Sometimes you build a business because you just don’t have another option. That’s how Akintunde and Eunissa Warnock felt when a huge shift in Akintunde’s entertainment career required a whole new way to work — and support their five children.
So their sixth baby, Warnock Family Media Group, was born.
They talked with OrangeWIP about turning his international comedy career into a Columbia-based family business. And family makes it easier, right?
Tell us about the evolution and organization of your business.
Under Warnock Family Media Group is Healthy Laughter, which brings comedy to health disparity awareness.
The Assignment Agency is our talent booking brand. It came out many years ago, when I was a comedian and transitioning from my comedy club days to Christian, clean comedy.
I didn't have managers who knew how to do that, so Eunissa became my manager. I really kinda twisted her arm.
And then she got very proficient at it. Before we knew it, other people were asking her to book them, and it just became a thing. So, we had to form an entity to respond to the demand.
So you “volun-told” her to be your manager?
Akintunde: Well, I would say, “volun-coerced.”
Eunissa: Yeah, like, “If you want to eat, you’d better do this.”
Akintunde: I had the knowledge, but I knew I couldn't do it myself. We had days where she was on the phone and I would be right beside her saying, “Say this…no, not that.” I’m sliding her notes on paper—
Eunissa: Holding up signs—
Akintunde: I mean, it’s some really funny stuff.
You were touring and appearing on television. Why did you leave all of that?
Eunissa: He found Jesus Christ and committed his life to Christianity. And so, you know, his set at the time was, uh, R-rated. A solid R.
Akintunde: Everybody doesn't have to do this, but I personally had to leave the club system totally because of the material that I was doing at the time.
Eunissa: And our marriage was really, really rocky during that time. I just knew the way we were going, we needed a change anyway. So when he came home and he was just like, okay, this is what I'm doing, I said, okay, God, how are we gonna do this?
You had essentially cut off your income stream and had to completely rethink your network.
Eunissa: Yes. People thought we were crazy, because, by the way, we had five children. So even though I had a degree, I wasn't using it.
Akintunde: We didn’t know how much opportunity there was in the clean comedy industry until we actually made that step into it.
But even with that, the big challenge was people taking me seriously. I still had content out there on a number of channels that everybody watches, saying things that contradicted me coming to minister or doing comedy at your church event.
So, from an entrepreneurial standpoint, we had to really figure it out. We had to build business models and come up with a lot of creative and different branding strategies.
For instance, it used to cost a lot to send out promotional DVDs, and one guy let one sit at his desk for three weeks. So, we learned to create a mailing label with a photograph of me holding the addressee info. A big image of this big black dude holding the sign would prompt people to open our packages.
Eunissa, how did you build your entertainment management skills?
Eunissa: For contracts, I did a lot of online research and asked our industry contacts to share examples. I would have to Google, what does “perpetuity” mean as it relates to content? Along the way I just created a dictionary of things I needed to know in order to negotiate these contracts and have articulate conversations with people who were way above my pay grade.
But, it worked out. In fact, when they needed a contract with Viacom for Akintunde to become head writer on comedian Mo’Nique’s BET talk show, I negotiated his contract. An attorney looked it over and said it was just right.
Akintunde: You knew what you were doing and what to ask for. In the end, you negotiated to get us even more money.
When (Eunissa) is sweating, she sweats on her back. As a joke she’d say, “I did it with my back wet.” But nobody else in the room could see that.
What is Eunissa’s superpower that made that happen?
Eunissa: Hunger. I mean, you have five mouths to feed: actual hunger.
How did other family members become involved in the business?
Eunissa: They were a part of it from the beginning.
When we were burning and packaging DVDs, the kids would be lined up on the floor and we were like, “Okay, this is a craft project!” You had to know which child had a really steady hand, because putting that label on wrong would ruin the DVD. You can't sell that.
Then we taught our children how to do inventory. Sometimes they would come with us to the show, so they learned how to handle money and explain the product to people. They were learning logistics and, and show-running and things of that sort.
And then our second oldest son got a bachelor's degree in digital film and videography, and does graphic design and animation, so he has just taken everything we've done to another level.
What’s next for you?
Akintunde: Right now, we’re in a transitional period. We’ve opened part of our new studio facility and still have a lot of renovating to do. And we’re producing more streaming events for our clients, including Denny’s Corporation, which we were forced to learn how to do due to Covid.
How do you deal with conflicts, especially given that it’s both business and family?
Akintunde: How do we do that?
Eunissa: We never have any disagreements. [laughter]
Well, it’s interesting. I try as best I can to lean into what Akintunde is trying to do, because he really is the visionary behind all this. I think he probably sees me like he's the horse, and I'm like the rider with the reigns. That's great. I'll wake up and he’s sent me six emails with ideas he wants to do, and I'm like, “So how are we gonna pay for that? Let's talk.”