over radio stations in the name of the black liberation struggle, and an older sister who teaches yoga at her donation-based studio in Lansing, Michigan, Baratunde has long been taught to question authority and forge his own path. It helps that he was raised in Washington, D.C. under crackhead Mayor Marion Barry.
His creative and inquisitive mind, forged by his mother’s lessons and polished by a philosophy degree from Harvard, have found expression in the pages of Fast Company, the screens of HBO, Comedy Central, CNN, MSNBC, BBC, the sound waves of NPR and roughly one bajillion podcasts, including Our National Conversation About Conversations About Race, which he co-founded. He has hosted shows and stories on NatGeo, Discovery’s Science Channel, Yahoo, AOL, YouTube, and Pivot TV. In 2016 he hosted a special three-part PBS series of TED Talks and earned a Daytime Emmy nomination for the Spotify/Mic series, Clarify.
Digital Comedy Pioneer
Far from simply appearing in media, Baratunde is also helping define its future. In 2006 he co-founded Jack & Jill Politics, a black political blog whose coverage of the 2008 Democratic National Convention has been archived by the Library of Congress. From 2007 to 2012, he helped bring one of America’s finest journalistic institutions into the future, serving as Director of Digital for The Onion then did something similar as Supervising Producer for digital expansion at The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. He has been a judge for the Knight Foundation News Challenge, an affiliate at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, and a director’s fellow at the MIT Media Lab. His book, How To Be Black, is a New York Times best-seller.
In 2012, he co-founded Cultivated Wit, a comedic digital company on a quest to merge comedy and technology into a new genre of creative expression, with Brian Janosch and Craig Cannon. The company produced Comedy Hack Day during which developers and comedians collaborated to make intentionally funny tech projects that humanize technology while offering social commentary on the world at large.
Honors and Affiliations
The ACLU of Michigan honored Baratunde “for changing the political and social landscape one laugh at a time.” He was nominated for the Bill Hicks Award for Thought Provoking Comedy. The Root named him to its list of 100 most influential African Americans, and Fast Company listed him as one of the 100 Most Creative People In Business. He has advised the Obama White House and serves on the National Board of BUILD, an organization that uses entrepreneurship-based experiential learning to propel underserved youth through high school on to college and career success. He also serves as a mayoral appointee to the Brooklyn Public Library board of trustees.
How to Deconstruct Racism and Laugh at the Same Time
As we discuss diversity, equity, and inclusion, we shouldn't think in terms of quotas or grievances. Instead, we should think about stories — the ones we tell ourselves about “us” and the ones we tell ourselves about “them.” Baratunde sees an opportunity to tell a story of “we” instead. This talk is based on his TED talk, “How To Deconstruct Racism One Headline At A Time” but applies to more than race. Through his own story, examples from the real world, and the strategic integration of humor, Baratunde invites audiences to build businesses, organizations, and societies that recognize the value of us all.
What If We Build a Future That Doesn't Look like Black Mirror?
Baratunde has been online since the early 1990s. He's hacked into networks, consulted for major telecoms, helped build comedic digital media brands, and once unfriended everyone on Facebook just to see what it felt like (amazing!). For much of his life, technology has made things better, but it’s also come at a cost: mass surveillance, data recklessness, an over-abundance of advertising, and the realization that too few of us have a say in how these tools get rolled out to the public. In this talk, Baratunde shares principles for designing a better technological future that won’t have you wanting to destroy your cell phone.
Digital Storytelling for Humans
Whether you’re in media, politics, or marketing, talking with people is better than talking at people. Baratunde dug through his 30 year history of making media and conversations online. What he uncovered are timeless principles that apply to anyone trying to get their message heard in an increasingly noisy digital world. Those principles include: make conversation, not statements; build relationships, not transactions; treat people as humans, not consumers; and most important, book Baratunde, not those other people.
How to Tell Your Story and Authentically Connect in the Digital World
All Baratunde Thurston Books
How to Be BlackPurchase Book
"He was absolutely awesome. I can't tell you how much we appreciated you moving heaven and earth to get him there for the end of our day. Please tell him we are overjoyed, he is wonderful."
- Ford Foundation | Senior Program Officer Media Rights & Access
"He is one of the smartest, most real, most creative people I have met. A++++"
- GM | AOL Original Video
"The event was a HUGE success. Thanks to CAA for helping bring it all to life. He was wonderful, charismatic, engaging and comical. Everyone was very pleased and he received fabulous reviews. It was perfect for our team especially given his experience in the industry and the way he connected his business challenges to his personal pursuits."
- VP Creative | Viacom
"The feedback we've gotten from Beam employees has been extremely positive. We so appreciate you coming to Chicago to share your expertise and humor with everyone. Your presentation was fantastic. It was engaging, funny, and compelling. The social media teams really loved the content and gave them a lot to think about. Thanks for being a part of our session. "
- | Beam Inc.