Saturday, November 27

‘I never want to be too bad’: Benito Skinner on his wild viral parodies | Culture

TThe last thing you would expect from a Gen Z comedian whose livelihood depends on being an expert on the web is a bad Zoom label. However, when 27-year-old Benito Skinner, aka Benny Drama, finally appears on screen from his new home in Los Angeles, he is momentarily taken aback by his own backdrop, a swirl of fuchsia pink lipsticks. He is quick to try and change it, briefly showing a still photo of one of his monstrous new creations, Kooper, the job-phobic and lip-gloss-obsessed intern whose father is the owner of the company, before finally finding the button. off and decide on the standard Zoom interview angle. “That’s better,” he smiles. “Even my nose vibrates.”

It’s the likes of Kooper and Jenni, the TMI stylist who pops the pills (“I once had a polyp in my asshole”) that have made Skinner a viral sensation on both of them. Instagram Y Youtube, with fashion hailing it recently as “the only funny thing that happened in 200.” Both crisp, bite-sized character studies have drawn on an extensive resume of charmingly bizarre celebrity impersonations, such as Grimes reimagined as a malfunctioning girl scout, Timothée Chalamet reduced to a series of vocal tics, and Kris Jenner depicted as a maniacal tyrant with retractable devil wings. The result? More than 1.2 million followers on Instagram, including Madonna and Dua Lipa.

Skinner is one of several online comics that have seen his profile explode during the lockdown, with Jordan Firstman’s deadpan impressions, Ziwe Fumudoh’s gloriously awkward Instagram interviews, and Sarah Cooper’s Trump lip-syncing routines all featuring his own slip of relief from the infinite apocalypse of 2020. “We’ve been able to talk about what’s happening right away,” he says of the current crop of internet comedians. “We can do it from home in 30 seconds after it happens… Well actually, I definitely need a full costume. And green screen. And edit “.

While Cooper, whose viral hit earned him a Netflix show, uses a minimalist approach to highlight the absurd, Skinner goes to great lengths, covering himself in makeup, wigs and costumes. A ridiculously detailed video series sees him creating characters for each star sign (bad news for Scorpio). When I confess that I don’t fully understand Generation Z’s newest obsession with astrology, Skinner looks momentarily surprised, before asking about my star sign. “You’re a writer, that’s very Libra,” he says, his accent a mix of the American Midwest and the soft voice of Los Angeles. “You’re going to go into it now and once you do, you’ll never go back.” That other modern obsession, the Kardashians, are approached in all their contoured glory, which promotes the Poosh, “lift and shine.” Last year’s A Kardashian Krismas parody even got the approval of Khloé and Kourtney.

On paper, Skinner’s impressions sound cruel, but in reality they are more like surreal roasts. “I want my comedy to feel like a friend is giving you shit,” he says. “I never want it to be too cruel because I don’t think it’s funny. But it’s always fun to touch a varnish. ”He recently withdrew his impression of childhood heroine Britney Spears out of fear that she might get caught up in the larger story about her well-being, and he looks really sad when he talks about an impression of a star. of the pop that he would rather not name that led his fanbase to search for him online. Ultimately, his comedy is based on a genuine passion for his subjects: “I’ve never made an impression of something that I don’t quite like and I think that is reflected. “

Born in Idaho, Skinner would obsessively read about celebrities from a young age. “I think it’s common for gay men to be obsessed with our queens, whether it’s Jennifer Aniston or Gaga or Lana Del Rey.” Two comedy icons also materialized early in the form of Robin Williams as Mrs. Doubtfire (“That idea of ​​having to dress up to be loved is something I had in the back of my head watching that movie”) and SpongeBob SquarePants. “I think he felt so feminine, but in a way that the show didn’t make him the butt of the joke. That was definitely something that psychologically I thought, ‘Fuck yeah, thank goodness.’

Benito Skinner.

Without Drama … Benito Skinner. Photography: Ryan Duffin

At the age of six, Skinner was organizing a three-song “residency” for his ever-caring family that included Britney’s Oops! … I did it again and louder, as well as Survivor from Destiny’s Child (“Apparently, I was going through that!”), But by eight o’clock, embarrassment had pushed him back. In his Catholic elementary school, homosexuality was often considered a sin, and Skinner realized that “doing Lizzie McGuire monologues word for word wasn’t getting me very far. They start calling you a fag, so you put it away for a bit. “Does Skinner think about those bullies now that doing these monologues is taking him too far? He laughs:” May I bring your wives more happiness with my videos than they They could never make me feel good. “

High school was the setting for Skinner’s toughest role: the straight jock. He joined the football team (“It’s a despicable sport”) and played the role to the best of his ability. “I didn’t do the full method, but I definitely had a deeper voice,” he laughs. “Sometimes I watch my older videos and say, ‘Oh that’s not your voice, that’s like 12 octaves too deep, girls. I did it for so long. “

Having opened the @ BennyDrama7 Instagram account in high school – the “7” was his soccer jersey number, the “drama” perhaps an early clue about his sexual inclinations – he started using it to post lip sync videos. during his final year studying film at university. It was there that she met a group of friends with whom she felt safe enough to come out of the closet, but her comedy remained hidden behind a private account until 2016, when she moved to New York and met her boyfriend. “He told me, ‘You should go public if you really want to be an actor, this is probably your best option.’

Suddenly all those childhood cultural obsessions that had been suppressed for years: McGuire, Gossip Girl, creating a gay character on Friends that says things like, “Monica, love poppers ”- had a new outlet. “It feels like it came out of me,” he smiles. “I feel so connected to myself when I was a kid dancing Oops! … I did it again. That It’s me. I don’t really see myself reflected in the middle of my childhood ”. This is why even the most daring of his videos tend to show a glimmer of something darker. “If only I had [his hairdresser character] Jenni as a one-note ‘crazy party girl’, I don’t think it’s funny. I like that she is sad and insecure too. Besides, it’s 2020: that ray of sadness is always in my eyes, let’s go ”.

While 2020 has been important to Skinner on a professional level, the next year could turn stratospheric with the arrival of a scripted television comedy-drama based on his own introductory story (“I can’t say much, other than that I’m very much myself and It’s very weird “). While television feels like a logical step, that flexible fringe and Hollywood bone structure scream Netflix’s romantic comedy, he’s just as excited to return to old characters in their natural Instagram home, not least. Annie tearing her throat, AKA the “little orphan girl turned badass bitch” with a baseball bat.

While it has been difficult to keep things clear in a country ravaged by Covid, slipping into various characters has been a welcome escape for Skinner and his audience. “I want to be that person who gives someone a minute break from their day,” he smiles. “Besides, I’m not good at not working.” Start talking about a hypothetical vacation before reality collapses. “I’ll take a vacation in my room, I guess, and I’ll just watch The Crown.” The new king of comedy might find him ripe for themes.

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