Big Kess is a Big Deal.
For 20 years, the city has known Keristen Baker aka Big Kess as a radio personality, a galvanizing force at times for change, a host at charity functions and not-so-charitable functions, and a champion of local hip hop artists. He’s been a pitchman and even a stand-up comic.
Little do his fans know that his first love was the thea-tuh. This weekend, he makes his appearance on stage at Arts United as Patrick in The SpongeBob Musical, after a 20-year hiatus from Fort Wayne Civic Theater.
Twenty years ago, he won an Anthony, the equivalent of a Broadway Tony, for his role in Raisin in the Sun.
Patrick, the loveable sidekick to the hapless, clueless and always optimistic SpongeBob, is an unusual role for the street savvy, hip Baker, but for him, it’s all about the humor and the challenge of the role.
“I’ve really taken that humor and I’m channeling that through Patrick,” Baker said. “Patrick has a lot of duncey lines. It’s all about the comedic lines. He (Patrick) doesn’t get it. That’s the part of acting and there’s a piece of Patrick in a part of me.”
For those unaware of the SpongeBob phenom, SpongeBob Square Pants was the lead in an animated series that took place in Bikini Bottom. on the floor of the Pacific Ocean. The series that debuted in 1999 was so clever it drew adult fans. Kids who are now adults have been known to post their job location as the Krusty Krab, where SpongeBob works for Squidward, who can be a pain in the rear.
Baker moved to Fort Wayne from Wisconsin when he was a kid. His mother was one of the GM workers who transferred here, he said. He went to Fort Wayne schools and graduated from Wayne High School.
At IPFW, he entered the theater program under the legendary director, Larry Life, but switched to communications after missing out on roles.
“They did a lot of traditional casting,” Baker explained. “I wouldn’t have an option to get cast.”
In 1999, however, he took on a role in “The Wiz” at the Civic Theatre. In 2002 came the “Raisin in the Sun.”
To earn a living he started hosting concerts at Piere’s nightclub in Fort Wayne and became a van driver for Hot 107.9. He wrote parody songs for The Morning Show and gained some popularity.
Rival radio, Wild 96.3, saw what he was doing and offered him a job.
He did everything there – nights, afternoons and then got his own morning show. He started Battle of the Streets, allowing local artists to showcase their work. Then came B96.9, where he became the program and music director.
Then Loud103.3, the hip hop station he helped launched went on air in 2019. He helped get The Breakfast Club on with Charlamagne tha God.
While at 96.9, he helped start the Heart and Soul Affair at the Three Rivers Festival, the Black Business Card Party with Big Brothers Big Sisters and the free concert at McMillen Park.
Now he’s working to bring In Vogue to Fort Wayne in August.
He’s never far from the next laugh and has a podcast coming and he’s still playing a lot of music out at the clubs, he said. Through his company BK1 Entertainment, he does a lot of weddings, concerts, parties, corporate events, voice overs and audio commercials.
He’s the official deejay for the Fort Wayne FC, the semi pro soccer team.
“I always try to find fun. Life is about laughter. It’s about having fun and trying to see the bright side of things. To see people smile has always been my big thing,” Baker told WANE TV.
You can see Baker as Patrick in The SpongeBob Musical starting Friday. The show runs this weekend and next, Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m. with a 2 p.m. show on Saturdays and Sundays.