Attention casting directors everywhere: Are you looking to cast a role that is hyperspecific yet an incredibly generic female character? Say, for example, the white woman with no personality whose similarly white husband is going to fix racism? Or perhaps the hot lady villain who keeps soul mates apart until the very end of the film when she eventually gets what’s coming to her and the couple live happily ever after? Might I suggest you look no further than Twitter.
The first time the trend of comedians filming short, audition-style selfie videos came across my timeline was in a thread of videos from actor, writer, and self-described “not a comedian” Natalie Walker. (My initial introduction to Walker was a video of her deadpan singing the alto two part, a.k.a. the most boring part, from “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” a piece of content that continues to make me laugh harder than anything else in this mortal world.) She started riffing on the genre back in the spring of 2016, kicking off a now years-long thread with an “audition to be in a movie as lady w British accent who so fiercely supports the difficult man she loves.” “You will get through this,” she says while filming herself walking down a New York street. “You musn’t forget, you … are … extraordinary.” It’s quick, but cutting. Have you seen The Imitation Game? It stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, the brilliant mathematician who helped crack the codes that eventually brought down the Germans in World War II. Also on his team is a brilliant female mathematician, Joan Clarke, played by Keira Knightley. Walker’s video perfectly distills Knightley’s role into 12 seconds, with most of those involving dramatic blinking.
“I was on my way home from a terrible play reading about a tortured male artist and his loving wife when I remembered joking around with friends about wide-eyed British brunettes in biopics supporting genius men via passionately encouraging platitudes,” Walker explains of the first video. “I thought it’d be fun to document — there’s also a heretofore-undiscussed factor, which is that I felt cute that night, wanted evidence of it, and thought if I made ‘content’ I could get away with considerable vanity.”
I ask Walker if she considers herself the originator of such videos since her work has become fairly ubiquitous on Twitter. “I think I helped popularize them. I recently saw for the first time Eliza Skinner’s 2010 video auditioning for the five roles she could play in a Tyler Perry movie, and was like, ‘Well, fuck,’” she remembers. (Skinner’s video has since been removed from YouTube, but it made the rounds online nine years ago and was, if the headlines are to be believed, quite funny.) “I started my thread three years ago when I wasn’t extremely On Twitter or really adjacent to the comedy scene, so I was pretty oblivious. There’s nothing new under the sun, and I realize I can be bombarded at any moment with mountains of evidence of people doing the concept long before me. Some man will send me cave paintings of mock auditions, an ancient vase that depicts a woman satirizing Sophoclean tragedy tropes. But I will give myself that I think I helped popularize the format on Twitter.” Walker says a personal favorite is “the rom-com bitch girlfriend.” “That’s ultimately a role I am dying to play — to be completely untethered to the constraints of female likability? Sign me up.”
Whether Walker is the originator or not, the format, years later, is still popping up all over the place. Here’s Emily Olcott with a riff on the ridiculous way actors drink alcohol onstage. (Read: dramatically and as though they’ve never sipped a beverage, boozy or otherwise, in their entire damn life.) Or Nicole Silverberg perfectly skewering what she calls “the only jokes in like 90 percent of movies now.” (Picture our spunky heroine looking over her shoulder to see the ghost she thought she’d successfully fled 15 minutes earlier in the film, even though it’s clear she and the ghost are about to go on a ridiculous journey for the next hour and a half. “HOW ARE YOU EVERYWHERE!”) Eva Victor’s selfie videos, while not specifically audition-inspired, are likewise on trend. (For a timely hit, might I suggest her “explaining to my boyfriend why we’re going to straight pride” video: “Don’t you want to wear sunglasses that say ‘Walmart’ on them?”) And, for a further variation on a theme, here’s Megan Stalter playing the role of Woman Calling Friend From Dirty Car After an Audition. It’s perfect.
Or there is Rachel Wenitsky as the Hot Character Who Everyone Thinks Had It Easy Finally Reveals Their Painful Backstory. “You think I don’t know what I look like … I was born on top of a moving bus. When I was 8 my dad evaporated.” It’s also perfect.
The list goes on and on, and, as you’ve likely started to notice, it’s a list of women. And when you start to drill down on the sorts of roles they’re often mock-auditioning for — one-dimensional, secondary, and wholly lacking in anything resembling nuance — it’s not terribly surprising the trend is predominant among women. Walker calls Rachel Sennott doing “the trailer for any movie set in L.A.” the “gold standard.” (An honorable mention to Joe Castle Baker’s reel of stereotypical-gay-friend lines and an exception to the female-led trend, though on point considering the similar pigeonholing that can happen with queer characters: “YAAAS KWEEN!”) I ask Walker what it’s like to be creating in such a crowded space where people making these videos are often compared to each other and accused of bit theft. “Even in those instances [where it appeared people were stealing her jokes], I quickly felt extremely irrational and deluded for reacting that way, and had to tell myself to stop being such a self-aggrandizing little pill. And at the end of the day, literally who cares if someone does an internet video similar to mine? It doesn’t matter,” she says. “In the end, I want to become successful enough that nobody remembers I did a bunch of videos on social media.”
Finally, I ask Walker why she thinks people have glommed on to these videos with such intensity. (Walker’s videos frequently rack up thousands of retweets and tens of thousands of faves.) She named a couple of reasons, beyond the trend being an outlet for women commenting on the state of an entire industry. “Movie satire is easy and accessible — there’s a reason Airplane is considered a classic, and that Scary Movie spawned a whole slew of sequels and offshoots in the early aughts,” she explains, noting the self-camera allows the viewer to be “wholly immersed” in what a person is doing with their voice and face. And, finally, the videos are quick. “With TV shows that have been recommended by friends, you usually try to give it an episode or two — sometimes more if you’ve been pressured with ‘It really doesn’t get going til midseason.’ With Twitter videos, if a friend says, ‘This is funny,’ and you watch it and hate it, then at most you’ve wasted two minutes and 20 seconds. I catatonically watched 14 minutes of Jennifer Garner making bagels from scratch on her YouTube channel last night for reasons unknown; I can spend two minutes and 20 seconds on the opportunity to forget the world is burning.”