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I Tried to Change So You Don't Have To
True Life Lessons
By Loni Love
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Winner of the African American Literary Award for Memoir!
Now cohost of Fox's The Real and SiriusXM's Café Mocha, Loni Love hasn't taken the typical path to becoming America's favorite straight-talking girlfriend and comedian. She was not the child of Hollywood legends and she never wore a size 00. Rather, she grew up in housing projects in Detroit, more worried about affording her next meal than going on a diet. When she moved to Hollywood after graduating college with an engineering degree, seeking to break out in the entertainment world, there was nothing that would convince her to eat the kale salads and quinoa bowls that her colleagues introduced her to, which looked to Love like "weeds my grandma used to pay me a dollar to pull from her yard."
Still, despite the differences that set her apart in the status-driven world of entertainment where being thin, young, blond, and bubbly is sometimes considered a talent, Love spent years trying to fit in—trying to style her hair just so, dieting, dating the men she thought she was supposed to be with. In this book, she tells the uproariously funny story of how she overcame the trap of self-improvement and instead learned to embrace who she was. As Love writes, "There's a saying a lot of people live by: 'Fake it till you make it.' For me, it's always been 'fake it, and then have the whole thing blow up in your face.'" I Tried to Change So You Don't Have To explores all of the embarrassing mistakes, terrifying challenges, and unexpected breakthroughs that taught her how, by committing ourselves to our own path, we can take control of our destiny.
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In reading this book you should remember that I am a comedian. (I am also a television host and actress and an electrical engineer.) This is my memoir and it tells you about my life. But it’s a tale told by a comedian and I believe that this entitles me to a good number of liberties. I have reordered and combined events and people. And I changed a whole lot of names and identifying details. And I have exaggerated and made some things up altogether to (I hope), make you smile or even laugh. But I have not changed the reality of my life, where I came from, and how I got from there to where I am now.
Don’t you just love that feeling when something good happens and you get to say to yourself, “All my hard work has finally paid off.” Like after a good divorce settlement or when you finally win ten dollars on a scratch-off after buying a lottery ticket every week for eighteen years.
For me, one of those moments happened on April 29, 2018, at the Pasadena Civic Center. Let me paint you a picture: I looked hot, decked out in a chic and glamorous chin-length wig I call my “Anna Wintour” and rocking a floor-length dress covered in all kinds of silver crystal and sequins. That heavy-ass gown weighed almost as much as I do.
I settled into my velvet chair in the cavernous auditorium and looked around. The room was filled with the biggest names in daytime television: Vanna White, Alex Trebek, Judge Judy, and the entire cast of The Young and the Restless. Rubbing shoulders with all those stars felt like an accomplishment on its own. But I was there as more than just a spectator. The event was the Daytime Emmy Awards show and I, along with the fabulous Adrienne Houghton, Jeannie Mai, and Tamera Mowry-Housley, had been nominated for our work cohosting the syndicated daytime talk show The Real. We’d only been on air five years, but we were up against three of the highest-rated talk shows on daytime TV: The Talk, The View, and Live with Kelly and Ryan.
Even though we worked our asses off to earn a seat at that table, we didn’t think we had a shot at winning. We didn’t have the big budget or the legacy of a show like The View, which has been a daytime staple for more than two decades. We couldn’t afford to do lavish gift giveaways for our audiences, and we didn’t book Hollywood’s most coveted stars, like Tom Hanks or Denzel Washington. Not only that, we didn’t look like the other shows, either. On The Real every host is a woman of color. We were the first and only daytime talk show without a white cohost. When we first hit the air, critics said we’d never last.
Chris Harrison, the host from The Bachelor, was presenting the Emmy for our category. Just like he does on The Bachelor, Chris served the award with extra drama. He leaned into the mic and announced the winner with a few excruciatingly well-timed pauses: “And the Emmy goes to…[pause]…the cohosts of…[pause]…” When he finally said The Real, I was so stunned that for a second I didn’t move. Then I came to my senses, jumped from my seat, and bolted to the stage. I was determined to grab that award before somebody from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences jumped in and said they changed their minds.
