JAY VER­SACE

With over 2 bil­lion Vine views un­der his belt, we get to know the openly gay co­me­dian be­hind all your likes.

Gay Times Magazine - - Contents - Pho­tog­ra­phy & Fash­ion David Vas­salli Words Ryan Cahill

If you’re on so­cial me­dia, you’ve prob­a­bly seen his hi­lar­i­ous six sec­ond skits fill­ing your feed. Jay Ver­sace is Vine roy­alty, and prob­a­bly the fun­ni­est teenager on the in­ter­net. In his first cover shoot, he talks his re­li­gious up­bring­ing, self-ac­cep­tance and com­edy.

“I’m from New Jer­sey and I grew up with my mum, my step-dad and brother. My life was just school. I was known as the class clown at the time,” co­me­dian and so­cial me­dia star Jay Ver­sace tells me when we con­nect on a transat­lantic call. I’m sat in the cold on some steps in Not­ting Hill while Jay is fresh out of bed in the siz­zling state of Cal­i­for­nia – who feels like the clown now!

For those who don’t have the in­ter­net and there­fore are un­fa­mil­iar with Jay Ver­sace, he’s the 20-year-old openly gay co­me­dian who has, for want of a bet­ter phrase, bro­ken the in­ter­net. His much-dis­cussed Vine chan­nel ‘the­re­alver­sace’ has clocked up some 3 mil­lion fol­low­ers and over 2 bil­lion – yes, BIL­LION – views, and all thanks to his amaz­ingly an­i­mated fa­cial ex­pres­sions. But the In­sta icon comes from hum­ble be­gin­nings, helm­ing from a black Chris­tian fam­ily who helped to run their lo­cal church. “I grew up lit­er­ally a cou­ple houses down from my church,” he tells me, “It was our fam­ily church that we ba­si­cally took over and owned. Every Sun­day you’d find me there; it was pretty much my whole life.”

De­spite his reg­i­mented, re­li­gious up­bring­ing, he was un­de­ni­ably a bit of tear­away, mov­ing be­tween ele­men­tary schools as a re­sult of be­ing kicked out for his self-con­fessed “crazy” be­hav­ior. His short on­line videos acted as the cat­a­lyst for him dis­cov­er­ing who he re­ally was – and de­spite their tongue-in-cheek silli­ness, they qui­etly doc­u­ment his com­ing of age. “When I started mak­ing videos, peo­ple kept telling me to make more and while I was mak­ing those videos I be­gan to find out who I was,” he ex­plains. “There were times when cer­tain peo­ple at my church were like, ‘what is he do­ing? Is he crazy?’ and within a cou­ple of months of mak­ing con­tent, I stopped go­ing to church al­to­gether. I couldn’t un­der­stand why you’d judge some­one for not be­ing like ev­ery­body else, and if I car­ried on at church I felt like peo­ple would con­vince me to be some­one that I wasn’t.”

Jay’s early videos call upon in­spi­ra­tion from his own life ex­pe­ri­ences; whether it’s an im­pres­sion of a teacher or the re­cre­ation of an in­ter­ac­tion with his mum, all played out with per­fect tim­ing and the most iconic, an­i­mated fa­cial ex­pres­sions for which he has be­come syn­ony­mous. De­spite mak­ing it seem like plain sail­ing, it wasn’t easy forg­ing a path as a so­cial me­dia star. This was mainly due to the lack of in­ter­net and ca­ble that he had in his house, be­cause his mother con­sid­ered them un­nec­es­sary. To post

his videos, he’d have to reach his arm out of his be­d­room win­dow or go to the bot­tom of his gar­den in or­der to pick up his neigh­bour’s WIFI con­nec­tion.

Thank­fully, Jay’s WIFI hi­jack­ing meant we got to en­joy his crazy cre­ations. His videos have even caught the at­ten­tion of some ma­jor stars, in­clud­ing Erykah Badu, who reached out af­ter he shared a video lip-sync­ing to one of her tracks with a towel wrapped around his head. It doesn’t end there; Jay ad­mits he’s reg­u­larly recog­nised when he at­tends var­i­ous func­tions. “I was at my friend’s birth­day party at some club and there was a row of celebri­ties there all just point­ing, laugh­ing and smil­ing be­cause they knew who I was,” he tells me. “It’s a crazy feel­ing be­cause I’ve just been liv­ing my life and peo­ple re­spect me.”

Hav­ing a huge on­line fol­low­ing, which in­cludes 4 mil­lion com­bined In­sta­gram and Twit­ter fol­low­ers, Jay ap­pre­ci­ates the need to use the plat­form to speak about so­cial in­jus­tices. “As a black per­son, if I didn’t speak my ideas on some­thing it wouldn’t be right,” he ex­plains to me. “Some peo­ple are un­sure of how to say or do some­thing so they go onto Twit­ter to see what oth­ers are say­ing, so if I have the re­sources to speak on some­thing then it’s es­pe­cially im­por­tant as a black per­son to do so.”

