Urban dictionary defines the word “read” (for those not engulfed in the world of reality TV, black Twitter, or social media for that matter) as an action meaning “to tell someone about themself.”
Anyone who has ever given a “read” knows its mastery lies in mixing the right dose of sarcasm with satire. Perhaps this is why Tré Melvin has amassed a following of more than 3.2 million subscribers and 300 million video views worldwide on YouTube.
His channel, “This Is A Commentary”, appropriately titled, has grown into a platform for showcasing Melvin’s arguably hilarious - yet unfiltered opinions on anything from dating and sex life to race relations. His "reads" often come out in his characters whose duality is flamboyant yet educational. When asked whether he would define himself as a comedian, Melvin will quickly tell you what he's not.
“I don’t categorize myself as a comedian – I just happen to create comedic content because that was the easiest thing for me to create coming up on YouTube…I've always been an actor and I just so happened to be sharing a little bit of my talent on YouTube,” says Melvin.
Melvin prides himself on the fact that he grew up in theater and has studied it most of his life. He is among the ranks of creators like Issa Rae (“The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl”) and Numa Perrier and Dennis Dortch (Black&Sexy TV) who have successfully leveraged YouTube as a platform to create online content based on the Black experience.
Rae, Perrier and Dortch have in recent years made the leap from the web into mainstream TV. In 2015, BET picked-up three Black&Sexy TV web series' from Perrier and Dortch. Rae just wrapped up her first season of “Insecure”, the adaptation of her web series “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl,” on HBO.
This year Melvin is expected to launch a clothing line and release his debut studio album. He’s also planning to do more theater projects.
And while his YouTube videos seem to be paving the way to mainstream - (actress Raven-Symoné referenced his alter-ego Watermelondrea and caught flack for stating that she would never hire someone with that name) - Melvin’s subscribers have had the unique opportunity of getting schooled by his various personalities while simultaneously witnessing his real life transformations.
"Stereotypes aren’t necessarily bad. But, stereotypes that oppress a group of people systematically and institutionally - that’s bad." - Tré Melvin
Hours before he rang in the new year of 2014, Melvin came out as bisexual on his YouTube channel in a video titled "My New Years Resolution." He released part two of that video in January - confirming to his audience that his coming out as bisexual has shifted the nature of his content. Already a successful YouTuber, Melvin acknowledges he knew the possibility of losing some of his subscribers but decided to no longer “run” from who he was after 21 years of avoiding his truth.
"Although coming out was clearly a huge risk, the response from my audience was mainly positive, " says Melvin.
He’s quick to let his viewers know straight-up that he’s not the same Tré they knew three years ago.
"I’ve learned after coming out that the world is going to f***ing judge you and you have no place to judge anyone else ever,” says Melvin. “So there [are] things obviously that we used to laugh about that really aren’t funny and that affect a multitude of people. Stereotypes aren’t necessarily bad. But, stereotypes that oppress a group of people systematically and institutionally - that’s bad."
Melvin’s purge on his channel has not just become a voice of support for his LGBT viewers, but has seemingly positioned him to address the complexities and criticisms that come with being an openly bisexual male in the black community.
In his “What Is A Man” video, he "claps back" at a negative comment on social media that questioned his manhood due to his sexual identity.
Melvin's evolution also sheds light on the challenge to black creators of striking a balance between being entertaining while not reinforcing stereotypes. Melvin believes it's a responsibility that shouldn't be forced on all creators, but that he has personally chosen to embrace for his own content.
“A white person can look at my videos and laugh and turn off their computers and go back to their daily lives and not even realize that what they were laughing at, that it kind of enforces the stereotype of black people and black women.”
He praises other creators who are bringing to light these issues, but also recognizes the pressures of getting of likes, clicks, and page subscriptions.
“Our voices will get drowned so easily in other voices. And it’s so easy for us to want to succumb to doing the same type of sh*t that our white counterparts do," says Melvin. "We just have such strong voices and there are so many creators who are afraid to use those voices to their full effect. The only way for these conversations to thrive is by making people uncomfortable.”
With all that he has learned as a content creator - and human being - the greatest lesson he shares from building success on YouTube is the importance of consistency.
“I’m growing with the people that are growing from me. I’m growing too. And in order to continue growing, I have to stay consistent.”