Brow Beat

Isiah Whitlock, Jr. on His New Kickstarter Campaign and Embracing “Sheee-it” 


Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images

A few months ago, Isiah Whitlock, Jr. took to social media to debut a funny, bizarre project of deliberately vague intentions called “The Whitlock Academy.” In a short video, the actor, perhaps best known as Sen. Clay Davis from The Wire, instructed students on the art of properly saying his infamous catchphrase: “Sheee-it.”

Since then, a few more quirky videos have followed, including an amusing reunion with his Wire co-star Jamie Hector (who played Marlo Stanfield). And Thursday, Whitlock announced a new Kickstarter Project in hopes of bringing his particular set of skills to a wider audience—via a talking bobble head. I spoke with Whitlock, who is currently filming a remake of Disney’s Pete’s Dragon in New Zealand, via phone.

So tell me a little bit about this Kickstarter project you just launched. What was the inspiration for it?

Well you know, it really started back around last summer in July. I kinda realized this whole thing with me saying “sheee-it” in the Spike Lee films and in the show The Wire and stuff like that—everywhere I went I would run into people, sometimes two, three, four times a day, wanting me to say this catchphrase. So it kind of dawned on me, I said to myself, “I don’t think this is ever going away.” Which, I have to admit, David Simon told me when we finished The Wire, he said: “You know you’re going to have to live with that.” And I didn’t quite understand what he was talking about at the time. But I do now. … And it took me a little while to kind of embrace it. But once I did embrace it, I thought well, I can have a little fun with it.

So we put together this whole thing on Kickstarter to present the dolls. And this summer I was at a friend’s house, and I saw this bobble head doll of a football player. And that’s where I got the idea, I said, you know, I think it might be time to have a bobblehead doll that says sheeeyit. And that’s what I did.

Was The Whitlock Academy meant as a precursor to the bobblehead?

What we wanted to do with that was to generate some interest and just sort of measure the climate a little bit as far as just how interested people were. But the Whitlock Academy and the videos we did for The Whitlock Academy came out so well, that we felt this leading in to the bobble head would be great. And right now when I look at it, they’re kind of two separate things. But they both help one another.

Now, you started using “sheee-it” in the Spike Lee films. Was that something David Simon asked you to incorporate into The Wire?

No … if they did, they never sat down and told me “This is what we’re planning on doing.” But there were opportunities in the script to do it. Sometimes it would be written in the script. Sometimes I would request it. It always felt like if they didn’t like it, they could just cut it out. But it did start to work very, very well in The Wire. And I think that’s when it became really popular …

But you know, I always sort of stress that it wasn’t just something I was randomly throwing around. I really strategically wanted to [decide] where these things were placed to have the biggest effect. And I think that is what the appeal is: where it shows up, and in what situation or what circumstances it shows up, that kind of heightens that moment. 

You could easily be out there just throwing the word around but it just wouldn’t fit.

It’s great that you’re learning to embrace this phrase … How did you come up with it in the first place?

I wish I could say I was that brilliant to come up with this idea, but it was one of those situations [where] when I was growing up, my uncle would do that all the time. And I would always be fascinated by just the way he would say it, and when he would say it. Sometimes, you know, he would be really upset, sometimes he would be overjoyed. But it was the way that it always came out that always stuck it in the back of my mind.

So now fast forward to when I started acting. I still never used it, but when I did the Spike Lee films, I remember we were playing around with it and I said it, and Spike decided to use it. And I really have to give him the credit of getting it out there. … But he had requested it and so I did it, and the rest is history.