If you’d been seated in the audience that night, you would have known immediately that we hadn’t expected to win. The four of us were like a bunch of kittens running every which way. While I was hightailing it to the front of the room, Adrienne was running in the other direction, toward our staff who were seated a few rows behind us. She wanted to give them all a hug. Meanwhile, Jeannie was taking off her shoes getting ready to sprint like a track star, and Tam was busy kissing her husband, Adam, which is why you should never go to an awards show with a date.
I was the first one to make it onstage. I clutched the golden statue—the same award that I’d seen Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres, and Kelly Ripa win many times before—and looked out into the crowd. I had worked so hard for this moment of recognition. Despite the missteps and disappointments along the way—the failed auditions, the deals that went nowhere, the “big breaks” that fizzled into nothing—I’d finally arrived. As the rest of the girls leaped onstage to join me, I clutched our Emmy, savored the moment, and burst into tears.
* * *
I didn’t get to Hollywood the way a lot of other people do. I wasn’t a child star or the child of a star. I didn’t write for a college humor magazine, study acting in New York, or know anyone in “the industry.” In fact, until I was in my twenties, my idea of hitting the big time meant holding down a regular nine-to-five desk job, with benefits. Where I come from, having an employee dental plan meant you were living the dream.
I grew up in the Brewster-Douglass Housing Projects on the east side of Detroit during the height of the crack epidemic. Back then, it felt like there were two options for girls like me: I could be a drug dealer’s girlfriend, or I could be the best friend of a drug dealer’s girlfriend and hope I got an invite when he treated her to a Big Mac and fries. I didn’t grow up with fantasies of having a glamorous life because around me all I saw was struggle. Maybe one day meeting Tito Jackson was as big as I dared to dream. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t doing everything I could to improve my circumstances.
As a kid, I was always going the extra mile. When I joined the school orchestra in fourth grade and the music teacher told the class to each pick an instrument, I didn’t run like the rest of the kids to sign up for the violin, oboe, or even the sassy triangle. I picked something big, bold, and beautiful: the French horn. And when I needed to make some extra money as a teenager to buy clothes for school, I didn’t start selling drugs, even though opportunities were everywhere. Instead, I started a little grocery delivery service, making trips to the corner store for Brewster-Douglass senior citizens who needed a tin of Spam, a pack of Newports, or a tub of off-brand cottage cheese.
At Brewster-Douglass, I was the resident nerd, with my glasses and book bag, forever lugging around that big brass French horn. While other kids were hanging out on the corner listening to Kurtis Blow, I was the goody-two-shoes who lived for math club and didn’t mess with boys. But the sad fact about living in the projects is sometimes no matter how hard you work, you still end up on the bottom. By the time I was seventeen years old, I was about as low as you can get: homeless and living out of my car. I remember crying my eyes out one night curled up in the front seat of my beat-up 1979 Chevy Chevette. I was miserable. And not just because I had to sleep with a gearshift sticking up my ass.
Of course, I am not the first person to face hardships. Overcoming trials and tribulations is how we learn to get ahead. I’ve discovered that getting out of a bad situation is one part hard work, one part luck, and one part divine intervention. I’d been living in my car for more than a month when God stepped in and sent me an angel. Only this dude was disguised as a middle-aged man carrying a clipboard and dressed in a crisp button-down shirt, because God is funny like that.
My angel was named Mr. Arnold, and when I was feeling most hopeless, he was there with a guiding hand, showing me what was possible and setting me on a path to a better life. I went from living in my car to getting accepted into college. Ultimately, I made my way to California, where I started my comedy career. I figured if I could survive Brewster-Douglass, the crack epidemic, and being homeless, of course I could make it in LA.
