Interview | Omar Thompson – With Thompson Studios, The Resilient Visionary Bounces Back After Legal Woes

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Born and bred in Harlem, Omar Thompson is a talented comedian who has been honing his talents since college.  At Post University he developed his talent, and found his true calling wasn’t playing basketball professionally, but instead making people laugh, professionally.  He’s spent the last two decades doing just that, with credits that include BET, MTV, Showtime, headlining the Apollo Theater, and many more.  Even with all he’s accomplished, his biggest headlines came in the last two years. Our Omar Thompson interview dives into those headlines for the first time!

I’ve known Omar for a long time.  We first interviewed him for the Parlé Mag site in 2011, and by then I had already spent some time with him traveling to perform at college shows and other open mics throughout the city.

When I first heard about the Omar Thompson arrest I initially didn’t make the connection.  The headlines were plenty, but I personally knew Omar to be from Harlem, and living in New Jersey, so charges in Massachusetts seemed unlikely.  But there were hints and clues that it could be him.  Nonetheless, I wasn’t as tied it with fellow NYC comedians as I used to be so I wasn’t in spaces to catch the gossip.  And calling to see if he was locked up felt disingenuous.

The headlines  appeared to disappear, and as far as I could tell, Omar was living drama free, announcing the opening of his very own Comedy Club, right on 125th Street, called Thompson Studios 125th.  I checked in about the space as soon I needed a venue for an event and we actually did a couple events there this  past summer because it makes sense to support my people whenever I get a chance to.

Still, we didn’t talk about the headlines then.  And I didn’t know that around the same time I was booking the venue, Omar was going back and forth to court dealing with the fallout of some potentially life altering charges.  More headlines popped up, this time with a possible sentence of 20 years attached to a guilty plea.

On the surface, Omar was trying to live as normal a life as possible, despite the reality being filled with uncertainty.

He hinted to me that he would be ready to tell his story soon.  That time has finally come.

ParleNY presents the Omar Thompson Interview
His story, His own words

ParleNY:  You been telling me for a while now that you want to do an interview, and you want to get your story out there. Happy we’re finally able to get that done.
Omar Thompson:  Yeah, just to counteract all the negative shit that was out there. I trust you, I’ve known you for a long time and I can talk to you. I just hate when I google my name, the things that pop up first—that’s disgusting. That’s not who I am. On top of that too, I haven’t talked about my story yet either. I haven’t done a show about it, I haven’t done a podcast about it. I’ll start doing more about it, maybe in the next month or so. But it’s like now is the time start getting back active with everything that I’m doing: studio, nonprofit and back to my acting and comedy.

Omar Thompson interview - ParleNYParleNY:  I don’t even want to start with the negative. Because before we even get to that, we need to know more about your story. We’ve interviewed you before, obviously you’re a comedian, you are an influencer of sorts.  You have been doing this for a very, very long time in Harlem and outside of Harlem. So, let’s just talk about that first. How did you get into comedy? What first interested you in this business?
Omar Thompson:  I got in the comedy, maybe in the high school. My mom wanted me to do an open mic at a comedy club, she signed me up for it and everything.  She was like, ‘Omar, you’re funny, you should do this.’ I was like, alright, I’ll do it…
Never did it!

I mean, that was like my first intro to comedy. And then I got to college, I tried it again. I started off as a poet, doing comedic poetry.  From there I moved to comedy.  I became my school’s programming board chair. So anytime a comedian came to the school, I was the opening act, put it in the contracts, that kind of thing. And I started to become funnier than the booked comedians.  Mainly because my friends are there, you know, they all knew me. So, I had personal relationships to talk about.  I played basketball in college (Post University in Connecticut), we won a championship in my junior year, I quit my senior year to kind of relax and focus more on my comedy.

Before I quit, we had a program called LEAP, where you taught underprivileged kids.  I became like the teacher of the year there for the summer at least. And at this like LEAP training of like maybe 400 people, I was opening performer every morning for 400 people. And I would just do comedy, off the top of my head, in front of 400 people every morning. And that kind of primed me in a way to start doing comedy.   So by the time I got to school that next year, it was like, you know what, I like comedy.  My passion had changed from ball to comedy. It only helps that I wasn’t as good as I thought I was in ball. (Laughs)

ParleNY:  So you graduate college, and you shift full time into comedy.  What was that like in the beginning, really getting your foot out there.
Omar Thompson:  It was fun. It was fun, man. Traveling around the city, different boroughs, traveling outside the city, doing something new.  Following your dreams with other young comics too, that were my age. Partying like rock stars, drinking. I mean just jokes and being around celebrities and the girls, it was the best time of my life.  Learning the craft, I mean that was the best time! I mean, I think it was the best time of my career.  The earlier years just so much fun. You are young, you don’t even know what you’re doing.  You’re just out there telling jokes and drinking. And you can have an experience, you know, different boroughs, different states for no reason. On the Mega Bus, the Chinese bus and going different places. Yeah, that was the best part for me.

Parlé Mag:  Around what year was that when you first really kicked off?
Omar Thompson:  Say 2004, 2005.

