'Mad Black Men': Yes, There Were Black People In '60s Advertising : Code Switch As a black graphic designer, Xavier Ruffin wanted to like the show Mad Men, but was disappointed with its portrayal of black people. His Web series Mad Black Men is part spoof, part dramedy.

'Mad Black Men': Yes, There Were Black People In '60s Advertising

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It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath.

Xavier Ruffin was excited for the 2007 premiere of "Mad Men." Ruffin was a young graphic designer, and here was a show about his world.

XAVIER RUFFIN: I wanted to be a fan of it when it first came out. I just had my own personal differences - not liking the way blacks were represented in their universe. I just couldn't get over it.

RATH: Instead of getting over it, he decided to create his own series - "Mad Black Men."


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (As character) Welcome to the Colored marketing department.

RATH: The new web series just premiered on the video sharing site DailyMotion.


RATH: In the famous animated opening sequence to "Mad Men," a silhouetted figure walks into an office, which falls apart, pieces tumbling to the ground.


RUFFIN: I just took a different approach to it and said, OK, so if the furniture falls down, someone has to clean it back up because every episode, it falls down again. So one of our characters - Rufus - who is both the janitor and Colored Campaigns accountant...


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (As Rufus) What the...

RUFFIN: ...he comes in and cleans up the mess. And he has a little quip to say every time.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (as Rufus) I ain't cleaning this up twice.

RATH: "Mad Men," of course, takes place in the world of Sterling Cooper and focuses on the lead character Don Draper.

RUFFIN: Our world is kind of like a parallel universe of sorts. So we're at Sterlin Copper - that's sterling without the G - and our protagonist is Ron Rapper, who's a, you know, a hot shot ad executive making a name for himself in the New York scene. It's just that when he shows up to places, people are thrown off by the fact that he is a non-white.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (As Judy) There was a misprint in the ad. We already have a custodian. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (As Ron Rapper) I'm sorry. You may have misunderstood me. I am here for the more lucrative position.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (As Judy) Security, this is Judy. You're needed on the 21st floor. Yeah. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (As Ron Rapper) Wait a minute.

RATH: We should explain how this is set up because it - this is not sort of like a Funny or Die kind of web parody. You do it with sort of high production values. It looks like it could be of that time period, and there are jokes there, but it's generally played kind of straight.

RUFFIN: Yeah. It's more of a dramedy than it is like a "Naked Gun 33 1/3"-type of parody because I feel like that's what's really popular on the Internet right now. What I wanted to do is kind of cater to people who were interested in "Mad Men," and I wanted to give them a different lens to look at that universe through. I did want to be a bit funny, maybe a little bit more silly than what "Mad Men" is, just to admit that we're poking fun at something.

RATH: Which brings us to the world of the "Mad Black Men." Basically, we have the main character, Ron Rapper, who's brought in to head the Colored marketing department. And they basically work out of a broom closet.

RUFFIN: Yes, this is true. Basically, they're working on what this ad agency feels are minority-specific clientele. So the first client that they're working with is Mississippi Melons.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: (as Mississippi Melons) I want you to make the lips and the nose a lot bigger because right now our character isn't black enough.

RUFFIN: So they're working on these racially insensitive campaigns that are being handed down to them by just racially insensitive bosses.

RATH: Now, Matt Weiner, who created "Mad Men," he's been criticized for not having more black people on the show. He said that basically there were no black people in advertising back then, and there still aren't to this day. How do you respond to that?

RUFFIN: There are black people in advertising. There have been black people in advertising. There isn't a great amount of representation, but we do exist, and we are here.

RATH: So on the show, on the "Mad Men" show in recent seasons, there's been a bigger role for Dawn, the black woman who's the secretary of Don Draper. But there's been nobody of color on the creative side. Who are some of the black advertising creatives that you look up to?

RUFFIN: Well, the first person that comes to mind is Georg Olden, who was a very high-profile figure in the 1960s. He actually designed the Clio Award that Don wins in season four. And, like, he won way more than Don ever won. Caroline Jones, whose story actually mirrors Peggy Olson's. She was a secretary who became a copywriter who ended up owning her own firm. So, yeah, there's more than just a few people of color that were working and operating at a high capacity during the "Mad Men" era.

RATH: So the final season of "Mad Men" is going to be kicking off in April, but you just got started on "Mad Black Men." So where are you going to go from here? Where do you want to take this?

RUFFIN: Well, I can't divulge those secrets just yet. But we do have right now a five-season arc planned out. We've been looking into different real-life figures that we could model Ron's career trajectory after. Ron could have a great career or Ron could go the wayside, because you never know as a, you know, as a black man, it's real. Anything could happen at any time.

RATH: Xavier Ruffin is a graphic designer and the creator of a new web spoof called "Mad Black Men." Thanks for your time today. Great talking with you.

RUFFIN: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

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