The Million Dollar (Book Deal) Question (with Deesha Philyaw & Morgan the Producer) | Crooked Media
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September 21, 2023
Stuck with Damon Young
The Million Dollar (Book Deal) Question (with Deesha Philyaw & Morgan the Producer)

In This Episode

Deesha Philyaw, author of “The Secret Life of Church Ladies,” joins Damon for a discussion about making money on the heels of Deesha’s two-book seven-figure deal. Morgan the Producer then makes her Dear Damon debut talking tipping etiquette.



Deesha Philyaw: I cannot be shamed. I am shameless. [laughs]


Damon Young: I feel like. I feel like that’s the perfect that’s the perfect cap. I don’t get to prove shit [laughs] Deesha, I’m a just, that’s gonna be the quote. You know, when we promote this Deesha Philyaw. 


Deesha Philyaw: Oh God. 


Damon Young: I don’t got to prove shit to non of y’all niggas. [laughs]


Deesha Philyaw: Now listen to the rest of the interview—


Damon Young: I’m just saying. You know, teasers. Teasers exist for a reason. 


Deesha Philyaw: Teasers. 


Damon Young: Yeah. Cold opens teasers, boom. [laughter] Welcome back, everyone, to a very, very, very special episode of Stuck with Damon Young. And so writers, just as a collective, has several weird and nebulous and intersecting anxieties about revealing exactly how much money we make, which is one of the reasons why it was so remarkable last week to write multiple news stories about the homie Deesha Philyaw’s  new million dollar book deal, and to talk about, I guess, why she decided to be so transparent about how much money she’s making. We had Deesha on the show today. And we also talk about both of our nontraditional journeys to be able to write full time. And then for Dear Damon, Morgan, the producer, makes her long awaited return to help answer a question from a person who thinks the tips screen has made the expectation of tipping unreasonable. All right y’all. Let’s get it. [music plays] Deesha Philyaw is the author of the award Winning The Secret Lives of Church Ladies. Deesha also will be footing the bill the next time she comes to Pittsburgh when we decide to go out to eat. Deesha, what’s good? 


Deesha Philyaw: You always you. 


Damon Young: It’s great to see you. 


Deesha Philyaw: You too. 


Damon Young: So last week you were in the news. 


Deesha Philyaw: Mm hmm. 


Damon Young: ABC News. Multiple different publications. Major publications. Major platforms. 


Deesha Philyaw: Mm hmm. 


Damon Young: Seven figure deal for two books. So congratulations on that. 


Deesha Philyaw: Thank you. 


Damon Young: And I just saw something this morning where you said something about the U.K. rights, too. So can you explain like that? Because I wasn’t even sure about what that means when I saw you post that. 


Deesha Philyaw: Yes. When the books were on submission, they were on submission in the U.K. And in the U.S. at the same time. And so but two separate sets of rights. And so for the U.K. rights, that deal happened faster. And so it closed before, you know, that option closed before the one in the U.S.. But, you know, we’ve been waiting because, like publishing goes on hiatus for the month of August. This all happened at the end of July. And then the U.K. agreed to let the U.S. announce first or, you know, so it’s a little bit simultaneous. So Friday and then Monday in the in the U.K., the announcement was made. 


Damon Young: Okay. 


Deesha Philyaw: Or Thursday, I guess it was Thursday of last week. 


Damon Young: Congrats again. 


Deesha Philyaw: Thank you. 


Damon Young: And now we were, Deesha and I were both teaching at VONA in late June, I guess last week of June. First week of July. 


Deesha Philyaw: Mm hmm. 


Damon Young: We were at VONA, VONA is an annual retreat slash workshop for writers of color. Takes place at the University of Miami. And we were both instructors there, and I remember. Okay, so what Deesha and I did when were down there is that the courses that we taught were three hours long and five days, three hour courses. We each had about ten people in our classrooms. And at the end of the second hour, because our classrooms are right next to each other, we were combined classrooms and became just basically like a round robin. Ask us anything sort of deal for the last hour for the students. And I remember that you were actually in a conversation, something book deal related. 


Deesha Philyaw: Yes. 


Damon Young: Were you talking about U.K. stuff or about the American stuff then? 


Deesha Philyaw: So it was all happening at once because the submission timeline. So when we were at VONA, the books had just gone out on submission. 


Damon Young: Okay. 


Deesha Philyaw: And then there was interest. And then, you know, when there you have multiple parties interested, that’s when it goes into a bidding situation. So the bidding didn’t start, though, until several weeks later. 


Damon Young: Okay. 


Deesha Philyaw: But the books went out on submission while we were at VONA. 


Damon Young: Deesha, I mean, it’s we’ve known each other for almost 20 years now. 


Deesha Philyaw: Mm hmm. 


Damon Young: And it’s just been I guess we both have had, quote unquote, “nontraditional paths to publishing.”


Deesha Philyaw: Yes. Yeah. 


Damon Young: You know, where you had full time jobs? You know, I have full time jobs. You know, we both worked through weird employment. We both blogged. We both basically everything that you could do on the Internet as a writer. 


Deesha Philyaw: Yeah, right. And no MFAs, we don’t have MFA’s. Yes. 


Damon Young: No MFA’s. Okay. I guess when you had your ambitions. 


Deesha Philyaw: Mm hmm. 


Damon Young: You know what I mean? Back then, when we were first hanging out, to publish a book. And to have your book. 


Deesha Philyaw: Mm hmm. 


Damon Young: How does this current reality match up to the ambitions that you had then? 