ParleNY:  So, you you’re doing that and then you you’re slowly coming up and becoming one of the faces in the New York City comedy scene. As you’re growing, what is that like?  What is it like when people start recognizing your name on these bills and you’re finally reaching what you envision for yourself?
Omar Thompson:  It’s a high. I mean, people seeing you and they know who you are.  And they see you as a comic, I was a ball player before, so now I’m a comic and they’re embracing me as such. There’s still a struggle trying to get people to support you in your shows. I mean, that’s how it is, it’s always gonna be that way. But it becomes more fun. And now I begin to grow as an artist, take more risks and get funnier.  And I start to believe in myself more.  I start doing other things, and start doing things like sketches and that kind of stuff, which I started doing around 2011 or 2012. I got a little more seasoned in the game.  Took me a while to get started, but I was getting booked at an early age. I became a booked comedian maybe like year 2 or 3 in the game. I was going through trials and tribulations, but you know had to battle the older guys.  You know, I mean, when you’re the new guy coming up, they give you a hard time. And also you being cocky and not knowing the games or you going through some bruises.  I had a lot of that going on, but yeah it worked out.

ParleNY:  I know you had the Dominican Spiderman joint around that time that was killing it on the internet!
Omar Thompson:  Oh yeah, til this day! I hear about it til this day. That period in my life, I had like a good three or four months where I put out content every week. Started with a lot of guys.  Mr. Commodore, he was in one of my sketches. He was in Haitian Batman and Robin. It was a fun time, just being creative. I brought a camera. I had no camera experience. I learned how to edit on iMovie, watching my friend edit. So, I started editing my own stuff.  Til this day, I hate watching myself on TV.  I hate watching my stand up, but I can watch my sketches all day long. To this day, I hate watching my stand up. I got stuff on TV that I don’t watch.

ParleNY:  Why did you stop doing the sketches?
Omar Thompson:  Just burnt out man. I was doing sketches in 2013, which is before all this going viral.  It was fun for me to do, but I was doing it every week. At the time I was doing productions, small productions, but productions, by myself. I was casting it, coming up with ideas, then I would shoot it with my people. And that wasn’t even the hard part. The hard part was the once you drop it, the promotion. That’s the hard part. The build up to the promotion that whole week.  And then doing it again the following week. I did that for maybe about 7 weeks, 8 weeks, but I was like, this is tiring.

But my career jumped up in that process, but it was just that pace I couldn’t maintain that pace. That shit burned me out for years since.  People be like bring it back… Like bro. I can bring it back now, now I got the capacity to do it. Now I got the people, I got the team. And I’m going to do it. I’m going to bring myself back again, well not bring it back, but I’m going to do a different version of that stuff. But I can do that now. It takes a whole staff. It takes actors, it’s the camera crew, lighting crew, sound crew. You need the promotional team, you have to have a strategy. How you going to put it out? When you gonna put it out.  You gonna put it out once a week? Twice a week?  You gonna do shorts? Now, you gonna put it out on Tiktok? It’s mad things you can do now.  You can put it on Instagram.  Are you going to try to monetize it on social media? Or are you not going to try to monetize?  Are you going to try to start your own network? It’s so many different options now.  Like what you do? You going on Patreon? What you want to do?? I’m still trying to figure it out. That’s why I didn’t get back into the comedy sketch game. Because like I seen, in my opinion, people put out all this content for free. See, I mean, it’s dope for the world to see it, but like at the time I had my own apartment, I was already in real life. I wasn’t a comedian that lived with like eight other people in a room somewhere. I have an apartment, had a car, so I had to make some money. So I can’t be out here giving you all my stuff for free. How am I going to eat? But in reality those people that did that to some extent, they wound up eating later on.  I didn’t see that, wish I did, but I didn’t see that at the time.

ParleNY:  That’s the struggle with building a buzz from scratch, because yeah, some of it is going to be free and it sucks. And then the landscape is going to change, right? Because even now it’s changing as we speak and the platforms you use to promote it, right? Like Facebook, who knows what’s happening there, Twitter? So, I’m intrigued, definitely look forward to seeing those.

ParleNY:  So let’s fast forward a bit to 2020. Pandemic hit. Life is lifing. And for a comedian, what was that like?
Omar Thompson:  Man so, for a comedian at the level that I was, or the level that I am at that time, I’m doing hella good!  I got a mansion in Jersey, six bedroom, 5 bathroom, pool, garage. I’m doing amazingly good, because at that time I’m doing my own shows at a theater, I’m producing my own shows where I got the door, the food, the liquor. I’m making like $18,000 every month at this one show, I’m like, I’m good! And then Covid hits and now everything’s done!

I’m trying to Uber, can’t do Uber.  I’m like, I can’t! I can’t make it right now.  At the time I have one kid. And my wife was pregnant at the same time with my second daughter. So, it was like the scariest time of my life. I mean, as a man, as a father, like what am I going to do? People looking at you and its like how am I going to figure this out?  My wife wasn’t working at the time.  She wasn’t working. I couldn’t work. It was just like the toughest time in my life. The pressure was at the highest it could be.

