When any writer is tackling a subject, they have two choices in format: ‘Q & A’ (questions and answers, i.e. a condensed transcript of the interview) or profile, a write-through. The latter is thought to be reserved for the big ones, the A-list celebrity cover stories, wherein said wordsmith can really flex their literary prowess peppered with a few good quotes from the talent — but more often than not, a profile emerges when that’s all a writer has…a few good quotes. A conversation with Benito Skinner, known formally as @BennyDrama7, cannot be whittled down to just a few good quotes. Perhaps because everything he says — and does, it seems — is pure magic.
Skinner is the kind of Internet enigma that inspires instant groupie-like fascination. One of his parodies will arrive in your DMs via three friends within seconds of its release on your feed, to which you’ll reply a variation, “I SAW, I’m screaming,” or more often, “Lmao, literally me.” It quickly becomes a competition among friends to gauge where exactly he’s from (Idaho, as apparent from the tags on his holiday posts), where exactly he is now (Williamsburg, as evident by the many rooftop references and hipster drags) and who he is (an actor/comedian, with a clear penchant for editing and an unrivaled grip on pop culture).
I was one such disciple — and sweating profusely with a severe flu and case of starstrike upon witnessing Instagram come to life via a shirtless, wig-wearing, flower-crown adorned Benito Skinner on the set of his COOLS shoot. Skinner, a film school graduate, has gone viral on more than one occasion. His impressions of the Queer Eye stars garnered so much love that Antoni and Jonathan Van Ness became regular characters in Skinner’s rotation. Then there was the astrology video (an interpretation of Scorpios, based on himself) which spawned in a series of monthly takes on each zodiac sign. Each character has been rooted in Skinner’s reality, mostly related to hiding his adolescence. There’s been Glossier spoofs, baby nephew cameos, Noah Centineo impersonations, Britney Spears runway montages, gym bro jokes, weed enthusiast skits, CW rip-offs — you name it, Skinner has tackled it to much fanfare.
Finally, after many uncannily accurate KarJenner sketches came “Stormi!” With just one high-pitched, elongated word extracted from this Kylie Jenner makeup tutorial, Skinner truly became Internet infinite, engaging a response he never predicted. The comedian, now clothed (but wig-less) is remarkably warm and tactile, genuinely bewildered by his fast-rising star. Fresh off his first solo tour, a Comedy Central nod and angering Catholics over a JVN-as-Jesus moment, there’s a lot more in store for Skinner, yet.
I’m interested in when you really felt things shift for Benny Drama, when did he really start to gain traction?
I think the first thing that did super well for me was the Queer Eye parody. And then I started doing Kardashian stuff. It’s crazy to me, they’re one of the few things that, like…everyone knows them. They make such a good spoof — I love them.
Is that how it works for you, your celebrity impersonations are inspired by your own fandom?
Yeah, I think so. If I am not a fan, I won’t even have enough time to research to do the impression. With the Kardashians, I consume so much of their content so it makes it easy. It was just like done.
Who are your queens?
I mean I once saw Hilary Duff walking down the street, I walked by her and I’ve never felt that before — I felt my body shut down. But like Hilary, Britney, and Lana.
Do you factor in engagement with those fanbases when you set out to do an impression?
Some of the jokes are for them and for me, the film rule is “kill your darlings” but I never do. Sometimes it’s so random, with the Stormi-Kylie Jenner thing, that was so random. That’s the joy of the Internet and it’s like, Omg really?
I know you were a college radio DJ; tell me about that transition and finding this world.
Well, that was an intro into being a real personality and what felt authentic to me, and I love music (on Instagram, music choice is always my favorite part of the video). Then I moved to New York, I studied film and I knew how to edit but I wanted to take it to the next level, so I found a job in editing to learn how to edit on green screen, make the sound work, and turn footage that isn’t amazing into something. I find that with so many videos, when the footage isn’t what I want it to be I’ll turn on my editing mode like, How are we going to save this?
Did you ever imagine supporting yourself with online comedy?
It’s funny because what I think I didn’t understand about virality is that one viral video is not enough. We’re going to forget in 24 hours. And so I think I realized this wasn’t going to happen overnight but I love doing it, and they make me happy and other people happy and I just need to keep doing it and try to not get in too much debt. I was in the park one day with my boyfriend and he said to me, “What if you just had a coffee after work and edited through the night and really poured everything into this? Because it’s so obvious this is what you want to do.” So I did.
It’s funny because this how so many young creatives are getting their start, it’s completely circumvented the process of open mics or finding agents.
I think that’s what’s so amazing about it. Someone like me who is from Idaho, I mean there are no film connects. Yeah I have a dream but like, how do you do that? Do I show up at an agents door?
Right, like drama school or nothing.
And unfortunately I didn’t feel like I could go to drama school because when I went to college I was still in the closet. I was hiding that whole performative part of myself.
That’s so much work.
It was so much work.
I truly can’t believe you did that for so long, is that a shock to you now?
Yeah, it is. It was so based on how I was treated in school. There was talk and whispers, always, and it never really goes away. I remember someone calling my phone at 16 and leaving this really vicous voicemail about me being a f*ggot, it was so messed up. I remember what doom that felt like at the time. I’m so fucking happy I’m gay. I love to talk to people about their coming out stories and I think that’s why I love being gay so much now is because of the community. We can share these traumatic stories. You just have an inner war going on.
It’s fascinating because you’re an actor now by profession and that’s what you were doing then, acting.
I was acting! There’s a question I always get asked now like, “Can you play straight?” And I always think you know, I can, I hope? I did it for so many years!
How was translating Instagram to stage?
I mean I could feel people thinking, I hope this is fucking worth it! The only thing I can relate it to is when I post a video and it does so well, it feels amazing to see people freaking out. To see real faces, I mean I don’t get to see people laugh. To make an hour and 15 minute show was a challenge but I think people feel real connections to people on the Internet.
Were you ever worried about being stuck in that box?
I think sometimes the industry just thinks, It’s just an Internet thing, but there are so many other avenues to watch things now and each of them can get you noticed. And it’s hard to sit and watch something for an hour — also I know everyone has their favorite characters so I really have to deliver.
I’m a big fan of your Noah Centineo. You do a great bro, in general.
There’s so much trauma attached to the bro! I feel like girls react so well to that, because they understand that. My boyfriend can’t watch me do it, but all my girl friends love it. No matter how far I take it, there are always guys doing things that are way worse. It’s so nice to see the girls in the comments. In my show I do an ode to all the straight boys us gays have loved before and it’s like this really beautiful moment where all the girls are going nuts and gay guys are going nuts.
And you read the comments? That’s impressive.
Yes, I always do! Honestly though they’re generally so nice. Someone taught me if you see a shitty comment to respond to a nice one. And they actually give me really good feedback.
All your videos are really deceptively socially aware.
I’m always interested in how what we portray on social media is so different from how we really are, like I just did this video of Kim Kardashian taking a shit and like, I don’t know if we have ever thought of that but she does. Or how people talk to gay guys. Little things like that. I like to do everything with a smile.