Deesha Philyaw: So I started the novel that I just sold not long after we first met. So I started around 2007 working on that novel. I went to Hurston Wright Summer Writer’s Week that year, and Matt Johnson was my instructor and he was great. The workshop was great. It’s sort of like VONA, but you know, but just for Black writers and he was the fiction faculty for that year, and he was just so encouraging. And he encouraged me and connected me with an agent who was speaking there as well, who I ended up talking to about something else completely. But it was Matt really telling me that I had something there. The book has changed a lot since 2007, obviously, but his encouragement sort of meant everything. And so my focus became, I want to finish this novel. That was my ambition. But I was, as you said, doing all those things in the background, the freelancing and all of that. And then for three years, 2016 to 2019, I was working at PNC and it was always like, I’m trying to make a living, but I also want to write this fiction, which nobody’s paying me. [laughs] So I got to do all the other things that you know, you know the drill. And so for the longest time, it was I want to finish a work of fiction, specifically that novel. And then it pivoted because I wasn’t finishing the novel. And the agent that I currently have, Danielle, who I have for my co-parenting book, which was actually my first book, she was encouraging me around the novel, but when I was stalled, she’s like, You know, you’ve been writing these church lady stories. And she encouraged me to take that pivot and work on the collection. So by that time, it was like, you know, my dream would be to just write. I love students. I love mentoring. I love, you know, the magic that, you know, happens in workshop. I don’t necessarily love all of the admin, and I certainly don’t love all that comes with academia. So my ambition came to publishing a full length work of fiction then, which I did with Church Ladies. Then get this novel published that I started in 2007. But ultimately, what I wanted was to not have to do anything else. I just want to write, was it Musiq Soulchild, Just let me sing or whatever that— [laughter] That’s me. But for books and to me, that would be the gift. That would be the ultimate just to be able to focus on my creative work. And so that’s what’s happened. 


Damon Young: When were you able to like first, like, make the transition to like, you know what, I’m not doing anything else. I don’t have to get another job. Like my writing and all the stuff, all the supplementary stuff, whether that’s workshop speaking, whatever surrounding the writing is what pays my bills and allows me to live and eat. When did that happen for you? 


Deesha Philyaw: That was like 2021. 


Damon Young: Okay. 


Deesha Philyaw: Because I started at PNC in 2016, I was still freelancing in late August 2019. I walked out of PNC one day. I had a terrible boss and I just was like, Fuck it. One day and I just walked out in the middle of the day and thanks to friends, I was still able to pay my rent for a while until I got a contract job remotely working for a foundation in Indianapolis, thanks to another friend. And days after I walked out of PNC, I turned in the manuscript for Church Ladies. And then once Church Ladies was received the way it was received, then I got speaking engagements and could make more money there. I certainly didn’t make money on Church Ladies on the front end because the advance was like $4,000. But then I started getting some royalties and so I want to say it was like around fall 2021. I ended the contract work that I had been doing because I was like, I can’t give that my all when I’m trying to do these other things. And it would have been nice to still have that income because, you know, it’s nothing like getting paid every two weeks. [laughs] But I ended that. So since fall of 2021. 


Damon Young: And to your point, it’s a hustle. I mean and even if you’re even if you’re making, you know, substantial amount of money. 


Damon Young: Mm hmm. 


Deesha Philyaw: It’s still like a hustle in terms of just tracking it down and keeping track of, okay, did I pay the taxes? 


Deesha Philyaw: Yeah. 


Damon Young: [laughter] Like, how much do I set aside for this and when am I going to get this and which metrics do I need to hit when I get this? And, you know, I guess, you know, really quickly, just for people who aren’t familiar with how book deals work. 


Deesha Philyaw: Mm hmm. 


Damon Young: Particularly like a large a major deal like yours now. 


Deesha Philyaw: Mm hmm. 


Damon Young: You’ll get like a substantial amount upfront, right? You’ll get an advance. 


Deesha Philyaw: Right when we sign. And then. But there’s still a lot of waiting. 


Damon Young: Yeah there’s still a lot of waiting. [laughter] Still a lot of waiting. 


Deesha Philyaw: Yeah. 


Damon Young: Between you signing the contract and the money actually hitting your account. 


Deesha Philyaw: Yes. 


Damon Young: And your agent gets 15%. 


Deesha Philyaw: So everybody who’s like Sizzler’s on you— [laughter] I’m like not yet.


Damon Young: Not yet. [laughs] Just make a reservation. 


Deesha Philyaw: Exactly. 


Damon Young: And then, you know, you have to hit certain metrics like, you know, okay, so let’s say you submit your first draft and then you submit your final draft and then the book is published, the actual publication date, and you get like a chunk each time. 


Deesha Philyaw: Yeah. 


Damon Young: And then you get money based off of royalties If you hit a certain number. 


Deesha Philyaw: Yes. If you earn out [laughs] which benefit of the little advance is easy to earn out, which is why I get royalties on Church Ladies. Big advance, much harder to earn out. So.


Damon Young: Yeah and I my situation and for transparency sake because we’re talking about money so I’m going to have to talk about money. I also got a two book deal for seven figures, right? 


Deesha Philyaw: Mm hmm. 


Damon Young: For my first book or and the book that’s coming after that. Thank you. 


Deesha Philyaw: Yes. 


Damon Young: And the thing is, you know, I want to get at this a little bit more. I guess now is a good time to do it. Is that. 


Deesha Philyaw: Mm hmm. 


Damon Young: With your book, you know, you have been this tremendous success, right, with Church Ladies winning all these awards, getting optioned and leading to this so that when news breaks of you having this deal say, oh, yeah, Deesha,  now of course there’s going to be niggas hating [laughter] like of course and we could talk about that too. Of course niggas going to be like, you know, wait, what? [laughter] But it’s like, if anyone deserves something like this, it is. It’s someone like Deesha. Right. And so for me, when I signed that deal and I hadn’t published anything yet, well, I had the self-published book with Panama, but I hadn’t published like a. 


Deesha Philyaw: Mm hmm. 


Damon Young: At a major house yet. And there was like, this pressure and there still is a pressure. 


Deesha Philyaw: Mm hmm. 


Damon Young: It’s like, you know what? I need to perform in a way that justifies this. Not just for me, but for. For all the people who are attached to this. All the people know about this. 


Deesha Philyaw: Yeah. 


Damon Young: And my book could be successful. But if it doesn’t meet these certain metrics, if it doesn’t earn out, if it doesn’t become this tremendous success, then I will feel like a failure. 


Deesha Philyaw: Mm hmm. 


Damon Young: Now, do you have any of that anxiety now with this new deal? 


Deesha Philyaw: You know, I am so glad that Church Ladies came first. 


Damon Young: Mm hmm. 