ParleNY:  I’m a newspaper reader, so I open up the Daily News and at that time I was still getting that physical copy.   I open it up and I see Omar Thompson, but I’m like, nah, can’t be.  That don’t you make sense. And they’re like Massachusetts. I’m like, definitely don’t make sense.  I’m like, O from Harlem… I think he in Jersey now… But then it’s like comedian, 39 years old… okay this, you know.
Omar Thompson:  It matches it up.

ParleNY:  Talk to me man. What happened? You’re free to talk about it now because the legal process is over, so talk to me.
Omar Thompson:  So more or less at the time, I didn’t know that you could get unemployment.  You couldn’t get unemployment usually. In the past when a comedian wasn’t working, you just were working. I mean, that’s how all gig working was, you just not working.  Good luck!

That’s the first time I heard you could get unemployment, it was because of COVID. So a comedian friend was like yo bro, you got unemployment?  I’m like, no, you can’t get it??A He was like, yeah you could get it.

So I applied for it in New York And I couldn’t get unemployment in New York. At the time, it was like, not that I didn’t qualify, the system was down!  Remember that time, or am I bugging out?

ParleNY:  It was crazy.
Omar Thompson:  So, for like this month, you couldn’t get unemployment because you just couldn’t get to the system. So now I’m struggling. And I’m trying every day calling up. There’s no luck.

ParleNY:  It was backed up for months.
Omar Thompson:  Alright, so I’m not getting no unemployment. So now like I have a mortgage, this is not a rent. I have a mortgage!  This right here is before they had the COVID forbearance  stuff. It’s still early on, so I’m like how am I gonna pay my mortgage? How am I paying my car? How am I going to take care of my family?  I got a daughter on the way. My boy says, ‘O, you can get unemployment anywhere you worked at, cause you a gig worker. Anywhere you work, you can apply.’ I’m like, that makes sense. If you worked in Texas, you apply in Texas. If you work there, you can apply for it. Alright, cool. So that’s what I did.  I worked in Massachusetts and applied there, I got it.

ParleNY:  Massachusetts was giving money, too.
Omar Thompson:  The system was open.  You applied for it, you got it.

So more or less, I applied for it, got it.  Had it for a few weeks and they cut me off. Because early on, they were making rules and they would see people taking advantage and they started changing the rules as they went along because it was so new.

Also, what happened was, when I found out that I got unemployment, I said, you know what, I got unemployment, let me put people on. Because I know mad people that are struggling too. Comedians, barbers, DJs, so I would hit my friends and be like, ‘yo, this is how you can get unemployment and I would do it for them.’  Just send me the stuff and info, and the money would be sent to their account. But when it comes, ‘take care of your boy. Let me live a little bit.’ Right, so boom.  I did that for most of my friends. My family, my mother, my sister.  Everybody who was out of work, I got you!

I’m not really thinking anything criminal about it. Like yo, this is for us anyway! I’m going to put people on. So that’s what I did. I put people on. But it’s a box you got to check. It says “is this you doing it?” Like if it’s not you doing the filing, it’s a crime. So that’s where I messed up at.  I wasn’t them. It was their money. I didn’t take anyone’s money. It wasn’t like, yo, I’ll get your name and put it in my account.  I was like Robin Hood. I was like the ghetto Robin Hood.

I mean, the money came, get your money.  And when it came, I was like, ‘come on, I want to live, make me feel good!’  That kind of thing.  I was good!  And then out of no where, they came to my house and they arrested me.  And the crazy thing about it was it was not like some shit where I made any real money over what I would have made if I had unemployment in New York.  So like once I got unemployment in Massachusetts, the shit ended within like four or five checks.  They started doing system checks, so now I got to verify and I’m like it’s me! So I’m legit verifying myself, sending my pictures and all that. If you’re doing a crime, who’s sending your picture and your ID? If I knew I was doing a crime, I would have been a better criminal. I’m thinking that this was what I needed to get done. So more or less, got arrested. They took me downtown. They charged me. That’s what it is. I’m like, I didn’t know this was a crime. They let me go home like an hour later.  So now I’m home, thinking nothing of it. It was very embarrassing. They fucking came through my door, SWAT and Secret Service.

They came through like with AKs and ARs, it was ridiculous, and embarrassing too. Like the fuck, the only young Black guy in the nice community, and this nigga getting raided, like typical shit, right? But it happened.

I thought no one knew.   Then I get a phone call: ‘yo, you in the paper.’ Then my lawyer calls and says, ‘Omar, you’re a celebrity so they are going to start writing articles about you.’ And then that shit just started popping up out of nowhere. That shit hurt me. But like it was still small, it wasn’t big. And then I think once I pled guilty then more, and more started coming out, more articles.  It was like that shit hurt me more than the crime.

I pled guilty because the crime involved my mother… I put my mother on it. My sister was on it, my brother was on it. Everybody in my family was on it. And then also a lot of my friends. So, I’m not going to fight this case—and on top of that, I did it!  I mean they don’t come at you half-ass like ‘yeah, I’m hoping you did it.’  They know you did this shit! So what I look like?  And on top of that, it wasn’t like it was no malicious crime or anything like that.  I wasn’t trying.  It wasn’t an obvious thing like I’m trying to do some crime. Like I did something, I didn’t know it was wrong. What I’m supposed to do? Oh shit, how was I supposed to know that this was a fucking crime?  The world was ending my nigga.  Trying to get money from unemployment, that anybody can get money from, cool.

