At a Melanin and Friends show two years ago, hosted on a Brooklyn apartment rooftop—the variety comedy and music show that features artists of color– NYPD showed up to shut the unauthorized event down.

But, once the cops got there, organizer VJ McGhee said, they ended up staying for half an hour and watching some of the show.

“There was a writer from Saturday Night Live who was going up next, and the cops saw this guy go up and recognized him so they actually just stood in the back, watched the whole show, and even stayed for two songs of mine I performed at the end,” McGhee said.

The monthly event series is back, and this time, McGhee is hosting his free and donation-based variety shows in Brooklyn venues like restaurants, bars and laundromats.

“This way, we won’t get shut down by cops, and we can bring our audience to local, small Brooklyn businesses worth supporting,” McGhee said.

His most recent show played to a sold-out crowd for BOM with the Wind, a Korean tapas place in Downtown Brooklyn, where McGhee is based.

McGhee and Josh Johnson at a rooftop Melanin and Friends show. Photo: provided by Caleb Clark.
McGhee and Josh Johnson at a rooftop Melanin and Friends show. Photo: provided by Caleb Clark.

McGhee is a performer—he does stand-up comedy, moonlights as a DJ and produces his own music under the name VJay.mp3.

“Melanin and Friends is the way I combine all of my passions and interests,” McGhee said.

“I have this desire to collaborate and bring people in, especially women and people of color. I want Melanin and Friends to be a place where you can feel safe and you’re going to get a real, good show with solid, brand-new entertainers.”

When he started Melanin and Friends in 2013, it was largely a music and comedy sketch production company with his friend and fellow comic, Sasha Von D. The pair was putting together an event and looking at the type of artists they wanted to book; The idea for a platform specifically for comedians of color took shape.

“We didn’t want to have a comedy show that is just a slew of white guys,” McGhee said.

Melanin and Friends Instagram.

McGhee and his crew revived the concept and put on a Melanin and Friends variety show in 2020 which wound up clashing with the day that Joe Biden was elected the president of the United States.

“Everyone in Brooklyn wanted to party that day and more than 200 people ended up showing up,” McGhee said.

“All you need is a great first impression and we’ve had a built-in audience ever since.”

McGhee has shared the Melanin and Friends stage with names well-known comedians like two-time Emmy nominee Josh Johnson, SNL writer Vanessa Jackson and Emmy-winning stand-up Glorelys Mora.

But, that doesn’t mean that beginners don’t perform at his shows, too.

“We want to be a jumping-off point,” McGhee said. “We want Melanin and Friends to be a place where you do not have to pay to perform on our stage. We have an audience there that wants to hear you rock.”

The next show will feature a surprise line-up of musicians on Thursday, September 22, at Lilly’s Pizza Bar in Fort Greene.

McGhee accepts applications from performers on a rolling basis. Those interested can apply through his website.

Miranda Levingston

Covering everything Brooklyn. Twitter: @MLevNews

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