It’s another wild morning on the internet.
The sun is still rising on Day 2 of the GameStop fiasco. Fresh details are churning at a furious clip. And even though the story is still very much breaking, Hollywood carpetbaggers are already working on at least six separate projects based on it.
Kylie Brakeman, however, has not yet decided whether to make a 90-second video about the thing everyone’s talking about.
Over the past nine months, the surging comedian’s topical character pieces have become mini-news events unto themselves. As she and I discuss our mutual CliffsNotes grasp on the finer points of stock shorting, I imagine all the ways her GameStop video might go. A nihilist Redditor exulting in victory. A Robinhood executive sulking in shame. A furious politician somehow only now just waking up to the need for Wall Street reform. So many tantalizing options…
Part of what makes Brakeman such an exciting comedian to watch is that one can easily envision her inhabiting any of these characters, and expertly mirroring their ideologies, or perhaps just sitting this one out entirely. As she quietly mulls over ideas, though, she’s also weighing broader questions about what she wants to create in the future altogether. Much like the enticing vault of possibilities the GameStop situation presents, her career can go in any number of directions.
The comedian known on Twitter as @deadeyebrakeman, an inside joke about a friend’s unflattering description of her face, started making the videos that have made her internet-famous while imbibing a pandemic-mandated cocktail of terror and boredom. After graduating from Los Angeles liberal arts college Occidental in 2018, Brakeman gravitated toward the Upright Citizens Brigade theater, and by March of last year, she was practically living there. She was splitting her time between a sketch team, an improv team, and a character showcase, while also writing and filming sketches on the side and serving tables at a restaurant to pay bills. All of that came to a whiplash-inducing halt when COVID hit, and she suddenly found herself with too much time on her hands and no place to go.
Something about simultaneously losing her ability to generate income along with most of her creative outlets and the energy of her community combined to light a fuse underneath her.
“The videos were kind of a reaction to, like, ‘Oh my God, I’ve got to keep myself busy. I have to prove that I’m doing something during this time,'” Brakeman says.
Her first viral hit arrived in July. In a video tweeted with the caption, “why I won’t wear a mask,” the comic embodies a WASP-y Orange County wine mom with absurd reasons for refusing to mask up. (“My sister is actually a scientist’s neighbor, and she said it’s impossible to get the coronavirus if you don’t want to.”) It is 78 seconds of timely comedic ambrosia.
why I won’t wear a mask pic.twitter.com/CyiKIgWuwF
— kylie brakeman (@deadeyebrakeman) July 12, 2020
The video caught fire right away, on the path to garnering more than 10 million views just on Twitter. Within a day, Brakeman went from having 6,000 followers to 35,000. (She now has over 168,000.) The comic had to force herself to look away from her phone for up to minutes at a time as the kudos and misguided outrage continued rolling in.
Now that she’d assembled a base audience, including some influential comedians, it became much easier to build out her following with each video, and prove that the initial success was no fluke.
Brakeman wasn’t new to making videos, but the ones she was now putting out represented a stylistic break from her previous work. Before quarantine, the sketches she’d been filming were goofy and apolitical, and with a lot more work going into their aesthetic. In her new mode, she ditched multiple camera set-ups and elaborate editing for the once-derided front-facing camera videos that quickly became ubiquitous in the COVID era.
“People only want to look at something on their phones that took 30 minutes to make,” Brakeman says, a sentence that succinctly explains why Quibi’s business model was doomed from the start.
Her mask sketch set the tone for a steady torrent of subsequent videos. Brakeman approached each target—whether a specific character or an entire cast based on an archetype—with frantic energy, a seasoned UCB performer’s delivery, and a barrage of consecutive jokes that could each be solid standalone tweets. Many of these follow-ups achieved a similar level of virality as Brakeman’s first hit, rocketing her to a whole new level.
this is every trump bot account pic.twitter.com/C4oE7UWp2U
— kylie brakeman (@deadeyebrakeman) September 2, 2020
this is my impression of a woman's DM's pic.twitter.com/Miv9FvBVtr
— kylie brakeman (@deadeyebrakeman) October 14, 2020
just a couple of blue check liberals having fun online pic.twitter.com/q7qyfq0y1o
— kylie brakeman (@deadeyebrakeman) August 18, 2020
Pretty soon, the hidden doors to gilded areas in the entertainment industry began to crack open for Brakeman. She started getting invited to audition for projects and submit packets. By December, she would be represented by the monolithic talent agency WME and featured in the New York Times’ Great Performers package for 2020. She had undoubtedly earned a seat at the Cool Kids Table of comedy.
