Benito Skinner has come a long way since starting his YouTube channel at the end of 2016. What began as a creative outlet quickly gained an excitable young following, with the comedian’s short one-man character sketches and pop culture parodies embraced as a welcome antidote to the relentless news cycle.
“When I started my YouTube channel Trump had just been elected,” Skinner explains from his home in Brooklyn.
Speaking over FaceTime, his headphones are placed neatly over a teal Kylie Jenner wig.
“Laughing has always been my way of feeling a little better about things,” he adds. “When I was in college and I was feeling anxious or depressed, I’d turn to comedy online to make me feel better.”
An Idaho native, 24-year-old Skinner hasn’t always expressed himself through wigs and makeup. In fact, before coming out to family and friends at 21, the drama student played college football. Position? “Wide receiver,” he says, laughing (it’s a gay joke).
“I was really feminine as a child, so I do have a few experiences where I remember being made fun of, but I think that a part of me has always been a performer, so while being straight might’ve been a challenge — it was a role I committed to,” he tells SBS Sexuality.
However, now that he’s openly gay, the young actor has found himself committed to a number of roles.
When he’s not parodying Britney Spears, the Kardashians, Lana Del Rey or the cast of Queer Eye, Skinner has a growing cast of his own characters: Benny Brohana, an ultra masculine possibly-Republican gym-bro; Benita, a pink-haired Southern belle with a sharp tongue and an endearing progressive streak; and Shade, a gothic arts student who speaks with the disinterested drawl of a 2004 Simple Plan ballad.
“All of my characters are inspired by people I've come across or caricatures I’ve created based on pop culture,” Skinner says. “Heightened to their most extreme versions.”
Now developing his first live show, which is set to play in November as part of New York Comedy Festival, Skinner is looking forward to developing his characters further.
“It’s fun to explore what it would look like if I had a budget and didn’t have to use my own green screen,” he says. “And how these characters interact with each other and with me.”
There’s an authenticity to Skinner’s work that is revered by the switched-on, politically engaged comedy fans of today. He replies to their comments, considers their personal requests and appears unfazed by their criticisms. As straight men continue to dominate the international comedy scene, Skinner offers a welcome alternative — and young people are responding in large numbers. With over 130,000 followers on Instagram and more than 30,000 subscribers on YouTube, the wig-wearing ex-sportsman is paving his own career path; one that embraces femininity.
“I used to really resent all the feminine things about myself,” Skinner admits. “I’d wish them away. I think by coming out and reintroducing myself to those parts of who I am, I’ve been able to see some of the amazing things that can happen when you embrace your authentic self.
“I think everyone has both ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ parts of themselves — I hope that when people come to my page, when they watch my videos, they feel encouraged to express that.”
And his message to critics?
“You should put a wig on sometime,” he says. “It’s super fun.”