Once that happened and shit it was like, I pled guilty, because I didn’t want anybody that I helped out… Everybody that got unemployment through me, I told them I’m helping, this is not illegal, this is cool. I didn’t know! So at that point I can’t go, nah nigga, I don’t know!  So, I took it and they charged me one time.

Even at the court, the prosecutor said, ‘this is a victimless crime.’ That is the prosecutor. This is a victimless crime, he didn’t steal no one’s information. He wasn’t taking the money and buying, fucking buying anything crazy with it. And then the other part of it is that when I got my money, when I got money from my unemployment, I paid my mortgage! Paid my car note. I brought food! So now you can see all that in your account. It’s not like you see like I was in fucking Mr. Chow or some shit. No, I’m doing what I would have did if I had my regular money coming in. So usually in these kind of cases they freeze your accounts and all your other shit, but I didn’t have no accounts. I mean, I had accounts, but my account was all in the negative. And I ain’t have no money.

I got unemployment for myself for like a couple of weeks.  When people were still getting unemployment checks, I wasn’t getting no checks. So I’m still the whole time, trying to get money.  I’m not getting unemployment and I’m legit calling them every day like yo, ‘what’s going on?’. I didn’t go to New York or any other states. I just stayed in Massachusetts, I didn’t go anywhere else. Like, I’m entitled to this unemployment! That’s what happened, that just wound up being a hazard man.

I didn’t get no time. I got time served. I didn’t do not one day behind bars. And it was not no big crime that they try to make it seem like it was.  They tried to connect it like a branch, a tree branch. Like this one person right here connects to this person, etc. They tried to give me the whole thing, like I’m this kingpin of unemployment. Like how I’m the kingpin of unemployment? Where? My fucking car got repo’ed. How I made $1.7 million?  I had to sell my house, car got repo’ed. I lost everything!  How am I the kingpin??  All this shit was evident in the trial. How can this person be that person when you don’t have anything to show for it? So I got more flack from the newspapers than I got from actual law.  That’s the part that really jammed me up… And pissed me off!

ParleNY:  OK. So it was one count of wire fraud.  You ended up pleading guilty, sentencing was in March 2022.  And you end up getting time served.
Omar Thompson:  Yeah.

ParleNY: So on the surface, pretty much a victimless crime, right?
Omar Thompson:  It is victimless crime. like the government was giving people money for unemployment, I was getting the money for unemployment. The money was earmarked for them anyway.  Just that I wasn’t checking the box; and some people that I got money for, they wasn’t from that state, they didn’t work in that state at all, so that’s the part I played. And the crazy part about it, say I had an option to know what I know now, I probably would do it all over again. I’m at a point where I had no choice!

My daughter was born on April 13, 2020. That was the height of COVID, remember that, that was the time where we had numbers of 800 people died last night. I’m in that part of COVID with a brand new newborn. No money coming in. New York not picking the phone up. What options do I have here? So like I mean the way it was set up, I had no choice, I would do it again. I had to feed my family.  I made a decision. I’m a person that’s honest. I didn’t steal it! I think that’s what made my case different from most cases, I wasn’t stealing anyone’s money.  There wasn’t no kind of rip off conspiracy, I  wasn’t using people’s information to do nothing like that.  He didn’t do nothing with the money, so just give the money back. Let that shit go.

ParleNY:  Right. Did you have to pay restitution?
Omar Thompson:  Yeah, I did. I had to pay them. I think it was like $16,000 or 19,000, which is the money that they gave me from Massachusetts, which, once again, which is less than what I would have gotten if I would have waited for New York. But I also heard from people that were from New York that didn’t get it for months and months and months. I heard people still waiting like a year, year and some change, and some still ain’t get their stuff.  I heard that shit.

ParleNY:  I’ve heard people say that too.
Omar Thompson:  I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t have done that.

ParleNY:  So it’s been like a full year removed at this point?
Omar Thompson:  Going on two years.


ParleNY:  Yeah, almost 2 years, in terms of pleading, sentencing and all that. So, in hindsight… and this is something I talk about a lot.  And we were talking off the record before about entrepreneurship—comedians are entrepreneurs, first and foremost. It looks different because you are the business, you’re selling yourself basically and what your talent is.  I think a lot of people don’t understand entrepreneurship in the sense of just entrepreneurship. And I say this all the time to people in terms of, I think all entrepreneurs are inherently trying to do good, right? Like that’s the goal. However, in in the course of doing good, sometimes you’re trying to cut corners as well, and you’re just trying to get to the next check, right?  This situation with you sounds like one of those situations, right? And like you said, you’d probably do it all over again if given the chance, which most people again if they on the outside looking in just wouldn’t understand that.

