Atlanta comic Desi Banks sets unique path with authenticity and originality

The actor hilariously captures the southern Black experience in viral videos across social media

Nearly five years ago, actor and comedian Desi Banks received a last-minute request to drive from Atlanta to Birmingham to perform a five-minute comedy set in front of about 500 people during a karaoke night.

The unexpected invitation came from Rickey Smiley, the renowned jokester and radio host of the popular Atlanta-based “Rickey Smiley Morning Show.” The veteran funny man also happened to be hosting the event.

“It was basically like a test. He wanted to see if I was going to do it,” recalled Banks. “I went down, and he gave me the opportunity. It went good for me, and I was like I can do it. I can transition to stand-up.”

Although it was one of his first live audiences, he’d been making multitudes laugh for years on another stage — social media.

With a whopping 12 million followers across Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, the 28-year-old has spent the last nine years building a loyal fanbase eager to watch his next viral video. Banks writes, produces and acts in a variety of sketches and shorts, using observational comedy to bring humor to everyday situations.

In nearly every skit, he hilariously captures the southern Black experience with help from the characters he’s created and portrays, including Uncle Earl, Grandma and the infamous Parlay, an unseen companion frequently referenced by Banks.

The Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence influences are clear. Scroll through one of his social media accounts and you’ll find one of his personas sitting at the gas station playing numbers, rapping in an old school music video or hanging — or arguing — with a girlfriend.

“It’s literally magic,” comedian Pretty Vee said during an episode of the Dope People Meet podcast earlier this year. She often plays the girlfriend in skits with Banks. “When someone works outside the box, it’s awesome ... It’s fun to work with someone that gets it. We’re just being authentic.”

For Banks, it’s all about “keeping it real.”

“I like all of my characters, because all of them are truthful. They are a form of where I’m from,” Banks told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “All of them are real people that I either grew up with or that I was inspired by growing up as a kid.”

Born and raised in Atlanta, the Cedar Grove High School graduate spent his adolescence on the east side. His knack for comedy was evident to those around him, but his dreams of football stardom initially took him down a different career path.

A wide receiver for Morehead University and later Georgia State University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in sociology, Banks kept his teammates and coaches in stitches. Sports was his main focus in college, but he experimented with comedy after a friend suggested he give it a try.

He posted his first ever sketch on Vine, the now-defunct social media platform for six-second videos. Paying homage to his hometown even then, Banks expertly portrayed the unique way Atlantans give directions. It was an instant hit.

“The first video I ever did went viral, and that’s when I was like, ‘You know what? This may be something,’” Banks said.

Dozens of acting classes, thousands of videos and droves of supporters later, Banks and his company, Desi Banks Productions, are now household names. It’s not unlikely for him to be stopped on the street for a picture while on the go.

“It happens every time we’re around each other. I’ve been with him at least on 10 occasions this year, and it’s every five minutes,” said actor and producer Jock McKissic, who encouraged Banks to begin acting classes and has worked with him on two films. “I’ve been on a few popular things like ‘Your Honor’ and ‘Queen of the South.’ When I’m out, sometimes I’m recognized, but it’s nowhere near the amount that he is. The growth that I’ve seen him make in the seven years I’ve known him is tremendous. The way that he handles himself in public when he meets people ... he’s always genuine.”

Despite pivoting to a different profession, Banks hasn’t had to forfeit his love for sports. He has starred in campaigns for the Atlanta Hawks, Atlanta Braves and Atlanta Falcons. He even co-hosted the NFL’s official season opening watch party earlier this year.

Banks is a part of a class of social media sensations using the internet to snag endorsement deals, land TV and movies roles and build lucrative entertainment careers. B. Simone, DC Young Fly and Druski, fellow Atlantans who are also a few of Bank’s frequent collaborators, are “future stars,” he said.

“A lot of people from social media don’t do stand-up. There are only a few,” Banks elaborated. “That’s the light that needs to be shined on our generation.”

The comedy greats are beginning to thrust Banks further into the limelight. Aside from Smiley, Banks has shared stages with Bruce Bruce, Bill Bellamy, Tony Rock, DeRay Davis and Earthquake, and he was recently tapped for a multi-city comedy tour with Mike Epps, who described Banks as a “young comedy hitta” on Instagram.

“The biggest thing for me is working with somebody that I watched growing up and not knowing that one day I would be working with this guy,” Banks said. “Doing stand-up in front of 10,000, 15,000 people who have never seen you really inspires you. I feel like God puts you in places just to let you know what’s touchable.”

This year marks his fifth year in stand-up comedy and 2022 will be his 10th as a social media personality. This year also marks his second as a father. His son was born in spring 2020.

“Becoming a dad shifted my whole mindset with everything. Every decision that I make now, I have to think about my family,” Banks explained. “I love being a dad.”

Of all of the people he’s inspired, he wants his little one to feel his impact the most. He’s already prepared to give him some powerful lessons about life.

“I want him to know you have to work for everything. You can have whatever you want. As long as you work for it and put the work ethic in it, you can do it,” he said. “I don’t want him to be a comedian just because I do it. I want him to do whatever he wants to do and be the best at it.”

For now, he’s enjoying teaching his baby how to walk and talk, and later on, Banks will probably have to show him how to use the remote control to find his old man on TV. While Banks plans to keep the jokes coming, he wants to crack them for the big and small screens.

So far, he’s appeared in flicks such as “Merry Wishmas,” produced by Terri J. Vaughn; “Little,” the fantasy comedy starring Marsai Martin and Regina Hall; and his latest “Haunted Trail,” a horror film available on Amazon Prime and BET+.

In October, he signed with CAA, a major talent agency with a client roster that includes Zendaya and Ava DuVernay. You might have recently spotted him in a new Google commercial about Black-Owned Friday, featuring T-Pain and Normani, thanks to the deal.

“That’s life-changing,” Banks said. “I’ve been on social media since 2012. It’s time to see me in longer sketches and more movies. I’m coaching myself to be more a part of that environment. That’s going to separate me from me just being a social media influencer.”

“He’s a star,” McKissic said. “He’s not just a comedian or social media guy. He’s an actor.”

Banks undoubtedly has a winning formula. His authenticity and relatability, he said, is what sustains him.

“When you know you can be you and accepted by everybody, you’re in a good place,” he said. “I know I’ve found what is meant for me.”

About the Author

Editors' Picks