Benito Skinner brought exactly that to our conversation. Even without the wigs, the costumes or the greenscreen, the jest and comedic flare were thriving through cyberspace, and I was living. There’s a lot to be said about an individual who can bring laughter to people’s lives at a time when there is little to laugh about. As the world locked down, Benny’s apartment lit up as he transformed not only himself but the architecture of internet comedy. Many will recognize @bennydrama7 from Tiktok, hosting an array of character impersonations and famous faces alike, but unlike the old days of the ‘iron gates of Hollywood’, Benny’s transcendence is entirely his own, born out of undeniable talent, and a devotion to helping others.
From a young, avid football player in Idaho, to a wig-wearing, corset strapping, queer internet sensation, these two seemingly polar universes are beautifully intertwined into the heart of Benny’s identity. @bennydrama7 may appear as a simple handle, but break it down and you’ll discover a lot about the guy who spends so much of his time online, as someone else. As we delve into the early days of Benny Drama, we touch on the challenges of concealing a pink secret, a double life and the benefits of unsupervised television viewing - notably Lindsay Lohan’s yacht on VH1. But it’s those early experiences which appear to have natured Benny’s ability to seamlessly impersonate anyone in a way that will only ever uplift.
Although Benny admits that personas can often act as an escape from the woes of today’s world, his own exuberant personality always appears right alongside and is something Benny hopes to reveal more of in future. But something Benny has always shared with us is his adoring relationship with his boyfriend, Terry O’Connor - the twosome have revolutionised couple’s Halloween costumes forever. With upcoming projects including his starring in Queer as Folk and First Time Female Director, we will quite certainly see the true artist that Benny is in ways we have yet to witness.
@Bennydrama7 is on a journey, are we’re here for the ride.
Catch Benny in Peacock’s 'Queer as Folk' on Amazon Prime now.
Imagine you’re travelling up in an elevator with someone, and you have 30 seconds to tell them your journey so far. What would you say?
Okay! So, I grew up in Idaho, played football - big slay Nicki Minaj monster pose - and then after that, I went to college in DC. I moved to New York right after and worked at a startup... it was awful. I started editing my own videos during that time and then my boyfriend told me to make my Instagram public, so I did. I started doing impressions and sketches and it grew pretty quickly. It was a little terrifying at first, but obviously well worth it. I started doing live shows, I went on a tour and then started auditioning more often and wanted to get more into TV and film and auditioning. It took me to LA where in the past few years I've been doing more acting projects, but still making sketches and hopefully doing another live show soon!
If you could pick a colour to describe who you are, what would it be and why?
Pink, period. But it’s that kind of pink that leans a little purple - I think that's important. It’s that kind of sweet bubble-gum pink. I feel like it represents me because for so long, that was my favourite colour and I stashed that away for such a long time. Now it's a problem, I feel like I'm buying everything pink. My boyfriend gives me shit sometimes because pink is very well represented in my closet. But yeah, I feel like it represents me because it's just so joyful, and I feel so joyful. It honestly also feels like my lucky colour. I don't know, I feel really lucky to do what I do and get to make things that hopefully make people happy. Pink always makes people happy. Pink: she is that girl, she’s always been that girl.
I read that the 7 in your handle (@bennydrama7) came from your football shirt, can you tell us more about that?
Yeah, that’s right it was! When I got the handle, I was a senior in high school and my brother and some people in my family called me ‘drama’, just because of, you know, how I am lol. So I was like, okay, cool: bennydrama7. It's so funny that such a light thought at the time is now very much a part of my life. Sometimes I'll go to an event and I'll say my real full name and they'll be like ‘No sorry, you’re not on the list’ and I'm like, is there a Mr. Drama? I do love it. I feel like with the internet, it’s kind of like these avatars that we've created for ourselves, so I feel like the most energetic, creative part of me is this drama character in a lot of ways. It also helps me protect who I am personally. A part of my plan is to have it in my work more in the future and was definitely a part of my podcast with Mary Beth Barone. It's so funny really, how a very random choice dictated so much of my life since then!
Was comedy a prominent theme in your life as you were growing up?
Well, I feel really lucky because I'm the youngest child, which means my parents just let me watch anything, so I grew up on those VH1 shows where that guy would be talking about Lindsay Lohan's yacht, I think it was like Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. I was allowed to watch any movies I wanted and I just dove into comedy. I was obsessed with Robin Williams for so long, he was everything to me; I think I've watched Mrs Doubtfire like 1000 times. I definitely think my family fostered that. When I was a kid, I would do performances and monologues to my family and my family would sit down and (hopefully) enjoy them. This one year I danced in front of all the people who were coming over for thanksgiving dinner, it was just what was going to happen and they couldn't really do anything to stop that so they threw their hands up and just let it happen. They knew who I was going to be as a person and they never stopped me from being who I was destined to be.