Deesha Philyaw: So that I could see how the sausage is made, because that helps to not have that anxiety. So, for example, I’ve been on and I’m currently on judging panels. Right? So, Church Ladies, one metric of its success was the awards that it got. Now that I sit on awards panels, I realize this comes down to like, the book is the book. It’s whatever it’s going to be. It is the taste of the readers who read the books that are nominated. And, you know, everybody’s press nominate their books. For PEN Faulkner, you can nominate your own book, for example. So all of these books come in. Who makes the long list? Who’s reading? I have no control over that. So then there’s the long list. Then they have the judging panel. Who’s on the judging panel? I have no control over that. What are their tastes? You know, were they in a bad mood when they read my book? Was my book the last book they read, and they were just exhausted. You know all of these things that we can’t control for. And then somebody wins, right? 


Damon Young: Mm hmm. 


Deesha Philyaw: And so what I realized is that there’s so many moving parts to this industry and to the whole process, and I only control my part, which is to write the best book that I can. And so I also need to define success for myself in terms of things that I can control, like how I feel about this book. I don’t want that to be determined by how other people feel about the book, you know, except like the people that I’m closest to. If my day ones and my friends who feel like day ones are like, What the fuck are you doing? Then I’m not going to be happy. I won’t feel successful. But if I love it and my folks love it, I’m good. Everything beyond that is gravy. And also in doing the TV adaptation is the other thing that helped me have this perspective, especially when you’re dealing with folks in that business in Hollywood, which is like publishing on steroids in not the best ways. There’s that fickleness, too on somebody’s whim, all of the work you’ve done for two years to develop something will never see air time for any number of reasons, including somebody just waking up and saying, No, we’re not going to do that. So again, it was me deciding what can I control? And there are so many things outside of my control that if I worried about those things, I could never write a word. Right. Like, if I worried, Oh, my God, is this book going to win awards like Church Ladies? I would never write a word. So I started thinking of it like having more than one child. And you have more than one child, too. So when you had your second child, you’re not like, My daughter is great kid. You got to be great in the same ways or else, you know. [laughter]


Damon Young: I mean, don’t put words in my mouth. [laughter] I will neither confirm nor deny. 


Deesha Philyaw: Well I mean right. Like the first child always is awesome. Which tricks you into having the second child who comes in on some other shit all together [laughter] but in fairness to that second child, you want them to have their make their own place in the world without the burden of having to live up to the expectation of whoever you know came before. And so I think of the books the same way, and mainly because if I thought any differently, I just wouldn’t be able to write. I also recognize that what happened with Church Ladies was pretty singular, right? And so that would be I would be shooting myself in the foot. No one should hold their book to that standard because it hadn’t happened before in terms of the number of awards that it won. I just don’t accept that pressure at all. Yeah, people started asking me about the second book, like right after Church Ladies was longlisted for something. And so I kind of saw how I was like, Oh, so that’s how it’s going to be. And so I’ve had to sort of build up kind of an armor around that. And there’s sort of me as a writer, which I keep very separate from me as a public person. And my work is not in isolation because I definitely have a writing community. I have a squad. You’re part of that squad and we rally and support each other and read each other and all of those things. But I knew I had to put up some boundaries as far as the rest of the world for my own sanity. 


Damon Young: Now I get that, I get that. And I think also to I think you were 50 when Church Ladies published?


Deesha Philyaw: 49. 


Damon Young: 49. Sorry, I don’t want to give you an extra year. 


Deesha Philyaw: I’ll take the extra years. [laughter] I just turned 52. I’m glad to be here. 


Damon Young: I was 40. When What Doesn’t Kill you Makes You Blacker was published, which again, for this industry first time publishing. 


Deesha Philyaw: Yes. We old. 


Damon Young: It’s old. It’s older right. And I think that one advantage of being older is that you know we both have lived. 


Deesha Philyaw: Yes. 


Damon Young: You know, a life, right. And have lives that aren’t just about what we write. You know, we have families. 


Deesha Philyaw: Yes. 


Damon Young: We have responsibilities outside of this. And I think that that maybe gives a perspective that maybe someone who is a bit younger, who was like in their twenties and getting all of this sort of recog— And that happens, you know, people who are young to get this recognition, you know, maybe don’t have that same anchoring as someone who is a bit older. 


Deesha Philyaw: I think it’s two other things, too. 


Damon Young: Yeah. 


Deesha Philyaw: We were talking earlier about not going through MFA programs. 


Damon Young: Mm hmm. 


Deesha Philyaw: And so there are many wonderful things about MFA programs, but all of the baggage that can come in, the things that aren’t great, we didn’t have to unlearn any of that. We don’t have that hanging over our shoulder that in some of those programs there can be this sort of competitiveness, unhealthy competition, because you and I have talked about good competition. Somebody you talked about it. It’s like seeing somebody who you admire do a thing. You’re like, I want to do that, but you still have love for them and you still celebrate them. But the unhealthy kind of competition sometimes can be bred in MFA spaces. So we didn’t have to contend with that. And I’ll speak for myself. It also gave me time to have a lot more therapy because 30 year old me, even maybe even 40 year old me, would not have been able to handle this. 


Damon Young: Mm hmm. Yeah. And, you know, just to expand on your point about the competition, I liken it to, like, you sometimes see, like, top athletes. 


Deesha Philyaw: Mm hmm. 


Damon Young: Training together. 


Deesha Philyaw: Yes. 


Damon Young: In the off season. And it’s like they’re friends they’re homies, but they’re also like, you know what, iron sharpens iron. And if I surround myself with the best, you know, and. Yeah, okay. You had a great season. I want to have a great season, too. So what can I learn from you? 


Deesha Philyaw: Yes. 


Damon Young: And how can we make sure that each other reaches like our potential? And I think that that is healthy. You know, what’s unhealthy is when you want to be the only one. 


Deesha Philyaw: The only one. Thank you.


Damon Young: Yeah. And you think that there can only be one at a time and you sabotage other people, which, you know, some people in our industry [laughter] are known for doing too. Yes.


Deesha Philyaw: Well, they do [laughter] but no, you’re right. Like I love that analogy and Nafissa Thompson-Spires our mutual friend is my critique partner. 