But in terms of your positioning, when you look at this whole 2 year period, what was the biggest lesson?
Omar Thompson:  So this case was, I’m a very positive person… This case ended up becoming the best thing that ever happened to me. That might sound weird to most people. Sometimes when God gives you these different things you got to through, these storms. When you in the storm, it’s the worst storm, it’s the worst thing ever.  So when I was reading these different articles, they always saying. 20 years, he going to jail for 20 years.  He’s a mastermind or some shit,  1 point something, million dollars.  All these different things, so I’m like, what that fuck? It was scary, that number was scary. 20 years!

In my mind, I’m like 20 years, I can’t imagine. I ain’t even do nothing! I probably did that shit for like 3 weeks of me trying to get people unemployment, so 20 years?! I was scared to death, right and not knowing… People saying oh, you not gonna do all that time. But like you don’t think about that at the time, you think 20 years, you think about your freedom, and your life. And in my mind, I don’t trust the system. I’m like, well I’m a black man. I mean, they might wanna make an example of me. I don’t know. I’m going on, so I’m scared to death.

And then people just started treating me differently, everybody treating me different. Now that was the turning point for me like, people started kind of backing away from me and shit. I heard rumors about everything. Omar’s on the run. Omar’s this or that. I heard all kinds of shit about me.  It hurt, but I was just being quiet, and like just kind of like not saying anything about it.  And also not losing my temper.  Hearing these people gossiping and shit, not approaching people and all that stuff.  I had comedians, because my case involved mad comedians! Not just me, mad comedians! Me taking my plea to the charge kind of absolved everybody else. It’s like over 30 comedians that was on that list, they kind of got a pass, because I took that. But these same comedians would walk around in the city like you heard about O???

I remember one time I’m in Brooklyn about to do a show, and this one comedian is like, ‘ohh not this nigga, look it’s Omar!  He a hot boy! You a hot boy.’ I said, bro, ‘why you act like you not on my paperwork, bro?  You talking about it, but I took the charge for y’all, I took the charge for you bro! You acting like if I didn’t take the charge, they wouldn’t be looking for you, and you and you!  I took the charge! And they got real quiet after that. And he said, you want a shirt? (Laughs) He gave me a shirt. Like aight, I’ll take a shirt.

So it was like, just seeing everyone switch up on me. I had just did The Michael Che Show. The show on HBO.  I talked with people there, I was hoping to be a writer on the next season of the show, and get more roles. And that shit came out.  The papers came out, that was that!  The comedy community, just like that, instead of it being my safe haven, I didn’t feel comfortable in in comedy scenes, or comedy clubs around other comedians. I know this was a hot topic and I understand. I mean this is a nigga you know,  if they took $1.6 million and they got 20 years in jail, this is something you gonna talk about. I understand.  I get it.  But I’m the kind of person that shows everybody love. And I always been a good dude, so before you start gossiping, check up on me! ‘You aight nigga?  Are you good?’ I could have been suicidal.

So what happened was it kind of put me in my shell, and made me kind of like… it cleared everybody, everyone from me and just left me by myself. And even my immediate family, I held it down for them. I didn’t want to tell everybody what was going on. My wife had just had the baby, and she was new mother and we trying to figure out our next moves with this forbearance, and all the stuff we were going through with the house.  So I wanted to keep her out of it, I didn’t really tell her anything.  Like, I’m going to see my lawyer. I would keep it really vague. It’s on me!  So I just had to be like in my zone.  It made me like maybe stronger. Having to endure this by yourself. And then having to go around people that you thought were your friends, and now you don’t feel the same anymore. It made me stronger, the 20 years in jail, the possibility of 20 years in jail, made me go like,  you know what, bro? Life is not guaranteed. Tomorrow is not guaranteed, my freedom is not guaranteed!  I can’t sit here and take things for granted no more, I got to go hard! With my comedy, and with my business, I gotta go hard because if I go to jail for 20 years, who will take care of my kids? My wife? My gosh, I got a brand new baby, which I haven’t even met yet? What’s gonna happen with my baby? So now I’m like, I got to go hard. That made my entrepreneurial spirit just like, my hustler’s spirit just went higher, like oh, you gotta build something. So the first thing I tried to build, was this thing called Omar’s Laugh Lounge. It was my first comedy club, in my in-laws brownstone.  We took the floor out, we had just sold the house. So we had money from the sale, using that money, we fixed the brownstone up. Covid was still kind of there. People weren’t trying to get the vaccine cards and shit, you know, so everything kind of had to be like speakeasy kind of.

I did that shit for a good while.  And then the façade fell off, and the building got condemned.  I wound up hiring a realtor, she showed me this spot here.  We negotiated 6 months and I ended up here (Thompson 125th). Since I got here, I have a different view.  Before I got here I wanted to be successful, but since I got here, I have to be successful!  I have to make it now.  For my family, and for the people that doubted me, the people that wanted me away.  I never seen people that don’t want you to succeed so much, that they rather you in jail, then to compete with you in comedy.  How you want me in jail, rather than doing shows??  Cause you think I’ma get more bookings than you?  That’s crazy!  So now, I’m not taking shit for granted.  I’m going for the bag, I’m going for the next level.  I’m not just trying to make some money here and there, nah, I’m going for the bag!  In this business, I put in 12 to 16 hours a day, easily!  Sometimes I sleep here sometimes.  I’m a beast now, that case made me a beast!  I’m not the same person I was before that case.  I’m a whole other person.  And if that didn’t happen, I wouldn’t be that person.  That case cleared the cloud from my vision of who was for me, and who was not for me.  Everybody is not your friend.  Everybody is not cool with you.  Everyone does not have your best interest at heart.  And before the case I wasn’t thinking about that, I was just living my life.  But once the case happened, the reality hit that I’m all I got more or less.  These people don’t fuck with me like that.  They want me to fail… now I got to win!  I’m from the projects, we tend to feed off negativity.  It inspires you.  I had people that I knew and loved, that turned their back on me.  That destroyed me, but they gave me this inspiration.  Even when they not thinking about me now, I’m thinking about them!

