Courtney Perkins makes the internet’s sharpest zodiac memes
The comedian behind @notallgeminis on her celestial obsession, running a popular Instagram account, and finally getting paid for her work.
In 2018, there are few themes more appropriate for meme-making than astrology. As our physical world consistently appears to be falling apart, many are turning to the celestial for comfort, insight, and answers. In particular, the astrology memes that originate via social media are a worthy antidote to these dismal-seeming times — comic relief in a sea of dark headlines. But astrology memes aren’t just popular because they’re funny while being accurate. “It’s this thing that transcends race, gender, sexuality. It’s just your fucking personality,” says Courtney Perkins, the “voice” behind popular astro meme account @notallgeminis.
If you’re active on the gram, there’s a high likelihood that you’ve stumbled upon or already follow @notallgeminis (and she recently put together this Leo season piece for The FADER). Courtney is hilarious and on-point in her ability to see each zodiac sign reflected in pop culture moments, from Justin Bieber pushing Hailey Baldwin’s luggage around NYC to Young Thug’s now-infamous computer screen moment. She’ll even call your zodiac sign out using a stock photo and go viral. Launched just six months ago, Courtney’s meme account now has 174k followers and counting. Her astrology jokes have become so popular, and her community so engaged, that running the account she started for her 20 friends has become her full-time job — something of a dream come true for the trained, aspiring comedy writer. But, making astrology memes every day hasn’t come without obstacles.
On a video call from her parents’ home in Austin, Courtney shared thoughts on the responsibility that comes with her platform and recent plagiarism of her work, in addition to what she loves about astrology, her meme-making process, and where she wants to go from here.
Tell me about yourself and how you got into astrology.
I’m 23. I grew up in Austin. I moved [to L.A.] last September. We actually just figured this out last night. I thought [I got into astrology] in 5th grade, but it was actually in 3rd grade. It was in that age where you’re sharing your family’s computer. I was always on Neopets. But one of the [sites] I went to was Zodiac Girls, and it was like the kid-friendly version of astrology. Instead of saying “Scorpios love sex,” they’d be like “Scorpios are passionate.”
Were your parents into astrology too?
My mom swears she was. She definitely wasn’t. She enabled me, she bought the books for me. But she was not like, “Courtney, let’s talk astrology.” Last night, she was trying to tell me that she read Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs “so I can understand all of you and I can understand my husband.” And, I was like, “Bitch where? No you didn’t.”
You were so young. What were you drawn to with regard to astrology? What got you hooked?
I’m from a family of six. And I’m a Gemini, so I’ve always had a big social circle. I always knew someone from everyone sign and so I was also curious about learning all of them. I always read every horoscope and think like, Oh, this is my friend Rachel. She’s an Aquarius.
What was the day you decided to make the @notallgeminis account like? What triggered you to start it?
I was unemployed and bored. I moved to LA in September from New York. For the first few months of living there, I was working as an office P.A. and working 12-hour days. So that made it hard to make friends. I was just missing my friends in New York a lot. I kept up with them for the most part via Instagram and texting. All of them love astrology, so I would talk to them about that. A lot of them would come to me with their questions. And I love memes. I am a comedy writer — I moved to L.A. to try and do screenwriting. So I was just bored and didn’t have a creative outlet. I was doing this job that was freelance. They’d bring me on for weeks at a time, and then be like, “Well, we don’t have a job for you, so now you’re unemployed for three weeks. But, we’ll bring you back when we have work for you!”
That must be pretty stressful.
It was just not a good a setup. So I had three weeks off [the last week of February] and I was like, I miss my friends. Once I started making the memes, I didn’t want to post 10 times a day on my normal Instagram for my friends from high school that don’t care about astrology. I was like, I need a separate space for this. I never wanted to pressure anyone to look at it. It was supposed to just be for fun. It was supposed to be like, I’m gonna goof off and try and make fun of my friends and communicate with them that way. But then it just kind of spiraled from there.
Are you doing this full-time now?