Damon Young: Mm hmm. 


Deesha Philyaw: You know. And so she’s seen iterations of this book over the last couple of years. And then my friend  Tamara Winfrey-Harris has been we’ve been reading each other’s work because I’ve I’ve known Tammy almost as long as I’ve known you, and we’ve been reading each other’s stories, essays, books for the longest time. She was one of my very first readers. 


Damon Young: Wanted to ask really quickly, also, how has the strike affected you? 


Deesha Philyaw: I haven’t. So in fall of 2021, my co-writer and I, Tori Sampson, started working on the development of the TV show adaptation of Church Ladies, and we were having an amazing time working through it. Lots of revisions, getting notes from the executives at HBO Max. And we got to version 11 of the pilot, and they then moved us to the next stage, which is the series format document, like the series Bible, which we did a kick ass job on that. This is what I’m saying. Like, I’m already claiming that we have written a successful, incredible television show, full stop. You may never see it, but we wrote it. We turned in the series format document and two days later the strike started. So we haven’t had any feedback on that. We won’t hear anything until the strike is over because, you know, that’s just how that’s the protocol. Pencils down. And so, you know, waiting is hard. The uncertainty is is really hard. But for some reason, I feel optimistic. I could be naive, but I’m optimistic that once the strike is over and I think I got an update from the union that, you know, they’re back in talks again that we’ll be able to keep going. So, unfortunately, yes, I’m affected. 


Damon Young: That kind of relates to what the next thing I want to talk to you about too, you know, you you have this development deal. You announce it and you also announce the new book deal. 


Deesha Philyaw: Mm hmm. 


Damon Young: And now we’ve talked about this before on how just writers are loathe to talk about money. 


Deesha Philyaw: Mm hmm. 


Damon Young: To publicly talk about money. To publicly reveal how much money they’re getting, how much money you know, they make, etc.. And yet you went forward and did that. 


Deesha Philyaw: Yeah. 


Damon Young: And so I guess I’m curious and we’ve talked about this before, you know, we try to be transparent, particularly with VONA, with the students, about money and about what money means and how much money this made and how much money that made. But to announce it on a on a larger scale is a thing that, again, that a lot of people in our industry are very reluctant to do. So why did you do it? 


Deesha Philyaw: So I did it for the sake of transparency and the idea of showing what’s possible. That doesn’t mean like seven figure deals for everybody. I mean, I also know writers who got seven figure deals who then their next deal was not a seven figure deal, you know, so I’m not under any delusion that, like, it’s a new day, you know, or anything like that. Everything any of us get is hard won and there are no guarantees about the next deal. It’s always whatever deal is right in front of you. So, one, I just wanted that transparency. And two, I think of some of the reasons that people don’t reveal is we’ve been taught that it’s impolite to talk about money, but some of that, I believe, comes from we have to think about who does that serve, right? So when we don’t talk about money, when you work at a job, they always say, oh, don’t talk to your coworkers about how much you make, because then your coworker could find out they’re doing three times as much work as you and getting paid a third. [laughter]


Damon Young: Yeah. 


Deesha Philyaw: That’s why they don’t want you to talk about it, you know? So it’s like, who does the silent serve? At the same time, we have a mutual friend who also got a very nice, what they call a major deal. These good nice major they each mean something. So seven figures is a major deal. And this friend of ours did not wanted to announce the details and it was announced. And part of that is people will start clocking your pockets or have their hand in your pockets. And then you got to tell somebody, get your hand out my pocket. And nobody wants that. You know, nobody wants the pressure, nobody wants the awkwardness, because people are bold as hell. But I’m not worried about that because for the most part, people really don’t bother me like that. And I have no problem, you know, being direct. 


Damon Young: You’re also elusive. I made you been in Pittsburgh, Mississippi. Oakland [laughter] it’s like where in the world is Deesha? 


Deesha Philyaw: You got to catch me first. [laughter]


Damon Young: Try to lock you down get some money, it’s like where the fuck is she?


Deesha Philyaw: I got it all in my offshore accounts. [laughter]


Damon Young: But yeah I mean that’s that’s another point about the pressure and expectation when something like that is revealed. And we talk a lot about, you know, internal pressures within the industry, even within your own work, about how when you get a deal like that, it’s hard to kind of not allow that to distract you from doing your work. But then also there are the externals. 


Deesha Philyaw: Yes. 


Damon Young: Right. And most of us come from, you know, if you’re black in America, chances are you come from not the most secure financial background. 


Deesha Philyaw: Yes. 


Damon Young: You know what I mean? Maybe some financial vulnerability. 


Deesha Philyaw: That would be me. [laughs]


Damon Young: You know, I’m I’m trying to say it as academically as possible. 


Deesha Philyaw: Working class. 


Damon Young: Niggas is broke niggas is poor. 


Deesha Philyaw: Exactly. I grew up in a shotgun house. 


Damon Young: Yeah. 


Deesha Philyaw: Paint a picture. 


Damon Young: And so there’s that, too, where it’s like you announced that deal and maybe you’re already a bank for certain family members, but now they think you’re a millionaire. 


Deesha Philyaw: Right? 


Damon Young: And are hitting you up for other things, for bigger things instead of like $30 here, $200 here. It’s like, you know, can I can I hold $2,000? 


Deesha Philyaw: [laughs] Exactly. 


Damon Young: $5,000. I know you got it. 


