Pop culture

Benny Drama Wants to Eat Frozen Mangoes and Watch Riverdale With You

Known for his hilarious comedy skits and impersonations on his Instagram, Benito Skinner shares with us his anecdotes for sharing the medicine of laughter during a national crisis.
Reading time 17 minutes
Photography by Terry O'Connor

"It's crazy. I was screaming," an excited Benito Skinner shares, reflecting on Kim Kardashian recently reposting an impersonation sketch he published on his Instagram of her and her sisters. The comedian and internet genius, known to his endearing audience as Benny Drama, has seen so much viral success from his original skits posted to his social media accounts that it is almost surreal to watch his growth in real time. While the inspiring creative produces his all videos by himself making use of a green screen, simple wigs and costumes, his addictive and hilarious three-minute videos have reached seemingly every corner of the country and the world. Celebrities have taken notice: with a comment section frequented by Zoe Kravits, Sophie Turner, and January Jones, it's almost impossible to have not come across one of Benny's viral hits.

"The interns are crying" was the first thing I heard the morning I met Benny as he entered the venue of a previous fashion week show we were both casted in. One by one, I watched those around him timidly request pictures with him, confess how much they loved him, while others, like myself (also a huge fan), nervously looked on, too scared to approach him. As we sat side by side in hair and makeup, both getting our wigs perfected for the Susan Alexandra show, Benny turns to me and says, "You are so beautiful". Immediately my heart, and anxiety to speak to him melted and my curiosity about his comedic work and his evident midas-touch for content grew. 

Fast-forward to less than a year later, Benny has amassed over 1 million followers on Instagram alone, has toured the country with his comedy show Overcompensating and has continued to consistently produce the most shared, reposted and side-splitting content on the internet. And while a nation-wide quarantine has changed what jobs look like for everyone in the country, digital creatives have been tasked with reworking their approach to publishing content entirely. Yet, Benny Drama has managed to stay constant in his perfectly-timed, joy-inducing videos that seems to be just what his audience and the world needs right now. We got the chance to talk to the internet mastermind on exactly what does being a creator right now mean to him, the projects he's most excited about for the future, and of course – his devotion to Hilary Duff.

Ryan Norville: Right now is such a crazy time to be a creator. How would you say creating content during a pandemic, where everyone is in such a different mental state, differs from creating any other time of your life?

Benny Drama: I think it's just different knowing that everything I am producing has a bigger impact and maybe is even more important. It sounds strange, but I think a lot of creators have felt an increased amount of pressure during this time. Because you want to give people the escape they need, but at the same time, you're trying to figure out what's appropriate and you're trying to adapt to this very strange time we're living in. I obviously wanted to touch on the quarantine aspect because to not address it would be strange. If there's something funny about you or your name or what you're wearing, it's always important to start off your set by commenting on it. If not, people are going to fixate on why you haven't commented on that yet. So I thought, okay, I will do a skit on the (astrological) signs in quarantine. I felt like that would be a nice escape for viewers, but still relative to current events. 

 

RN: To your point of creatives feeling more pressure to produce content during this time, do you ever feel that way? I remember reading one of your Instagram comments, almost demanding for more of your videos now more than ever. How do you navigate that demand while also processing your own emotions?

BD: I think first and foremost the greatest pressure I get comes from myself. I really just love making things, writing things, acting and producing. So I think any pressure that I feel is more tied to knowing how finishing any work will result in me feeling a lot better during this time. I feel like there was kind of a big push on the internet for a little bit to maximize productivity; learn a new language or something, but honestly you can watch reruns of Sex in the City and eat frozen mangoes and be just as solid. I saw a video about how you can apparently work on your abs while watching TV. I'm like, why would you fucking ruin TV like that?

So I try to give myself that balance of sectioning out my week where maybe I'm working on my writing one day and the next day I’ll dedicate to a video. Then I can kind of take those off moments at night when I literally just want to watch a documentary and go to bed. I don't want to be filming all night. That’s my balance.

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RN: You recently moved across the country after living in Brooklyn for so many years. How did you make the decision to do that and what was it like moving in the middle of a pandemic?

