The best tweet came from the FBI: “Just because we killed MLK,” read a message seemingly sent from the bureau’s official, verified Twitter account, “doesn’t mean we can’t miss him.” But after a half-second of closer inspection, it registers that the missive didn’t come from the feds. It came from Jaboukie Young-White, the comedian and Daily Show correspondent, with nearly 700,000 followers. It was another instance of Young-White changing his avatar and display name to impersonate a famous person or company — CNN, the Cats movie, the FBI, Donald Trump — in order to tweet something slyly obscene or slickly clever. It’s a gag the comedian pulls often, and it’s a stunt that gets him suspended from the site regularly. Death, taxes, a late-night “u up?” text from an ex, a Jaboukie Young-White Twitter suspension — the only things in this world that are certainties.
After Joe Biden had been conspicuously absent from any public events or livestreams near the end of March, Young-White did it again, posing as the CNN Breaking News account. “BREAKING: Joe Biden is not DEAD. He just getting some dick. We’ve all been there,” he tweeted. Within the hour, his account was shut down. The routine is always the same: Jaboukie is suspended, his account disappears, his fans and friends tweet pleas for him to be reinstated. Like another light-skin king — Jesus, son of God — @jaboukie rises from the dead.
The tweets are pranks, but they show his dexterity as a 20-something comedian who can fire off micro-parodies of the internet, politics, and our general cultural ennui, all at once. Currently quarantining in Brooklyn with his younger brother, he says he’s “chilling and vibing.” Young-White got on the phone with Vulture for a socially distanced chat about the internet and how living through a pandemic might change comedy forever.
Give me an hour-by-hour. How do you structure your days?
I wake up and scroll Twitter until I see something that pisses me off. And then I’m like, Okay, time to get out of bed. That usually takes anywhere between five and 15 minutes. I straight up have not been going outside. It’s been like 14 days maybe.
Oh my gosh.
I know, I know. I’m not fucking around. It’s almost like a game at this point to see how far I can go before my furniture starts talking. After I get out of bed, I usually jump rope or something, just so I can feel a little accomplished. Then I force myself to shower. It’s so hard describing these things without phrasing it in a way in which your loved ones become concerned about you. But everyone is sort of in this moment right now, I guess. I find that the thing that’s been really keeping me sane is just establishing little routines, rearranging furniture.
How does The Daily Show work during this time? How have you had to adapt?
We’re not livestreaming, but everyone is essentially recording everything on their laptop and/or phone. It’s been interesting. We did a Zoom table read, which honestly was pretty smooth. It was not bad. Any writing projects and stuff that I’ve been working on has just been over FaceTime, instead of someone coming over or going to someone’s place to write.
So tell me what it’s like to be suspended from Twitter.
So your account will collapse in on itself when you’re getting suspended. You’ll go to a friend’s page, and it’s like that page is not loading, and then you’ll go to your profile and then your avi will disappear. It’s literally like a Thanos snap: You disintegrate on the internet in real time. At a certain point, I was like, If I deactivate, then they can’t suspend me. So that’s all I need to do. And I was doing that just to be safe a couple of times. But recently I’ve just been like You know what? Fuck it. They haven’t done anything, so I’ll leave the tweet up for like three or four minutes. But then they I guess caught wind of it. The Joe Biden one was literally up for maybe two minutes.
Oh my God.
Yeah, and I still got popped. They must’ve had tweet notifications on or something.
Since it’s happened so often, is it an irritation or is it perversely kind of fun?
It feels like you’re getting sent to the principal’s office. There’s no other equivalent of that in real life where you’re in trouble, but it’s fun and it’s not super-serious, you know? I used to get in trouble a lot as a kid. It takes me back.
How many times have you been suspended, to date?
I honestly don’t know. Somewhere between three and seven. We’ll say seven with a question mark. I think I came close a couple of times and evaded it. But I evaded it only because I essentially put myself in timeout.
Timeout — what does that mean, in this context?
I’ll deactivate and just lay low. Like after the Kaitlin Bennet [tweet], they were like, “We need to have this man arrested!” Someone was like, “I have called the police!” I was like, Okay, let me just deactivate really quick, before they tried to get me fired or, like, send fucking SWAT to my house.
This time, though, before you were suspended, you had this great thread about blue-check Twitter. I was kind of shocked that people found your ideas about this being such a phony signifier of status controversial.
So the reason why I liked making all those fake tweets was because this country has no media literacy. People are just inclined to believe whatever they see online. And a lot of those tweets were so farfetched, but people wanted them to be true so bad. They liked it and didn’t look twice at it. I feel like I’ve succeeded a little bit. I just wanted more people to look at every tweet like, Is this real or am I getting got right now? Because that sort of is what we need to approach it with.