Deesha Philyaw: So my family situation is sort of the blessing and the curse of kind of being an orphan, because both of my parents died in 2005. And so I still have family, but we don’t have the dynamic where anybody has ever asked me for money. One of my sisters, because my father had five daughters and one I’m the oldest of five. I’ve asked her for money. [laughter] You know. But I also gave her money, like when my mom died, you know, and since she was not my mother’s daughter, but she did so much for us. So, I mean, I think I’ve just been lucky, like, I’m not worried about that. And also, I’ve had people who I don’t know as well ask me for money like since 2020. And I’ve always been happy to give. I’m somebody who I see the GoFundMe or the ask or the Cash App thing for somebody who’s just trying to get rent for this month or medicine or whatever, and I will quietly contribute. So I’m okay with giving. So I don’t know. So it hasn’t happened yet, but I don’t feel because the mindset is this, whether it’s money or some other kind of help, like, oh, will you? You know, people say you’re generous, people say you helpful, but you told me no. And it’s like, yeah. [laughter] Those things can be true. Like, I try to help as much as I can when I can, and sometimes my answer is no. And that’s okay too. That doesn’t mean I’m like a fraud or anything. It just means I didn’t help you. And so one thing I think if I had to sort of say it concisely is I let other people’s problems be their problem because there is going to be that I need you to prove to me that you’re a generous person and that you know that you haven’t forgotten where you are or whatever. And it’s like, I ain’t got to do shit. So that doesn’t work on me. I cannot be shamed. [laughs] I am shameless. 


Damon Young: I feel like. I feel like that’s the perfect. That’s the perfect cap. I don’t get to prove shit [laughs] Deesha I’m a just that’s gonna be the quote. You know, when we promote this [laughter] Deesha Philyaw. 


Deesha Philyaw: God. 


Damon Young: Don’t got to prove shit to none of y’all niggas. [laughter]


Deesha Philyaw: Now listen to the rest of the interview—


Damon Young: I’m just saying. You know, teasers. Teasers exist for a reason. 


Deesha Philyaw: Teasers. 


Damon Young: Yeah. Cold opens, teasers, boom. Trailers. Deesha. Thank you. Thank you so much for coming through. 


Deesha Philyaw: Thanks for having me. 


Damon Young: Always great to see you. Always great to have you on. And yet and just congratulations again. I mean, there—


Deesha Philyaw: Thank you. 


Damon Young: We’ve also talked about how not everyone is a good literary citizen. 


Deesha Philyaw: Yes. 


Damon Young: And that’s something that everyone who knows you can say that you are a good literary citizen also. 


Deesha Philyaw: Aw thank you. 


Damon Young: So, again, congratulations. 


Deesha Philyaw: I appreciate that. And that means a lot coming from you. You are truly a day one and I appreciate you. 


Damon Young: Thank you. [music plays] So up next for dear Damon we’ll be joined again by Morgan, the producer. But first, Damon hates. [music plays] Yeah. This is a hate that I know other people in the fucking mid-Atlantic region are feeling for these motherfucking lantern flies man. They are fucking everywhere. I mean, last year they were around, right? And I killed a couple. I would step on a couple, whatever. I had some reluctance. The government asking Black Americans to kill another living thing is always like a fraught question. It’s like, motherfucker, y’all the government. I’m not going to kill anything for you. But I probably should have been more vigilant last year in killing as many lantern flies as I could find. Because apparently for every lanternfly that existed last year to 30 more 30 and we have seen them. They are fucking everywhere. Okay, that’s actually not even true because they are not everywhere. It’s weird because there are pockets of the city where you don’t see them at all. For instance, in my neighborhood, I rarely see them. I mean, I see them as often as I see bee’s like they’re around, but they’re not like everywhere. But then there are parts, like there’s parts of downtown, there’s parts of the University of Pittsburgh’s campus where they are like 100 per square foot, just swarming all over everything, all over the buildings, all over their ground, there are dead ones everywhere. And now my kids are terrified of them [laughs] too. And that’s a whole another fucking thing. So anyway, I feel like we just had too much to fucking deal with in the last four or five years. A motherfucking pandemic, a motherfucking virus that comes out of nowhere and kills millions of people. Fucking insurrections. I’ve been doxed. I mean, shit. Like I’ve gone through too much in these last four or five years. And now the motherfucking lantern flies? The thing that I guess adds insult to injury, is that they’re pretty when you look at them and when you look at one of them and not like a thousand of them together, they are actually really beautiful insects. They look like flowers, they look like an advanced butterfly, and you can almost appreciate their beauty. And then once you start to appreciate their beauty, 17 of them fucking dive at your neck, you know, swatting them off of you. And now they also have developed a survival instinct because last year you could just smash them and they didn’t know anything. They would just look at you while you were putting your foot down on them and they would just be dead. But now they fly away. They’re evolving, they’re getting smarter. This time next year, they’ll be sending tweets. And I’m terrified. [music plays] Morgan what’s good?


Morgan Moody: Not much. Same old, same old. I mean, I don’t know. You know, we’re behind the scenes. We’re. We’re here together. 


Damon Young: Not like, physically. We’re in different spaces. 


Morgan Moody: A bridge away. 


Damon Young: A bridge away? Yes. Both in Pittsburgh. 


Morgan Moody: How was your weekend? 


Damon Young: I went to a party called Slappers N Bangers, which is like a it’s a trap slash dance party. That happens, I think, once a month it gets pretty packed. And this is my first time going. My cousin is a DJ, Sarah Huny Young, and she had a set. So I was like, you know, let me go and support her. And it was a good time. I got there about an hour before her set waited for her set. Then I bounced because it was getting too packed and I just felt a little anxious. But. 


Morgan Moody: Did you feel a little old? 


Damon Young: I did not feel uncomfortably old. 


Morgan Moody: Mm hmm. Yeah, It does attract a younger crowd, but, like, that’s, you know, that’s any party. But also that’s Pittsburgh for you. 


Damon Young: All right. Ryan, the producer, says Morgan, the producer, is with us today. We are introducing Ryan, who is the other producer on Stuck with Damon Young. Today. He is going to introduce the question. So Ryan, the producer [laughter] what we got this week? 


Ryan Wallerson: Dear Damon, what are your thoughts on the state of tipping culture? I’m a tipper, but now just about every store has an iPad that asks you to tape for services 20% minimums. Where does it end? 


Damon Young: So this question Morgan sounds like it comes from someone who was a reluctant tipper because I felt I felt like a bit of like anger. I felt a bit of animosity of an expectation to tip all of the time. What did you think? 


Morgan Moody: I do think you’re asked to tip a lot now, like since 2020, since the pandemic, and a lot more businesses like started using those iPads. I do feel like I’m being asked to tip on things that I just have never tipped before. So it’s not a problem, right? But like, it’s just new. 


