Instagram’s Benny Drama is Coming to a TV Screen Near You
The gags and the lewks are coming to a new pilot, dolls.
The gags and the lewks are coming to a new pilot, dolls.
Text: Ahad Sanwari
During the 2020 holiday season, when the entire country was figuring out the specs for their Zoom parties, Benito Skinner was having his evermore moment in rural Boston. “We were on a walk in the woods and I just went ‘take your camera out, I’m ready,’ and I even had my sweat suit on,” he says. That inspiration became another one of Benny Drama’s moments of minute-long comedy; self-aware, referential, pondering the danceability of Taylor Swift’s second pandemic album.
Taking nuggets of reality and making them his own is what Benny Drama, one of Instagram’s premier comedians, is all about. The purveyor of the beautifully endearing boyfriend that is Shawn Mendes, what the various star signs would do in a horror movie, and Kris Jenner’s dealings with Satan, Drama has cemented himself as a master of the one-minute medium and character work.
But he is now on the cusp of telling his story via a medium jump, transitioning from the small screen of the phone to the not-so-small-screen of television with his very own TV pilot in the works. “I’ve been working on it for probably a year and a half now,” he says, having developed the concept during his stand-up tour. “It’s very campy and gay, but maybe a little more grounded than some of the things people have seen and definitely more personal.” He aims to pitch the show some time during the new year.
Benny Drama is the excitement and the hyperactivity of comedy, the “drama,” if you will. “I’m so stimulated by technology and the ideas I have,” he says. “And especially when I’m picking music for videos and right after I’m doing live shows, I get so excited.” His videos feature a man embodying the campy, over-the-top personas that the internet has come to love for their short time frames and their “churn-and-burn” space for content. And Drama also loves becoming the full character, in complete costume and heels, a full face of make-up, and affected, valley girl voices.
With over 1.3 million followers on Instagram and fans like Jennifer Aniston, Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, and the Kardashian clan themselves, Drama is just as much a celebrity figure as the people he idolizes. Instagram cemented that claim recently by featuring him (or, rather, his character Benita, in full Legally Blonde glam and a sports car) in their “We Make Today” campaign to celebrate the diversity and breadth of the creators that made the platform their own, especially during the pandemic.
But behind Benny Drama, something that simply stemmed from an affectionate pet name by loved ones, is Benito Skinner, a 27 year-old from Idaho who just happens to be a really big fan of the Kardashians. Drama takes the characters and personalities that Skinner is fascinated and obsessed with and brings them into the folds of internet humor. “A lot of it is truly just my personality,” he says. “I think Jenni, the TMI hairstylist, is definitely a part of me. I think that a lot of their souls feel like mine.”
“Every now and then, someone meets me and says ‘Oh, you’re not jumping off the wall and speaking with different accents every five seconds’,” he says. Skinner is the more relaxed version, the kind who likes to chill with friends and family and take walks in the woods. When Drama gets too excited, Skinner mellows him out by looking for ASMR videos, watching “Riverdale,” or doing make-up on his friends. “Just doing make-up is such a meditative process. If you come over to my apartment, I’ll give you a full beat,” Skinner adds.
And it’s Skinner that’s going to be a more prominent creative force in the Benny Drama pilot. “It’s all about social media and how we feel like we have to be perfect or be something that we’re not,” he says. He’s hoping he can send it straight to television without becoming a web-series first, “I want something I don’t have to edit.”
This is the picture of a man stepping out from under the impressions and characterizations he’s become synonymous with, all his own but not really his own. He’s already been dabbling in a little acting, having secured a guest spot in an upcoming season of “Search Party.” But the line between Benny on TV and Benny on Instagram isn’t completely set, though. “The show’s kind of dirty,” he says. “I haven’t watched regular TV in 10 years, though, so maybe it’s raunchy now? I love a good F-bomb, so it might be tricky.”
But the show will still be rooted in his personal experiences with coming out and being queer in the age of social media. Having spoken in the past about seeing the progression of his increasing openness with being gay reflected in his work, he understands that it stands in contrast to how a lot of Gen Z’ers can be more upfront about their identity from the jump. “It’s so foreign to me, and it was so not my experience, or that of a lot of queer people I surround myself with, and I think that the Gen Z generation is really inspiring in that way,” he says. And looking back he does wish that he could tell his younger self to accept and champion the thing that he thought was so wrong. “But I feel like I own my story, and I love my story. And I think that it dictates a lot of the work I’m able to do now, which I feel like, hopefully, makes people feel better about their experiences.”
By embracing reality with an element of escapism, Skinner wants Benny Drama to be someone who can make people feel better about their lives and themselves. “I think there can be a sharpness to a video and sometimes there can just be a great light to it that I think now, especially, is really nice,” he says. He was hailed as “the funniest thing to happen in 2020,” but he’s just as willing to take control of 2021 and grab it by the heels. He’s ready to bring his signature brand of humor and glamor to bigger mediums and break out of the confines of your little touch screen.
And if that involves prancing to Taylor Swift’s “gold rush” once in a while in the woods, the only place you really can prance safely, so be it. “Maybe that was my huge political statement.”