Biniam Bizuneh is a writer and comedian based in Los Angeles. He’s the creator the web series LieGuys, and most recently he performed on the Vans Warped Tour, served as a consultant on Billy on the Street, and made his televised standup debut on the Viceland show, Flophouse. This week Bizuneh talked to me about three of his favorite tweets, plus black dolls, risks, and maintaining consistently erratic behavior.
The most unrealistic thing about this ‘toy comes to life’ movie is that a white girl has a black doll https://t.co/07alZWPjns— Biniam Bizuneh (@biniambiz) April 20, 2017
This tweet falls into the “pointing out that we live in a white man’s world” category. That accounts for about 12.4% of my tweets (which, fun fact, is also the percentage of the American population that’s black). Ever since I saw this Donald Glover interview in 2014 in which he talks about how we live in a world made for white people, I can’t stop making observations like this. At one point in the interview he points out that band-aids are the color of skin. In our society, “skin” means white skin. By now, many have heard the band-aid thing, but at the time, it blew my mind. It made me really aware of the fact that in America, white = normal, and as obvious as that sounds, that was a new lens for me to look at the world through. It’s why when you say, “I saw this guy walking down Fairfax who…etc,” I assume “this guy” is a white guy unless you specify he’s not.
So I’ve never seen this movie, Life Size. I’ve just seen the poster and read its Wikipedia, but the fact that a 13-year-old Lindsay Lohan had a black doll struck me as incredibly bizarre. I’ve NEVER seen a little white girl (irl) with a black doll, and in the case that one of my black friends had a non-white doll growing up (many didn’t), it was on some bullshit like:
The black Barbie (in the ‘90s/early 2000s, I can’t speak for today) was an afterthought. They basically dipped the white Barbie in brown paint one day. That’s it. They didn’t change the body type, hair (other than making it black), or the facial features. It straight up was ‘Blackface Barbie.’
After writing the above couple paragraphs, I wanted to make sure I hadn’t said anything inaccurate, so I found the full movie on YouTube. They don’t mention race ONE TIME in this movie. This white girl was given a black doll by the white girlfriend of her father, and the closest thing they get to saying she’s black is saying she has “a very sophisticated look.” Besides the fact that this is a classic example of the magical negro trope (someone pls add this movie to the “List of Magical Negro Occurrences in Fiction” wiki), and the fact that it’s like some twisted prequel to Get Out in which a white girl has a black person as her literal plaything, her having a black doll is still the craziest part. If this movie took place in the real world, no one would care about the fact Lindsay Lohan could do dark magic and turn her black Barbie into Tyra Banks. They’d all just want to interview her about why she has a black doll. About a month ago, a little white girl became a viral sensation just because chose to have a black doll. I can’t even imagine the reaction to the same thing happening 17 years ago, which is when this movie came out.
I love and appreciate that you researched this to fact check yourself—do you do that ever with tweets?
The most I ever do with tweets is a Google search to check a reference or make sure I’m quoting a song correctly.
What’s the longest time/most effort you’ve put into a single tweet?
Sometimes, I’ll have a tweet in my drafts for months, keep seeing it, and one day realize how to make it something I like. I think I spent an hour photoshopping an image for a horrible Back to the Future tweet once. Photoshop tweets definitely take longer than standard.
The number of unfinished books you’ve started is equal to the # of things you still want to change about yourself — Biniam Bizuneh (@biniambiz) March 29, 2017
This tweet falls into the “broad introspective claims that have no basis in sociological data, but feel true in my bones” category. I do a lot of tweets like this, and I may use the pronoun “you” in them, but it’s the figurative “you” cause I’m always talking about me. I’m full of shit on several levels, and I don’t know if I can change that, but I can be aware of it, and that’s the next best thing. In my head, if I call myself out constantly for my bullshit, no one else can. And MAYBE, with hyper-awareness, I can take steps to be a better person since I’m facing and acknowledging my flaws constantly.
One of the pieces of art/music that’s had the most lasting impact on me is the “Last Call”-esque hidden track within the song “That Power,” which ends Childish Gambino’s Camp (Yes, it LOOKS like I’m quoting Donald Glover twice in the same article, but technically I’m quoting D.C. Pierson, cause he’s the one who wrote the thing Donald Glover said that I’m about to cite). Childish tells a story about a girl who revealed a secret he told her, to a bunch of people who weren’t meant to hear it. From that experience, he says he “learned to cut out the middle man, make it all for everybody always. Everybody can’t turn around and tell everybody, everybody already knows, I told them.” I remember hearing this when I was twenty-one and deciding to take what I interpreted as this philosophy of radical honesty in both life and art, and apply it to myself. I never reevaluated that choice. I hope I get roasted in a group text for writing this.