Omar Thompson Studios 125th interview

ParleNY:  You touched on it briefly, but, you open this spot up on 125th, your very own comedy club and event space.   Being from Harlem, what does it mean to you having Thompson 125th St.?
Omar Thompson:  So when the realtor said I got this spot for you that I want you to see on 125th street, I was like, ‘say less.’  That’s all you got to say.  I want to see that venue now! To grow up in Harlem, this is like sacred ground for us. 125th Street is like the Black Times Square. It’s a Mecca for our culture! So I had to get here. I had to be in this spot. So I came here, see the spot, loved it. Put it on my vision board. Start negotiating. The landlord was gracious.  I moved in here on February 2nd, 2022. So 2-2-22, is when I got my lease, and signed my lease. When I started this business, I didn’t really have a clear business plan. I’m not gonna lie.   The plan was to have another comedy club, and do some rentals too. But, mainly a comedy club. So when I got the spot and started making a comedy club, I got a lot of flack from other comedians. They didn’t want to fuck with me, nobody wanted to fuck with me!

ParleNY:  Why not?!
Omar Thompson:  It could be hate, it could be the case, I don’t know.  These niggas was not fucking with me bro!  These people that I’ve known forever.  Everybody’s busy now, nobody can make.  I heard other comedians that I work with, were telling other people don’t come here, don’t work with me. It was like that kind of thing, and I think it’s more like yo, I did the unthinkable.  The unthinkable is to get in this area.  It’s a little bit of the crabs in a barrel mentality.  Like don’t fuck with that shit!  And so once again, I’m on this island by myself again, trying to figure it out.  That shit hurt me too. All these things, these are people like, how you don’t come and even see what I achieved, like this is a major achievement for not even a comedian, but for anybody of color… This is BIG!  My neighbor is Nike for godness sake.  This is this is huge!  No one understood it. No one.

I didn’t really have a business plan, I was trying to do the podcast stuff, I was trying to do the rental stuff.  I was even trying to do a membership for photography.  And I had the nonprofit here as well, it’s an arts nonprofit called New Harlem Renaissance.  Having the nonprofit gave me more of an opportunity to have a passion project, so I was able to do more things for the community.  I started doing free classes for the community, and I was still doing rentals to cover the rent.  I had a consistent rental that was paying a good portion of the rent, so I wasn’t in the fire initially.  Plus, I negotiated a deal to get free rent for a while, so that helped as I figured it out.  I would say it took me between a year and 3 months to a year and six months to really figure out what I wanted to do and how I’m going to get there.  And I’m still figuring it out, but I have more direction now.  This is the hardest thing I’ve done in my life actually, opening up this business.  The hardest thing ever.  When you open up a business you’re not going to get support… you’re just not going to get it.  Whether its your own people or its family and friends, you not going to get it.  And if you do get it, they gonna want discounts, free, or gifts… it’s a lot.

I know where I’m going now.  We started as a rental space, but now we are a production studio.  We do podcasting, we do video, we do photography.  We do classes here, our nonprofit is run out of here where we teach young people about video production.  We’re working on building up our staff and our board, so the studio is steadily growing.  I’m not even two years in, so I think for where I am, I’m doing hella good.  And because of the case, I couldn’t even get business credit, so I had to barter services to get a lot of stuff done.  I had to ask friends and family.  Everything in the studio right now, I own it.  I’m not still making payments on anything.  A lot of people when they start a business, they have to get loans, but nah, everything you see here, this is all totally owned by me.  That’s rare.  Some people think its a negative thing having a business with no business credit, but for me, I own everything, so when I’m able to get that credit, it will be a whole other ball game. It’s a blessing being here.  I plan on expanding within 6 months to a year to get my second location.

ParleNY:  What do you envision for Thompson Studios moving forward?
Omar Thompson:  The vision is to become a Black owned production studio.  I don’t think there is one in Harlem, if there is, I haven’t heard about it.  I want to give artists the opportunity to make content, and make things they wouldn’t necessarily make in our communities.  They would usually have to go downtown somewhere to make these things.  They wouldn’t make it in Harlem.  The same thing thing they could get downtown, they can get uptown now.  I envision us being able to get some contracts with some major people, making some major content.  Also creating a network, so I can give other people their own shows here.  Expanding our nonprofit so I can reach more kids in the community.  Partnering up with other organizations that are doing similar work.  We are going to expand.  It’s just a matter of time.  I want to create a bigger hub for artists, for kids like me, who were talented in the arts, to have a place to go, so they aren’t ostracized if they want to dance, or they want to do poetry.  You can have somewhere where you can be around your people, and refine your artistry.

