A lot of famous Viners have to rely on PacSun cashier looks and brand-safe humor to stay relevant and paid, but Victor Pope Jr. is just actually funny. Pope makes Vines, slightly longer clips on Twitter, and full length videos on YouTube, but his abilities aren’t confined to a certain amount of time, topic, or hashtag. The 22-year-old Texan has covered everything from “black on black crime” to organ donation. In February, he and viners Nathan Zed, MeechonMars, and Captain Kirk created the #TrapCovers hashtag which featured reworked pop songs in response to whitewashed covers of Beyonce’s “Formation” and Rihanna’s “Work.” It wasn’t long before thousands of people were joining in and #TrapCovers trended worldwide.
On April 14, he decided to open up about his struggle with bipolar disorder in a 10 minute long YouTube video. Pope revealed that he was diagnosed when he was 14 years old and recently his disease has been affecting his role as an internet comedian and as a father to his 7-year-old son. “It’s days when my son wants to do certain things and everything just weighs me down,” he said. “I feel like I can’t be a father with this.”
There is a moment in the video where he cracks a joke between tears and his comedic timing is still as sharp as ever. That’s something that you can’t just abruptly learn from making six second vines. I talked to Victor over the phone about being bipolar, mental illness in the black community, and the struggle to monetize all of his content.
Coming forward about a mental illness can be hard. In my experience, it was like everything was magnified and everyone was looking in, but I had to only do so with my family. You came forward to your 100 thousand followers and fans on Twitter. What has that been like so far?
VICTOR POPE JR.: Well I mean yeah the feedback was amazing with everybody letting me know it made them feel like they weren’t alone. But, having everybody reach out to me is kind of an uncomfortable feeling. Like “Yo are you okay” and “Why didn’t you tell me”. Having it magnified like you said is really uncomfortable. But, I guess it makes sense because it would be weird for someone close to you to watch it and just be like “oh anyways” and go about their day.
At the end of the video you say that you’re probably going to regret posting it, do you regret it?
No. I thought I would but everybody has been reaching out to me like “Yo watching it really helped me, I’m struggling with my mental illness”. Whether it was like bipolar disorder or any type of anxiety disorder they were really like, 'yo it helped,' so I’m really happy I posted it.
There is a lot of ignorance about being bipolar and a lot of people don’t understand or realize that every case is different. What is being bipolar like to you?
I believe as far as me being bipolar, some people are just wired differently. I’m a different model, everybody is a different model but being bipolar I’m wired differently. I have my episodes where everything is great and I have my downs. I try to stay stable and somewhere in between.
How are you managing your moods since you’re not taking any medication?
I was on Geodon before and I stopped taking my medication around when I was 18 and now I manage my moods basically by watching my thought process, observing myself to see what would put me in these moods, and a lot of time it was my diet. Overeating, not eating enough, too much sugar or I wouldn’t have enough water. Then it came down to thought process. If I start thinking about something I would notice I would be in a bad mood. So when I notice myself thinking about that I’ll go do something. I’ll get active. I’ll go running. I’ll do something that would make me happy or like write jokes. Mediation helps and classical music helps. Music without lyrics because a lot of the time when I listen to music with lyrics even though I love the song music definitely alters the mood whether it’s a good or bad way so I’d like to be in control of it.
Did you being a comedian and needing to be fully present online on a daily basis play a role in you deciding to continue not take any medication?
That definitely plays a big role but when I was taking my medication it was in high school. I didn’t realize I was even funny until after I stopped taking all the meds all together. But I definitely couldn’t take them now. The reason I stopped taking them was because I was hearing things and having hallucinations on them and that was after I had already taken a whole bunch of them that didn’t work before. So I said, ‘you know what, I’m going to try doing it without them.’
How have you found a balance maintaining such a public life online while dealing with your mental illness?
Well, you have to know that it’s okay to take breaks. That’s really all that it is. Because with social media, it’s like, if you’re dealing with a mental illness, you feel like you have to take a step back from where you are in life and re-group. With social media, it’s hard to do that. One day on the internet is two weeks. The internet moves at a different pace so you just have to know that it’s okay to take breaks, even if they forget about you. If you don’t put your mental health first there won’t be a you to forget about.
Do you ever worry about them forgetting about you?
At this point, that video really helped with everyone reaching out to me and telling me wise words. Ultimately now, I feel like as long as I stay true to who I am I can confidently say I possess talent—even if I take a break I can come back and get back to where I was. My mental health is the most important thing.
With or without the internet you are always going to be your mother’s son and your son’s father, what was their reaction and prior knowledge?
I was diagnosed when I was 14 so my family has known for awhile but with everyone on my moms side mental illness is extremely prevalent. My uncle is schizophrenic. I think my mother is also bipolar. It just runs in the family, so it’s kind of a norm that we don’t really take seriously. It’s something that’s like, ‘oh, we have this mental illness and nobody really talks about it.’ In the black community, they don’t really take mental illness as seriously as they should.
What do you think would need to happen so mental health can be taken as seriously in our community as it is in others?
I feel like the people who control the culture have to speak up. I feel like the entertainers control the culture. When we were kids we would go home and watch TV. A lot of us were raised by the TV. Now I feel like we’re raised by the internet. Little kids are on their tablets all day, they don’t watch TV as much as they used to. My son will tell me he’s going to watch Spongebob and he goes to Youtube or Nickelodeon.com, when I think he’s going to run towards the TV. For it to be taken seriously in black culture, the people that create black culture, the black voices on the internet have to speak about it seriously.
As a black voice on the internet did you then feel as it was your duty to do so?
I was just honestly venting. [laughs] I accidentally did the right thing.
Do you think it’s possible for you to make the transition from Vine star to stand up comedian?
The transition was actually stand up comedian to Vine star. I was doing stand up comedian since 2012. I didn’t start vining until the end of 2014. Really January of 2015 was when people saw me as a viner. I’m definitely a stand up comedian. I just did a show at the Comedy Store in L.A.
So does that mean we’ll be seeing Victor Pope Jr. comedy shows soon?
I’m going to continue to build my presence online. This is where the money is. This is where you build a platform. This is where comedy lives as far as our generation. I’m going to continue to build my set. I have all of my standup material off the internet because I need to build my set and I need that for shows. If the people watch that then I can’t make money off that when I actually do perform. For the time being, I feel like I’m going to focus on online while I build my set and I build my platform so when I do feel comfortable and have an hour long set I can go on tour or I can do a special.
We ran an article last year about black teens creating content online and not profiting from it while other people and brands do. Even though you are not a teen you are constantly generating online content and culture. How are you making sure that you are the one that is making money from your content?
A lot of the times you can’t. There is no one hundred percent way to make sure. There are lengths that you can go to such as signing with people who can monetize your content but when it gets posted to Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr or Facebook none of that is monetized and that’s where 80% of the people see our work. We don’t make 80% of the money we should make but it’s still a beautiful platform and you still gotta be grateful for it.