De­spite the aware­ness of his in­flu­ence, Jay ad­mits that he doesn’t al­ways get it right, telling me that re­gard­less of some­thing be­ing an un­pop­u­lar opin­ion, he would still have no qualms in shar­ing it – a tes­ta­ment to his ‘no-fucks-given’ at­ti­tude and ev­i­dence to his in­di­vid­u­al­ity and in­de­pen­dent men­tal­ity. It’s this ma­ture­ness which helped him make the move from his home­town of Pleas­antville, New Jer­sey to LA at the age of 18. “My mum al­ways used to say, ‘un­til you’re eigh­teen you’re not grown and can’t do any­thing’ so I saved money and moved that sum­mer,” he laughs.

Post-Vine, he’s now put his hand to more se­ri­ous com­edy and act­ing, some­thing which he hopes his move to LA is go­ing to help him with due to there be­ing more op­por­tu­ni­ties. He’s most re­cently ap­peared in his own TV show, Jay Ver­sace Is in The 90s, within which he is struck by light­ning and finds him­self stuck in a ‘90s bub­ble’, and he’s had a role in The Com­mute, a rom-com series which re­cently won the Writ­ers Guild of Amer­ica Award for Short Form New Me­dia. “I’m re­ally just try­ing to take my­self se­ri­ously. I don’t want to be lazy, so I’m try­ing to spir­i­tu­alise my­self and get in the mood and go­ing to act­ing classes,” he voices to us of his tran­si­tion from Vine icon to small screen star. “Get­ting ad­vice from my friends who are also ac­tors, watch­ing movies about ac­tors… I just signed to a new agency and they’ve been help­ing me go to var­i­ous au­di­tions - it’ll hap­pen even­tu­ally, but I’m ac­tu­ally study­ing act­ing first.” And de­spite his foray into the world of “adult act­ing”, he’s still heav­ily present on his YouTube chan­nel, where you can see and en­joy up­dates of his shenani­gans and more of those Os­car-wor­thy fa­cial ex­pres­sions.

At the end of 2016, the 20-year-old took to his YouTube chan­nel to drop a no-non­sense com­ing out video. Stat­ing that he didn’t want to make it an emo­tional out­pour­ing, he quite calmly de­tails his flu­id­ity when it comes to dat­ing. “I was in the shower ac­tu­ally and I thought, ‘You know what? Af­ter I fin­ish this shower, I’m go­ing to come out’ - it was quite ran­dom. I text my mum a long para­graph and that was it, ever since then I was free,” he re­veals of his de­ci­sion to come out. I ask him whether his up­bring­ing had any in­flu­ence on his de­ci­sion to be open about his sex­u­al­ity. He ex­plains, “Be­ing that I live in a black Chris­tian fam­ily I knew it was go­ing to be hard. I don’t nec­es­sar­ily blame my fam­ily for not un­der­stand­ing it. It’s how they grew up and they’re just act­ing as a prod­uct of how they were brought up.”

Ad­mit­tedly, he had no gay role mod­els grow­ing up as a re­sult of not be­ing ex­posed to any. Adding that he didn’t even know who Prince was un­til his late teens and was only fa­mil­iar with a few other gay kids at school, all of whom were clos­eted. De­spite a lack of queer role mod­els, Jay’s had the abil­ity to fo­cus on him­self. “I’ve been look­ing up to my­self lately! I want to be free of sex­u­al­ity and not boxed in as a guy who’s gay. I don’t want to be known as the gay guy, but I also want to be an am­bas­sador for gay peo­ple,” Jay ex­plains. “I never want to be la­belled as the gay ac­tor. I just want to be me.”

Upon the end of our con­ver­sa­tion, I’m pleas­antly taken aback by our in­ter­view. De­spite his comedic ex­cel­lence and his no­to­ri­ety for be­ing to­tally ridicu­lous on­line, our chat is worlds away from what I’d ex­pected. Be­hind his ul­tra-jokey Jay Ver­sace per­sona, there’s a gen­uinely heart-warm­ing young guy - some­one who cares about his queer­ness, but is at a cross­roads de­cid­ing be­tween be­ing a spokesper­son for his com­mu­nity or say­ing ‘fuck it, this is just nor­mal’. It’s easy to for­get that all our favourite so­cial me­dia stars have a life away from our time­lines, and it’s re­fresh­ing to hear about one so rich in so­cial ex­pe­ri­ence and so woke about pretty much ev­ery­thing. Whether you’re here for his videos or for his down-to-earth at­ti­tude, Jay Ver­sace is the face of the fu­ture.

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