In 2018, Kanye West made the extraordinary claim that living under slavery for 400 years was a choice that Black people had made. He ended up being shot down by pretty much the whole world, but the then TMZ host Van Lathan was the first to move in for the kill. His eloquent rebuttal of Kanye’s claim made the headlines, as did his subsequent firing from TMZ just a year later. Find out more about the presenter with these 10 things you didn’t know about Van Lathan.
1. He transformed his body
Once upon a time, Van Lathan weighed 315lbs. After deciding to do something about his ever-expanding waistline, he hit the gym hard, losing a bunch of weight and gaining some impressive muscle in the process. These days, he maintains a trim 185lb figure thanks to a combination of healthy eating and exercise. Unlike certain other celebs, he’s been keen to document his weightless journey with his fans – according to legit.ng, he’s even decided to write a book about how he managed to drop the pounds to inspire his fans to do the same.
2. He joined TMZ after a cut in his unemployment
After graduating college, Van Lathan spent a spell on unemployment benefits. Then, he somehow managed to land a commercial by accident. After being asked to go to the Van Nuys neighborhood of LA to try out some products, he was taken by surprise when someone asked if he was ready to start shooting the Guillette Pros Fusion Challenge. He went along with it, and the next time he came to log his unemployment, he made sure to note he’d done a commercial. The upshot was that his unemployment got cut to just $75 a week and he was forced to start looking for any job he could find.
3. He didn’t know anything about TMZ when he joined
In the same way he managed to land a commercial without realizing it, Van Lathan landed a job with TMZ without any idea of what he’d be doing or who they were. Speaking to Landon Buford, he explained “First job was a TMZ tour guide and I was 31. I go back to my girl and tell her about it, and I took it. Once again, I didn’t know what the show was and I did not understand the controversy. I also did not get the cultural problems that were there until I was television mainstay.”
4. He likes to keep his personal life private
He may have made a career from probing celebrities about their personal lives, but Van Lathan prefers to keep his own private life firmly under wraps. He’s been happy enough to reveal that he was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on 16 April 1980 and that he has an older brother called Ebony Rage Lathan, but other than that, few facts are known about his childhood. He graduated in 2003, but no one’s sure from where. He’s also made numerous references to his ‘girl’ in past interviews, but whether he’s now single, married, or something in between is anyone’s guess.
5. He’s famous for THAT Kanye West interview
If you know the name Van Lathan but aren’t quite sure why, there’s a good chance it’s down to his response to Kanye West’s infamous interview with TMZ in 2018. After stating his support for Donald Trump, things went from bad to worse for the rapper when he declared that living under slavery for 400 years was a “choice” made by African-Americans. Van Lathan might have been able to let the Trump endorsement lie, but he couldn’t do the same for Kanye’s other comment. “I actually don’t think you’re thinking anything,” he responded. “I think what you’re doing right now is actually the absence of thought. And the reason why I feel like that is because, Kanye, you’re entitled to your opinion. You’re entitled to believe whatever you want. Bro, you’ve got to be responsible. Your voice is too big.” After an overwhelming show of support for Van Lathan, Kanye attempted to clarify what’d really meant, but by then, the damage had already been done.
6. TMZ fired him after he got physical with his co-host
After almost a decade with TMZ, Van Lathan was fired from the network in 2019. Although reports from the time varied as to the reason for his departure, Page Six reported that it followed a nasty confrontation with fellow star, Michael Babcock. According to the news outlet, Lathan confronted Babcock after a particularly fraught segment and told him there would be trouble if he “ever embarrassed [Lathan] like that again.” Video footage of the confrontation showed Van Lathan putting his hand around Babcock’s neck. Van Lathan has denied the tension, and maintains that Babcock is one of his closest friends from his days at TMZ.
7. He hosts a podcast
After leaving TMZ, Van Lathan didn’t waste any time in moving on to the next opportunity. For the past couple of years, he’s been voicing his opinions on everything from sports and culture to politics alongside co-host Rachel Lindsay on the podcast “Higher Learning”. He’s also been taking a deep dive into every episode of “The Wire” alongside Jemelle Hill on “Way Down in the Hole.”
8. He’s got a huge social media following
If there’s one thing Van Lathem isn’t lacking these days, it’s a following. His Instagram account now boasts more than 475k followers, while his Twitter account has over 115,000 followers. His famous spat with Kanye West helped boost his profile, but he’s maintained it by posting regularly about everything from sports to politics.
9. He thinks Black women are the future
Over the years, Van Lathan has been known for spouting as many views about politics and current affairs as he has about light entertainment. During a recent interview with interviewmagazine.com in which he talked about everything from how he spent lockdown to what he thinks about the current social climate in America, he explained how he believes that the route to greater equality and justice lies in the hands of Black women. “They have plans and agendas and all kinds of great ideas on how to affect environmental justice, social justice, to fix workplaces and all kinds of stuff—but no one ever listens to them,” he said. “So they just end up doing this work in anonymity, and mostly for free, dodging shrapnel from in and outside the community. If America has a future, Black women need to have a prominent place in leading.”
10. He’s a huge fan of Bassmasters
One of the biggest challenges of lockdown has been finding new ways to keep ourselves entertained. For Van Lathan, “Bassmasters” has proved to be a major solace. “Bassmasters is the most soothing thing to watch on TV. These guys are almost certainly Trump supporters, but for the moment all they care about is catching bass. They kiss the bass, they fret over the bass, they praise the bass. And they do it on beautiful lakes. I love it,” he says.