BD: The decision just went with my career at the time. There were a few more opportunities out here. My boyfriend and I have been in Williamsburg for about four years, I had been in Bushwick for two and it felt like time. I love New York so much and I absolutely know that I'll go back all the time. But I've always wanted to be in LA. I also just needed a bit more space for my wigs and costumes. I lived in a pretty populated neighborhood in New York, crowds of people around all the time and I grew up in Idaho – so I kinda wanted to transition to a neighborhood where I could walk around a bit more freely, and also explore the LA comedy scene that I had been enjoying every time I had work out here. I love both cities so much and I know that both of them will be a big part of my life in the future. So I really didn't treat it as like a huge thing knowing I will be back as much as possible.

 

RN: And the moving process?

BD: The move just happened super quick. We boxed up our stuff in like a pod and then literally two days later the quarantine began. So then I had to get on a plane immediately right before stricter lockdown guidelines were recommended. It was super scary, but I literally didn't have a bed at that point because all of our things were en route to LA. I feel super lucky about the actual moving process and finding an apartment which was actually pretty smooth.

 

RN:  Now that you’re on the west coast, do you feel like there's like a different version of yourself in LA? I know when I'm in LA, I'm a different person. LA-me does different things; I go on hikes, I sunbathe, I’m at the beach every day. Is there an LA Benny? Does he drink more smoothies or indulge in anything New York Benny wouldn’t?

BD: No, no. I say as I drink my sparkling water. (laughs). I’m definitely a little bit more outdoorsy. I definitely holed up in New York quite a bit. But I still keep the pace of New York; I still love to churning out videos and writing all day. So I love that New York instilled that in me. I try to hike because boyfriend likes to, but also the weather here is so nice that it is great to be outside and take breaks, especially when I've been inside editing a video for eight hours. Also, I feel like here I can dress more like myself.

 

RN: Really?!

BD: Yes I feel like I need to dress more minimal in New York. Just a regular t-shirt and some sneakers. In New York – I am so bad at stepping in puddles, just getting into shit. In LA I feel more comfortable wearing like my full tie-dye, kicks and everything.

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RN:  Living in Los Angeles are you interested in pursuing any acting roles or anything outside your comedy work?

BD: Yes definitely. I've been doing some auditioning. I am in something coming out soon, so I'm excited to talk more about that. Can’t give any details just yet! But auditioning has been really fun. I feel like that's always been part of my plan to expand my work, being able to be able to move past the three minutes on YouTube. So that's definitely also a huge reason for the move as well. But I am still just as invested in my social media videos, so they're not going anywhere but will probably just continue to evolve and grow which is my ultimate goal.

 

RN:  We spoke before about the emotional attachment some of your audience has to you, or rather the characters you play. Are there any differences between you and the characters you create that you wish your audience knew?

BD: Totally. I feel like there are some characters I feel so distant from. But then there's some, like Benita that feel very similar to me and my views on life. A lot of my characters go pretty hard and I used to, but I’m more relaxed, and my interests are pretty relaxed. I love going to the movies – I'll definitely maybe have a few tequila sunrises, but I wouldn't call myself like someone who goes clubbing a lot. Whereas most of my characters are pretty intense and are party animals.

 

RN: Oh, tell me more.

BD: It's always funny to me when I’m at meet and greets – which is hilarious to me in general that the event is happening from me posting on the internet, I'll never be over that. That is crazy. But people always want to go out for drinks after a show. And I'm literally so tired. I can’t do it, people see me and probably think I’m just so quiet. I'm not saying I'm introverted, but definitely, before shooting a video or doing a show, my energy is obviously elevated to such a degree. I'm in front of the green screen, I probably drank several coffees and I’m fucking ready to go and then, you know, it's towards the end of the day when I'm chillin out, you know, being a little sarcastic bitch on my couch, giggling at memes. I'm super chill, more so than people think.

 

RN:  New York being so small, I’m sure your followers always notice you on the street. What are those interactions like?

BD: Oh my God. They're always kind of shocking to me. Like at first if someone does say something, I’m always listening to music and – I am not really somebody who goes on a chill, light walk. Which I think is probably something that New York instilled in me. But when I leave, I'm laser-focused, not seeing anything on my right or left, I am fucking blasting Lady Gaga and I am on a three count stomping. So at first I’m startled, but everyone is always super sweet and they always tell me their favorite video or they’ll have a future video request sometimes, which is fun to hear. I've been lucky in that the people who have come to my page, are a very accepting eccentric, fun group of people. And every time I meet somebody who follows me, they have either really wild makeup on or they’re in like a full fit. And I'm like, YES! Those are my kids! Then sometimes it's some girl's boyfriend who is like “Dude, my girlfriend loves you!” And I'm like, "Love that for you".

