The gym, full of mid-twenty- and thirtysomethings in brightly colored Under Armour and Nike gear, was a box with slippery blue floors and cloudy backboards. I wasn't the fattest dude in the gym, so I figured I could put on show or at least embarrass some older dude once or twice. I flopped in the corner and started my old-man stretches. Big Fleet walked in seconds later, ready to ball with lime shorts, slouch socks, and Kevin Durant sneakers, which felt crazy because I thought he'd be in the brown Ugg boots that have become something of a trademark. He's about 6-foot-2, maybe 6-foot-3 if he had those Uggs on, and close to my size, so I figured I might have to check him if we ended up on opposite teams. In preparation I stayed on the other side of the gym and watched his moves.
He threw up a few jump shots and displayed some ball-handling skills before diving into a story. I couldn't make out what he was saying from my side of the gym, but the regulars knew something funny was about to happen. They flocked to center court as he twisted his mug and broke down ideas in the same animated way that has quickly gained him more than 63,000 followers on Instagram.
I bet the founders of Instagram never imagined that their picture-sharing site would launch the careers of so many underground artists. King Keraun rode the wave of his funny skits from the streets of Missouri to BET. DC Young Fly's country rants and roast sessions took him from Atlanta all the way to MTV's "Wild'n Out"—and "Big Fleet" from South Baltimore is building an unlikely career out of 15-second videos.
Fleet, whose IG handle is @Who_Is_U, was brought to me by at least 15 different people, who all said shit like "Did you see that guy Who Is U? He the funniest dude on the Gram! Hands down!"
I followed his page and fell in line with everyone else, watching the videos, tweeting them, and @ing my friends. Fleet's work is hilarious—his topics range from complex relationship issues to simple hood stuff, like when your grandma brings you corny sneakers for the first day of school or when dudes from your neighborhood see you making money on the corner and call the police on you so they can come out and take your sales.
Fleet avoided the world of digital connections for years, until his nephew created an Instagram page for him. Even then, he barely paid attention to it. Weeks went by and his nephew told Fleet he only had 100 followers. Fleet thought that was unacceptable."I know I'm worth way more than 100 followers," he said. "I know too many people!"
And now here I was, on the court with him. Initially I was supposed to meet Fleet out in Cherry Hill, which may be the roughest part of Baltimore. Coming from East Baltimore, I was taught to never enter Cherry Hill without two pistols, a rocket launcher, and a vest. Our meeting got pushed back while I collected my weapons and we eventually met up on a damp dingy Saturday morning in Liberty Rec over in West Baltimore. I rode up with my cousin Buck who has been playing ball on and off with Fleet for a while. Buck said, "This isn't the most talented game in the city, but I bet it's the funniest!"
Fleet and I ended up on the same team. A few dudes looked me off because I was the new guy, as I looked a few guys off because I'm a ball hog. And Fleet's game is as funny as his videos—he inserted good-natured trash talk and commentary after every play.
In between games I asked where the Instagram name came from. "It's a disrespect thing that we all play around with," he said. "Like, if you brag we just look at you and say, 'Man, who is you?'"
You can tell a lot about guy by playing ball with him. Three games with Fleet showed me that he's generous, innovative, and has a lot of heart—the basic elements a black male needs to make it in a place like Cherry Hill and in the entertainment industry, an industry Fleet never thought he'd find himself in.
Even though Richard Pryor is his favorite comedian, Fleet says he has no comedic influences and never even considered a career in comedy. In a city where a host of other local comedians do anything and everything for attention, Fleet has remained original by staying true to himself and telling blue-collar stories that everyday people can relate to, all while wearing that same tattered brown pair of Ugg boots that add another layer of down-home visual humor. Those stories have garnered him appearances on BET and a deal with the website WorldStarHipHop.
"I really never planed on any this happening," he said, grabbing his Uggs as we prepare to leave the gym. "It started out as being fun for me and it will remain that way. This isn't my job or my real life."
I disagreed. I feel like it is his job—or at least his calling—because Fleet has amazing talent that brings joy to thousands of people a day. I personally know folks who use his videos as a tool to get through the harsh realities of everyday life. But the south Baltimore native who chooses to remain anonymous just doesn't see it. "I'm honored that people love my work, but I do hope they understand that it's just comedy," he says. "My loyalties are to my family and friends in real life, don't get it twisted."