But while she is often touted alongside other talented front-facing video stars of the past year, such as Blair Erskine, Brent Terhune, and James Austin Johnson, Brakeman stands out for her phenomenal range. Some of her videos go after the more obvious MAGA targets, like Rudy Giuliani’s possibly inebriated star witness, but she’s just as often likely to train her gaze on, say, the Democrats’ defense of fracking, as represented by Kamala Harris’ VP debate performance. (It should be noted here that Brakeman also balances out her topical material with sharp, timeless goofery like Popular Girl with a Concussion and How We Market Wine to Women.)
The breadth of variety in her political targets is best represented by the work she put out during the week of the Capitol siege last month. In a span of three days, Brakeman made a video mocking a MAGA warrior who got sprayed with mace, and one sending up Resistance Libs in the wake of Donald Trump’s ban from Twitter. Some of the very people who make up the target audience for the first video are also undoubtedly being read for filth in the second one.
If Brakeman’s progressive values weren’t evident enough from her videos themselves, they should be crystal clear from the charitable causes she attaches to her more popular entries. She never set out to become the consummate equal-opportunity offender of Republicans and Democrats, though. Things just sort of shook out that way.
“One of my biggest fears is that people perceive me as this both-sides comedian, like ‘the Nazis are just as bad as Antifa’ or whatever,” she says. “But I think we’ve gotten into this thing the past couple decades where it’s very easy to criticize the Republicans because they’re just objectively evil. When I criticize the more liberal end of things, I’m not really going after people. I’m going after systems in general. And maybe I’m in a bubble, but everyone I interact with is very Bernie, very left-leaning, and I feel like that specific perspective is not really represented in comedy as much.”
By regularly puncturing liberal smugness with the same savagery she applies to right-wing malevolence, Brakeman appeals to a comedy audience that is vastly underserved. Her political humor hits right square in the breadbasket for many jaded twentysomethings, who exist in the nebulous space between millennials and Generation Z.
“Seeing everybody live through 9/11 and then 2008 and now COVID, like, the system has not worked for us at all,” Brakeman says. “People from my parents’ generation will say, ‘Oh, there are checks and balances. This will all work out. It’s just a very unstable time.’ But that’s all the time. That’s all I’ve ever seen. All I’ve seen is completely dysfunctional government.”
There’s no rhyme or reason to which section of the political spectrum Brakeman mocks on any given day, or whether she’ll be filming anything at all. She has a loose, self-induced quota of at least one video every ten days or so. Other than that, it all comes down to the spark of inspiration, and whether the obvious target du jour—such as the GameStop fiasco on the day of our interview—has enough funny fodder to merit a video.
Once the spirit moves her, Brakeman will talk to herself in her car for a while, to see what emerges. If the jokes are there, she runs out to the garage to scream at her phone for a while, roommates be damned.
“I write sort of inside-out,” Brakeman says. “It starts with a voice or one specific joke and then I try and build from there. As opposed to, like, ‘Today, I want to do a video that makes fun of the electoral college.'”
Sometimes she gets requests for specific videos, but these don’t factor into her process much, if at all. During the middle of the Capitol siege on January 6, for instance, one fan tweeted, “I need a @deadeyebrakeman video” about the day’s events.
She responded thusly:
— kylie brakeman (@deadeyebrakeman) January 6, 2021
Although the chaos of that day has since settled down, and America appears on the path to that positive boredom President Biden promised on the campaign trail, Brakeman isn’t worried about any diminished potential for comedy in the dawning era.
“I think that people are sort of waking up to the idea that you can still criticize and make fun of a Democratic administration as long as you’re doing it from a progressive standpoint,” she says. “I think that late night and all these institutions are often afraid to go at it from that angle, even though that’s what’s popular and what people are resonating with. But I think there’s a good understanding that the Trump era of comedy has been rough, and I feel like that’s something we can hopefully correct.”
The Biden era of comedy already looks promising for Brakeman. She has written some pilot scripts and is currently working on some projects with friends. As she auditions for roles and for the chance to get staffed in a writers room, and curates her Patreon, for now the question of what lies in store for the future often narrows down to What Will Be the Next Video.
In this instance, a few hours after our conversation, it’s one about the GameStop debacle after all.
Rather than the shitposting Redditor, the shifty Robinhood executive, or the compromised politician, her video is built around a teary-eyed hedge fund manager who can no longer afford his “big puffy-puff cigar” and “titty threesome.”
hedge fund manager is not doing well pic.twitter.com/6RrdEfykil
— kylie brakeman (@deadeyebrakeman) January 28, 2021
How very Kylie Brakeman.