That’s when I discovered that getting ahead in Hollywood is a lot harder than getting out of the hood. Things are changing now, but when I moved to LA in the early 2000s, if you looked like me—tall, dark-skinned, and curvy—casting agents and execs weren’t interested. They were looking for “talent” that was perky, blond, and wore a size 00, which I didn’t even know was a size until I moved to California. It’s like studio execs all fell in love with Heather Locklear when they were in middle school and their tastes never changed. The only jobs I was offered were for fried chicken commercials or to fill any role that called for a Jamaican accent. If I could do a Jamaican accent, I’d be rich right now.
For years, I scrambled to get my foot in the door. In the process, I endured a lot of criticism and rejection. My confidence got shaky and I began to lose my way. I would lie in bed at night and think about all the things that were “wrong” with me. I became convinced that the only way I would be successful was if I changed.
I know I’m not alone. I get tweets and DMs all the time from fans who tell me all the ways they are trying to transform into a “better” version of themselves. Maybe you have a plan for reinvention, too? Maybe you’re trying to lose sixteen pounds, learning to “be more assertive,” or finding a way to be less broke. But no one is born thinking I’m not good enough. Other people put those ideas in your head. If you really think about it, aren’t self-improvement “goals” just a list of other people’s criticisms—“You’re too fat / too shy / too unemployed”—turned into a to-do list of things you need to “fix”? One day it occurred to me: What if all the bad shit everybody says about you is wrong?
After all, I got myself out of the projects by not doing what other people expected from me. At Brewster-Douglass, I picked up a French horn, joined the math club, and did my own thing. No matter how many times I got called a nerd—or worse—I didn’t let it get to me. In the end, I didn’t just survive, I thrived. So why, as an adult, was I suddenly listening to other people tell me how to get ahead? Maybe I didn’t need to “improve”; maybe what I really needed was to find my way back to the Loni I was before I let the critics and self-doubt lead me astray. That’s when my journey to happiness and success really began.
These days I am happy and humbled to say I’m living my dream. During the week, I host a TV show that gives millions of women a space to feel like they are heard, and on the weekends, I play comedy clubs around the country making people laugh. I even fulfilled my childhood fantasy by meeting Tito Jackson. Who says dreams don’t come true?
It’s not just my professional life that’s turned out great. I also found real love with a man who doesn’t expect me to serve him food or do acrobatics in bed. Yes, sis, they do exist.
I realize being on the other side of forty, unmarried, childless, and spending more nights in comedy clubs and hotel rooms than in my own bed might not be your idea of happiness, but it’s the perfect life for me. And that’s exactly my point. The key to success is knowing what you want, then figuring out how to get it without having to change who you are. It means standing in your truth and telling everybody else, “This me, get used to it.”
I know there are millions of people out there who are struggling the way I did, trying to change who they are so they can have a better life. Honey, I’m here to tell you, if you’re a grown-ass adult still trying to change, it’s probably too late now.
Life is too short to waste any more of your precious time. Consider this book a shortcut to gaining the life lessons that took me years to find out, such as the road to happiness begins with embracing yourself, “flaws” and all; and sometimes God sends you a messenger in disguise; and, whatever you do, don’t date men who sleep in bunk beds, especially if you got bad knees.
Most of all, I hope as you read this book you will learn from my mistakes and have a few laughs along the way. I tried to change so you don’t have to.
Lessons You Don’t Learn in School
I learned everything I know about love, life, and getting ahead in one of the last places most people would ever want to live: the infamous Brewster-Douglass Housing Projects, on Detroit’s down and dirty east side.