I do this full-time. I am on my phone constantly. It’s really awesome. It’s really great. I’m really happy I quit my job.
What’s your process for making an astrology meme?
For the most part it starts with the picture. If I get a really funny picture, then the ideas just come. A lot of the time, you can just see the emotion in someone’s face, and it’s like, OK, so who’s this person? What’s this feeling? My followers have started sending me pictures, which is helpful. I used to just find them on Tumblr and Reddit and random places. People send me photos of themselves being like, “My friend looks so weird in this!” Other times, it’ll start with a concept like, This is gonna be the signs as this artist’s songs. Or, the signs as self-care tips.
They’re so rooted in pop culture. Is that a reflection of your personality? Or did you notice that those memes are the ones that pop off?
I’m pop culture trash. I live for pop culture. I’ve started to stay away from them now. Looking at my pictures, when I see what works best, it sometimes has an effect but not really that much. If it’s super timely, like Ariana Grande and Pete Davidson, or Elon Musk and Grimes, that’ll catch people’s attention because it’s on everyone’s mind. But I’ve had a huge problem with milkshake ducking. I get held accountable for every single person on my page, and that’s really hard.
What do you mean?
If I put someone on my page, I will get messages about the bad things that they’ve done. Every time. That is hard to balance. It’s the reason why I use stock photos and pictures of animals. It’s too much to be responsible for someone else’s rape allegations. I get constant messages about that for things that I don’t know about. And no one is infallible. No one is bulletproof. Someone will slide into my DMs and be like, “Hey, just so you know, in 1980 this person did something super fucking racist.” And then it’s like, Well, now I have to make an apology because I put this person on my page, because that’s what you want me to do here. That’s really difficult.
That’s something I did not anticipate hearing about.
I’m really struggling with that. It’s worst at the start of a season. Because I make collages of every person of a sign, people will take that as being an endorsement or as the opposite, as me saying, No, this person’s canceled. They can’t be on the this board.
What are your thoughts about the astrology community on Instagram? Do you think those reactions are coming from that community in particular?
I think the internet is a hard place to navigate. No matter what, you’re always going to get criticism. I don’t think I was prepared for that because I intended this to be for my 20 friends. I learned a lot and had to adjust to a lot of things in the last couple months, which is only for the better. I do think that astrology attracts open-minded people and there is a paradox in that people who are open-minded are also very quick to judge. It’s the stereotype of the liberal person who refuses to explain social movements to their grandmother but will still call them every name in the book.
A lot of my followers are really liberal, highly educated, and live in metropolitan areas. Astrology attracts a really diverse, intersectional crowd. Astrology fans are awesome, because it is this thing that transcends race, gender, sexuality. It’s just your fucking personality. It’s all just self-exploration and so it’s very welcoming in that. But people who gravitate towards things that are welcoming hate things that are not welcoming, and hate things that are offensive and in any way hurtful. They’re very quick to snap about that. But there are people who educate and come at it with a frame of kindness and teaching. Honestly it’s 98% love.
Would you say that’s the toughest thing about running the account?
It was. I was having a lot of panic attacks in April because that’s when my account started extending to people I didn’t know. It’s when I started facing criticism from people who just didn’t know anything about me. At this point, I feel like I know how to deal with it and I’m much more confident in myself. I know myself.
It’s not that I am posting anything racist or sexist or ableist. It’s that I would post David Bowie, and people will tell me that he had sex with a 14-year-old and I am enabling a pedophile. And that is very tricky water to navigate. [People will] snap and say, “This is common knowledge. You should know this.” That is hard but I think I have the tools now to at least know how to react in a way that is less vulnerable. I used to cry about it a lot.
What zodiac signs do you think are most interested in astrology?
The app Co-Star released their data on who has their app, which is pretty indicative. I think the number 1 was Gemini. It’s hard to decipher who is loudest and who is most interested. I don’t think that Leos are the most interested in astrology but they’re definitely one of the louder ones. Even if they’re not interested in astrology, they’re like, Oh, but I’m the best sign. The ones that I have found to be particularly interested are Gemini, Pisces, Virgo, and all for different reasons. I see a lot of Cancers. I see a lot of Libras. And I see a lot of Scorpios. Those are the top 6. But it’s also possible that everyone else is going to another page where their sign is being more nicely profiled.
