Kalen Allen rose from obscurity to Youtube sensation, catching the eye of Ellen DeGeneres, who was so taken by his funny food reviews, she gave him a job on The Ellen Degeneres Show! It’s a fairy tale come true seemingly; however, the truth is that Allen has been preparing for his moment in the spotlight all his life, and his drive, passion, kind heart, and undeniable talent will certainly extend his newfound fame far beyond 15 minutes. Case in point, he just made his acting debut in the new film An American Pickle, starring Seth Rogen, and this week marks Allen’s debut as a recording artist as he releases his new album ‘For Christmas Sake.’
I have been a fan of Allen’s hilarious Kalen Reacts food reviews long before he landed his Ellen gig, and having met him now twice in person at industry events, I can surely say he is the real deal – down to earth and unfazed by fame while understanding the power it yields when applied to issues that can make a better society. I was so pleased when Kalen accepted my invitation to be interviewed via Zoom! It was a blast, and I now invite YOU to read highlights of our spirited conversation.
The Interview with Kalen Allen:
CA: Hello there.
KA: Hi, Corey. How are you?
CA: I’m good, Thanks, How are you?
KA: I’m blessed and highly favored!
CA: So …you’re in LA, right? I’m in New York, about 10 minutes outside of Manhattan.
KA: Oh! Can we trade? I’d rather live in New York!
CA: Nooooo, she’s soooo closed down right now. Like there’s nothing but tumbleweeds at the moment – but after covid-19, yaaas, come hang out! So, Kalen, I’m so excited to talk about your new Christmas album! Is singing a new passion for you, or were you always interested in music?
KA: I went to school at Temple University, with a theater and film double major so I sang my entire life, and I’ve done over 50 musicals. Around March, at the start of the pandemic, I was like, I guess I’ll sing a little more now. I started doing Disney songs on my social platforms. Then it hit me, very much like how I came up with the idea of doing my food videos. I just had a feeling with the food videos, and I was like, I’m going to make a video about making cornbread and put it online.
In March, I just had that feeling again like, mmmm, you should do a Christmas album …and so I began to work on it.
CA: Is it an album of covers or originals?
KA: There are only two covers; ‘Noel – O Holy Night’ is a medley, and ‘Santa Baby’ – the rest of the songs are all originals.
CA: Oh, my goodness. I’m not sure why I thought it was a cover album.
KA: Oh, No. We have the song ‘Christmas lives within you’ that features a duet with MJ Rodriguez from Pose. We have Alex Newell on the album as well. Most people know Alex from Glee. So I’m very excited.
CA: Wow, heavy hitters. Alex and MJ both can saaang!
KA: (Laughs) Okaaay! So I had to call in, yes!
CA: And did you have a co-writer on the songs?
KA: ‘Christmas Lives within you’ I wrote on my own. ‘Santa Slay’ and ‘For Christmas Sake’ were actually written by my vocal coach. She presented them to me and asked me if I liked them. I was like, oh, yes, I think this is sick! And that’s how we did it.
CA: Wow, that’s amazing. As a songwriter myself, I know “Christmas” is not an easy genre to write in, so I commend you. As I think about your trajectory to success, in addition to music, you just did a movie with a bit of irony. It’s your acting debut in the new Seth Rogen film…
CA: So the irony – I’ve seen in your food videos, you hate pickles.
KA: Yes, I do not like pickles.
CA: I know, it’s literally your least favorite food, but ironically, your film debut is called An American pickle. Tell me about it and what’s your role in the film?
KA: Yes, I am in An American Pickle, which stars Seth Rogen, and it came out a couple of months ago on HBO. I play a character– Kevin, who is very integral in helping Seth’s character start his pickle business in Brooklyn, New York. His character dies after falling into a pickle brine. He was in a coma for a hundred years. He comes out of it and wakes up in a gentrified Brooklyn and then decides to start a pickle business. My character helps him do that.
Making the movie was absolutely amazing, and a lot of the dialogue is ad-libs. It’s basically me doing Kalen Reacts – but in a movie.
CA: So are you looking to take on Hollywood next and become a “serious” actor?
KA: Yeah, I have never been a person fearful of trying new things and allowing myself to be more than one thing. I always allow myself to be multifaceted. Like recently, I told everyone that I was revamping all of my content; after everything that had gone on during the pandemic and with Black Lives Matter.