Unless you came up the way I did, you might not know much about project life. Maybe your idea of “the hood” comes from the movie Precious or a few grimy episodes of Law & Order: SVU, so you think project life is where all the boys become drug dealers and all the girls end up pregnant or working the pole. Well, I’m here to let you know you’ve been completely misinformed. Only some of the boys I grew up with turned to selling drugs. And only Porsche, Chardonnay, and Mercedes made their money twerking naked at LeRoy’s Gentlemen’s Club. But that was their parents’ doing, if you ask me. If you want your daughter to land an office job, don’t name her after a luxury vehicle or your favorite alcoholic beverage. Everybody knows job recruiters sort résumés into two piles: one for people they imagine would fit in at the office Christmas party and the other for candidates with names like “Alizé” or “BMW 600 Series.” I don’t make these rules; I’m just saying.
My experience growing up in the projects wasn’t anything like you see on TV. Brewster-Douglass is where I learned the important life lessons that really shape a woman, like never count on a dainty girl to clean a fish; shower curtains are not doors; and sometimes a big girl needs a big horn to make her happy. I know these might not be the kind of inspirational tidbits you find in Hallmark cards, that’s why I’m writing this book.
I was born more than three decades after the first low-rise townhouses of the Brewster-Douglass Projects were completed in 1942. Over that time, the projects, located just north of downtown Detroit, grew and grew, until eventually they occupied more than five city blocks and housed as many as ten thousand people. It’s hard to imagine now, but back in the day folks clamored to live in Detroit public housing. That’s because compared to the alternative, Brewster Homes were considered a giant step up.
Like a lot of black folks in the city, my family moved to Detroit from down South. My grandmother, Clara Bell, hailed from Alabama and brought my mama and her three sisters north sometime in the 1940s. Before the Brewster-Douglass homes were built, families like mine were forced to live in the worst part of town, in neighborhoods called Paradise Valley and Black Bottom. The houses were broke down and tore up. Some of them were little more than sheds, without electricity or running water. But as more and more families like mine fled the Jim Crow South looking for a better life in Detroit, the government decided it needed a place to put all these poor black folks. And so, the Brewster-Douglass Housing Projects were born. It was basically government-funded segregation, public housing designated just for African Americans. Even so, one lady who’d been living in the projects since the 1950s told me that when she moved in it felt like she’d died and gone to heaven. That’s how much better Brewster-Douglass was than life in Black Bottom.
By the time I was living there, Brewster-Douglass was like a city unto itself, with a bunch of row houses, a couple of six-story buildings, and five fourteen-story high-rise towers. I lived on the top floor of building number 7 with my mama and my older brother, Bruce. Our place had two bedrooms, which makes it sound almost luxurious. In fact, it was tiny. If you sat in the kitchen, you could watch the thirteen-inch black-and-white TV in the living room without even squinting. Every Saturday morning, I’d sit on a vinyl-covered kitchen chair watching The Jackson 5ive and Schoolhouse Rock! cartoons, while my mama pressed my hair with a hot comb she heated up on the coils of our electric stove.
I only have one memory of my father, Nathan, who left our family when I was a baby. In my recollection, my father had come by the apartment to visit. I remember him having a thick handlebar mustache and big eyes like mine. He was making himself a bath and he said to me, “If you really want to get clean, you gotta put some bleach in the water.” Don’t ask me what he meant by that. All I know is him sharing his bathing habits sure didn’t make me wish he was around more. As a kid, I had a lot of chores to take care of, including keeping the bathroom clean. The last thing I needed was some weird-ass dude using up all my cleaning supplies for his personal hygiene.
Just because my daddy wasn’t around doesn’t mean Mama had closed up shop. She was young and vibrant, with smooth coco skin and baby-making hips. She worked long hours as a nurse’s aide at St. John’s Riverview Hospital, and I guess she figured she deserved some grown-woman fun. In fact, I’m pretty sure Mama’s fun time is how I ended up calling some guy I barely knew “Uncle Chico.”
Before he suddenly became part of the family, I’d only ever seen Uncle Chico repairing transmissions under a tree out behind the auto parts store. Then one morning, I saw him coming out of Mama’s bedroom and she tells me he’s my uncle. I wasn’t the only kid with an uncle who came outta nowhere. At school, hardly any kids had their fathers living in the house. But there were plenty of uncles coming and going. One especially good-looking brother was “uncle” to damn near every kid in my class.
