Artist of the Month: Evelyn from the Internets
Evelyn Ngugi is an internet personality, actress, comedian and cultural influencer. She also manages her personal brand and YouTube channel, Evelyn from the Internets. She has been featured by publications not limited to but including Buzzfeed, Elle, Okay Africa, and Allure and clips of her work were featured in Beyoncé's "Lemonade" tour. Although she is highly talented and widely praised, her genuinely humble demeanor makes interactions with her feel as if she does not really seek any of the accolades or recognition. She seems to be more interested in the upkeep of the community of internet cousins she has created over her many years in the public eye. I met with Evelyn at Sa-Ten on a SXSW Tuesday at dusk. We talked about her recent decision to quit her job, her origins in cassette tape DJ sets, and inspirations from her fairy godfather Ira Glass.
Jason: I did some deep research.
Evelyn: Oh no!
J: (laughs) I couldn’t find anything that was too embarrassing, so you’re good.
E: (laughs) Okay good!
J: I watched some of the O.G. Evelyn from the Internets videos. The oldest ones.
E: Why? Why, why, why?
J: (laughs) Do you ever want to…
E: Want to delete everything? Yes!
J: Why do you not?
E: I think about it so much! I don’t know, I think because sometimes people message me and say ‘Hey, I just found your videos and I started [watching] from the beginning and it was so helpful!’ I don’t watch my own videos so I don’t remember what I said really. There are a chunk of videos from right after I graduated college and I couldn’t find a job, so people usually really resonate with those videos. And I’m like, ‘Dang, I really want to delete them' but they’re helpful to somebody, so I keep them up.
J: That’s kind of you!
E: But sometimes, I’m like 'Man, I wish the internet would like, explode!' And it would just wipe everything! (laughs)
J: In one of your videos you were speaking about how it’s hard for people to make personalized content that is not performative.
J: I feel like one of the things that people like so much about you is that you feel very natural and relatable on the internet. Do you feel like you are performing Evelyn from the Internets?
E: (nods) Yes.
E: Okay, so Evelyn from the Internets is me… when I’m talking to my friends or telling them a story, that’s what I sound like. But day-to-day life? I’m monotone and when people meet me they usually say ‘Oh my gosh you’re so quiet!’ The channel is me when I’m at my hype-est.
J: I see.
E: So in a way, I am performing because that’s not me one hundred percent of the time. And sometimes I write my videos and they are performative because you can’t tell that I wrote them. So yeah.
J: What’s your writing process like?
E: So I was actually watching Dave Chappelle’s new series on Netflix and he was talking about how he writes the punchline first and then figures out the rest. Sometimes that’s what I do, I’ll just be thinking about something stupid, and I don’t know the point of it, but I just know that it’s the end of something. And then I’ll figure out how to get to the end later. Or sometimes I’ll be talking to people, or talking to myself in the shower or in the car and it will turn into something.
I posted a video, I forgot the title but it’s about Drake, and he had that line… what was it?
J: As soon as you see the text…
E: As soon as you see the text reply me! And I was like, swerve! (laughs) and that was just me listening to the song for the first time feeling like ‘Drake what are you talking about?’ And we all have those moments of ‘Drake what are you talking about?’
J: Your background is in journalism.
J: Do you feel like your undergraduate career prepared you for what you are doing now?
E: Yes and no. It prepared me in that journalism is all about asking questions and not being concerned with being an expert. Being a journalist is not about being an expert, it is about being a student. Studying things as much as you can. It helped because I’m not scared of saying that I don’t know something, or of learning how to figure something out. It helped me in terms of learning how to tell stories and talk to people and get people to say things. Even to get myself to say things.
It didn’t help because journalism school, or even school in general is just slow. When I was in college they were still talking about Twitter as if it was this new thing and it was old as hell. They were so behind, so I don’t think it prepared me for the internet or social media. I did magazine journalism [in college] but all my internships were online – not because an adviser told me to, but because I knew I was never going to get a job in print. I was probably going to be doing internet stuff. It didn’t help with learning how to navigate online things.
J: And you originally got into putting content online naturally by posting videos your friends to see?
J: So in a way, was the internet a sort of classroom for you too then?
E: Yes. I always knew that I was going to do this, it just so happened that YouTube was the thing to do it on. Growing up, I would record stuff over cassette tapes. I would do a fake DJ set and be like ‘Hey, this is KWD-whatever coming to you live from…‘ and then I would fade in the music. I did it on cassette tapes, VHS, DVD, and then after that was the internet! So I always knew it was going to be a thing.
