On first glance, Joanne The Scammer is something that could only exist in 2016—a social media personality who invites her followers into a world of scamming, robbery, and fraud—with a thick dash of drag and heavy camp. But what Branden Miller, the account's creator, is doing in on Twitter and in videos also feels universal and sort of timeless. I think it comes close to what RuPaul recently described to New York Magazine as the final step to understanding how the world really works: "The third stage is laughter and irreverence and understanding that, 'Oh! I can have fun. Don't take it too seriously. Have fun with it.'"
Miller, who is 25 years old and lives in Florida, tried out other identities online before stumbling into the scamming character. (A memorable past creation was the singing diva Miss Prada.) Three months ago, a video he made to describe an ad he posted on Craigslist solidified the new Joanne identity. "Hey girl," Miller whispers into the camera in the video. "I just want to let you girls know that I'm a real messy bitch, a liar, a scammer. I love robbery and fraud. A messy bitch who lives for drama." A month later, actress Hari Nef posted the clip to her Tumblr and social media star Blac Chyna pantomimed the now-famous monologue on her Instagram. Later, Joanne’s list of favorite activities was immortalized by a fake TIME magazine cover emblazoned with Donald Trump’s face, which made the rounds after it was widely presumed to be real.
The FADER spoke to Miller over the phone last week about online identity, why Joanne's scamming has struck a chord with so many people, and what will happen if and when she has to end.
Where does Branden end and Joanne begin? Where is the line between them?
Well, they're completely different. Joanne is just a full-on character. I don't like to put myself out on the internet. That's why I do the Joanne thing, because I don't really want my personal life on the internet. I'd rather be on the internet and live behind a larger-than-life character.
How did Joanne's personality come together?
Some of it is based off reality, through my life. It stems from some of the things I've done, scam-wise. It stems from my personal life, it stems from Grand Theft Auto, It stems from a lot of different things. But it's turned into something completely different. When I did the, "I'm a messy bitch who lives for drama," I didn't expect people to get it. I was looking for so long to find the right comedy for myself because I want to be a comedian but I want to be a comedian with the proper humor. I've been on Instagram—I was doing ghetto type of humor. Then I said, "This isn't setting me apart from anybody. Actually it's blending me in." So I said, "What am I going to do to set myself apart from these people?" And I think that this was it. The scamming.
I've noticed the word "scamming" popping up a lot more lately. Do you think that's entirely to your credit?
I know, I know. Everyone is getting scammed! It's relatable. There's a girl on Twitter named So Sad Today and she talks about her anxiety and depression and people just want to relate. I think that's why people are flocking to me, too. So many people are getting scammed in their everyday lives—with school, with work. It's relatable.
What do you think about scamming is relatable?
Look at who the president can be! The fact that Donald Trump could win? He doesn't even want to be president. It's really just about popularity at this point. The world is such a fucking messy place. It's obvious. People have been getting scammed for years and they're sick of it. Like I said, the fact that I came out and admitted to doing these things, people look at me as powerful. They want to say it. People are doing it in their daily lives and they are using me as their outlet. I don't know how to explain it. It's happening to everyone. Who doesn't want to scam a bitch?
Recently, you tweeted a picture of a cop and you said you were going to jail. Real or fake?
Well the police picture was fake. You have to remember, I also said I'm a liar. They're reading scammer, that's all they're reading. But I also say liar. People are not listening. I like to look at my Twitter like it's a movie. It's something as the day goes by—you get a look into her life. So I uploaded the photo of the cop to give a messier look, like, "Damn, she's really going to jail." I want it to look believable.
You had me questioning.
A lot of people have come up to me and hit me up and asked if it's real. Yes, it's a character. I don't live as Joanne in my daily life. I don't want to tell people the actual scams that I have pulled. Then I could really get into trouble. But I've scammed—I'm not going to say I haven't. It's funny, but some of it has truth to it. And I want to leave it to the people to believe if it's true or not.
“Everyone is getting scammed! Look at who the president can be! The fact that Donald Trump could win? The world is such a fucking messy place.”
Let's talk about your biggest video. Were you surprised by its success at all?
I wasn't surprised. Blac Chyna and Amber Rose actually got that video popular. If it wasn't for them, it probably wouldn't have went as far as it did. Blac Chyna was going through that thing with Rob Kardashian and she used it to translate through her life: "I'm a messy bitch." It wouldn't even happen if it wasn't for her. I actually have to give her that. If it weren't for them I don't think it would have gone anywhere.
Has your online notoriety crossed into real world at all? Have you been recognized in real life?
I've been places where people know me before. This, it's just making me bigger.
What do people say when they meet you?
People are weirded out. It's a totally different meeting, because I don't dress like [Joanne], I don't carry myself like that. It's a little awkward to come up to me. But I'm nice and they're nice.
You tweet a lot about Faith Hill, too. What's up with that?
Oh totally. Well Faith Hill—I mean, c'mon! She's an icon. It's simple as that. She just makes great music and she's literally an icon from beauty alone. If I had to end this whole thing, if this all backfires, I'm going to turn my Twitter into a Faith Hill fan account.