Positioned in his bedroom, looking directly into the camera, it’s clear from the video’s quality that Casey Frey is filming himself from his phone. His shirt is off and his hat is backwards. He squints his eyes, rubs his neck, licks his lips, and speaks directly to the audience: “Even someone like me gets nervous you know? Especially around a girl of your caliber.” He steps back, chuckles, lifts his shoulders back as though he's attempting to flex, and asks, “Can I sing for you?”
This video, which the comedian uploaded to Instagram in November 2018, has been viewed almost six million times since, and screenshots from the clip — shoulders up, posing, biting his lip — have been memed into oblivion. Many of Frey’s videos follow this same formula: awkward, cringey, hilarious bits in which you’re sometimes unsure if he’s being serious or joking. His videos mostly consist of comedic skits in which Frey acts as different characters. They take place in houses, cars, basketball courts, the woods, a studio, and what looks like a trailer. Frey is never playing “himself,” so you really have no idea who he is, where he’s from, or how he emerged. The characters he’s created differ greatly from one another, but nonetheless are people you have absolutely encountered in your life.
As a kid growing up in Northern California’s Mendocino County, Frey and his brother made home videos together — a process similar to the one he uses today. His brother would direct small skits; they would record and edit them together and then show it to friends and family. When Vine was introduced, Frey began posting his videos for the public to see. In one of his most notable early Vines “bad boi’s” from 2016, Frey plays two characters: a “bad boy” and the girl he’s talking to. The Vine is essentially making fun of fuckboys and how he sees girls acting around them. This was when his career truly took off, turning him into a viral meme, gaining him 2.2 million followers, ending up with him starring in various music videos and now partnering with major corporations.
Before speaking to him over the phone from his hometown, I had no idea what to expect. It’s understood that a majority of comedians are not how they seem when they perform in “real life,” but is it different for social media celebrities? As he picked up and we started talking, he seemed humble and reserved — a bit shy even.
How did you first get started making videos?
I think I've always been into it, starting from when I was really young. Also my big brother — he's super into film and all of that stuff so i'm sure he got me into it, he was always making home videos and movies. He started directing and editing, so I assume I got into it because of him. He was extremely meticulous — it was funny. A lot of them were action movies we were creating with dialogue, but most of the time we would make it up as we went.
When did you become aware of the online platforms for video that were emerging?
Around 15 or 16, watching all the old YouTube stuff when all of that started off; I wanted to do it so badly. My cousin Max and I — he was kind of like my camera man I guess, but he would be in them too sometimes. We had a little duo of making videos and editing and just gradually got better at it. Then we started to get a tiny bit of traction on there I remember, like way back. I kept making videos on and off, the consistency thing was something I could never really stick to.
And then Vine started. I was actually just doing dance [at the time]. I was in L.A., and I was trying to pursue dance, like [in the] industry. At that point, I was just making dance Vines because I was actually way too shy, it made me really uncomfortable to film myself being funny. But I wanted to do the comedy stuff so badly, I would just force myself to do it even though it made me super uncomfortable. I just made myself be consistent [on Vine], because I had tried so many times and not stuck to it.
I wanted to ask you more about dancing. I feel like people that watch your videos think you’re joking when you’re dancing but then realize how good you are.
I just have always loved dancing; when I was a kid I was always dancing. That was kind of my first passion really. I started taking classes at this local place it's called SPACE (School of Performing Arts and Cultural Education), it's not an actual school you go to it's more of a place that's good for breaking you out of your shell and learning choreography. It's a community for teenagers.
I would go there and take like a hip-hop dance class, and became really close with the people who run it. After a while, they would start letting me choreograph my own dances for the shows that they would put on. After high school, I was kinda back and forth [between Ukiah and L.A.], and I was living with one of my buddies, Ryan Johnson, who's a dancer. He taught me for a while. I moved in with him, and I was trying to pursue dancing. Afterwards, I worked with my uncle for a little bit — he’s a big theater guy.
Did you ever take any improv classes or anything like that?
I didn't, no. I think I was maybe 19, there's this local theatre [in Ukiah] called UPT that my cousin forced me to audition for. I've always kind of hated musicals and plays, but I made myself do it and it turned out to change the whole coarse of everything. This director there, Jenny Peterman, she's like this genius — a super talented, local gem. It's crazy that she's just here in my hometown. But, yeah, she made me do the most uncomfortable shit. It was brutal, it seriously was like fucked up — definitely really hard for me.
I'm obviously glad that she broke me out of my shell, we did a couple shows here that did really well. There were a lot of people doing it that didn't even do theater, so we had this cool, diverse group of people who were familiar with theatre, as well as people who have never done it before.
Was Vine the first time you started really gain a following?
Yeah, I was gaining traction — I think i had about 250,000 followers. But the app was kind of dying out, and I honestly was kind of happy with it shutting down. It was bittersweet; I wanted to do other stuff, longer-form stuff, and I didn't want that to be something that was like, Well, I have a following on here and I’m gonna stay here because it's the only thing I have. It forced me to get involved in other things.
What did you do after Vine shut down?
It was kind of a weird time, all the Viners didn't really know what we were doing. I started collaborating with the people I liked from Vine. We began making videos and eventually Instagram replaced Vine.
Did you meet Nick Colletti and Josh Kennedy through Vine?
Yeah, I knew them from Vine. I don't know if I ever really talked to Josh online at all until I met him. Nick I talked to a little bit online, and then I moved in with his buddy from back home, actually he was the first person I moved in/got my own spot with. So, Nick would come over that's how I met him.
We actually were living together for a year in L.A. We just started making videos, and we had a really good chemistry from making videos together, and a similar vision of what’s funny.
The DVBBS video that you did, that one is one of the most popular ones since “can i sing 4 u?” Is it weird to see yourself as a meme?
It's definetely trippy. It’s kind of weird. I feel like I get into this state where I’m really focused on making more content, and I get so focused that I almost don't enjoy the stuff thats happening, I'm so focused on the next thing. I feel like I get kind of dissociative or something.
How do you come up with recurring characters in your videos? I find the “let me teach you something” character extremely on point — I know people exactly like that.
I think the “can I sing for you” character started on Vine. I don't even know what you'd call it... it's a weird particular kind of person that exists. I guess people call them fuckboys or whatever. I think it's a mix of different personalities that come up in our culture. It's a mix of what Justin Bieber started, ‘cause something about it looks attractive but it isn't when you can tell they’re not being sincere. I feel like it's partly some white kids trying to talk or act like what they think a rapper talks or acts like. People get swept up into something they see and cling onto it.
Is the “can I sing for you” Vine the same character as the “come here let me teach you something” video?
Yeah, for sure. I think it's just a little more trying to act like a sexual R&B singer dude.
When did you realize you can do that with your shoulders? And why did you choose that character to put your shoulders like that?
It just felt right. I've always been able to do that, but I didn't plan like, I'm gonna put my shoulders up for this character thing. I think it just suited the vibe in the moment.
Would you say you in real life that you're how you seem on instagram or would you say that you're vastly different?
Definetely a mix of the two. I'm kind of all over the place but I’m extremely introverted and then can be extremely extroverted. Most of the time i'm just reserved. I think it's healthy not to be as introverted in real life too, being able to transfer that perspective into being a part of who I am normally.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that Frey had moved in with a friend called Tanner after Vine dissolved. This was not the case. We regret the error.