Jaboukie Young-White, Twitter’s Enfant Terrible, Enters His Movie Star Era
While he takes over Hollywood, he’ll keep tweet (and deleting) his chaotically hilarious musings.
For our annual “The Originals” issue, we asked creatives—pioneers in the fields of art, design, fashion, comedy, activism, and more—to share their insights on staying true to themselves. Read all of this year’s interviews here.
At 27 years old, you’ve garnered a reputation as an online rabble-rouser, posting chaotically hilarious tweets. After a few years on Twitter, you parlayed your posts into gigs as a “senior youth correspondent” on The Daily Show With Trevor Noah, a writer on Netflix’s animated series Big Mouth, and an actor in the romantic comedy Dating & New York. You’re in an A24 film called C’mon C’mon, with Joaquin Phoenix and Gaby Hoffmann, and directed by Mike Mills, and two series produced by Issa Rae, Untitled Gang’s All Queer Project and Rap Sh*t. How are you feeling right now about your relationship to the Internet?
I’m approaching a point where I’ve spent more years of my life on social media than I have not been on social media. It’s something really interesting to look back on, especially when you’re being honest with yourself. It’s different than looking through a photo album or family pictures that you have, because it’s all very self-curated.
Have you become more or less vulnerable on social media over time?
Both. I think that we’ve entered a new era. I’m definitely not the first person to say this, and it is kind of pretentious, but we had modernism, and then postmodernism, and we’re in metamodernism now, which is the idea that everything is sincere and ironic at the same time. Sometimes I’ll see a post and think, If you showed this to Oscar Wilde, he wouldn’t know what the fuck is going on.
Who first taught you that you could break the rules?
I was an only child at first, so there was a lot of attention on me for the first couple of years of my life. This is all preconscious stuff, but I imagine I probably realized there’s a line that I can cross that’s too far, and I can get in trouble, and then there’s a little sweet space that I could live in where we’re having fun and I’m not doing what I was supposed to do, but it’s no harm, no foul.
How mischievous were you as a kid?
My mom used to tell me this story about how they tried to get me into a day-care program. They made the kids do what was basically an obedience test. They’d be like, “Can you jump?” I just did the opposite of everything that they asked, and they were like, “We think he has a cognitive impairment.” My parents were like, “No, he’s just like that. He thinks it’s funny to not do what’s asked of him.” I’ve noticed my niece has the same sense of humor, and I feel so proud every time I see her.
When you were living in Chicago, figuring out your comedic voice and performing stand-up shows, did you know you wanted to be in films and on TV?
When I was in high school, I wanted to go to acting school, but because of some experiences I had, I was like, I’m not about to be dealing with these white people deciding if I’m good enough or not; I will go insane. Once I got to college, I was like, I expect nothing from no one. That was my mentality. In 2015, I remember being in a class and a discussion coming up, like, “So, diversity in Hollywood—do we think that it’s a trend? How long do we think this is going to last?” It was funny to me, because it was how I knew I made the right decision—the fact that people think this is a trend is ridiculous, and if these people feel threatened, then I guess something is actually, genuinely changing.
What does originality mean to you?
Being able to absorb something, and then putting it back out with a part of yourself fused to it.
Who is original to you?
Tierra Whack. When you look at her work, it feels like it’s in the same vein as Missy Elliott, but it’s so undeniably her. She is someone who I stan.
What’s the most unoriginal thing people ask you?
“Tell me a joke.”
How would you describe your style in three words?
Postapocalyptic gay hypebeast.
Would you ever quit Twitter?
Yes, I would. It’s fun to stream-of-consciousness tweet, but it’s also my hellscape. It definitely rots your brain a little bit. I saw a tweet saying that if you tweet a joke, all of the replies would be the most serious people you’ve ever met in your life, and if you tweet something serious, it’s just people joking nonstop. That is, poetically, hell.