Looking back, it couldn’t have been easy for Mama to date while raising two kids. I was well behaved around adults, but I had a mean side-eye, which I gave to any dude who set foot in our apartment. No grown-ass man wants to be eyeballed by a seven-year-old with thirty-two pigtails in her hair. As salty as I was, Mama’s bigger problem came from my brother, Bruce.
Bruce was six years older than me, and he was what we called “slow.” At least, that’s what we called it back in the seventies. He wasn’t dumb, but school was a challenge for him and he never seemed to pick up on basic social cues. Where Bruce really excelled was in telling the truth, even if it’s the last thing you wanted to hear.
One time, while Mama was out at the corner store with Uncle Chico buying themselves a fifth of Gordon’s gin, the phone rang and Bruce picked up. All I heard him say to the person on the other end of the line was, “Hello? Uh-huh…uh-huh…No, she ain’t here.…Uh-huh…Uh-huh…” Then he hung up.
A little while later, Mama came in with Uncle Chico. At first, Bruce didn’t say anything. He just sat there on the plastic-covered brown corduroy sofa watching What’s Happening! until Mama asked directly: “Baby, did anybody call when I was out?” This was before cell phones and answering machines. Even if they had existed, Mama didn’t have that kind of money. Bruce was her answering machine and her personal secretary.
“Yeah,” he answered, not looking up from the TV.
“Did you take a message?” Mama asked.
“Uh-huh,” Bruce replied.
Mama sighed. “Baby,” she said patiently. “When somebody calls, you gotta take a message. Then you gotta give it to me.”
“I took a message,” said Bruce. “It was the dude from last night who called you.”
I glanced over and caught Uncle Chico shoot Mama a look with his eyebrows raised so high on his forehead they seemed ready to fly right off his face. Mama stared straight ahead, like she was frozen in space. Bruce kept right on talking.
“The bald-headed dude,” he continued. “You know, that guy who was here this morning. He sat right there.” Bruce pointed at the kitchen table. “He smoked two Newports and when you was in the bathroom he farted and it smelled like ham.”
“Damn it, Bruce!” Mama said. “That’s enough.”
But Bruce was on a roll. “Then when you came back from the bathroom, you asked if he wanted some cornflakes. And he said, ‘Baby, all I want is some more of that sugar.’”
Even at seven I knew this wasn’t a message you give Mama with Uncle Chico sitting right there. But that didn’t stop Bruce.
“Then, you all went back in your room and turned the radio up real high and I couldn’t hear my show,” he continued, his eyes still glued to the TV. “When you came out, dude said you taste good.”
Bruce turned to me. “Loni, you was here. Don’t you remember?” I pretended I didn’t hear him and opened the fridge to pour myself some Kool-Aid instead. Out of the corner of my eye I could see Mama clutching at her heart. Uncle Chico stormed out of the apartment, slamming the front door as he left. With my nose in the fridge, I tried not to laugh. There is nothing more hilarious than a mama getting busted by her very own child. That was the first time I realized just how funny life could be.
* * *
Life in the projects wasn’t always easy. Brewster-Douglass was filled with roaches and winos and all the elevators smelled like piss. The one place I loved was school. I loved the smell of magic markers, the gummy pizza we had every Friday for free lunch, and the way a cloud of chalk dust blew up when the teachers clapped their blackboard erasers together at the end of the day. I loved Miss Thompson, my first-grade teacher who turned me on to Dr. Seuss, and my third-grade teacher, Mrs. Carter, who showed me how to glide my pencil across the page in looping cursive script.
