Hey, I’m Antonio Baldwin

Antonio Baldwin is himself; unapologetically so—although, perhaps, not under his real name but as Tony Talks, the name that has brought him nearly 1 million followers between TikTok, Instagram and Twitter. In fact, he’s sometimes male but most times female with a bevy of bouffant wigs and insufferable attitudes. He’s funny. Not like your round-of-the-mill social media influencer, even though the platform and the chuckles can be similar. Let’s just say he takes his craft a bit more seriously and puts in a bit more thought.

Antonio’s work is more sketch comedy with a beginning, middle, and end than the typical simple riffs and parody in response to media events and pop culture. He shoots them out of his Atlanta, Georgia, apartment and infuses the comedy with quips and witty banter, great timing and editing skills that amp up the funny, strewn amid living room furnishings and a whole kitchen counter – not meant to be a part of the scene but whose presence adds to the farce. This is because he’s had some professional experience in front of the camera as an actor. He’s also taken classes in graphic design and TV production in high school and college, where he dropped out after only two semesters. He will be the first to tell you that he is not an academic and describes his time in school as dull and uninteresting, “I felt like a robot. It felt like something that they were just throwing at me and I didn’t feel I would need any of this stuff. But when it comes to making something that I’m actually interested in making or creating something, that’s where my brain started tingling.”

His interest in filming and editing began while he was at Gar-Field Senior High School in Woodbridge, Virginia, when the app Video Star came out that allowed users to make short videos and add effects, “I felt like a little Beyoncé. I felt like the star of my own show. I was consistently making different videos, editing it, and the imagination just took me from there.” This obsession later migrated to Vine, before Vine itself disappeared in its characteristic six seconds, but not before he had cemented himself a following.

He’s appeared in a feature film, a television show, a TV pilot and a commercial. Rather than seeking parts in someone else’s script that he saw as stereotypical roles, he’s steadfast at creating his own. His sketches are different one to the other, although there are five recurring characters and there’s a distinct formula to his comedy. Pit a match of wills and egos in a power struggle between two characters, exaggerate the circumstance and dialogue in a relatable scenario, and sit back and watch the impending combustion. Usually, the erstwhile indefatigable of the two characters breaks down, cowers or even dies, but the victor always struts off to glorious visual and sound effects—sashay, heal clacks, hair toss and all. No doubt, he’s mastered the ability to tell a story in fewer than 60 seconds for an audience whose attention span is as short as a swipe on Tinder or Reels on Instagram.

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LJ Wellington, a London-based Instagram user and a follower of @IAMTONYTALKS said, “Tony Talks is very consistent each day he posts something new. That’s dedication. Also, the way he even edits is well put together and really thought about, down to the smallest details. He ain’t only funny but he gets into each character and most of the characters you can relate to. He needs to be on the big screen.”

Antonio says some of the characters and plots on Tony Talks are inspired by the women in his life and from his regular job at a call center. In fact, some of his videos involve the types of conversations you might have had with call-center representatives or a boss. They may not be as surreal as, say, a recent sketch about a call-center operator, Brandon, who couldn’t spell his own name and died a thousand deaths, as his coworkers and customers seem never to remember it either.

There’s something pithy and personal in these stories that for all this attention, love and adoration, Antonio is waiting to get fully launched. He has come of age at a time when Instagram fame and following has kickstarted many a career in music and entertainment in a grander or more established setting. His genre of social media worship of funny male-dressed-in-drag hasn’t yet lost its thunder, but he has sights on establishing a platform that can allow other creators to find their own voice and passion. Although he hasn’t entirely given up professional acting work, he aspires to produce his very own sketch comedy with a television network.

In the meantime, he is happy putting smiles on the faces of nearly one million people weekly sixty seconds at a time, during this uncertain period of great human suffering, “It’s easy to be sad and it’s hard to make yourself happy. Hopefully, that’s where I come in.”

We sat down with Antonio to talk about his acting, his comedy and future plans.

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What was it like growing up an only boy in a family of mostly women?

I was very influenced by my sisters and my mom. I have an older sister and two younger sisters. I think that’s where half of my videos came from. Just being around them 24/7, arguing and mom being mom. So, it’s just a lot of their personality traits that created the videos, I guess you can say.

You’ve said publicly you weren’t good at school. What about traditional schooling didn’t work for you?

I was a C student like forever. With my sisters they are really good in core classes like math. My sister’s favorite subject is math. My mom kind of held the standard different for all of us; my sister, she had to get A’s. I get distracted very easily. As long as I got a C and above (C’s and B’s) my mom was content that I was trying my hardest. And then I went to college for two semesters and I dropped out because I realized it wasn’t for me because you can’t just go to school and learn what you want to learn. It wasn’t really for me. So, that’s why I was like, I’m gonna go ahead and do what I want to do.

