I first saw Demetrius Harmon and Angelo Zeigler’s (aka DopeIsland) comedic retelling of “Adam and Eve” the way one sees so many revelatory things these days: On my timeline one sleepless night, randomly retweeted in between horrible news about the state of the world. In the clip, a homemade three-minute video funnier than anything with the high-production and hype of a Netflix series, the comedic duo does so much with so little.
The guys, who grew up together in Michigan and have been making videos on YouTube and Vine for years, play all the roles themselves, with Demetrius as Adam and God, and Angelo as Eve and the snake. It’s all shot on their iPhones in the courtyard of their Los Angeles apartment, the magic of editing and their sheer slapstick instincts lighting the way. “It can make me thicc?” Eve asks the misleading snake before crunching into the apple, the word “FORBIDDEN” written on its red skin in plain black Sharpie.
Their videos together, which range from an imagining of the first person to ever think of eating eggs to the silly joy of them dancing in Halloween masks, are universally hilarious, deserving of some kind of development deal with some kind of production studio. But it was Harmon’s other ventures, non-comedic ones, that made me want to really know more: Harmon, who is 20 now but first came to notoriety on Vine making quick 6-second videos about life in high school, is also something of a self-help guru.
He uses the platform he gained from comedy (over a million followers on Twitter!) to preach sermons of self-love and discuss his own struggles with mental health, which have included cutting and thoughts of suicide. He gives inspirational speeches to teens, has a clothing line called You Matter meant to help boost self-esteem, hosts fan meetups where everyone gets a hug, gives away money for school programs, promotes LGBTQ rights, and writes poetry about the soul within.
In these tough times, quick digestible memes of comedy and quick digestible memes of self-help have flourished on social media, offering brief shareable stays of relief from the punishing news cycle. Harmon, it just so happens, is good at both — a comedy superstar, yes, but also a little Iyanla Vanzant. Here’s how he got there.
Was the Adam and Eve video’s success a game changer for you?
Yeah, a lot of people liked it. It's come really far. It has over 500,000 likes.
How did the idea come to be?
I think it was both me and Angelo — we just started talking about it. We were thinking about a lot of stuff, because I could write down something now, and two thousand years from now someone could possibly believe it because it's written down, and maybe to them it might be history. So we're just talking about how ridiculous we think that is.
A lot of your videos are funny takes on history. Why?
Because why do things happen? The Boston Tea Party — when they were throwing the tea off of the ship? That's hilarious to me. I just imagine everybody chilling and then they just came on the boat and threw the tea over. They were so mad about tea. Or I may go to 7-Eleven and get a slushy. I'm like, I wonder what it was like the first time someone drank a slushy. I love Drunk History.
For us, it started with the Salem Witch Trials, talking about how ridiculous it was that they were burning people. We did Noah's Ark. We did when Mary told Joseph that she was pregnant. Him trying to believe her saying she was still a virgin. And then we did Adam and Eve. And all of our videos are improv.
They're all improv?
Yeah, they're all just us having the idea, and we'll literally just take our phone out and start talking. That's how we talk to each other.
So, the idea was, there would be Adam, there would be Eve, and then there'd be God, and that was the only thing you had figured out?
Yeah. We had, “She's gonna sneak off and eat the apple, and then everyone is just gonna react.” And we never know what we're going to say until we start filming.
How long did that take you to actually film?
Probably like 30 minutes. We film very fast. I think improv-ing works so well with me and Angelo because of us being best friends. We genuinely interact like that. I was fully in character. I was upset, as Adam and God. That's why I said “bitch” the way I do, because I was mad. Like, “You literally only had one thing to do, that's all you had to do!”
“Comedy helps just because it breaks the silence in the room.”
Tell me about your relationship with Angelo.
He’s just a really good friend. We met in 8th grade. I was shy, and when I met him, when I wanted to start doing videos, the skits we would make made me feel more comfortable and more funny. Because I was funny to someone else.
We didn't like each other at first, but we found out our parents lived up the street from each other.. We started doing videos in 8th grade, on YouTube first. I feel like we're the yin and yangs of each other. I'm really serious, and he’s really carefree. Since I have him as a friend, he can be that and I can still be me.
You have these fan meetups where everybody comes and just gets to hug you. What are your fans like?
It's really a lot of girls, but sometimes it's a lot of dudes. It's so cool when it's dudes because a lot of times, dudes don't want to admit that they're fans of another guy, but the things that they come up and talk to me about... They're like, "I appreciate you because you make it okay to not have to be hyper masculine." To talk about feelings and stuff like that.
You’re very into showing your emotions.
My mom and my dad didn't raise me to feel like I have to present myself besides who I am. I used to think like that. I used to think, Men aren't supposed to do this. Men aren't supposed to do that. Emotions are what make us human.