Damon Young: Well, it’s one of those things that I guess has made me kind of rethink the entire process of tipping the entire dynamic because, okay, for instance, I live around the corner from a coffee shop. I go there, I don’t drink coffee, but I get to San Pellegrino. 


Morgan Moody: Yeah. 


Damon Young: And sometimes, you know, San Pellegrino is like 2.50 and most other circumstances you buy it, the cashier or server hands you a $2.50 cent can of something you’re not tipping. This is the end of this interaction. 


Ryan Wallerson: Mm hmm. 


Damon Young: But now, because everyone has those screens now, every place you go into has those screens, there’s an expectation of tipping. Now you could always just, you know, not leave a tip, but once you’re asked to leave a tip, you kind of have to. You can’t just say no, especially if it’s a place that you go to frequently like you don’t want to be known, I don’t want to be known as a nigga who comes in there and buys the same shit every day and never tips dollar. But I guess my response to me [laughter] is maybe if we’re tipping for bigger items, maybe we should tip for smaller items too. Like maybe that should just be part of what we’ve always been doing. Like maybe this new mechanism that it has changed the dynamic of the arrangement is the way that it’s always have supposed to have been. Instead of just us tipping for like something that costs more than like 20 or $25. 


Morgan Moody: Well, I think like the way that we’re paying for things has changed a lot too. Like everything is kind of you can use your phone, you know, to scan and pay. You can use your palm in certain places. 


Damon Young: Mm hmm. 


Morgan Moody: So I think like, you know, the iPad thing, it has changed the way that we’re generally tipping. I think it’s like I was tipping in cash maybe. But you also have to ask some of these places, like, I’m not going to tip at Starbucks because that money is not going directly to, you know, the person taking my order more than likely. 


Damon Young: Do you know that? I mean, are you sure of that? 


Morgan Moody: I’m positive? Like you should ask. And I’m not saying I’m positive about Starbucks in particular, but a lot of these places there will be a cash jar tip and then there will also be the option to tip on the iPad. And like sometimes it’s just broadly like tipped and spread out like with part of their like end of the day money. It’s not necessarily given to them individually. 


Damon Young: Well is it like supplemental to what they’re already getting hourly or is that like how kind of restaurant service work where the tips are kind of factored in. 


Morgan Moody: Most of these places? Right. They do make at least the minimum hourly wage. But again, I think that’s why it’s important. You should be asking like I ask, I just this just happened to me yesterday. I was getting coffee slash coffee filters and do I usually tip on coffee? I didn’t before the pandemic. 


Damon Young: That’s interesting. 


Morgan Moody: I mean, it wasn’t always a thing. You know, maybe they had a tip jar or something like that, but like it wasn’t a social norm. I don’t feel until now, until this pressure now I make eye contact with whoever is ringing me out. And if they’re still looking at me on the tip screen, you know, I might do 15%. If they’re not, I’m like, no.


Damon Young: Again, I’m not a coffee drinker, but I’ve witnessed coffee being brewed and being made. And it’s a process. 


Morgan Moody: Yeah. 


Damon Young: Like it’s a physical, extensive process that actually, you know, takes like a skill. 


Morgan Moody: Yeah. Yeah. 


Damon Young: And so I actually think that even if you weren’t tipping, even if people weren’t tipping in a past, I think that’s something that probably should have been tipped. Like if you’re going to tip a burger. 


Morgan Moody: Right. 


Damon Young: Someone brings you a burger or some fries, then why not tip someone who makes you a coffee? 


Morgan Moody: Right? Right no, I don’t have a problem with it, but you know. 


Damon Young: But what about someone who handles a cookie? 


Morgan Moody: Exactly. The tip isn’t coming, like, dependent on what you bought. Like, you know, it’s not like, hey, somebody took the time and made your drink correctly and with love and, you know, hey, you want 15, you want 20, you want 18%? It’s like anything that I purchase, it could be anything like, yeah, it could literally be a piece of candy or a cookie. And they’re asking if I wanted to tip 15%. They didn’t even make the cookie. 


Damon Young: What’s your relationship been with tipping? And I know that this is this is kind of like a fraught question to ask. I think Black people sometimes, particularly people who didn’t like—


Morgan Moody: Mm hmm. 


Damon Young: Like, for instance, we didn’t go to restaurants when I was growing up. If we ate out, it was takeout. 


Morgan Moody: Mm hmm. 


Damon Young: Like I could count on one hand a number of times that we went to like a sit down restaurant. And so tipping it was a thing that people did, but it wasn’t like ingrained in me at a young age like, and even realize you were supposed to tip bartenders until I was in my twenties. 


Morgan Moody: You were that person.


Damon Young: Again. When you’re young, you’re 18, 19, you’re going to club, you don’t have no money. 


Morgan Moody: Yeah. 


Damon Young: So you’re not buying drinks at the club. 


Morgan Moody: Yeah. 


Damon Young: And if you are buying a drink, it’s like you’re buying the cheapest shit. You’re buying like a Long Island or something like that. And so I just did not know, like, Oh, there’s an expectation of leaving extra money [laughs] when you buy a thing. And I was like in my mid twenties when I had that realization. 


Morgan Moody: Yeah. 


Damon Young: So what’s your relationship been just throughout your life with tipping? 


Morgan Moody: Yeah, we as a family, we would go out to eat, you know, like on the weekends. And so I’m familiar with, you know, always at least seeing my dad tip 20%. So, you know, at the minimum when I go to eat like that’s what I’m doing, if I have maybe bad service, maybe I would do 18 or something. But like at the minimum, usually tipping 20%. And my mom is bougie. So, like, you know, I feel like in instances where people yeah, deserved a tip, she was always tipping. So I’m very familiar with the culture. There’s also like that whole book on like who to tip, how to tip, you know, how much you should tip because there are certain instances like if you’re going to a hair salon or something and, and you’re going to the owner that you don’t tip.


Damon Young: Shit that’s another like my bar— I, I didn’t start tipping my barber. 


Morgan Moody: Oh. 


Damon Young: Until I was in my mid twenties. 


