Baratunde Thurston is a technology-loving comedian from the future who cares enough about the world to engage with it politically. Yes, he votes. Regularly. With an ancestry that includes a great-grandfather who taught himself to read, a grandmother who was the first black employee at the U.S. Supreme Court building and a mother who took over radio stations in the name of the black liberation struggle, Baratunde has long been taught to question authority. It helps that he was raised in Washington, D.C. under crackhead Mayor Marion Barry.
His creative and inquisitive mind, forged by his mother’s lessons and polished by a philosophy degree from Harvard, have found expression in the pages of Fast Company, on the sound waves of NPR, and on the screens of networks such as CNN, MSNBC, BBC, Al Jazeera and roughly one bajillion podcasts. He hosted TakePart Live on Pivot TV and shows on Discovery Science Channel, Yahoo, and AOL.
Far from simply appearing in media, Baratunde is also helping define its future. In 2006 he co-founded Jack & Jill Politics, a black political blog whose coverage of the 2008 Democratic National Convention has been archived by the Library Of Congress. From 2007 to 2012, he helped bring one of America’s finest journalistic institutions into the future, serving as Director of Digital for The Onion. He’s an affiliate at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society and a director’s fellow at the MIT Media Lab. His book, How To Be Black, was published in February 2012 and is a New York Times bestseller.
Baratunde is constantly experimenting with creative expression on digital platforms. He was named Foursquare Mayor of the Year for holding a real-world rally to defend his virtual mayorship. In the summer of 2012, he co-founded Cultivated Wit, a startup which crafts creative marketing campaigns centered around humor and authentic storytelling. They have worked with a number of prestigious clients, including BBC America, GE, Google, Viacom and Whole Foods.
His wide range of experience and activity has earned him an equally wide range of praise. The ACLU of Michigan honored him “for changing the political and social landscape one laugh at a time.” He was nominated for the Bill Hicks Award for Thought Provoking Comedy. The Root named him to its list of “100 most influential African Americans,” and Fast Company listed him as one of the “100 Most Creative People In Business.” Then-candidate Barack Obama called him “someone I need to know,” and YouTube user “mooospot” referred to him as a “dumbass liberal crackhead welfare sucker.” He accepts each of these honors with equal humility.
Baratunde travels the world, speaking and advising on the subjects of our digital future and storytelling, satire and democracy, and race and politics. He has spoken at countless universities, and organizations as well as delivered keynotes at South by Southwest, the Guardian Changing Media Summit, and more. In May 2011, he spoke at the presidential palace in Tbilisi, Georgia (the country) on the role of satire in a healthy democracy, and he has advised The White House on digital strategy and public engagement.
Baratunde resides in Brooklyn, lives on Twitter and has over 30 years’ experience being black.
"Baratunde was a hit in Cleveland. Like, truly. Our attendees LOVED him. He was our first plenary speaker and it was such a great way to kick of our Conference. His remarks hit home for us and tied so nicely into the themes we were addressing at the Conference, around engagement, equity and inclusion. Couldn’t have gone any better! He also had the longest book-selling line of any of our speakers. "- Theatre Communications Group
"Baratunde was terrific, start to finish - smart, funny, prepared and professional. We had tons of compliments throughout the night on his hosting."- Integrated Marketing Director, ADWEEK
"He was absolutely awesome. I can't tell you how much we appreciated you moving heaven and earth to get him there for the end of our day. Please tell him we are overjoyed, he is wonderful."- Senior Program Officer Media Rights & Access, Ford Foundation
"He is one of the smartest, most real, most creative people I have met. A++++"- GM, AOL Original Video
"The feedback we've gotten from Beam employees has been extremely positive. We so appreciate you coming to Chicago to share your expertise and humor with everyone. Your presentation was fantastic. It was engaging, funny, and compelling. The social media teams really loved the content and gave them a lot to think about. Thanks for being a part of our session. "- Beam Inc.
"Baratunde was beyond our expectations. He was funny, inspiring, and poignant. As a testament to his impact, lawyers, who don’t wait in line for anyone, queued up for 45 minutes so that they could get their books signed. We couldn’t have been happier. He really set the tone for the fantastic day of work that followed. "- Chief of Staff, Verna Myers Consulting Group