Jaboukie Young-White, On Online Activism, Black Twitter Not Getting Credit and Mental Health.
If you’ve seen a creative and funny tweets about depression, pineapple on pizza or the bourgeoise it was probably done by the hilarious Jaboukie Young-White. The 22-year-old “URL/IRL” comedian hails from Chicago, Illinois and is one of many people that has found their footing by using social media as another platform for comedy.
- You’ve gained quite the following after your pineapple pizza tweet which amassed a load of RT’s. Did you ever anticipate for your comedic career to skyrocket in following as it has since then?
Nah, I definitely never expected this. I always imagined my career taking a slow burn, like at least 3–5 more years of me doing open mics, tweeting, hustling, etc until something happened. The first “””exposure””” I got online was actually after a few of my Instagram posts went viral late 2016. But the pineapple pizza tweet(s) is truly one of my greatest contributions in the realm of art and human activism.
2. What made you want to pursue comedy? Was it simply by chance or did you always have a way with making jokes?
I became obsessed with comedy at a really young age. About like 9. I never really felt like I really fit in anywhere as a kid, so I was drawn to the immediate sense of community that laughter can create. I did speech and theater in high school and got enough positive feedback to the point I was like “huh. I guess I could really do this.”
3. With the current political and racial climate, how do you think it has changed your jokes or created new material to work with?
I’ve always gravitated toward political/social humor so the current climate definitely gave me a lot to work with. The way I write has definitely changed though. Before I felt I was writing political/social commentary with the goal of changing minds but I think that’s futile now. After the election it felt like everyone drew a hard line in the sand between alt-right vs. republican vs. liberal vs. leftist etc. etc. People have their political opinions made up and there’s not much you can say to change their mind. Now most of my material is just sharing my personal experiences and letting that speak for itself.
4. I’ve noticed you tend to make jokes about depression and mental health which is very common among mentally ill youth online. How do you deal with the reaction of people say we can’t joke about this and do you ever feel like sometimes people who aren’t mentally ill take jokes from people suffering from MI’s as an okay for them to do it themselves?
I’m going to joke about my experiences. That’s just how I process things. For me, the greatest part about people joking about their specific experiences with their mental illness or neuroticisms is the feeling of recognizing yourself in other people. Maria Bamford is The Queen of this. It just makes you feel like less of an anomaly. Like, I still think about this post and laugh to myself, at least once a week.
Shutting down jokes about mental illness is also shutting down a growing dialogue about mental illness. I think this stems from wanting to keep people experiencing mental illness on the fringes of society. This way no one has to think about them or confront the fact that anyone could struggle with mental illness at some point. People want to preserve this extremely dramatized version of mental illness that we’ve been shown in the media. Like, if you were “actually” mentally ill, you wouldn’t be able to laugh. Or be clever. Or be likeable. It’s waning, but there’s still a sense that mental illness is supposed to totally ruin your life or you’re not actually mentally ill. A lot of these jokes are coming from high functioning people who paint a nuanced picture of what it’s like to live with mental illness. That’s important. It wasn’t happening in writer’s rooms, it wasn’t happening in classrooms, so it’s happening online.
I used to seethe at the fact that people would post mental illness content if they weren’t mentally ill. But then I realized, who the fuck am I to make that assumption? Like, am I going to demand that they show me their SSRI script? DM their antipsychotics? Yeah, some posts seem inauthentic. And yes, romanticizing and conflating mild existential angst with the reality of managing mental illness through professional therapy and/or medication is problematic. But what am I going to do? There’s so much going on right now that I don’t have the energy to call people out. As long as you’re not hurting anyone or bashing pineapple on pizza, post whatever you want.
5. From your tweets, I can see you’re a fellow anti-capitalist and you base a lot of jokes on the proletariat and bourgeoisie. Does that come from a personal struggle with capitalism or is it more of something you’ve noticed due to twitter?
I think online activism & “woke” humor have sort of lead to this reactionary movement of people saying “oh they’re just socialist/woke/etc because they saw it on Twitter.” But why is that a bad thing? Is socialism only pure when it’s learned from a 60k/yr private institution? Posturing and virtue signaling is real af, but an economic system that values production and consumption over humanity is bad for all humans. So, we’re all affected by capitalism on a spectrum, with a lot of us being privileged enough to ignore.
Personally, I saw a lot of classism/racism growing up in the Chicagoland area. Chicago’s super segregated both economically and socially. I lived in a working class/poverty stricken area but went to private schools with middle class/upper middle families. Some of my friends’ parents would actually refuse to give me a ride home because they were afraid of driving in my neighborhood. Lol this one time my friend’s mom dropped me off at a McDonalds two towns over and I had to steal a bike to get home. All that content is coming from a place of personal experience, but I was definitely encouraged by the current dialogue around anti-capitalism to speak on it.
6. How do you deal with people stealing your content? Accounts like Dory and Common White Girl make a living off of doing so and it can end up with an original joke not being credited properly?
I usually just call them out and try to raise awareness of that person/account stealing content. It’s definitely annoying. I do stand up irl and will sometimes try out a one liner or a punchline on Twitter before I say it on stage. So it’s like next level annoying when I see people stealing jokes that I say on stage. At the end of the day I try to focus on the fact that I’m lucky to be capable of original, creative thought other people relate to.
7. Do you feel as if the humor online made by black youth is sometimes overlooked? We’ve seen the ‘Catch Me Outside’ girl become extremely successful for being a mockery of black girls whereas Peaches Monroe who coined ‘on fleek’ hasn’t received the same attention. Why do you think this is?
Black people were forcibly brought to America to work. For free. Years later, there’s still a general feeling that in exchange for building this country’s economy, black people are now graciously allowed to live in America. It’s like we’re on some extended work visa. We’re expected to get a job, shut up, and if we don’t like something, spin a globe and move to the first African country our finger lands on. So all black products are overlooked because our sole existence in this country is contextualized around free labor. We’re supposed to be productive. We’re supposed to make great things. That’s all expected. If we don’t meet those standards then we’re seen as useless. The only way we’re given access to humanity is through our contributions to capitalism.
Lol I know that’s a v intense way to start a conversation about 140 character thoughts, but I think it’s important to realize that the internet doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Social media isn’t an alternate reality, it’s an extension of reality. So the dismissal of black content creators is very similar to how black creators have been treated in the past. Black produced online content isn’t seen as substantive or worthwhile until it’s been “””curated””” or ironically appropriated by white people/corporations. I’m all for the free exchange of ideas, cultural exchange, etc etc. I understand that, anthropologically, this is how culture evolves. But the appropriation of black content is violent because we’re not given the same opportunities to monetize our ideas. Peaches Monroe launched 1,000 marketing campaigns with a 6 second video and saw none of those profits. Chewbacca Mom, Damn Daniel, et al got college scholarships, corporate sponsorships, public appearances, all kind of social capital. I truly believe black youth has been the main innovators of popular American culture from the late aughts until now.
8. Any advice to young POC who want to get into comedy but are scared to do so?
- Most of the time people will like you if you just smile
- Know yourself, know your audience
- Ignore people who say your material is too black/gay/female/whatever
- Always be writing
- I’ve lost drafted tweets, notebooks, and notes in my iphone. Keep a GOOGLE DOC of ideas
- Comedy on social media and live comedy are two different things both worth trying
9. Are you working on any upcoming projects for 2017? If not what are some things you’d like to do?
I’ll be producing some live comedy events in NYC in the upcoming months that I’ll be posting about. Other than that, writing and acting. I’d like to play Huey in a live action Boondocks movie. That’s been a long time dream.