ParleNY:  At this point, is Omar still a comedian?  Is that what you want to be known for?
Omar Thompson:  So I’m still a comedian, I will never stop being a comedian.  Now as far as what I want to be known for, that’s a good question.  So, I think years ago, even before this thing happened, before Covid, I would have been cool being known as just a comedian.  But from then to now, so much has changed in my life.  I have evolved so much since then.  I’m a father of three now, I’m a husband with a wife of seven years.  I’ve been a home owner, I made it out the hood.  I own a business, I have employees, I cut checks.  I’m a founder of a nonprofit.  I do a lot now.  I do a lot more now than I did back then.  So saying that I’m just a comedian, I would be selling myself short.  I’m not sure I have a name for what I do, but I’m more than just a comedian.  I’m more than an actor, I’m more than a CEO, I’m more than a business owner.  I’m like a disruptor.  I’m a trail blazer.  I’m not a comedian anymore, I’m past that one little tag.

ParleNY:  What would you say is next for you?  Obviously it’s a whole range of things, but what’s next for you?
Omar Thompson:  What’s next? So what’s next right now is getting the studio to be one of the top studios in New York City. And I think I’m gonna be in that realm pretty soon.  Creating a a platform, whether it’s my own station, or my own channel, like Dane Dash, a little bit.  Like remember Roc-a-fella back in the day. They would give people a Roc-a-fella chain, like you with the Roc now.  I’m trying to give people their own shows, like you part of the studio now.  I can legit make people stars here.  I can make myself a bigger star!  Using this platform that I created, I can really exploit it. I mean, I have everything I need here to fucking win.  If I want to do sketches every day, I can do sketches all day long. I can do 8 podcasts a day.  I can give somebody a podcast.  Right now, I’m in the process of just trying to figure out the business part of it.  Who do I talk to about getting sponsorships? How do I get sponsorships? How do I get companies to pay for certain things? How can I make sure that we’re funded properly.  Those are the things that I’m learning right now, trying to get done as we speak.  Once it’s done, it’s game over!  I built myself a cheat code. This is a money machine. I built it! And now it’s time for me… I haven’t started using it yet either.  Once I start using it, back to the beginning. When I did my last sketches and shit, I burned myself out.  You can’t make it by yourself, you need a team. I know that now. So now that being said, now I’m not rushing this no more. When I do. do it, I’m going right from the start. I have a team now that’s going to get it done. I could have someone just doing the marketing. Somebody just doing the graphics. Someone just doing the casting. So at that point, right now I’m like a time bomb right.  It’s coming.  I’m excited.. I’m excited, bro. Like I’m so excited about the future. I can’t. Ugh. I will make these niggas pay!  (Laughs) I’m excited, bro. I can’t. Oh my God. I’m excited, man. Excited to work, excited to get back out there. I mean, on that capacity, I love it.

I miss being out there. So far, I’ve been still doing shows every now and then, but for most part I’ve been low key with it.  Because  its not the same feeling I felt before.  I’ve got to get past that, for me. It’s like dealing with trauma. It’s like PTSD about the case and what was going on. So once I get past that, I can move forward on the things. Right now, I’m in the building phase. I’m in the stay low, build. build, get this shit right.  Prep, Prep, prep and that phase should be ending within a month or so. I did that shit for two years. I was building for two years! And now I’m at a point where I’m ready to get in these niggas ass  (pause).  Ready to go in now!  And the whole time I was chilling. I’m watching and observing. I’m watching, I was moving with what’s happening, how people do XYZ?  How people getting deals? Who’s getting real money? Who’s getting the real bag? What they doing to get the real bag?

I sat back and watched and this my time again. It’s the time you get that Dominican Spiderman type wave again. That energy that I had that kind of helped propelled me to where I’m at now. And that shit, it’s funny, man, what I did at that time, over 10 years ago now, still affects me now, in a good way. I was telling somebody recently like, ‘you know, I created the Dominican Spiderman character, and then Marvel made a Dominican Spiderman!  I created this nigga a decade ago! Now they actually have Miles Morales, a Dominican Spiderman.  I had that vision years ago. I’m innovative. Because I was poor.  If you are poor, you have to be innovative, you know?  Now, I’m not as poor, so I can do a little more and I’m still creative.  I’m probably a little more creative now than I was back then, because now I see what can be done. You can see the examples, you can see somebody like Kountry Wayne. The game has changed so much. Remember back when you needed NBC, ABC and go on Conan O’Brien to do a set.   You can do that, but that’s not the only way no more. Especially as a Black man, I don’t wanna do the song and dance. I wanna do it my way. I don’t want to go down to the comedy club and kiss ass all day long, and try to play the good old. No, that’s not what I’m doing, bro! I’m doing it my way.