J: That’s really cool!
E: You know Just For Me, the perm relaxer?
E: Back, back in the day, it came with cassette instructions on how to relax a child’s hair. But my mom didn’t need them, and so back then I would take the cassette tapes, because she didn’t use them, and I would record shit! It was like free cassette tapes! (laughs)
J: Money moves!
E: You know? Resourceful!
J: Where did you grow up?
E: I consider myself to have grown up in Lafayette, Louisiana. I lived there from the time that I was five or six to eleven. Then when I was eleven or twelve I moved to Fort Worth, Texas. So Louisiana and Texas. Everything before that, I don’t claim because I lived in Ohio.
J: (between laughter) Wait, why don’t you claim Ohio?
E: Well, I don’t claim it because I don’t remember it!
J: Okay, that’s fair, that’s fair.
E: I was four you know? I don’t remember that. I didn’t go to school there!
J: How is Lafayette different from Fort Worth?
E: Oh, I remember being devastated. My aunt and my cousin lived in Austin, so I was familiar with Texas. We would go on family vacations to San Antonio and stuff like that. But Lafayette was much more neighborly. All the houses looked different. I could walk by myself to the grocery store. We knew our neighbors. And then moving to Texas there were huge houses, they all looked the same, can’t walk nowhere because everything is far away. And so I was like what am I supposed to do I don’t get it.
E: That was the main difference.
J: So you started making DJ tapes on the hair relaxer instructions!
E: (laughs) Exactly! That’s what I did to keep myself company!
J: Are you going to do VEDA this year?
E: I am thinking about it… I’m thinking of how to make it better. I’ve been trying to think of what I want it to do. But you die a little bit when you do it. It’s that much work, to post something every single day. I really want to do it because I don’t have an excuse because I quit my job. If anything, I have time! So I think I will.
J: You were saying that your fairy godfather Ira Glass says it's good to work, but how do you balance that with not working?
E: (sighs) I’m not good at it. I’m just now understanding what it means to go out and be Frank Ocean and see the world and not put out anything and ignore everybody and have experiences. Taking time off to do something that’s not – and I’m not saying that everyone can do this, because we live in a capitalist society, so it is hard – but taking time off to do something that isn’t productive to society or making you money. And now I have time to do that. So I’m trying to not always feel bad about not working on anything because it is good to just live.
J: That’s good. And difficult. Do you feel pressure? Because you mentioned that you just recently quit your job.
J: How does that play into how you feel about being productive?
E: Um. Whoo!
E: Interestingly enough, I worked at an agency-type thing where I would work all day and my job was relevant to my personal interests. I was using my brain in creative ways all day, and I would come home exhausted but I would still have to give ideas to myself. So I would stay up until like one or two o’ clock. But now, I don’t have a job and I’m in bed by like 9:30!
E: And I wake up around five or six refreshed, so I don’t know, it’s figuring out if I want to simply replace my job with my [personal] work? I’m just still trying to figure out how to work when no one is telling me to. Go to bed early? Go to bed late? What’s the grind? Now there’s no clock. If I want to go to bed, I’m going to bed!
J: (laughs) I feel like that’s an issue that is more prevalent with people in our generations opposed to older folks.
E: But at the same time, I feel like I inherited some of it from my Dad. So my Dad is a new empty nester, my brother just moved out, so he doesn’t know what to do with himself. So he went back to school. He was like ‘Well I’m just sitting at home watching Jimmy Kimmel’ You worked a full day! You deserve to sit at home and watch Jimmy Kimmel and go to bed! And he says ‘No you have to be always productive, doing something’ and I’m just like, ehhhh. But I think it kind of rubbed off on me. Now I say to myself, ‘I’m just sitting here watching YouTube videos...’
J: Can you speak a little bit about your parents and how they’ve influenced you? What do they think about what you are doing? What do they think about you quitting your job?
E: So my parents, I think they are pretty progressive as far as African parents go. I have heard of people having to drop out of college because their parents refused to help them out because they are doing art and not biology or something. My parents have never been like that. But also, I take into account that I’ve never wanted to do anything but this. I’ve been consistent. They’ve always seen me with a camera running around doing something. And even though sometimes it hurts my feelings when they don’t “get” something or they say that I should go back to school – those are their words, but their actions are to buy me a camera for my graduation present or tell their friends about me. These are actions that show me that they are proud.