When did you realise that your talent could become your career?
Oh my God. Well, growing up in Idaho, sometimes I had family members bring it up to me or say I feel like you would really love performing and doing things like that. But I was in grade school at the time and I just hid all of that. Once I realised that clearly, something was different about me from my classmates, I did everything I could to make up for that difference for years. There’s this iconic queer book called The Velvet Rage and I feel like I very much was a character study from that book. I think a lot of queer people feel that way because I felt like I basically lived a double life for so long and never even thought about being creative or a performer, specifically from the age of 12 until I was like 21. But once I was kind of making sketches or writing sketches in college, I kept thinking, like, ‘oh, I really want to be in this’, or I noticed that I could do people's voices and that I was always really interested in people and the way that they would interact, talk, walk or anything like that. I was obsessed with it. I was always interested in being other people. I feel like that's when I started to actually say out loud again, like, ‘oh, hey, I think I would really want to do this’, and the internet allowed that to happen in so many ways. I love the internet, obviously, there's some bad that comes with it, but I think it's opened the door for so many more voices, and kind of get rid of these iron gates of Hollywood that have been there for so long. So many more people can join this conversation and if they want to be an actor, if they want to be a comedian or a writer, it is no longer impossible, you no longer need to know someone in the industry, I love that.
Football is stereotypically seen as a masc, ‘straight’ sport in society. Did this ever influence the feeling of a double life you referred to earlier?
Yeah, I mean, there's something really specific about going to football practice and then getting in your car after, playing Government Hooker, rolling up the windows, and blasting it from the physical copy of Born This Way and saying that the only reason you have it is because you think Lady Gaga is hot - and oh my god do I think she's hot - just not like ‘that’… more of like; you're stunning, you're an idol. But yeah, I thought that if I ever did theatre or something, it would be so obvious who I was, who I am, and I'm sure I would have had such joy, so I sometimes regret not coming out sooner. But everyone has their reasons, and I definitely had mine and it's such a personal journey; it just made sense to me to come out when I did. With football, there was this kind of a performative side to it. Observing people was the best, I thought it was so funny and ridiculously dramatic at times, so it really created these perfect moments for comedy in my adult life. If I have to stand up - I’m currently working on a television show right now that talks about it - but it truly is so insane to me that I played football, because there’s nothing that could be more opposite to me. But I also think that’s why, it's a part of me and I think about it all the time because I can't believe I did that, but I did it, so I might as well get some bits out of it.
Have you ever had an ‘I’ve made it’ moment?
I feel like there are a few and then they’ve changed over the years. I have been really lucky to have such a supportive partner, Terry O'Connor, my boyfriend. Wow it’s only 15 minutes into our conversation and I bring up my boyfriend! But I've shared a lot of those moments with him, which has been really beautiful.
I remember the first time I did a live show in New York, that was insane. I also remember the tiny moments, like when Blake Lively liked a photo of me doing a Gossip Girl impression of Serena. Terry and I literally screamed, like went completely crazy. Another is the Kardashians, which was really strange; I feel like I dissociated the whole time because I couldn’t believe I was in Kourtney's house. She was just so sweet about it, and I think that was a definite moment where I was really happy, because obviously, you're doing impressions of people, and you hope that they respond to it and understand that it's coming from a place of love. Like with me, I never wanted to be a bully, I was always doing impressions of people that I am interested in and thought would be fun. I want it to feel like a friend is giving you shit and we're all in on it, so that was really great because it felt like all this work I had done was understood in a way that I always wanted it to be, which was just fun and light-hearted. That was definitely so surreal.
While in high school you were the founder of the non-profit ‘OATHS’, Organization Assisting the Homeless Student. As someone with a clear passion for helping others, have you found that you are now able to help others through the magic of laughter?