Like after I did HBO, and after I did Showtime with Flatbush Misdemeanors, I could have then went from there to go down to The Cellar like everybody else. Everybody do the same thing. It’s the same route. You do a couple shows, and then, now you in The Cellar.  That wasn’t it for me. That didn’t feel right for me.  I’m really cool with Michael Che, Sam Jay and some of these people from The Cellar.  These are all my close friends, who I fuck with personally. I can make a phone call, but that never was something I wanted.  Nah, that’s not it. Because I’m gonna be on the same Path, I know the ending of that.

This right here, I don’t know. I don’t know the ending of this shit. I don’t know, honestly what might happen. I don’t know what will happen here.  I was looking at a guy named Byron Allen.  He was a fucking comedian at first, and he started doing production, and owning companies, he owns The Weather Channel. He owns like 30 channels! I mean, he started somewhere. So I look at them kind of guys now. Before I wanted to be the funniest comedian. I’m like, I’m funny, I’m dope. I know a lot of funny people, that’s really funny, that are poor, that live with eight roommates. Like I don’t want to be that guy. I want to be funny and living on a certain level. This is something special I’m building here! This is something I really, really, really believe in.  I came from not knowing any of this shit. Not knowing about lenses, and all those thing. I know what lenses are, and switchers, and all this technology.  I’m a in front of the camera guy, not behind the camera. But I took the past few years and learned about all this stuff. And now I learned about it, and I know about it. Now for me, even being in front of camera it’s a different feeling. I remember before I was doing different TV shows, at first I had a little a little bit of impostor syndrome.  Being on set, it’s a lot going on on set. Lights, and all these people running around. Monitors, and they have walkie talkies and shit like, wtf?!

Now, like this is my life! Every day I’m around this.  This is my comfort zone even more now. So I took like maybe one of my—and it wasn’t even a weakness. It’s like something that I was not familiar with. Now I’m like, I’m ready. I’m ready bro. I’m ready.

Stand up comedy wise, I’m rusty on that. I’m still funny. I’m still better than most of these niggas out here, but I’m rusty. But I feel like stand up comedy is not the thing—the game has changed. I mean everything on your phone now. So like me, so like alright, I can be the best comic in front of 40 people, when no one sees me, it doesn’t matter. So, like me being the best comedian, for what reason? I’m gonna be dope, but my goals have changed. There’s people right now that they’re not even the best comedians, but they got social media presence, YouTube.  They get more bookings than the dope comedians. They get more bookings and higher bookings. So I’m not trying to be that guy. But also trying to find that middle ground. I’m still staying true to my art. But I’m also not going to be like an ostrich with my head in the fucking sand, not seeing what’s going on around me. I’ll probably get more fucking more exposure sitting here doing a podcast, then out here doing 44 shows a week in the city. That’s a whole fact. So why work hard, hard smart!

Omar Thompson interview

ParleNY:   OK. Anything else you wanna that didn’t cover?
Omar Thompson:   I would talk about my family, but that’s just the whole other thing. It’s me and 15 people in the apartment for the past two years. Remember I told you about the Brownstone… all the family came with me to Jersey. So we been living together since then.

ParleNY:  I saw you just got a new spot…
Omar Thompson: 
Yeah, bigger spots.  I moved like three times in two years. I left my house, and I moved to the apartment. Lived there, the house fell down. They all came and lived with me in that apartment. So now we’re all in this fucking apartment. So I had to go get a bigger apartment, more money and bigger apartment.  They still there!  Now my kids are getting bigger, so they need more room.  So had to get a bigger apartment!  Now I got a duplex, and it’s a big apartment.  I’m just doing it because I’m trying to buy a new house, but the market is crazy. So I’m like, let me just kind of wait it out in these apartments so the markets settle down.  And also so I can get my business to a different level. But yeah, that’s a whole sitcom right now I’m living in, with all my in laws. It’s a blessing though, it reminds me of  that old school family.  The old school, like Grandfather together, and aunties and uncles like how it was when we lived in like the 70s and shit like that.  It’s a rare thing.  We don’t get that no more, so it’s a blessing. It’s just tough.

But I’m thankful for everything! I come home, I got nieces and nephews there. Auntie’s there. Uncle’s there. Grandma. Grandpa there. I mean, who has that nowadays like that. How rare is that? And a wife! So it’s a tough thing. But my life is rare.  Niggas can’t say this. You can’t say like you live with your wife, your three kids. All that in the house and they wake in the morning with Grandma making oatmeal. Auntie is helping them with getting dressed, doing hair. The cousin is in the bathroom singing, getting ready for school. Then I’m dropping my kids off, dropping my nieces and nephews off. I come back and I switch cars. From the mini van to the small car.  Take the small car to work. My niece and nephew come from schools in Harlem, they meet me here. We work here for a little while. They eat here, I feed them. I’m here. Come back to my house. We all at home. We do bath time. Watch movies together, if I’m not home too late. And then go to bed and I’ll wake up at night, just to work a little more. But it’s a rare situation that I’m very thankful for. It’s like no one has this story to tell. This right here makes it like I’m a legend, and I have this story.  Who can say, I live with 16 people? That’s not even in our culture no more.

Planning on hitting the stage again, but right now I’m chilling until like January.  This gonna be my last push. I mean, I’m fucking 41 now. So my last hurrah, going hard with it.


Image Credits:  Kevin Benoit

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