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Media Personality Erica 'Comeback' Cobb Schools Us On Ownership & Career Redemption

Here's what to do when thriving is your only option.

BOSS UP

Nobody really needs yet another reminder that the past year or so has been rough. We have more than enough articles, blogs, podcasts, and social media updates to remind us daily that life can throw you some real curve balls, forcing you to either hit or strike out. But even when you strike out, there's always that next throw—that next chance—when you can always turn things around.

Media personality Erica Cobb has remixed the whole concept of a comeback into a revival of determination where you think, "What loss? Failure? Where?" As co-host of TEGNA's Daily Blast Live, host of her own platform, Comeback.TV, and co-host of podcast Who Cares What They Think, she unapologetically sits in her truth, whether tackling conversations about xenophobia and colorism or chatting with women about their biggest moments of redemption.

Cobb, who has more than 15 years of skin the media game, once faced an almost three-year battle with depression, financial hardship, and employment challenges after losing a very high-profile job. She eventually found a way to take her own career lemons and make them garnish for one hell of a comeback margarita, now hosting a nationally syndicated show and giving voice to women of color who have also beat the odds.

She sat down with xoNecole for an exclusive interview to tell us the how, when and why of that journey, and how you can be the comeback star of your own story:

Image by Kymora Jaxson Photography

xoNecole: You're an experienced media professional who, in addition to your day job, started your own platform, Comeback.TV. You've also continued balancing several projects throughout the pandemic. What has that experience been like?

Erica Cobb: I always like to say [that] the comeback is never over because if you're a growing person, there are obviously going to be some setbacks along the way that you're going to have to, you know, come back from. The interesting thing about just how I started this brand, I was really the antithesis of where everybody else in my life or my peers were. I seemingly was failing when everyone else was really thriving and what I noticed, especially in the beginning of the pandemic, I just sat down. I sat down with my husband, and we had a conversation. I'm like, I know that this is going to be a year of loss and a lot of lack, but I know that this is where I thrive. So, I'm anticipating really growing myself, my career, and this brand over the next year. And that's pretty much what happened.

I ramped up who I was having on my podcast. I made a completely separate social media supplement to the podcast so that people could get it where they were. A lot of my people are on Instagram and Facebook, so I wanted to make sure that I was meeting the moment with them. At the same time, I also had to think about growth and what people were asking for, and what they were really asking for was a voice that would be confident in not only representing them, but representing them as just normal people. So when Lindsey Granger, my co-host, and I were like, 'Hey, we have this time, let's create something,' the first thing I said was, 'If we're going to do this, we're going to see this thing out.' That's when we created [the podcast] Who Cares What We Think. We're almost a year into it now, and that has seen a lot of growth as well.

xoNecole: We're always fascinated with processes and the steps to things. Many of us get stuck because we don't really know the how-to of getting unstuck. So, what's your process in terms of motivating yourself to continue creating your own opportunities and pushing past obstacles.

Erica: Well, I want to be cognizant of not being like, "Well, this is what you should do and [what] everybody should do," [because] obviously not all of these things are going to work for everyone. The genesis of me having my studio and producing comeback was that I had gotten into this pattern where I was laid off about every three years—either my contract wasn't renewed or I just was no longer going to stay with a company.

What I promised to myself was that I was going to find a way to become self-sufficient, because you'll notice when things go left, when things are out of your control —like you're working for someone else and they lay you off, or you're in a situation where there may be one person who can do their job and your job, so now your job becomes obsolete—it's always someone else making those decisions. And six years ago, I decided that no one else was going to make those decisions for me.

When you say that, people generally are like, "OK, but you can't just quit? Are you independently wealthy?" And the answer's no. But when you have to [push through], you always do. So when I had to figure out how I was going to make money as a radio personality who didn't have a radio station to work at, that's when I switched the script. So I always say, look at what your gifts are and look at where your talents lie. What makes you a great candidate to a third party? Why do they want you as a part of their team?

And then really look at that gift for yourself. How can I do what I do best for my own brand and company? There is going to be a niche for you that you can be self-sufficient in. Find your gift that everyone seeks you out for, and then invest in yourself. And when I say invest, that does not mean money. Investing mostly in the beginning is going to mean your time.

xoNecole: So, true! Investing in yourself plays a big part in shifting the plan when there's a major career transition, and you've had several successful ones. What was the common factor that helped you ride through them all?

Erica: I used to own a hair extension company, and it was myself and a partner who was actually in the beauty industry for quite some time. I had decided I was going to do that full-time and take a break from media. So I did that for a couple of years, and we built this store and this brand, and it was something that I was really proud of. It was also the first time that I physically saw something be built from my work, you know. There was an aesthetic piece to it. What I learned from that was there are a lot of elements that certain industries, like health and beauty, [where] they will do these, you know, big conferences and continued education, and anything they needed in order to get new clients or to learn new techniques.

Being in that space made me think about the continuing of education. The truth is, if you're in media, there are so many things that the generation that's coming up behind us know. It's second nature to them—social media marketing, etc. All these things are second nature for them, but for me, it's not. So, it's the idea of always thinking about how you can continue your education and what that means.

The other thing is, I think that people do not give themselves grace, and they expect things to happen overnight.

I stepped away from a job where I had 1.8 million listeners every single morning, but when I started doing content, I was lucky if I got 18 views. And a lot of people made fun of me, and they were like, 'Oh, how the mighty has fallen.' But you know, at the end of the day, I have my own brand, and I was able to increase by 65 percent during a pandemic because I was used to doing this thing consistently and not caring how many people watched it or didn't watch.

So I think that's something that's important, too. Give yourself grace. Don't fall into that 'I'm embarrassed by what's not happening.' Be really proud of what you're able to do because eventually it's all gonna come together.

For more of Erica, follow her on Instagram.

Featured image by Kymora Jaxson Photography

You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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