This was such an outlet for me. In my high school, you do community service and my mom taught physical education at a public high school for years in Boise. She had many students who were experiencing homelessness at the time and couldn't get equipment. I would watch her help them and buy equipment with her own money. I feel like I've always wanted people to feel special in a lot of ways. I've always wanted people to feel like someone cares about them and I always had that, I always had those protectors. I feel like they really always came in the form of a woman who would protect me and make me feel special; that was definitely a huge part of my life here in Boise for sure. The best joys I get are when someone tells me that seeing one of my videos or going to my page or seeing my relationship with Terry has made them feel more comfortable being themselves or made them want to, you know, put on a wig or put on a bright lipstick or do whatever they want to do. It's such a fucking scary time, so it's such a gift to me that I get to make comedy and it makes me so happy. The fact that it maybe makes other people feel special or happy or less alone is like the greatest gift ever. That's why I also love the internet, I can do that every week. I can always pump out a little sketch. If somebody gets a three-minute break, hell yeah, I'll go through the pain of five hours of editing because it’s worth it and it's a privilege.
Do you ever use impersonation as a means of escape?
Oh, totally. I feel like at the start of lockdown, I had a tour that I was going to do and obviously, that was cancelled. There were some other projects that were just on hold but right then, I'm in this apartment, I have all these wigs, I have my green screen and this is the only thing I could do. It was such an escape for me and I've never made that many videos in my life. When I did my Halloween virtual show, I was just pumping it out - I think I really just edited for a year straight. But it just gave me something to do. It made me feel so much better and alleviated a little bit of this sense of impending doom that I think all of us felt. It felt very communal, like a lot of the videos were just requests for me to bring back old characters. Even though I had finished those series, I was like, fuck it, let's just do it again. People respond to these and it'll make them feel seen and happy. Then I started to do so many new characters. My favourite character is this Jenny character who's my TMI hairstylist and makeup artist. I think I literally made her because I missed going to a makeup counter or a hair salon and having someone give me ASMR and tell me too much about their lives but I gladly accepted. She made me feel safe, and I feel like other people responded to her in that way. Obviously, I did way more new impressions than I had ever done, but I also kept to the same characters that I had been doing for years. Then all of a sudden, I was like, yeah, maybe I can do this person or I started doing stories where I would have people request anyone and that was a great way for me to figure out any new impressions I could do. It was such a bizarre time but I felt really fortunate I was able to work the whole time and hopefully give people a five-minute fucking break from the nightmare that currently is the reality of the world, and I still feel that way.
Have you experienced any downsides of being an online content creator?
Well, I am a Scorpio so if I read something that's negative, it'll absolutely break my entire soul and not in a good way. I remember one person told me that my lips were always dry and so now I swear to God, I have the most lubed up lips - like my lips are wet. It's hard to not let those things affect you, but the good is so good. I feel so creatively stimulated all the time, and I feel so much support that, for the dolls, I will never stop doing it just because one person either feels uncomfortable with my work or threatened or feels the need to say something. I really am fascinated though- I personally have never written a mean comment on something I didn't like, I just stopped watching something I didn't like. I'm always interested in the internet, and why people like to do that to people. We are real people on it, it feels so weird to still be able to be bullied. I'm out of high school, this feels so strange to still get these things said to me, but I still try to do what I've always done which is, if I read something shitty, immediately go find something nice and not respond to that person and maybe have like a mini conversation with a stranger who took time out of their day to say something nice because that always outweighs the bad.
You’ll be seen co-starring in Peacock’s Queer as Folk, a reimagining of the original British series from 1999. I find the word ‘queer’ often means different things to different people, what does it mean to you?
I love it because I feel like our community is being represented more than ever. Obviously, there's a long way to go, but I'm seeing on TikTok so many more people joining this community and under this umbrella of queer, and I feel like it's also allowing for people to explore what that means to them. It means something different to everyone, but I think of it more of a symbol that there is such a beautiful, diverse group of people that are all different, and I think that's the most important thing. We each have our own journey and for whatever beautiful reason we feel like we fit under this queer umbrella and I think there's a safety in that. So I guess in a lot of ways, it's a safe community. The show itself, including the past ones, feels like so much is based on community, safety and indifference. This is highlighting so many different stories that we're not seeing enough of on television. I play like a real nasty gay villain and it's like, hell yeah, it's about damn time we have a gay villain. The world has made us the villains long enough!
You’re also staring in the First Time Female Director, directed by Chelsea Peretti. Can you give us a taster of what to expect?
Wow, where to begin? First Time Female Director, I think will hopefully come out in the new year. I can’t say much, but essentially it's this beautiful homage to how women are treated in these industries and when they come into a role and the challenges they face. Just being a part of that ensemble was so special and insanely rewarding. I think people are going to freak for this movie. Chelsea is a genius as well - a legend - and so collaborative and amazing to work with.
