Published Oct 29, 2019
Meet the Black Tribbles
These podcasters out of Philly have plenty to say on Star Trek, pop culture, and, of course, Tribbles.
By George Carmona
Streaming live every Thursday night from 9-11pm, from their starbase WPPM 106.5 FM/PhillyCam.org, with over 400 episodes focusing on geek culture, covering your favorite pop culture comics, cartoons, movies, and tv shows through the very distinctive lens of people of color, this group of superfans are known as The Black Tribbles. Their award-winning podcast/radio show out of Philadelphia is led by podcast super-producer Len Webb (The Bat Tribble), and consists of nerd experts/hosts, Kennedy Allen (Storm Tribble), Erik Darden (Master Tribble), Randy Green (SuperTribble), Ariell Johnson (the Uncanny Tribble), and Isaiah Luck (Super Saiyan Tribble.)
I first became aware of the Tribbles at Star Trek 50, the 50th anniversary convention in New York City. We were on Attack of the Khan, a two day competition panel, that had teams battling to figure out which of the Star Trek shows were the best. In the spirit of competition, I went to scope out the Tribbles on their two other panels to give me an insight to my opponents.
Their first panel was Star Trek into Blackness, a showcase of Trek’s Black characters, followed by a meta-conversation with David Gerrold, writer of “The Trouble with Tribbles.” Their ever-growing fan base The Tribble Nation lets fans interact with them at cons or online by choosing a designation based on their personal geek passion, and folks do have fun with it. Trek luminary Nichelle Nichols went with ‘Queen Tribble,’ while Deep Space Nine guest star (“The Visitor”) Tony Todd chose ‘Shaka Zulu Tribble.’ Other celebrities have gotten in on the fun as well, like Erika Alexander (Desert Rose Tribble), Simone Missick (Diary of a Mad Black Tribble), Carl Lumbly (J'onzz Tribble), and astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson (Multiverse Tribble.)
At the forefront of highlighting independent creatives, diverse geeky events, and promoting positivity in the culture with movements like their #misogyNO campaign; “Misogyny has no color. Misogyny has no gender. Misogyny has no place in our culture.” Their show is a platform for the best that fandom culture has to offer.
The Tribbles were gracious enough to speak with StarTrek.com before one of their Thursday night broadcasts.
StarTrek.com: Who’s idea was this “enterprise?” You’re all well versed in all aspects of nerdom, so you could have been the Black Avengers, for instance. Why Trek?
Len Webb: It was really just trying to come up with something that, like our tagline says we didn't want to be Geeks because we're cooler than, and we're not necessarily too chic to be nerds because we’re very good looking.
Kennedy Allen: And modest.
LW: It was just a matter of trying to come up with something that would say we definitely identify as geeks and nerds without saying that. When I started thinking about all the different aspects of geekdom I started thinking about Tribbles and how the silhouette kind of loosely looks like a nappy head [of hair], which kind of gives you an idea of Blackness. When I dug even deeper into “The Trouble With Tribbles” and found out that there were no black colored Tribbles at all, it just wrote itself. That's where the Tribbles were born.
From my understanding, you have a special agreement with the Star Trek folks to use Tribbles. How hard was that?
KA: Not as difficult as you would think. Back in 2016 Star Trek hired us to interview David Gerrold for the 50th anniversary convention in New York. When we did our panel, Star Trek into Blackness, and packed the house, and they appreciated that! But they did come up to us afterward and were like, “About that name and trademark, we need to talk.” Because they’d done their research, invited us to interview David, and saw what kind of content we produce plus the kind of crowds we pack, there was professional respect that enabled that conversation to be considerably less painful than I’d imagined.
What was the thought behind having Tribble designations?
LW: That was really to recognize our geekiness. We had a show where people were calling in to tell us what their superpower would be and what their Tribble name would be. A couple of shows later Master Tribble, Eric, came in and was like “We’ve got to make this official.” We had the author Elizabeth Wilson come to the show to promote her book, but first she wanted to join the Nation, she had her name (Decoder Tribble) and came in with this whole salute that she worked out. It's hardcore, it's official, it's love.
Erik, we got the origin of the designations, but the oath is a special touch, talk to me about that genesis?
Erik Darden: I was up late one night writing, Tribble things were on my mind and it just came out. The original thing I wrote was a lot longer, and the oath is the last stanza of that. I shared what I wrote at four in the morning with them, because I have no boundaries. They liked it, and it just kind of took off from there.