How similar is your voice online to your voice in other writing?
I’d say it’s almost identical to the voice I use in my standup. Unless it’s some joke where I’m doing a character, it’s the same. I’ll often take things from Twitter/fb to put in standup jokes and vice versa. The one thing that’s a little different on Twitter (that I appreciate) is that I don’t always have to be funny. Things like that are still in my voice, but if I said them on stage, they’d have to be followed by a punchline soon after.
Are there things too personal for you to tweet?
I’m pretty much down to reveal anything that makes myself look bad. Where it gets tricky is if it affects someone else. If I have some observation about a friend, family member, or acquaintance, and I know that if they saw that tweet, they’d immediately know it was about them, and be hurt, I’m more careful.
BUT, I just saw Barry Jenkins tweet this quote from Alice Sola Kim, that stuck with me: “You should write like your parents are dead… or you’re dead… or everyone’s dead,” and I also agree with that. If you write like that, will your work have an honesty that could make it cut through the clutter? Yes. Are you risking embarrassing and angering your friends and family? Also yes. You have to decide if that’s a risk worth taking. I’m still figuring it out.
If the girl from ‘13 Reasons Why’ was black, she would’ve just gotten in 13 fights— Biniam Bizuneh (@biniambiz) May 7, 2017
I once heard this great interview with Hannibal Buress on Neal Brennan and Moshe Kasher’s now defunct podcast, The Champs, in which Hannibal explains why he once falsely tweeted that his Comedy Central pilot was picked up to series. His explanation was, “I was trying to establish a pattern of erratic behavior, to set a precedent.” I loved that logic so much and it’s something I admire about people like Zack Fox’s, Brandon Wardell’s, and Yassir Lester’s use of Twitter. They’ve been tweeting such wild shit for so long and with such consistency, that now, it’d be pretty much impossible to single out one tweet to get mad at. I’m not there yet, but with everything I will myself to tweet (and not immediately delete), I inch closer to that freedom.
Is there a tweet of yours in particular that you noticed made people mad?
I’m fortunate enough that that’s never happened, although I’ve had some videos make people upset. Each time it’s happened though, it’s made sense to me. I could see where they were coming from, and their anger felt justified. And honestly, I believe those experiences helped me grow into a better writer and more empathetic, ethical person. If something I make or write makes people mad, that means that either how funny it is didn’t override how offensive someone people found it, OR that I didn’t do a good job articulating my intention. If both of those aspects were exactly how I wanted them, and someone still got mad, then I knowingly put something into the world that some were just not going to like, and I have to accept all that comes with that. That’s the unspoken contract we agree on. You have free speech, but so does your audience.
Are there certain kinds of tweets from other people that get you mad, and if so what do you do when that happens?
I don’t know if any tweets make me mad. Anytime someone is super racist or stupid etc. I’m never really mad. I’m more just in awe, like that scene in Jurassic Park where Ol’ boy sees a live brontosaurus for the first time. I feel like an explorer seeing a rare bird in the wild. Even if I did something crazy, and got publicly shamed with all of Twitter roasting me, I still don’t think that’d make me mad. It’d definitely make me sad, but not mad.
How often do you tweet and delete?
Can someone pls introduce me to a plus size model. I feel like they only exist on instagram — Biniam Bizuneh (@biniambiz) March 31, 2017
This tweet doesn’t really fall into any category, because this is not a joke or observation. This is an honest request. I really want to date a plus size model, and I haven’t knowingly encountered any irl. I’ve tried using Instagram, but that hasn’t worked either. Here’s a breakdown of why that hasn’t worked from the best rapper in the world who can also surf, Kyle (not actually sure if he can surf, but if he can’t, that’d be huge disappointment). So if you’re reading Splitsider™ right now and you know a plus size model, tell them to check me out on Instagram, and if I meet their standards, send me an intro email with them cc’d: benbizunehATgmailDOTcom
Photo by Jenny D.
Jenny Nelson lives, writes, and performs in Brooklyn.