By Nina Metz
In June Saturday Night Live cast member Chris Redd tweeted that he was looking to create a relief fund for front-line protesters who may have contracted COVID-19: “I would hate for my people fighting for justice [to] struggle later because of it,” he wrote. “If you would like to help, let’s connect!”
A day later he set up a GoFundMe. By June 4 he had raised $250,000. He’s since upped the goal to $400,000, and at press time he had raised $362,000.
Redd primarily grew up in Naperville and started his comedy career in Chicago, but for the past several years he has been based in New York for SNL. That meant the first few months of the pandemic he was “solo quarantining,” as he put it, in New York. More recently he drove to Mississippi, where he is now staying with family just outside Jackson.
“My pops is high risk and I was on my way to see him,” Redd said.
That meant Redd couldn’t risk taking part in recent protests.
“I felt kind of hopeless,” he said. “How can I be a part of the change without putting my family in danger? And I thought, there’s a lot of ways to fight—so what if I put together a relief fund?
“Actually my first thought was, ‘Somebody should do this.’ And I kept thinking that. And then I thought, ‘Well, I should do this.’ ”
Two months ago the COVID-19 Protest Relief Fund was born.
Redd has a sizable profile thanks to SNL, with more than 50,000 followers on Twitter. But his celebrity—and the influence that comes with it—is still new to him.
“There’s a little bit of impostor syndrome sometimes, like forgetting that I’m visible enough to make something happen,” he said. “I’ve been broke longer than I’ve had anything, so I guess that part of my brain always works first: Somebody should do this; there has to be somebody with big pockets and fame. And then it’s like, I can do that.
“I had never made a GoFundMe in my life, so I had to research ‘how to make a GoFundMe.’ There was a lot of work on the back end to set this up; it was a real crash course for me. But we’ve got it to a solid spot and we’re really excited to start giving this money away.”
The funds will be directed to a number of small Chicago organizations listed at covid19protestrelief.com, including West Side United, the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, Black Youth Project, and Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberty.
All of the money raised will go directly to the organizations; none of it will be used to cover administrative costs. Redd understands there are pitfalls to avoid: Recently the Minnesota Freedom Fund was criticized for not being fast enough about donating the $30 million it had raised in just a matter of weeks.
“That’s why it was very important to me that I build a network of organizations and reputable people and advisers that have a connection to these communities so I know exactly where the money is going and how it’s helping,” Redd said. “There’s full transparency in how we’re going to move as we get all this paperwork done. I have a whole team of people. My accountants and lawyers [are] making sure we’re covering all our bases and this thing can function as smoothly as possible and keep everything above board.”
Redd is collaborating on the fund with fellow Chicago comedy performer Lisa Beasley. They are both members of the sketch and improv group 3Peat.
“Chris and I are best friends—he’s like my brother,” said Beasley. “I always work closely with him on anything he wants to do outside of TV stuff—like, ‘Hey, I want to do a show in Chicago,’ or anything to do with Wakandacon [which Beasley helped produce]. He knows that I’m a good person to have on the ground.”
Beasley helped to set up the website with the creative services company Electric Fun. She is also helping to manage the fundraiser itself, working with the Chicago organization Poverty Alleviation Charities.
Redd is a PAC board member as well.
“Chris is using his hard-earned success not only to help others but to support a movement that will define his generation,” said PAC founder and executive director Heather Whinna. “I’m thrilled that he asked us to help with the logistics of his fundraiser.
“As you can imagine, inequity is intrinsically tied to racial discrimination and it is our goal at PAC to use art as a conduit to transform passive compassion into immediate assistance … [and] just when I thought I couldn’t get any luckier, Lisa Beasley entered the picture.”
Beasley and Redd are both Second City alumni and they were among the group of Black performers who sent an open letter to the comedy hub calling for an investigation into racial discrimination, abuse, and sexual assault. Christina Anthony (Mixed-ish), Amber Ruffin (Late Night With Seth Meyers), and Sam Richardson (Veep) were among the alumni who also signed the letter.
Earlier this month, Second City owner Andrew Alexander stepped down from his post after several Black performers—including Brooklyn Nine-Nine writer Dewayne Perkins and Beasley herself—detailed allegations of racism they experienced at the comedy theater.
“That open letter speaks for me and the collective of people that I stand by,” said Redd. “Like any institution, it has issues. There are really good things I got from that place, but that was in spite of the fact that there was a lot of bull—- too.
“We had a call before we wrote that letter and I sat with four or five different generations of people talking about some of the worst experiences that I’ve ever heard. We just want people to be able to have fun creating without having to fight this uphill battle and deal with all this distracting discrimination.”
Beasley is also the cofounder and creative director of the inclusion company the Nova Collective, and she said that for her the lead-up to the open letter was about “recognizing that what I’ve been through has been a lot—and to keep it to myself is a form of oppression to me.”
Remaining silent doesn’t help, she said.
“People from the ’hood, poor people, people who’ve been so disadvantaged—sometimes you get the feeling of, what do I have to lose?” she said. “I don’t have anything! So I’m not going to stop speaking up.
“That’s why I’m so proud of this Black Lives Matter movement now. Because of the pandemic, more people are at home and on the internet, and it’s like, ‘Yeah, police brutality sucks. Can y’all please stop killing us?’
“So I call it The Great Blacklash of 2020, and I hope that sticks. We’re not going to take these employers abusing us and paying us less. We want to be out here living our lives too.”
A petition signed by more than 2,000 people has been circulating, calling for Second City to hire Beasley to run the theater in the wake of Alexander’s departure. Is that something that interests her?
“No,” she said. “This is my first time even acknowledging that the petition
is out there.”
Though she doesn’t want the job, the petition has been a meaningful source of validation.
“I was reading through it and I was crying because at one point Second City really had me out here thinking I was so bad to want equal treatment,” Beasley said. “I was trying to give them ideas and I was trying to work with them for so long and trying to incorporate my past experiences with Black colleges and integrate more Black actresses so that we could have understudies.
“But they just weren’t ready. They were not equipped to pull off any kind of high-level ideas. I didn’t know at the time that they were just completely inept and incompetent at basic job skills.
“My concern now is the Black people who truly want to make people laugh—for real—and who are talented. Where do they get to shine?”
Does she think Second City can fix what ails it?
“You know, God moves in mysterious ways,” she said with a laugh. “I wouldn’t put anything past God.”
Redd is a little more hopeful.
“We’ll be keeping an eye on that,” he said. “It’s a great resource for the city. I would have gotten into comedy a lot different if that place wasn’t there.”
For now, he’s focused on the COVID-19 Protest Relief Fund.
“It’s really cool that the people who follow me on Twitter are passionate about the things that I’m passionate about,” he said.
“With so much hate in the world, it’s so amazing to see the compassion and the love from so many people. Reading the messages of why people are giving, it’s amazing. It brings a light into these dark times.”
Photos by Rich Polk/Getty Images and Elias Rios