When did you realize that there could be a future for you in film and acting?

When I was young, I auditioned for Sweet Life on Deck. It’s a little Disney show. Come to find out it was a fake audition that I went to. It was a Pop-Tart commercial that I had to read for and realized—okay. This is it. I want to be in front of a camera. Little did I know down the line it would get more so towards comedy. I thought I wanted to be a dramatic actor like dramas, soap operas and stuff like that. I like making people smile, so it started turning into more of a comedy type thing.

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You starred in two short films, a feature film, a TV pilot, a television show, and a commercial. How did you get your start?

A guy named Duane Dixon gave me my first shot at being in a movie. Duane became my mentor. He was awesome. My very first time being on a film was Turnt. I had one line. I forgot what it was, but I practiced the fuck out of that line. It was one word and I stayed up all night, rehearsing that one word. It had a guy who played Notorious BIG; The Gift and the Curse, The Gift and the Curse 2—those were two independent films; Beast Beast—that one was the biggest thing I’ve ever been on. That was produced by Alec Baldwin; This Life (the TV pilot); The commercial was a JROTC commercial.

Did you enjoy making those films?

Yes and no. The only reason I say that is because, for example, with Turnt, I was being stereotyped. The auditions I was getting were drug dealer, some type of a thug, just something like that I did not necessarily want to do. I get it, it’s all acting. I just don’t feel comfortable with always getting roles like that. That’s why I’m glad I met Duane. In The Gift and the Curse, I was an actual character that I felt was inspiring and could have changed a few lives because it had to deal with a guy coming out. I liked it. The only part of acting that I per se was not a fan of was the call back process. When I would get into a call back room, I like to introduce myself and make friends with everyone. Call back settings, it’s very “fight or flight.” They’re there for one thing and one thing only and when you try to talk to them, it’s kind of, ‘Okay, I’m here as competition with you.’ I didn’t like that. I wanted to be surrounded by genuine people and I didn’t like that at all. With what I’m doing now and the opportunities that are presented to me now, it’s a lot different. It’s like everyone’s a little more happy. I don’t feel like I’ve got to compete with anybody. It’s one of these “we all grow together type things” and it’s more happy.

What type of roles did you want to play?

I like playing gay roles, but not necessarily stereotypical gay roles. I don’t want to always be the flamboyant gay best friend. I would prefer to be a more realistic character like someone who’s gay but still has the best of both worlds, family-oriented roles, a superhero, roles that show empowerment, roles that show you started from somewhere and you got to somewhere; just not roles where it looks like someone doesn’t have a future, or roles where this person doesn’t necessarily have anything going for themselves. You can’t be picky when you’re auditioning. You have to take what’s given to you.

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Describe when you had the idea for Tony Talks.

Tony Talks is actually a name that a friend gave to me. At some point in time, I wanted to be a talk show host. I definitely don’t want to do that now, but at some point in time I did. The idea behind that is to create opportunities for other people who are kind of like me. I want my platform to get really big so I can offer opportunities for other people who are either struggling to be themselves or had a point in life when they were struggling to be themselves, or just a place where you can smile. If you notice on my page, I don’t put politics, I don’t put things that are going on in the world other than Covid—of course, I add a little bit of comedy into that. I try to make it a place where you go, and you forget about all the negative stuff that’s going on. Just like Disney World, you can’t see any highways when you’re at Magic Kingdom. The reason for that is because they’re giving you the illusion that you’re at a whole other place. Like that’s why you have to take a whole tram there because they want you to feel like you’re at an escape. When you go to my page, I want you not to think about a lot of stuff that’s going on.

Let’s face it, you’re a guy, wearing wigs and playing mostly female characters, do you get a lot of hate and how do you deal with it?

I’ve been through different things of accepting myself that I just don’t have time to pay too much attention to it in a sense. It’s like if I done went through all this work to show the world myself with a wig on or me doing this or doing this. It doesn’t affect me. Not only that, I leave the comment up there. The reason being is because I have a really good support team. I’ll just let them handle it. I want people to see that you will get hate. It’s not something you can just avoid. It comes everywhere and it’s easier on the internet because it’s the internet. I don’t talk about anybody. I talk about myself. I make fun of myself in all of my videos. It’s my character against my character. To avoid problems, I don’t say any race in my videos. I don’t say I’m Black, white, Hispanic, nothing like that to avoid those types of discussions.

In the beginning when I started all of this, seeing a really good comment would be like, “Oh my God! Yeah. I’m doing the right thing,” and it would be confirmation to myself to keep going. It sucks that I was looking externally for that but at that time I was. Now, I look through a million positive comments and see something negative and that’s what would stand out. One word of something negative. Someone can type a whole paragraph and that wouldn’t stand out to me. I wanted to create a place for everyone (gay and straight) to kind of enjoy but I do sometimes get those backlashes.