 

RN: One thing people really know you for is your pop culture references. They just always feel extremely on time, and on point. What informs what you're creating and how do you select what cultral topics you want to address?

BD: Ooh. I usually gauge how excited I am, or maybe my boyfriend or my friends. When I read that Lizzie McGuire was moving off Disney+, for me, that felt like such a pop culture moment, especially within the groups that I follow and the people that I follow. It felt like a conversation everyone wanted to be a part of. So that was an obvious sign to me.

 

RN: Well you’re also a huge Hillary Duff fan. 

BD: Oh I'm a stan for life. I can never meet her. There’s just some people I can’t meet. I've been in the same room with Rihanna and we have locked eyes, but I couldn’t actually try to speak to her. At that moment I knew I was about to start crying in front of her. And also Lana (Del Rey).

And in terms of content, I also felt like with the Kardashians – the Kim and Kourtney fight that aired on the new season was just everywhere. I didn’t film a sketch on it immediately – and then people were demanding a video of it. But I wanted to make sure that I have something more to add to the sketch than just a reenactment, but to have own personal take and comedic touches on the scene. That was when I was excited to film it, or what I thought maybe people would be excited about.

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RN: Well, I mean you had Kim, Kourtney and Khloe commenting on your last video of them and reposting it to their own stories.

BD: It's crazy. I was screaming, I was jumping up on the bed. That felt really good because I always want these to be videos that are really fun for people and never makes anyone feel jabbed or hurt. I want it to feel like things a friend would say if they are making fun of you. Sort of like maybe I'm always just kind of reading you….because I can read somebody, but I don't think that that'd be an escape. But my focus is more to comment on my observations of social media, pop culture, the queer experience and maybe some of our teen experiences, but I'm not trying to like ruin somebody's life.

 

RN: You said before you’re pretty much a one-person production team. How long does it take to complete a video you post on Instagram from say, conceptualization to the moment it’s posted?

BD: It definitely depends on the video. The Kardashians and any longer series take much more time. Like “Signs in Quarantine”  probably took 13 hours to edit and probably two days to shoot with all the characters. And then my skin never forgave me, but I love doing the makeup, it's peaceful for me and it really helps me get into character. I love a good transformation, I'm doing a Billie Eilish video tonight, and when I finally got the wig I started to feel it. That’s the moment for me where I'm like, oh shit - this is going to be good. Makeup is probably 30 minutes to an hour based on how extreme the look is and I'm definitely a perfectionist. Sometimes writing a script takes 15 minutes and sometimes they take days.

 

RN: Trust me, we’re grateful. You're doing important work. 

BD: Thank you! Sometimes videos can take so long to record I don’t even know if they are funny anymore. I just post it and I’m just like, literally you guys could drag for this one at this point.

 

RN: You mentioned you would love to expand and evolve your content. Do you have any dream collaborators you think about filming skits with?

BD: Oh my God. I feel like me and Dante Coley are currently overdue for a project. I love him so much and we've gotten to spend some time together. I think he's so creative and just brings so much joy to me and so many people. I would love to team up with some of the people that I have done impressions of. So that is maybe somewhere already in the process of happening, which I can't reveal, but I think it would be really interesting and hopefully fun to watch. I miss Bojangles, our Harry Potter moments together. I would love to bring back Dumbledore and Dumblwhore. I really fucking love the people who I've met via the internet, which is so weird and bizarre that the first time you meet you're like, why do I feel like I know you so well? 

 

RN: Do you have any hot takes on some new pop culture icons that have come out during quarantine?

BD:  I mean I fucking love Katie Couric. So much. I feel like I followed her for so long and she's such a legend, but like she's been like giving you a lot of comfort during this time. I’ve actually loved watching some of the Instagram lives. Well, I mean, some of them.

 

RN: They can definitely be overwhelming right now.

BD: I love seeing what different comedians are doing during this time. Mary Beth Barone had a fun live show that I've done a few times, and then Cat Cohen has Club Cumming, which is amazing. And Sydnee Washington has a “Cook with Me” show that's fun to watch. But honestly, I'll just watch Riverdale forever, I can't let it go. Forever and always it will take you on a journey.

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