And I feel like in the same breath, the blue-check thing is kind of an extension of that. There was a period of time where I wanted it so, so, so bad. And even when I got the blue checkmark, what pissed me off so much is that I had already been a figure on Twitter for a long time. It wasn’t until I was associated with a big, reputable organization [Comedy Central] that I got a checkmark, and that organization just so happens to be white. I think the checkmark is just a badge of institutional access. It’s not an actual badge of influence or critical thought or opinion or expertise. I just don’t think that it really means that much.
I wish there was some sort of data analysis of exactly who was verified and when they became verified, because I do think it would show a racial and class bias. I mean, look at the data showing that male political reporters mostly retweet other men.
Another thing that made me say that was I saw a tweet the other day that was listing some of the black queens who have been on RuPaul’s Drag Race. There were black queens who had more followers than white queens, but the white queens were verified and the black queens still aren’t. Even though they were on TV on RuPaul’s Drag Race, they weren’t verified by Twitter. So it’s really like: Truly, what is this measuring?
I think the verified people have the same mentality of billionaires who are like, “I worked for this blue check! You don’t understand. I did so many internships until I could get a complex.com email and actually get this blue checkmark! You don’t understand how difficult it was for me and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” Sure, but you have to acknowledge that the blue check, in the grander scale, shows that a lot of this shit is tied up with how racism, classism, sexism, every -ism, operates. It’s just baked into the internet, but people think of it as not the real world. They think it’s divorced from these structures, but really it’s just algorithmically intensified by the internet. Sorry that I sort of just went on a Dr. Umar Johnson rant.
On a lighter note, though, an important question: How do you organize your memes?
Me and my friends started a main folder where we just stockpile all of our memes into one shared folder. That’s really helpful. I also will just save things from Twitter and then also have things in my camera roll sending over text. I have a photographic memory of where the meme lies in my camera roll; I’ll remember the pictures that are next to the meme. I get kind of nostalgic scrolling back sometimes! It’s interesting how they serve as a diary, because I’ll go through a block of memes that I saved and be like, Wow, these memes are so turnt up, these memes are like really outta pocket control, just ridiculous over-the-top memes. And then there’ll be some that are super-dark, and I’m like Wow, that was an era for sure. It’s a weird sort of picture diary, almost.
What’s your relationship to the Jaboukie’s Deleted Tweets account? How do you feel about it?
Honestly, at first I was like, Huh, okay. But now I kind of love it. It’s really interesting, though, because I think now it’s reached a point where I think the account has caught up to the time when it was created. It’s really interesting seeing how the tone of the deleted tweets changed. Because I was, at that time, tweeting knowing that it could have been screenshotted and reposted. [With] some of the tweets, I think, This actually was not a bad tweet, but I was just like, I’ll let the deleted account take this one. [Laughs.] It’s fun sometimes, because I forget a lot of this shit that I’ve tweeted. Sometimes I’ll laugh at something that I said earlier and feel full Patrick Bateman.
This is sort of an amorphous question, but how do you think comedy functions right now, at this time? How should it function?
We’re so in flux right now that I don’t think anything has really solidified as the general mood, because I think half of us are like, Oh, we’ll be fine. We’re going to be out by summer; the flowers will bloom and then we’ll go outside! But other people are like, No, I think that this might just be our lives now. Everything feels kind of split between those two types of people. In terms of tone and mood, it’s hard for me to say, but I think digital comedy and digital platforms are just going to thrive during this time.
Me, personally — and I don’t mean to sound alarmist — but I don’t think that anything is going to be the same after this. Just because it can’t be. This has exposed too many weak spots in our societal infrastructure and how we interact with each other and treat each other and view each other, who we think is important, who we think isn’t important. Once you do that, you can’t go back. It’s like fucking your best friend: You’re never going to go back to being best friends. You’re in this weird limbo of like, I know what you look like naked. I know what you sound like during sex. The sheets have really been pulled off, and we’ve sort of seen a lot of ugly truths. You can’t go back to normal after that. It’s even tonewise of just the general zeitgeist. But in terms of content and creation and stuff like that, I think stuff like animation and VR gaming, stuff like that, is going to explode.
Right. I do sort of feel like this pandemic will become one of the defining political events of our generation, outside of Trump’s election, in terms of showing how stratified our society is.
It’s so fucking crazy. The past few years have just been like titty punch after titty punch after titty fucking punch! We just been getting it from every single angle. When I stop to actually think about it, it’s so wild. I was trying to think about what would’ve been the last year that I would choose to go back to? Since the mid-2010s, everything has just been a nosedive.
Truly, yeah. Like I guess I’d go back to 2015? But I wasn’t even hot that year. It’s not a year I want to go back to.
Yes! Exactly that! You put it perfectly into words. Do I want to be happy and ugly? That’s the question.