Meet My Imaginary Friend

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Actor Jay Ellis takes us back to his childhood – moving all around the country, going on adventures with his imaginary friend, and dreaming of being an FBI agent/karate master/football champion one day. He tells the story of one of his first interactions with the police, when, after toilet-papering a classmate’s house with best friend Joe, the pair are detained and berated by cops for more than 30 minutes, “as if we had just robbed a store.” Jay says the experience forever changed his relationship with law enforcement. “I didn’t get to have those teenage years in the same way that some of my non-Black peers and friends got to have. I was looked at as a man and thought to be dangerous, even though I was a boy.”


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Jay Ellis

Jay Ellis  00:05

Hey, I’m Jay Ellis and you’re listening to GOOD KIDS. I’m an actor, I think, I don’t know guys, I say stuff when they tell me to. And I’m going to talk about my childhood and being a kid with an imaginary friend, and a starter jacket, and all the random experiences and fun I had toilet paper in Megan’s house when I was in middle school.

Jay Ellis

Life growing up was weird. My dad was in the Air Force. So I moved around a ton. I went to 12 schools in 13 years, which is pretty wild. Plus, I was an only child, I am still an only child, was in the past and still in the present. So I didn’t have anybody to really like, either, like, enjoy moving to a new city or a new place with or commiserate and be miserable with somebody about constantly moving around. So I created an imaginary friend. And so we kind of we did it all together. Having an imaginary friend to me was like almost, it was probably like other kids like stuffed animal or their sibling or their like blanket or you know, whatever. It was like, it was definitely like a coping mechanism for me, it was comfort for me, I think it was other than my parents who obviously didn’t go to school with me and weren’t on playgrounds with me.

Jay Ellis

At lunchtime at recess, you know, having an imaginary friend was like the one consistent kind of like voice and like point of view and I could lean on and I could ask questions and not have this like authoritative figure if you will give me an answer. And so, yeah, remember my imaginary friend, he kind of he came to me one night during a storm. We were in Tampa, Florida, actually. And he came to me, I was probably like five years old. And I just remember like, it was thunder and lightning, super scary. And I remember being in my bed and thinking there were alligators swimming around my bed and I wanted to like run to my parents room. But I wouldn’t get out of the bed because of these alligators.

Jay Ellis  02:14

And I remember my, my imaginary friend like peeking over my shoulder and going like, I ain’t going down there. I’m not gonna be no crocs dinner. And like, at just after that, like he was there. Like I never asked where he came from. I never really thought about it. All of a sudden, I just had a buddy who was feeling the same way that I was feeling. So that went from you know, we watched movies together and tried to build, we tried to build a flux capacitor. We tried to build a time machine but we didn’t have a flux capacitor. Yeah, it was pretty amazing. I watched my imaginary friend once ride the Batman Ride at Six Flags five times.

Jay Ellis 

Not because I was scared of the ride, but because I was too short to get on the ride, and he wasn’t. So yeah, my parents actually kind of dealt with it for a little bit. I think they got it. You know, me being an only child. They kept me out of trouble for sure. I guess it got me into some trouble. And then it also kept me out of other trouble. But they’re probably also times where they’re like, “Yo, we gotta get this boy some help. Cuz it’ll be a problem.” I had all the jobs growing up. I was gonna be a doctor. I was gonna be a Lawyer. I was gonna be an Accountant. I was gonna be an Astronaut. I was gonna be an FBI. I was gonna be a Karate Master. I was gonna be a professional Basketball Player. I was gonna play in the NFL.

Jay Ellis

I thought about baseball for a second because I like Ken Griffey Jr. a lot. I was gonna be an Oceanographer. I don’t think there was a limit to like, I will say, like, one of the things that my parents did, and like, let me have was, like, an imagination. Like, they didn’t really cut that off, which I think is like, so awesome of them. Especially because, like, they were two people struggling and trying to figure it out on their own. And like, even though like, my situation in terms of environment outside of my parents, like, you know, the neighborhoods that I might have lived in or schools that I even might have went to like, weren’t always, you know, great and weren’t always the best and like what we want for our kids.

Jay Ellis  04:27

Like they still found a way to make me kind of aware of it, but also protected from it in a certain way to where like it didn’t it never stifled my imagination, right? It never I never feared. I mean, I had feared, don’t get me wrong, but like, there I was still able to have a sense of play and essentially joy and so I think because of that, like I you know, there was no limit to like all the careers I thought I could have growing up I mean, still to this day, if the FBI is hiring any Karate Sensei’s, holler at me. One night, when I was in, like I was in like seventh or eighth grade, one of my closest friends Joe back in Oklahoma. Joe was a little bit of a knucklehead. He was a wild one. He grew up to be a very responsible man, a beautiful family, works in his community.