Your characters don't have names. So how do you refer to them?

The reason why they don’t have names is because I use the same wig for multiple characters. I’ve seen a lot of different influencers get tied to one character. There’s a guy who I look up to and he was telling me how all they see is his character. They don’t want to see him on social media, they want to see “her.” I was telling him like one of the reasons I don’t give none of my characters names is because of that reason alone. I want to be able to play multiple characters. I want you to see like a range. There are obviously favorites that everybody loves but I try my hardest not to give names because I know that it’s not just this. I’m going to expand it to different things. I don’t want to get tied down to just one character because it limits you.

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What's up with the cone head shape and who inspired the sweeping hair motion and that walk?

My hair is pretty tall. When I first put the wig on, I didn’t think to pat it down. I just put it on and then when I saw a funny reaction from that I was like, “Okay, well, I’m gonna try to make it as high as I can.” And then boom. So, every character I try to elevate it a little bit to make me a little different.

When you’re editing a video, I feel like the sound is a big part, with movies sound engineering is a big part. So, I try to look for what I can to add just a little bit of a touch. I do a lot of different hair flips in these videos, so I figured let me make it a little bit spicy, even add a little something to it. That’s where that came from. Literally, I was looking through the sound things. At first, I was like, “What if she’s like a robot?” That’s kind of where that came from because it was like a rust noise from the robot turning her head. I don’t want to consistently make this person a robot, but I kept the noise. As for the walk, when I put on that wig is like a whole other person. It’s just a ratchet thing.

What's your formula for a funny video?

I create a relationship like mother-daughter. It has to be a relationship to start. After that it has to be a conflict. It doesn’t always have to be arguing but what I’ve noticed just from different reactions is that people like arguments and then they like over-exaggerated scenarios. So, I pick something that has happened to me or something that has happened to someone that I know, and I over-exaggerate it. Then I try to make unrealistic scenarios with the dialogue just a little bit. A big thing that I feel like makes my videos a little more comedic is the cuts. I feel like that’s a huge part of it because the attention span is very—well mine is very, very short. I feel as though, when you give someone something new to look at every so often then it’s like, “Oh my God. Wow, like I have to pay attention now because I didn’t see this earlier.” So, I feel it’s the cuts are what keep people engaged and the over-exaggerated scenarios. Then I try to add a sense of relatableness in it, just a little bit, so a part of you is like, ”This happened to me before.”

What do you hope to inspire by your content?

What I hope to inspire is that people are themselves, that they’re not hesitant. What I’ve noticed is I have inspired a lot of different people to either create videos or to just showcase who they are. With this whole pandemic this is truly the time for people to really show the world what they can do because we’re forced to watch. We’re at home. It’s a bad time. It is a whole pandemic. I mean the world is going crazy right now, but you can see light in this darkness. I feel like that is the purpose of Tony Talks and the purpose of my videos: to show people, take advantage of the negative moments, turn them around. If you smiled at this video that means you can smile at something else.

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What's in the future for Antonio Baldwin?

I know that I want to create opportunities. That’s my biggest thing. I’ve always had a mentor and every mentor that I have had other than Duane hasn’t necessarily been the best choice or hasn’t been a smart move. I feel like everyone could benefit from a mentor. What’s in the future for me is providing opportunities for younger individuals who need a mentor. For Tony Talks, I would like to create a family-oriented comedy show and or a skit-based type of show.

What advice would you give to a young queer person who hasn’t yet had their ‘aha moment’ or know how to recognize it?

To do everything because if you don’t know what you want to do, you haven’t done enough. Just explore the world, explore yourself. Take some time for you or get out of your house, get off your phone and find something that you like to do. The more life experiences you have I feel like the easier it is to answer that question.

What's the best piece of advice you never got?

It’s not necessarily advice but my first time when I went to Disney World, I went on a plane, terrified af. It was really bad turbulence when we were going through the clouds and I was holding onto my seat. Then when we got above it, it was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. It was really some movie-type stuff because it was nothing but just clouds. It was crazy because it looked terrible underneath. What I’ve learned from it is that no matter what is going on or if something seems extremely rough it’s always going to be bright on the other side of it. All you have to do is just make it there. My faith in myself and what I do has grown significantly over like the past year to a point where I got a whole tattoo on my arm that says, “Be yourself.”

If you didn’t have to worry about being successful, what would you do with your life?

My mindset is completely towards being successful, towards hurrying up and doing something, so I can take care of my family. So, I don’t know. I don’t know what I would be doing if I wasn’t trying to grow constantly.

Know a Freshfruit of the Week, send us your nominations and reasons why they should be selected to contact [at] freshfruitinc [dot] com with “FFOW Nominee” in the subject line.

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