Morgan Moody: If there was like a page to review customers like you might be on it as like a bad tipper. [laughter]


Damon Young: Well, the thing is now, I don’t know if it’s like a overcorrection or overcompensation, but I, I don’t tip below 25%. 


Morgan Moody: Mm hmm. 


Damon Young: Like 25% is like you give me so-so service. You know, you’re still going to get 25. 


Morgan Moody: Yeah. 


Damon Young: And if you give me good service, you’re going to get 30. 


Morgan Moody: That’s because you’re doing well in life. 


Damon Young: Well. 


Morgan Moody: I’m serious, though. Like, did that come like. Like after? 


Damon Young: Well, no, that’s something I think. You know what? I think that that’s the thing. And I’ll admit this, you know, that’s the thing that probably developed like late twenties, early thirties when I was aware of like the stereotype of Black people not tipping. 


Morgan Moody: Yeah, yeah. 


Damon Young: And so I think I did have some respectability injected in me where I would over tip to like overcompensate and be like, oh, I’m not one of these niggas out here. And I think that that sensibility has just stuck with me where yes, I’m doing better financially than I was, you know, 15 years ago. And so, like, it just makes no sense to be broke and tipping 25% and then have money and then go back to 20. 


Morgan Moody: Right. 


Damon Young: Now. Have you had any experiences with people, family members, perhaps someone you dated, a friend, whatever, who were bad tippers? 


Morgan Moody: I’ve had a friend. I did have a friend who and this was at a point where we were very young, very early in our careers, and he was not a good tipper. And by not a good tipper, I mean, he just didn’t tip and. I think my motto is that if you can afford to tip again, regardless of like, you know, what you might think of the service, because I feel like some people try to get real fickle about like, oh, you know, my water wasn’t icy and they don’t want to tip. Even things that happen in the kitchen are not necessarily, you know, your waiter’s fault. He was just a negligent [laughter] he just wouldn’t tip. My friend and I did we did say something to him. I don’t know. Non tippers are like a different. 


Damon Young: Yeah. 


Morgan Moody: Breed like they stick by their their right to not tip. 


Damon Young: It’s like Steve Buscemi in Reservoir Dogs where he had his whole thing like it was a part of his personality like yo I don’t tip, I don’t fucking tip and it’s like non tippers they’re almost like libertarians or like vegans where you [laughter] make it a part of personality. Need to tell everyone. 


Morgan Moody: Yeah. 


Damon Young: Like Jehovah’s Witnesses. Have you met the good friend Jesus Christ. Like, do you know that you’re not supposed to tip 20%? They don’t tip in Europe. It’s like, motherfuck, you don’t live in Europe. You’re here in America.


Morgan Moody: Right. That’s what I was gonna say. There’s things like in different cultures, I guess, where you don’t tip. If we if we had a better system where people were making a livable wage, I guess that wouldn’t be a factor. 


Damon Young: Well, so I have a circumstance too. So I was hanging out. This is probably like in 20, 2006 or 2007 with a person who I know very well who I know at the time was making in the six figures. 


Morgan Moody: Mm hmm. 


Damon Young: Not like barely six figures, but like, 300. 


Morgan Moody: Yeah. 


Damon Young: A year, something like that. And so we were hanging out. We were in Shadyside. 


Morgan Moody: This is a local making 300,000? That’s a lot of money in Pittsburgh. 


Damon Young: It’s a professional athlete. 


Morgan Moody: Okay, yeah, because, like, you can live well on, like $70,000 in Pittsburgh, just so people know. 


Damon Young: Yes, you can. Yes. [laughter] So this was a professional athlete, right? Who I know well. And we went to the place, got separate bills. And I noticed on his bill, which was like $60, he tipped $2 and left like a smiley face. 


Morgan Moody: This is your friend? 


Damon Young: I didn’t say anything at the time. But afterwards I was like, Yo, what’s up with that? And he was like, What’s up with what? What’s up with the $2 tip? [laughter] What what happened there? He’s like no, that’s that’s what I always tip. This wasn’t even like a Steve Buscemi sort of thing where you had, like, a principle. This was just, oh, you’re supposed to tip two or $3. That’s just what you’re supposed to do. And again, this was a nigga who was making like 300 a year at that point. 


Morgan Moody: My big issue with, like, people that don’t tip, it’s not necessarily the my one friend that didn’t tip. We weren’t making a lot of money. And I don’t stand by that that like you, you shouldn’t tip because you don’t have it. I think if you don’t have it, then you learn how to probably cook for yourself. [laughs] But you know, it’s not an instance like that. Like if you have a lot of money and you’re just not tipping and then also like being a jackass by writing a smiley face with a very low tip on a bill like that says a lot more about you as a person. 


Damon Young: And again, he was not trying to be a dick like genuinely. And I usually my my threshold for this nigga’s a dick is low. Right. And so he was not trying to be a dick. He just thought that, oh, this is oh, I paid my bill. Oh, here’s a couple extra dollars and a smiley face to brighten the day. 


Morgan Moody: Maybe nobody’s ever told him. 


Damon Young: I think that’s the thing because he was playing basketball in Europe. 


Morgan Moody: Okay. Okay. 


Damon Young: And so, you know, he went to high school, went to college. Then you go straight from that to playing ball in Europe, you’re not as immersed as an adult in social etiquette and also to European etiquette. You know, I guess there are a lot of countries over there where tipping is just not a thing. 


Morgan Moody: Okay, though. But how old was he? 


Damon Young: He’s about my age. We’re around the same age. I’m trying so hard not to reveal who this is. [laughter]


Morgan Moody: Look, look, look.


Damon Young: Trying very hard, you keep asking asking too many questions Morgan. We’re gonna have to cut this short. 


Morgan Moody: I, you know. Well, like, it’s almost. It’s really, like. Almost like a blacklist, because, again, there is a thing where it’s like I had $3 in my bank account and I had enough money to get this food and like, that’s it. I’m not saying that’s not an instance for a lot of people, but like it is a mark on your character. I feel if you like your bad tipper or you just don’t tip.


Damon Young: I agree. I think that anyone at like a certain big ass age who doesn’t tip and they have no excuse of like being like 21 and never have money and like, okay, that’s fine. But if you’re 30, 40 and you still don’t do that and you’re American, then yes, that is that’s a character flaw. That’s a that’s a red flag. 


