Jay Versace is arguably the funniest teenager on the internet or at least the funniest to get his start on social media, but most definitely the funniest to make the move to Los Angeles by way of New Jersey to expand an already burgeoning acting career. Versace’s channel of choice for scaling his millennial dream was the short-form video hosting app, Vine. Before the now-defunct channel called it quits, Versace had amassed 3 million followers, using that success as a launching pad to gain more than 500,000 followers on YouTube and 2 million on Instagram. There are thousands of people trying to make it big every day via social media and very few of them end up with where 19-year-old Versace is, so what made him stand out among his peers? In his own words, “Some people just want to cause a little bit of drama,” and judging by all of his more than willing viewers, they like to watch a little drama as well. Even before internet applications were common for content consumption, Versace knew he had an innate ability to make people laugh, but he didn’t realize it would push him toward a calling in acting.
“My whole life I was known as the class clown, so I didn’t really want to be a comedian because that was always who I was, a person who could make people laugh. When the videos started happening it was cool but I didn’t think too much about it. When people actually started telling me, ‘you should start acting’ and then different companies started reaching out that’s when I realized maybe this is the right move for me because it’s who I’ve been my whole life. It just made so much sense and it was falling into place so peacefully.”
Earlier this year, Versace decided to take the leap from social media stardom to a full-on acting career, making the move from his hometown in Pleasantville, New Jersey to Los Angeles.
When I caught up with Versace, I asked him if there was any hesitation to move across the country away from everything he’s ever known.
“I was completely ready. When you see your goals, when you see your future, you don’t care about the process, you’re just so excited to get what you want. I didn’t feel like it was that big of a change. It wasn’t that hard to transition. It felt like I was just living out what I expect out of my life.”
It’s hard to imagine that back in 2014 Versace already knew where he was headed, but since then, recognition from celebrities like Erykah Badu for his lip-syncing impression of her hit single “On and On,” and a call out in a New York Times article about Black humor more than hinted at it. His impressions given with dramatic facial expressions run the gamut from Gucci Mane to Kylie Jenner and even his own mom. When I asked Versace about his ability to portray people so well, he explained that it was all about taking life lightly, even to a fault.
“Honestly, growing up I never took anything seriously and that’s kind of messed up sometimes. Every single thing I would laugh at it. I used to get in trouble so much and my mom would just be so upset with me, and literally go off, and I would be held in the biggest laugh ever. Getting a strong emotion out of people, it just triggers something and I’ll never forget it. It just makes me want to create something out of it or just see people have strong emotions towards something.”
Versace’s videos are like memes gone live, more like an inside joke between friends than a widely agreed-upon notion of funny. When I asked Versace why he thought so many people resonated with his videos, he acknowledged his eccentric approach.
“The fact that it was my style of humor, my style of humor is very just random and just weird, quirky. When I was on Vine people were being exactly who I am. What I do with my friends, people are literally doing that and getting famous for it. So with Vine, I felt like I belonged there.”
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But that belonging doesn’t come without its share of feeling ostracized. Back in May of this year, Versace took a short hiatus from social media after an online feud with pop singer Princeton Perez. We talked about how easy it can be to have your messages miscommunicated on social media, especially when your every move is being watched by millions.
“I say what I feel and my thought process, not a lot of people are going to understand and comprehend, and sometimes, not everybody wants to comprehend. Some people just want to cause a little bit of drama. It makes excitement for people to see and tune in to. I always have to be so careful of what I say and what I stand for because people will literally turn that completely around. It’s kind of hard sometimes, but I signed up for this.”
When I asked Versace about the downsides of social media fame, he leaned towards the theory that even the bad was worth the good.
“The downsides of social media I’ve experienced are basically growing. Growing and changing. Every human grows and changes, and when you’re growing and changing publicly, it’s a whole new thing that you have to learn and adjust to doing. Some of the downside is me growing and changing and learning lessons, and making mistakes, and not being treated like a regular human being. I’m still a teenager, growing up and learning things for myself. Really I wouldn’t call it downsides actually, it’s something that’s really helpful in my life. You have to grow and it’s so different because you’re growing in front of a crowd.”
Spending your adolescent years growing in front of a crowd is not easy, but Versace has used his platform to share his personal experiences in a way that makes others feel less isolated. In September of 2016, Versace decided to share his sexuality with his followers and the world, posting on Snapchat “I love people in general idgaf what gender you are… There it is .. Hate me for it… Idgaf. Love me for it.. Love you more” and on twitter, “Sexual preference: intelligence.” Without directly labeling himself and enabling the fluidity of his own sexuality, he invited his audience to accept him for who he was, and in some ways to accept themselves as well. I asked Versace why it was so important for him to share such personal details with his audience.
“It was important because I like to be an open book. I don’t want to have any secrets. I just want to be an open book, out there living the same life, that’s not too different from you, so being that I was exploring that, I was exploring every single thing that was unique about me, it got to the point where I just want to tell the world, every single thing, including sexuality, because how am I going to be an open book and be closeted? You know it just didn’t make any sense, so, I was like, at some point, I just have to be Jay. And do what Jay does which is letting people know who he is and what he’s about. So I said my sexuality and everybody reacted very well to it, everyone was really supportive.”
At the core of Versace’s success is his ability to not only be human but to easily mirror what makes others human as well. The irony of that talent is growing an audience that often expects him to be more than just human, more than just himself. For now, he’s attempting to successfully navigate a world where more and more people can’t see him as just “Jay”, a side effect of living the American Dream, 2.0, one where you can create your own grand vision of life with just a device and wifi access.
“When I’m meeting people, sometimes I’m like, ‘do you want to meet me, or do you want to meet Jay Versace the funny guy who makes videos online?’ That makes me wish sometimes that I was just a normal person so I can see how people really feel about me and not just the mask that they like to see. Sometimes I want to go to certain places and blend in and enjoy the moment and I can’t always do that because people are like ‘oh my god, it’s Jay it’s Jay’ and I’m just like a regular person, just like everyone else.”
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