“I’m a Tribble furry; I’m a Tribble true. From the way I roll to the way I coo.”
— The Tribble Oath of Allegiance
Ariel and Isaiah, you two weren't part of the starting squad. As new members, what was your path to joining the crew?
Isaiah Luck: It all started off as an internship. They were looking for a social media and marketing intern, and I answered the call. At the time I was trying to get a foothold in the geek community in Philadelphia. I wanted to be part of a group who honestly were people of color and who were really geeky, but intelligent about what they were talking about. From there I grew more hands-on, into where I'm now a producer for the show. I love every moment of it.
Ariell Johnson: My story started when I was promoting my future comic shop Amalgam, here in Philadelphia. I reached out to the Tribbles when I was working on my business plan, funding, and finding a space. I wanted to start promoting it in nerd circles, but specifically the Black women nerd circles. I reached out to them and was a guest on the show. The friendship and camaraderie grew from there. One day they were just around; I had everybody's number in my phone and that was that. It was weird because it was very organic in how it all happened.
Which is your favorite show and character?
Randy Green: Deep Space Nine is definitely my favorite. I'm a Ben Sisko guy, being a single dad. Seeing Avery Brooks have these amazing, very cool moments like punching Q in the face is one of the best things I've ever seen on television. And in a time supposedly where race isn't a thing, he was very much a Black man in space. For me, the idea that not only is this Black dude running things, but he is very, very, Black, and I loved it. Ben Sisko, just as a guy was very much That Dude for me.
LW: I do like Star Trek: Discovery, but If I'm going to say favorite It would have to be Deep Space Nine. Never mind its rich storytelling or that it's the one that features a Black lead, a single loving father out there in the future; this is the one that introduced prestige television and serial storytelling to a lot of dramas. It’s the only show in my entire life that I spent a year getting up at 3:30 am for when I didn’t have to, so I could watch it rerunning here in Philadelphia. I would never ever make that commitment to anything else except DS9.
My favorite character in Star Trek lore is probably Picard. I just appreciate the nobility that Patrick Stewart brought to that role.
KA: It's a hard one for me because The Next Generation was the one I found on my own, TOS was the one that was fed to me in the crib, and Janeway is my favorite Captain. But I would just say — on sheer principle, on top of everything Len said, and as a Space Wakandan — I’ve got to rep for DS9. Worf is my favorite; with all the trials and tribulations — no pun intended — he went through it’s some of the best storytelling in modern television. You don’t see characters that nuanced, especially when depicted through the lens of Blackness. I rep for every Black character. Give me the cosmic African Diaspora.
ED: I would say my favorite would be TNG, that's definitely where I came in with Trek. And if I had to pick somebody, I was always a fan of Geordi. I remember rooting for Geordi a lot; he didn't get any play, but Geordi got the job done!
AJ: If I have to pick it would have to be The Next Generation. For me, it’s the memory that I associate with my mom who passed away when I was 28. She was really into TNG, so I had seen it — not in the sense that I remember every episode, but I remember watching it because I was watching it with her. My favorite character is Captain Picard.
Finally, how has Star Trek impacted your lives?
ED: The biggest way Star Trek has improved my life is by stretching my imagination. I was always a fan of space, science, and technology like holodecks, transporters — even their tablet computers which became a real thing — those kinds of things stretch my imagination.
KA: Being introduced to Trek at such an early age gave me a different perspective on the human experience. I always saw myself working in some capacity in media because there was always a representation of Blackness in Trek. Not only that, but a lot of the ideals that were presented in the show — in terms of Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combination, in terms of being respectful of other people's ways of life — have helped me be more respectful of people, especially people I don't agree with.
LW: Trek has given me two of the most significant things that has ever happened to me. One was actually being able to speak one-on-one with Nichelle Nichols; that was still the biggest thing that's ever happened to me. And, of course, Trek provided the inspiration for the Tribbles, and that has been one of the most rewarding things I've ever been a part of. This group has given me joy, professional accolades, and truly deep meaningful long-lasting friendships; and that’s all thanks to Trek. I wouldn’t be sitting here with some of my best friends in the world if it wasn't for our mutual love of Star Trek.
Go to BlackTribbles.com keep up with their nerdy shenanigans.
George Carmona III (he/him), aka A Fist Full of Tribble, is a writer/artist who lives in New York City, has been a character in four Star Trek novels and would still be single if not for Trek. Follow him on Twitter @gcarmona3.