School is also where I discovered my love of classical music, in Mr. Shelby’s orchestra class. Back then, even poor kids got music lessons at school. By fourth grade, we were allowed to choose our own instrument. I considered the triangle, but decided it was too prissy; then I thought about drums, but they were too loud. All it took was one look at that long, black clarinet to know the instrument was a hard pass for me. And then I saw her, the big, bold, and beautiful French horn calling my name. I loved her curves and shimmer and the way her sound made you stand up and take notice.
We were allowed to bring our instruments home to practice. Every day after I finished my chores, it was just me in the apartment playing scales over and over until I got them right. That’s the advantage of being a latchkey kid: there was no one home to tell me to shut the hell up. While other kids were hanging out and getting into trouble, I was getting lost in Mozart’s “Horn Concerto Number 4 in E Flat Major.” All through high school, music was my escape. But as much as I thrived in school, my brother Bruce struggled.
One afternoon, Mama came home early and mad as hell. “Loni,” she barked, “get your coat on.” She called to Bruce, who was glued to the TV. “Baby, put on your shoes,” she said. “You two are coming with me.”
While my brother and I scrambled to get dressed, Mama scanned the apartment. Her eyes landed on my copy of Green Eggs and Ham, which was lying facedown on the kitchen table. She picked up the book, shoved it in her purse, and the three of us marched five blocks to Foster Elementary.
“Baby, keep up,” Mama called over her shoulder to Bruce as we speed-walked through the school corridors to the principal’s office. Mama had dragged us there to lodge a complaint. She’d gotten our report cards the day before and learned that Bruce had passed the eighth grade and had been promoted into high school. Mama was furious.
In the principal’s office, Bruce and I stood silently behind our mother as she pled her case. “You keep promoting this child and he don’t know how to read!” she said, motioning to Bruce.
“Ma’am,” the principal interjected. “He’s advancing to high school…that’s a good thing!”
Mama reached into her purse and flung the Dr. Seuss book in Bruce’s direction. “Baby, show this man how you read.” My brother glanced at the book, then at our mother, without saying a word. “Show him,” Mama urged. “Show the man what you know.”
Bruce pointed to the words on the page. “Wooo…ud,” he said tentatively, his brow furrowed in concentration. “Would you…l…”
“See?” my mama said, throwing up her hands. “What’d I tell you? You keep passing him, but you’re not teaching him nothing.” She snatched the book from my brother and handed it to me. “Loni, read the book,” she demanded.
I cleared my throat dramatically: “I do not like green eggs and ham. I do not like them, Sam-I-am…”
Mama cut me off. “See? My daughter reads better than my son,” Mama said to the principal. “And she’s only in first grade.” She put her hands on her hips. “Sir, my son needs more help.”
- "Fantastic."—Sunny Hostin
"Loni Love...has a gift: she can preach without being preachy....With her maniacal work ethic, incredible nerve, practical wisdom and huge heart...she's a woman whose romantic advice we should all listen to."
—The New York Times Book Review
- "Loni Love's latest memoir will help you accept your flaws...wise but relatable....Uproarious...written as someone who has long been wise beyond her years."—Marie Claire
- "This breezy read is an inspirational tale."—Forbes
- "Even devout fans of the show will come to find that there's so much more to the comedian they didn't know about until they read her memoir."—NBC News
- "Loni Love delivers laughs with real-life lessons...[Love's] book is a let-me-tell-y'all, not a tell-all, affair."—The Washington Informer
- "With her new memoir, Loni Love aims for inspiration and levity in relating an unexpected journey."—MetroWeekly
- "Loni's candid and down-to-earth writing will encourage readers to learn from past hardships."—CBS Detroit
- "[Love] dispenses her wisdom with a healthy dose of humor."—Metro Weekly
"A fun and inspiring read."
- "[Love] writes powerfully... [her] moving memoir will resonate with readers, especially women, in need of personal and professional motivation."—Publishers Weekly
- On Sale
- Jun 22, 2021
- Page Count
- 240 pages
- Hachette Go