Morgan Moody: But where does it end, though? Like, what are you drawing the line at? Or are you just tipping now because out of the guilt you think you’re caping, for just all the Black people who are bad tippers? 


Damon Young: Where do I draw the line? 


Morgan Moody: Yeah. Are you just over tipping because you don’t want to be put in that category? 


Damon Young: I mean, Morgan, you know, I’m in Pittsburgh and, you know, people kind of know who I am here too. [laughter] So I you know, I like to go out. I like to. Well, I like to eat out. 


Morgan Moody: Mm hmm. 


Damon Young: And I like to work while I’m eating out. So part of it, yes. I think that if I have the money and I’m out eating, then, yes, I think that people should be compensated and people should be rewarded for their work. 


Morgan Moody: Eating is like the standard, though. Like what’s an egregious point which you’ve been asked to tip like some of these places have been like, what am I tipping for? 


Damon Young: It feels weird to argue it because it’s like you’re talking about like a dollar or two. But the most egregious or the part that didn’t happen before that happens now is like, okay, you’re at a store and you’re buying like a candy bar, or you’re buying a cookie and there’s just a transaction of person behind a register handing you. 


Morgan Moody: Mm hmm. 


Damon Young: The cookie or you handing them the candy bar so they can scan it and them handing it back. And thing is, if you’re out Whole Foods or if you’re at Target, they’re doing the exact same thing. Right service is doing the exact same thing with the interaction and there’s no expectation of tipping. But if you’re at like a coffee shop, if we had a smaller market or something of that nature, then they have those things up and there’s the expectation of tipping. And I think it doesn’t bother me, but I could definitely see someone being like, wait, what? [laughter] What is happening? What is happening here? I thought this cookie was a dollar and now I’m paying $2. 


Morgan Moody: Mm hmm. 


Damon Young: But again, even to litigate this feels like, okay, it’s just an extra dollar. 


Morgan Moody: I don’t know. There’s some bookstores here. I feel like even that have been having that prompt at the end. There are some places I should just say that, like, I wouldn’t normally associate with tipping food industry completely fine with that. But, you know, if I’m at a comic bookstore and I’m being asked to tip Jeff at the end of my transaction. 


Damon Young: Oh, you’ve had that. 


Morgan Moody: Yeah. Yeah.


Damon Young: Okay. I haven’t experienced that at all. 


Morgan Moody: If it’s a situation where I’m just kind of like, this is probably something that you’ve adopted post-pandemic or during the pandemic, and it’s just kind of like something that every operating system has now like. And you aren’t really being thoughtful of what your store is, you know? No. [laughs]


Damon Young: Yeah. I’ve never been asked to tip on something that I wasn’t going to consume. 


Morgan Moody: Mm hmm. 


Damon Young: Aside from a haircut, but I’m not asked to tip. You’re expected. 


Morgan Moody: Yeah. 


Damon Young: To tip you’re not asked. So I guess to the person asking the question, I get why people might feel weird about this now, because, again, it’s a thing that became more of a thing, I guess. Post-lockdown people didn’t want to touch money any more. People never really wanted to touch money, but it became even more of like a thing. And so most places, or at least most places I go to in the cities, have these screens, right? And yeah, so now tipping is an expectation for even the smallest interaction. And I think that’s just, I don’t know, like I don’t think it’s a bad thing. I can see why someone might feel anxiety about it or might feel like that anxiety, but might feel like, okay, is this too much? But I mean, we’re talking, you know, maybe an extra dollar or two.


Morgan Moody: I guess. I don’t even round up for that stuff where it’s like, do you want your money to go to, like childhood cancer? Like, no, I know where my money’s going. I’m at a ramp, I’m pumping gas and you’re asking me for more money. Like, no, I’m a thoughtful tipper. Like, I want to make sure that like, the person I’m having the interaction with, that’s what I want my money to go towards. So.


Damon Young: Morgan Moody does not give a shit about pediatric cancer patients. That is the point. 


Morgan Moody: Nope. Or diabetes or that Heart Association thing. Like if I’m going to give my money, it’ll be more directly. It’s not going to be at the end of a transaction. I can’t trust that. 


Damon Young: All right. We know what the teaser will be for this one. 


Morgan Moody: I don’t trust their accounting. I don’t know that. Like, I don’t know what they’re doing with my $0.40. 


Damon Young: Morgan Moody is pro diabetes is the take away from today. [laughter]


Morgan Moody: I’m pro finding out where your money is going. Make sure your money is going like where you think it’s going. And you’re not just giving 40 extra cents because you don’t want to look like a bad Black tipper, which is like tied up in so much shame. 


Damon Young: Morgan Moody, thank you for coming through today. I think we got it. Where can people wait? Do you want to be found? Do you want to be found now? 


Morgan Moody: Not really, but like, I don’t mind if you do. I’m on Instagram. It’s just my name Morgan Moody. Find me on Instagram. 


Damon Young: All right. Again, just want to thank Deesha Philyaw, Morgan Moody, for coming through. Great conversation, great guests, great topics. It was a lot of fun today. And thank you all for coming. Could have been anywhere else. All these podcasts that exists, too many podcasts and you came and you listened to mine today. So thank you for that. Also, if you’re on the Spotify app, go do the interactive polls, do the interactive questions, questionnaires, I mean, you could get the podcast wherever, listen to it wherever, but if you are on the Spotify app, please go there, have some fun, knock yourself out. And again, if you have any questions about anything whatsoever, anything, hit me up at All right y’all. See you next week. [music plays] Stuck with Damon Young is hosted by me, Damon Young. From Crooked Media, our executive producers are Kendra James and Madeleine Haeringer. Our producers are Ryan Wallerson and Morgan Moody. Mixing and mastering by Sara Gibble-Laska and the folks at Chapter Four. Theme music and score by Taka Yasuzawa. And special thanks to Charlotte Landes. And from Spotify our executive producers are Lauren Silverman, Neil Drumming and Matt Shilts. Special thanks to Lesley Gwam and Krystal Hawes-Dressler. [music plays]