We all just want to see ourselves. Do you have a favorite sign and a least favorite sign?
I do. My favorite sign is Gemini, but duh. My favorites that aren’t me are Libra and Virgo. Libra, because I get along with them best. Virgos, because I respect them the most. I always say that Pisces is my least favorite sign because it’s the parts of myself that I hate.
Do you have a favorite celebrity Gemini, and if yes, why are they your favorite?
OK, this kills me. I was so excited about my birthday before Kanye ruined everything. Kanye and I have really similar charts. Then he went and fucked everything up.
What would you say the most misunderstood thing about astrology is?
That everyone’s the same. That is the worst assumption ever. Everyone’s first thing is like, “So you think that, like, if I was born in May then I do this?” It’s like, “No, bitch, I don’t.” What’s so great about astrology is how customizable it is. When you get your full chart, you find out so much detail. Between the planets and the houses, there’s so much about the ways that you’re unique and the ways that you are not the same as every person born within a month of you.
Another thing that frustrates me is when people act like they’re not autonomous. Like, “So I’m a Gemini, so I’m going to cheat on my girlfriend.” No. You’re not. You’re a Gemini, so you might relate with these traits. If you don’t, then great. Who cares? Maybe you relate with other planets in your chart. Maybe you don’t. Maybe astrology isn’t for you.
How would you describe this kind of work you’re doing? Art, therapy, comedy, all of the above?
I think it changes every day. Someone described me as a “meme artist” the other day and I laughed. I think I am distinctly not an artist. I think of art as this higher purpose, a very serious thing. I make dick jokes all day. I consider it comedy. Although I am also emotional (that Pisces moon, man). I have sad days, where I will post serious, sentimental things, or post compliments. Sometimes people tell me I make them cry. They’ll be like, “This touched me.”
It’s probably healing for a lot of people.
I think it is. I think it’s free therapy. It’s also an excuse to laugh at yourself.
I wanted to talk to you about what happened with Harper’s. How much of what you do is supported by donation versus creative partnership with media companies? What are your goals, and what do you think is missing from that whole economy?
I started my account in February. It started getting momentum in April and May. In June, I started getting opportunities to write for money for media companies, after doing this for four months unpaid and relying on contributions from other people who are my age, who also [only] have their two months rent in their bank account. Then in June, I started getting contacted by really great companies. They’re great to work with, they respect their writers, and their editors are great, reliable and awesome. I’m like, Whoa, I’ve been [writing professionally for] a month, and I know the way I’m supposed to be treated.
So it’s frustrating to see all of the work that went into making all of those memes, over all of those months, just get slashed. Because I’ve been doing it unpaid and I was really excited that I was getting momentum and starting to be paid by these respectable companies, it was just kind of a slap in the face like, Just kidding. You’re still an unpaid meme-maker and we can take whatever we want from you. And you can’t do anything about it because you’re still a 23-year-old who only has two months rent in your bank account. You can’t pay for a lawyer. That’s the way it felt, to be honest.
Where do you see all this going? What does an ideal future look like for you?
I have no idea. I’ve written in so many medium over the years that it could go in any direction. I’m making up my job as I go, which is really fun and really exciting, and I love it. But also it’s like, Where the fuck do I go from here? Can I just do this? Is this the thing? Or is there a next thing? And how long do I want to talk about astrology? At this point, that’s my calling card. But I was trained to be a comedy writer and I can write about other things. The way I think about it is that, I’m essentially writing twelve characters, because I’m writing twelve personality types. I do hope that I can one day write funny things that are just funny because they’re funny. I hope that I can one day not write about astrology, if I’m being completely honest. I still love astrology, but I think I would be upset if I got pigeonholed into being an astrologer at age 23 for the rest of my life.