How Cuff House Created an Inclusive Oasis on Clubhouse
Audio is booming online as never before, but Clubhouse’s much-hyped pioneers and Spotify’s celebrity podcasters aren’t the only ones making noise. Creators of every variety are experimenting and finding audiences on platforms new and old.
Sound On is a series of nofilter articles on the coolest trends and innovators in the emerging audioscape. Browse them all here.
We all know what it means to be a star on TikTok or Instagram. But Clubhouse creators are still defining what it means to be an audio star. The drop-in app already has a reputation as a venture capitalist’s playground, but creators like 29-year old Toronto native Iman Said and 26-year-old Texan Wynter Taylor are also shaping the narrative.
Said and Taylor are two of the co-founders of Cuff House, a shoot-your-shot style club that’s also a safe space for LGBTQ and BIPOC creators. While the first mainstream coverage of “shoot your shot” clubs centered around NYU Girls Roasting Tech Guys, they’ve been a staple in the app’s BIPOC community since Clubhouse launched in spring 2020. (We covered the criticism of the NYU Girls coverage last month.)
“I actually met one of the other co-founders of Cuff House in a small [Clubhouse] social room,” Said tells me over Zoom. “We started talking about things, and I'm like, ‘Oh, I would love to do something like Love Island, but on Clubhouse.’”
The idea was refined to be more of an inclusive, low-pressure space for discussion, and Cuff House informally launched in November. Since becoming official this year, it has grown to 29 members and 300 followers. “And the rest has been history,” Said says.
Here Iman and Wynter discuss the importance of clubs like Cuff House, and what makes for an inspiring Clubhouse creator.
What attracted you to Clubhouse?
Wynter: I'm a person that loves to talk. The beginning of the pandemic, I spent hours upon hours upon hours on FaceTime or just on phone calls with a lot of my friends. And so then when I got [a Clubhouse] invite, I spent the next probably 72 hours on the app just talking to people, telling jokes. I joined the end of October, so it was near Halloween and then election week. So there were plenty of conversations, controversial conversations, going on, as well as other conversations around race and class and gender. And so it was just really interesting to finally get perspectives from people all over the U.S. and just all over the world in general about the current times and to connect with people in the pandemic. It was really fascinating.
How does a typical Cuff House room go?
Wynter: We'll usually have a meeting beforehand about what the topic is going to be, and there's a good handful of us at this point currently that will discuss. We'll make it a point to pick something that it feels like people don't talk about enough. And then once the actual room starts, we'll start it in a private room, kind of banter amongst each other, just to loosen up and get the vibes flowing and invite some of our friends in and then open a more public room for people to flow in and listen to us. We'll have a few people moderate the room and have focus guests, which are usually members of the club to come and discuss whichever topic it is that's at hand that day.
Iman: There's actually a term that we use a lot on Clubhouse, "reset the room." When an influx of new people do come in, we just kind of tell everyone what's going on and what we're talking about and at what stage of the conversation we're in.
Have you built a consistent community that always tunes in?
Wynter: I think [so]. We do some other rooms with a group called The Love Bomb Room with Blacktop UniverseCity. And we'll kind of just appear in other people's clubs a lot. It feels like when the club started, it was kind of this unofficial meeting place for all of us mutually who were just spending a lot of time together on the app. And so if we were having deep conversations or fun conversations about whatever it was that day, and people just wanted to hang out with us, we were always very welcoming and friendly and wanted more people to hang out with us. And so it seems like over time, they just stuck around and wanted to do all the crazy stuff we were doing with us. So we just kind of created our own little community.
I feel like in general, whenever it comes to rooms on Clubhouse … they're pretty similar in the people who are involved and the things that they're talking about. And we just didn't want to talk about any of that stuff. So I feel like anyone else who didn't want to be involved in that part of the culture just kind of came with us.
The Shoot Your Shot controversy highlighted how the media and others were prioritizing white creators over BIPOC creators doing the same thing. Have you seen any progress since then?
Iman: With that level of appropriation, it is kind of a reflection of the society we live in. So is there any improvement? Not necessarily. It's kind of to be expected at this point. That being said, I think the biggest thing for us is differentiating ourselves and I think that's what we're really good at doing. We are a space that prides ourselves on being trans and BIPOC-friendly. We are super inclusive. There are a lot of other shoot your shot rooms and people who are trying to do similar things, but it is very cis-het oriented. And we just wanted to create spaces that were inclusive, where everyone felt safe, where it's a judgment-free space and no pressure to perform.
What is it about Clubhouse that you think makes it so popular?
Wynter: I really feel like because it's just your voice, it kind of takes the pressure off of you as a person. You come through, you’re in people's ears, and they hear you. And I think with that and the power of the voice itself, a lot of people are realizing that having really tough conversations or really unpopular conversations, controversial conversations, they're easier to have on this app where you can hear people's tones, you can hear the inflection in their voice. You can hear when people are upset, you can hear when they're angry. More of your humanity comes through in these conversations versus, say, Twitter.
In your opinion, what makes a good Clubhouse creator?
Iman: I'll say being a good moderator. Being able to read a room, but also guide a room and guide the conversation, and make sure that the conversation is not getting out of hand or not in alignment with what the initial intent of the subject was. It is actually a pretty difficult and daunting task, holding space for a room with multiple people and all of these different personalities at the same time. You never necessarily know what you're going to get because it is real time, and you're expected to think on your feet and be very reactive. Also because there is a responsibility on you to take charge of the room and the topic and the subject, and a lot of times people are super vulnerable on this app. Just being mindful and making sure that your space is safe and welcoming.
There's all sorts of people on the app. There's comedians, there's people who specialize in all sorts of things. I also feel like it's really interesting that there's a lot of TikTok influencers or people who are big on Instagram that come to this app and it doesn't translate the same. You don't get that same following that you do on other apps. It speaks to the need to actually be charismatic and somewhat interesting in real life.
What are your plans for the future of Cuff House?
Wynter: We really haven't thought that far in advance just because we are relatively new, but I do kind of have a vision of it popping off in the sense that people start to really open their minds to: What is identity? What is sexuality? What is gender? And especially whenever it comes to our socio-cultural status at the moment, and a lot of the things that we're trying to reimagine in terms of society, if I had like a big, big picture thing, it would be that this club just encourages more free thought in that regard and more ability for people to self-determine who they are without feeling all of this pressure from the rest of the world to conform to certain ideas or to be a certain way. And whether that expands from Clubhouse and goes to other apps, or if it becomes something in real life, I feel like it could go anywhere.