You're a writer, you're an actor, you’re an artist. Do you ever suffer from ‘creator’s block’?
If I find any blocking, I go back through my notes app on my phone. It's so random, sometimes I'm like ‘what the fuck was that supposed to mean?’. But I'll go through and see something I’ve written down and if it sparks something; that's been a great way. I did that a lot in the pandemic because you can't make four videos a week without tapping into the archive, so I definitely did that. I feel like I really tried to just blast Charlie XCX and go for a walk. For some reason, blasting pop and going for a walk will always help me with writer's block. I love music as a means of comedy. I was on a run one time - a jog, I would say kind of a jog or walk kind of thing - and the Taylor Swift song Look What You Made Me Do came on shuffle. I had the idea that that song should be the next song I use when I'm being mean to Terry's mum. I thought that and I was like, ‘oh my God, that drop in that song’, I want to say ‘your son blew my back out’, it's so fun that that is my job.
You and your boyfriend Terry have become the Gods of the perfect couple’s Halloween costumes. How much preparation goes into each year’s ensemble?
This is the best question I've ever been asked. Yes, it may be months in advance, but I am putting in my order with Christopher Palu, who does my Halloween costumes. Halloween was always this safe space for me to just be the raging fag that I am. So for me, to be able to take it to the next level, and have my family say “Why this? You're going too far”, I've done everything. I've made so many videos, I've worn so many wigs, so for it to feel different, I have to go hard. I have to turn into Marilyn, we have to get a professional makeup artist, I have to be corseted, I have to be padded and I have to actually glue this wig down. Planning-wise, we do take a long time. I would say we try to think about what's making us laugh and then also what the fantasy is, but our personalities lend themselves to a lot of hilarious tropes. We wanted to do more of like a classic Halloween costume, but we did Kylie and Kendall. We were literally just watching Met Gala coverage and the second they walked on the red carpet, we knew. It takes a couple of months and a lot of time and effort but I would say it's my favourite time of year because it's something we share together. This year, I'm not saying they're my favourite, but I am, they're pretty obscene. I think you're going to be really happy. I'm going for special effects. It’s really taken absolute months of preparation and a great costume and the great fashion designer that is Christopher Palu - he's just so talented.
What advice would you give to a young queer individual who dreams of becoming a comedian?
As far as the struggle, it's so personal. You don't have to jump in, that’s so much unnecessary pressure. For me, I was like, ‘oh, I am gay. I have to face this and think about it’. Jump into everything. I felt so guilty for not knowing everything; I needed to watch 30 seasons of drag race, and learn about being queer and gay, but really it’s so much more than that, and that’s personal. You need to enjoy that personal journey because it’s a special part of you which deserves time and self-care. I had been on that journey for a year, and then I met Terry, and I feel so lucky that I got to have a part of that journey with someone who just supports me and I hope that everyone can have that. You should be able to do whatever you want to do and feel confident being so over the top and whoever you are, and really truly be unapologetic, because we're told from such a young age to apologise for who we are, so you owe it to yourself. With comedy, not expecting things has always helped me, I'll just go back to a coffee shop and keep editing videos and keep writing scripts and testing out and finding my comedic voice, not expecting any kind of applause for a long time. I had made a kind of Queer Eye video that felt like it popped off and I had made like 20 videos, just running around New York with a wig on. If you're genuinely excited and it makes you happy, keep doing it. If you hate doing it, maybe you’re doing it for the wrong reasons. Just find that joy and put your head down and keep fucking going, that's how you find a comedic voice that is singular and feels like yours.
What would you like your legacy to be?
I hope that in a way I can show the world and queer people particularly that they can fully be themselves and fully fucking go off and go out and get what they deserve. This is the hardest question I've ever been asked. I think because people have celebrated me, I hope to make other people feel celebrated. I'm seeing more of it on TikTok and on the internet of even younger people doing this, and I'm always slightly jealous; that would have been so great if I got to do this since I was a kid. I'm so happy for people who feel that and I'm really happy that those people have families that support them, I want that for everyone. I was lucky to have that. I also really hope I make things that make queer people feel like their stories are told honestly, and obviously acted by queer people: I can promise that I'll never be casting a straight actor to play a queer part... thank God. That's not in my journey. But yeah, I really hope that people feel heard and reflected because a lot of the things that have been “queer”, just felt like they weren't really for us or about us and didn't feel like they were telling our actual stories. I hope that I get to contribute to those stories and that people feel truly seen.