Jay Versace is 18 years old and he is the funniest person on the internet, and probably the whole world.
He started making Vines in 2014 from his hometown of Pleasantville, New Jersey, where he would conjure up funny scenarios based off his family members, friends, and entertainers. Versace's videos go viral just about everyday which he accredits to "trying different things," and studying trends in social media. When he imitates his mom, he goes the extra mile to exaggerate her style of discipline or way of giving instructions. He has the unique ability to sum up a person's entire online presence into a caricature — his Gucci Mane is a hand-rubbing mumbler and his Kylie Jenner is a swaying lunatic. He uses wigs and props, but mostly relies on absurd facial movements to sell the joke.
In June, Versace posted a video of himself dancing to Erykah Badu's "On And On" in a towel, and captioned it, "how it feels when you light an incense." Badu retweeted it and said, "We live u so!! The children and I are true fans. Genius!"
Just three days after his move to Los Angeles with friends to pursue acting, Jay Versace spoke with the The FADER over the phone. During the conversation, the promising star talked about how his mom feels about his parodies of her, spreading positive messages to his peers, and how he's built a relationship with Erykah Badu.
What’s your earliest memory of making people laugh?
I just think about school. I was always the class clown in school and I just loved making people laugh. I felt like school was a negative way of making people do it because everyone was trying to get their work done and I just wanted to have fun and stuff but, I feel like I made a good thing out of it just by making videos. It turned out so good. Always. Since Pre-K. My mom still has the letters that the teachers wrote like, “Your son. What is he doing?”
How did you come up with your name “Jay Versace?”
I came up with my name because one day I was online and I downloaded Vine. The person I saw was the guy named, Riff Raff. It was fun, it was weird. It was an in the moment type thing and he was like feeding his dog water and he was like, “I’m feeding you Versace water from the fountain of life,” and I just thought it was funny. So I was like, “What if I change my name to Jay Versace.”
What is your biggest source of inspiration?
My inspiration is my family. Everybody is in their own character so the people who watch my videos, they don’t know that this is my family and this is really how my family acts. It’s my inspiration. My whole family, my grand mom, my mom and my dad. They’re all funny. When we’re all together all you hear is just laughing all day. We joke around.
What does your mom think about the videos?
People think that my mom doesn’t approve but she actually loves them and she brags about them all the time to her friends. She loves my videos and she watches all of them. All of her friends at work watch them, they know me and they love me.
How do you come up with all of these over the top skits? How do they start?
It usually starts with memories that I had and situations that I had like say, with my mom. My mom would do things that would piss me off and she would say something like, “Take out the trash,” when I’m busy or something. Then I’d be like, “Oh my God. That really made me mad. I’m busy and she told me to take out the trash.” I would go and make a video and I’d make it so dramatic like, “TAKE OUT THE TRASH! OH MY GOD!” I just like to make things more dramatic. [Laughs]
Does she ever hear you recording the videos and impersonating her?
She’d hear me doing them and she’d be at the door listening and after I’d be done making the video she’d be like, “What? When did I do that? [Laughs] “You just took this to the next level.”
How do you pick these celebrities to impersonate? Are you a fan of them?
I've bought their music. Me and my grandma, that’s all we did when she was alive. She was with me my whole life, so that's all she did was play old music all day. After she passed away, I still listen to music like that and I know the words. I’m like, “I know nobody knows these words. Let me just make a video with this and just do the things I do when I’m not on camera.”
So, if you’re listening to song by someone like Anita Baker do you catch yourself doing what you do on camera, off-camera? Or do you turn on when you hit record?
I do both. Usually when I listen to that kind of music I’m walking or taking a walk somewhere. I’ll be singing the words doing exactly what I’m doing in my videos and people will be look at me crazy and I’m like, “I need to go home and make a video.”
What was it like when Erykah Badu responded to your video?
Ohh my God. Nobody really knows but years ago, I made that same video but it was for Vine and she saw it and she was just like laughing and said that she loved it. Then I remade it and she was like, “Oh My God. I love you.” She DM’d me and she gave me her number and gave me her contact information and been talking about meeting each other.
Wow so you two have been building a relationship?
Yes. She’s like, “I’m coming to L.A. for July and August. I can’t wait to meet you.” And her boyfriend, Carl Jones—I've been talking to his son. She’s so nice. She told me, “When I get to LA I’m going to have to be your mama since your mom is not there.” I’m like, “Ohh my God. What did I start?" [laughs]
How many times do you shoot these videos?
I’m very picky. I don’t want it to look like I’m trying hard to do it and I want it to be me just having fun. If I make a video and it looks like I’m trying too hard, I’ll do it over. That’s how some people on the Internet don’t really know how to control it. That’s what I’m trying to do. Basically, balance it so that I’m not doing too much.
When you first started making videos, were you being that intentional?
Oh no. I have so many trailers in my phone that I’ve never posted and then finally I think the first one that I posted was me making a video to, “I Love God,” and I had it saved in my phone for so long and I was like, “I’m not posting this.” Then, I put it on Facebook and it blew up. The wig ones always blew up a lot.
Where do you get the wigs from?
At first I didn’t take it that seriously to the point where I had to get a wig. I would just put dumb stuff on my head but with the wigs, it started on Halloween last year when I got a pimp costume and the wig came with it. It was a curly wig and I was just acting like a pimp that whole day. I was like, “This is fun. Let me just go to Party City and buy a whole bunch of wigs.” Actually, the first day that I moved to L.A., I went to the Party City and got that afro wig and I’ve been making videos every day.
You post funny videos on Twitter but you still tweet about meaningful real life things. You wrote, “Don’t do drugs. Alcohol. Edibles. Nothing guys, it’s lame.” What made you tweet that?
Being in L.A., you see people do it. I feel like anybody who follows me who really wants to be big or move out here or anywhere is going to see that too. A lot of people tell me I’m their inspiration and I’d just want to tell them myself, “Don’t do that.” Thing are going to change once you start doing that and I don’t want them to do that.
You posted some photos with the hashtag #CarefreeBlackBoy. How do you think that quest to be "carefree" inspires your comedy and passion for making people laugh?
Because, sometimes you have to tell people that you’re carefree. When I make videos there’s so many people like, “He shouldn’t be doing this or that.” They're putting a limit on what you do because the have they're own ways of living. When I say, “Carefree,” I’m like, “I don’t care. I’m going to do it anyway. I’m going to live my life because I’m not taking it as seriously as you. I’m just living.”