You recently gave a heart-wrenching commencement address about mental health at a local high school — how did that come to be?
The students. The principal asked the students who they wanted to speak, and they picked me. It was so nerve-wracking. I wanted to do it because I feel like it was people who needed to hear it. I felt like there was people who couldn't tell their parents that at the graduations, and just in general, a lot of people who needed to say that and never knew how to. I wanted to reassure them that even someone like me, that they sort of look up to, goes through the same thing. I'm still trying to figure it out. Even as I'm giving you all advice, I'm still trying to figure this out myself.
Tell me about your struggle with depression.
A lot of it was 9th grade year, and it was kind of on and off in waves, throughout the rest of high school. Ninth grade year and senior year were the worst; 9th grade year was because my mom and my dad were arguing, not knowing if they wanted to be together, stuff like that. I was just entering high school, like a whole new realm. It was my first time going to a new school. I just felt alone. And then my granddad passed away. It was just a lot of stuff I was going through that I didn't feel like I had anyone, and I didn't feel like I could talk to anyone. Everything I was feeling was suffocating me.
You were cutting yourself, right?
Yeah, I cut myself. I started cutting myself in 9th grade. Then I was on and off throughout into 10th grade. Then 11th grade, I just started being able to communicate how I felt a lot more because 9th grade is when I told my mom about everything I was going through.
What did she say? You credit your mom in the speech for basically saving your life.
It's not even what she said. Just the fact that she was there. A lot of times, I'd wake up and I literally didn't want to... I went to sleep, hoping I didn't wake up. When I did wake up, I just didn't want to get out of bed and go to school. Sometimes I really couldn't. She would call them and tell them I was out sick. She’d tutor me in math. Just really being there to help me get through the things instead of not believing me when I told her the things I was going through.
“Even as I’m giving you all advice, I’m still trying to figure this out myself.”
How do comedy and depression fit together for you?
I think comedy helps just because it breaks the silence in the room. Sometimes when you face yourself and you don't like what you're seeing, there’s this silence in the room. Same when something awkward happens in your life. Then the comedy breaks it. The comedy gives understanding to it. The comedy makes you feel comfortable with what's going on. I think that's why I started doing videos around that time. Just because it was an escape from what I was really going through.
How are you able to juggle these two really different sides of yourself, the heartfelt emotional one and the slapstick funny one?
I'm a Pisces with an Aries Moon. Pisces are water and Aries are fire. Aries are really outgoing and funny and strong-willed and stuff like that. Then, Pisces are creative and dreamy and stuff like that. Those two, mixing and balancing.
I saw you did an entire Wendy’s ad activation, so content is your career now, right?
Yeah, it’s really fun. Twitter has a company called Niche, and Niche is like a middle man. If a company is running an ad, they need influencers, and then Niche reaches out. I used to not feel comfortable when I would do the ads and stuff but now I feel like I can be myself.
I wondered because your brand is being yourself, people like you because of who you are, but then when money starts getting involved, does that affect that?
I try not to do just anything being based on money. I try to do things that I would have maybe already posted. I try to bring my own ideas into everything. I try to do different things, so that I don't have to do too much of one thing. Now I have a clothing brand, and I pay myself as an employee, but I give a lot of it away. Free hoodies and merchandise. I'm doing a giveaway soon. I'm going to have a meeting where whoever comes gets a free hoodie. It doesn't stray too far away from genuinely helping people. I do speaking engagements, too.
I know you love Young Thug. Why?
Young Thug is cold. He has a song with Elton John. Why does he have a song with Elton John?
Is Young Thug funny?
Young Thug's funny because it's like, What are you talking about? Why are you saying that? And why are you doing that? There's a video of him holding a receipt and it's hella long and he's just smiling. What are you doing? He's a meme.
What’s your dream job?
Acting and directing and writing my own TV show.
Who are your comedy heroes?
Donald Glover. When I was in 8th grade, I didn't know what I wanted to do in life and creatively, and I felt like I had to pick one thing. Then, that's when I discovered him and I saw that he was acting, he did music, he did comedy. And I was like, OK. Everything’s possible. It's possible for a black creative to do that. He literally did everything he said he was going to do. It always works, because he wants it to work.
Do you feel like the internet has been good for young black creatives?
It has and it hasn't. It's so good but we don't get to monetize our ideas. Think about “eyebrows on fleek” — she didn't get no money from that. This culture is really accessible but it's not monetized.
How do you make sure that that doesn't happen to you?
I don't have anything that anyone can take, I don't believe. I feel like you have to take me to take what I have. If you want Demetrius Harmon, you've got to come to Demetrius Harmon.