I don’t think they know what I do. They know that I do stuff, but they don’t know what it is, and they don’t know what it means. The way they use the internet is for information and sometimes my dad uses YouTube to watch Christian gospel music videos but other than that I don’t think they understand the concept of personalities online. My play uncle/godfather type figure, he lives in New Orleans, and one time I went down there for his daughter’s graduation and I filmed him and my family and years later, he texts my Dad saying ‘This random girl walked up to me saying ‘Are you Evelyn’s uncle?’’ and he wasn’t understanding why that was happening.
E: I was like, 'Remember when I filmed that video? People saw you, and they remembered who you were!' So I think, when things like that happen, they realize.
J: They realize the magnitude.
J: You were mentioning, at the QuirkCon panel that your audience is expanding now. You were saying something about White dads coming up to you now?
E: (laughs) Yeah!
J: What’s that been like for you since [Beyoncé played your video clip on the "Lemonade" tour]
E: Interesting, because I don’t know what they get out of what it is that I do. Because there are aspects of my humor that are very specific to black people, so it’s like, what are you laughing at? Do you get the joke? (laughs) Is it the way that I’m talking? Like ‘Oh, that’s silly!’ Just wondering why it is entertaining.
I mean it makes sense, I watch people who don’t look like me all the time, and I find them funny. So I’m accepting the appreciation, but I’m also wondering what it is that I am doing that makes it funny.
J: I feel like you feel a responsibility to be socially just with your platform. I feel that you do a good job of gracefully, yet precisely mixing that in with your humor.
E: Thank you!
J: Is that something that you pay close attention to? Is it learned?
E: It is the way that I personally process things.
J: That’s healthy!
E: If I didn’t have to do that for myself, I wouldn’t know how to do that for others. I have to use humor or I’d jump off a building (laughs) so you might as well show the absurdity of what’s happening to make it relatable. Humor makes the subject matter much less do-or-die. It’s equalizing. You get people to laugh and then you say, okay this is what I am talking about.
J: True, very true.
J: You’ve spoken about how the We Are film series was very important to you, why was that?
E: It was the first time I participated in a film-type project that had all the parts to it. I’m so used to, grab your camera, set it up, struggle.
E: This wasn’t a struggle! There was a director, who wasn’t also the person running the camera, who wasn’t also the lighting person, it was actually a crew! There were women - the director Beth, Jessica, the assistant director – and the guys were taking the orders! Even the guys were supportive! It was my first time feeling like ‘These are where my people are!’ Creative young people in Austin. Austin is either a film type of city, or a improv standup comedy kind of city, but for the internet? I hadn’t felt like I found the internet people. [Filming We Are] I felt like I found my internet people.
J: Shout out to Beth and Tamar! That wasn’t your first time acting was it?
E: It wasn’t my first time in a series, it was my first time acting fully. I wasn’t myself in the series. I was actually memorizing a script. Usually I improv, or I have a loose outline of jokes I have to hit, but this was a script. With a script supervisor in the corner saying, ‘You didn’t say that last time!’ or ‘Say this a different way!’
J: That’s intense! I bet that was a cool experience.
E: It was cool! It was intense! It really made me appreciate everything I watch. There’s a scene where I fall on the bed and on screen it looks like I fall on the bed, but to make that shot, a cinematographer was literally straddling me in bed.
E: ‘Okay fall! Okay fall again!’ You have to pretend you don’t see everything happening. In one of the episodes with Ngozi, she was in a sex scene! I can only imagine having the photographer right there! And the A/C was making noise so they had to turn the A/C off… (laughs) but it was a cool experience, I would do it again!
J: I don’t know if I have any more questions for you, I think we hit them all! I should ask though, what’s your favorite hairstyle that you’ve done so far?
E: Favorite hairstyle?! Hmmm… when I actually have a lineup, and when I dyed my hair purple. Locks fresh, lineup, purple hair?
J: That’s the move?
E: That’s the move. When I had purple hair, I felt like it was what I was supposed to be born as! It just goes!
Evelyn Ngugi is an internet personality, comedian, and YouTube Creator for Change Fellow. You can follow her at @evelynfromtheinternets except for on Twitter, where she is @EVEEEEEZY. Jason Ikpatt is allergic to his girlfriend’s cat. You can follow him at @jas.ikp on Instagram.