But People started telling me just to shut up and entertain them, but I was like, absolutely not. For me, as a black, gay man, I’m not going to sacrifice who I am, my identity, my people, and my culture just so that you can laugh, and I can get a check. I’m not willing to do that. We need to find a way to entertain and educate people at the same time. I cannot be silenced, and I’m interested in more than to simply sit there and make you laugh.
CA: Right! That’s a court jester.
KA: Exactly, and art is political. I don’t consider myself a comedian. I consider myself a comedic entertainer. People will ask, why did you want to tell jokes, or how did you become so funny, and my answer is always trauma. Trauma is what makes me funny. It was a coping mechanism. It was how I survived growing up in Kansas as a gay man and in school. It was like, as long as I can make people laugh and keep them entertained, they left me alone.
CA: Yes. I know exactly what you mean. I had a similar existence growing up. But speaking of Kansas though, when I think of Kansas, I think of Dorothy, cornfields, and tornados – I don’t think of black folks.
KA: (laughs) Wait, well, you know Janelle Monae? We grew up in the same town!
CA: OK, wait a minute now.Whaaaaat? Okaaaay Kansas!
KA: Yes, Janelle Monae and I grew up in the same exact City. So when she was going to school at Schlagle high school. I was living down the street in Wyandotte County, and the neighborhood was all black. We have our little pockets here and there, yes, with the tornados – but without all the corn, though.
CA: OK. I never really hear of many black people being from Kansas. However, that’s probably just me being ignorant by saying something so silly (laughs). But I thought I’d put it out there because that’s what I do. Beyond this Christmas album. Do you have any plans for another album? Like, are you gonna call up Beyonce for the next one?
KA: Many people have asked me about that, and it has crossed my mind. If I were to do it, it would not be an album that fits into what music is today. If I were to do it, it would be very 90s R&B or funk and very nostalgic because that’s the music that I listen to – Mariah Carey, Toni Braxton, and Beyonce, etc. I think I would want to dive back into those art forms. The luxury I have is that because I’m not an aspiring recording artist, my livelihood is not dependent on any music sales. I’m doing it based on what I’m passionate about.
CA: Yes, and you’re also passionate about certain organizations. I met you first at the GLAAD Awards in 2019, and then again when you were hosting the Oasis event in New York City to benefit the Ali Forney Center.
KA: Yes, everything I do is for representation and visibility, especially as a black, queer person. There were few examples in the mainstream media where I could say, “Oh, that’s who I want to be when I grow up.” I get tired of the idea of trying to find a seat at the table, and what I am trying to do with the platform that I’ve been given and my opportunities is to build that table. Like here you go, I’ve already made the seats for you to sit here. You do not have to keep knocking on doors, trying to get people to see who you are beyond who people have told you you are. Even with this Christmas album, I’m working on partnering with organizations to perform virtual concerts and raise money for LGBTQ +youth, especially around the holiday season.
I wrote ‘Christmas Lives within’ you because I didn’t go home for Christmas the year after I came out publicly. I was nervous about how my family would act. So I actually flew to New York and spent Christmas there instead. I had some of my friends come through Airbnb, and we cooked, and we had dinner. Still, I realized my privilege in that. I was able to afford to do that. Then I thought about all the other youth and all the other families who may not have the option to go home for Christmas at all. When you see the video treatments for the album, it very much centers on queer people in a narrative of the holidays.
CA: You are an inspiration to so many young people but the older generations as well. I think you’re an example of just being your true authentic self and letting the rest fall into place unapologetically. I want to thank you for that.
KA: Thank you. I appreciate that.
CA: You’re very welcome. Lastly, for your Christmas album, you said there would be videos?
KA: Yaaaas, (Laughs) we goin’ on full Lemonade baby!
CA: (Laughs) All right now, Beyonce!’ Don’t be smashing up the windows at Christmas time. Maybe wear that yellow gown tho – but no vandalism!
KA: (Laughs) OK, OK!
CA: We appreciate your time talking to us today, Kalen. Cheers!
*Written excerpt has been modified from original audio, for structural consideration. Watch the full Instinct Magazine interview below / Join Kalen’s 1.3 million instagram followers here.