Jay Ellis

So I just want to say that there was there was a silver lining for Joe, but he was a knucklehead growing up, and I loved it. And so I remember one night, Joe’s mom worked super, super early in the morning, she’s had to give her like four o’clock in the morning to go to work. And so he was like, Yo, you want to spend the night in my house. My mom goes to bed really early, because she has to get up so early, so we could sneak out and I was like “Yeah, let’s go. I never been out by house past nine o’clock before. Let’s do this son.” So his mom passes out, we crawl out a window. And we take a bunch of toilet paper with us. And we go walk. I mean, we must have walked a mile and a half, two miles to get to this neighborhood.

Jay Ellis  06:09

And so we walked to this neighborhood, upper middle-class neighborhood, and we unleashed and we start toilet paper in Megan McCain’s house. And I mean, it was a work of art, the toilet paper was everywhere. Like we were so proud of what we did, but we still had some toilet paper leftover. So we start walking back. And we have to cross this main street to get into his neighborhood and across that street as an elementary school. And as soon as we cross the street you hear the like; sirens go off you see the red and the blue bouncing off of all the buildings and off of each other’s faces. And these cops you know, we look at each other like do we run? Do we stay like what do we do? We know we don’t run.

Jay Ellis

So we just stopped, literally put our hands like, up or forward or like some version of where they can see them. Toilet paper comes falling like from under my starter jacket, like onto the ground. And the cops get out. And not weapons drawn. But definitely like hand ready, right? Hand is like near their weapon on you know, on their hip near their weapon. And they just start you know, parading us “What are you doing? Why are you out late?” Just screaming at us. Again, we’re to like, pretty innocent kids, and you see a bunch of toilet paper. So like, at the end of the day, you know, we’re not doing anything crazy. And it ended up being this like 30–40-minute session of them just like screaming at us and yelling at us.

Jay Ellis 

As if there was a hostage situation or as if we had just robbed a store or it was a crazy moment because you especially at that age like you’re you one want to defend yourself but two you know the stories well enough, and you know how it goes that you know that you just have to take some of it. And that if you react in a certain way, it’s not gonna it could potentially not go in your favor. And then it was there was also this kind of like weird out of body experience of realizing that like, Oh, I’m a 14-year-old boy. And cops see me as a danger. Like they see me as a man, right? They’ve there’s some adult suffocation going on, they no longer see me as a boy.

Jay Ellis  08:25

And, that was just such an interesting, interesting, like, experience. And I think it forever changed my relationship with law enforcement for sure and how I viewed law enforcement because all of a sudden, I realized that like, I didn’t get to have those teenage years in the same way that some of my non-black peers and friends got to have, right? I was looked at as like a man and thought to be dangerous, even though I was a boy. When I think about making the world better, like I think about like what my grandparents did, and like, my great grandparents and even my parents and what I hope to do as a parent, it’s like, I feel like you we constantly need to give our kids give the generations under the younger generations an opportunity to like learn and explore and be exposed to stuff, right?

Jay Ellis

Whether that’s food, whether it’s culture, but like I think you know, being exposed to a different culture or being exposed to how one culture treats another culture or one group of people treat another group of people and being honest about it, right? So I just think there’s a lot of truth that we should definitely be exposing our kids to and our younger generations to so they can be aware. And to use a word that is probably played out. Be woke if you will.

Jay Ellis  10:08

If you like hearing my voice, you can check out UNTOLD STORIES. That’s right. I did a podcast, UNTOLD STORIES: POLICING. It’s the stories that we don’t hear about police, police unions and how we can make change. You can also check out the next season of INSECURE on HBO whenever that comes out. And the last thing, my favorite thing, you can check out TOP GUN next summer in a theater. We will all have vaccines by then. You can follow me on Instagram and twitter at @JayREllis and thank you for listening to GOOD KIDS.


GOOD KIDS is a Lemonada Media Original. Supervising producer is Kryssy Pease. Associate producer is Alex McOwen and Kegan Zema is our engineer. The show is executive produced by Stephanie Wittels Wachs and Jessica Cordova Kramer. The music is by Dan Molad with additional music courtesy of APM music. Check us out on social at @LemonadaMedia, recommend us to a friend and rate and review us wherever you listen to podcast. If you want to submit a show idea, email us at Until next week, stay good.

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