“Sorry for my Buffalo Bill moment,” says Benito Skinner when he first logs onto Zoom. He’s referring to the mannequin heads behind him in his Los Angeles apartment: a pink-pastel number that would fit Bella Thorne’s OnlyFans days; a brunette Jackie O pageboy complete with pillbox cap; and a Marilyn Monroe blonde bouffant. But Skinner, 27, needs all the synthetic hair he can get. As Benny Drama, he’s amassed more than a million Instagram followers, creating characters like the chain-smoking Little Orphan Annie homage Throat Rippin’ Annie (“I grew up in an orphanage. I had a sugar daddy. And I have red hair. Tell me I haven’t been through something”) and Kooper the Gen Z White House intern.
The former high-school football player from Idaho started posting sketches on Instagram in 2016, but enjoyed a surge of popularity in 2020, following the explosion of TikTok during the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as a series of videos in which he pretended to be representatives of various zodiac signs. But he really made his name with his series on the Kardashians, in which he portrays matriarch Kris Jenner as a succubus who made a deal with Satan for her family’s success. He considers it a sign of his success that both Jenner and Kourtney agreed to appear in a video with him: “It felt like a really big moment in my career that I would get that kind of sign-off,” he says.
While he continues to share on socials, he’s also moving on to bigger things. Last year, he was in an episode of Search Party, and next he’s in Queer as Folk and Billy Eichner’s upcoming movie Bros. He’s also got a new podcast “It’s exciting for me to take a character outside of the internet,” he says. “To be in something that is, from my point of view, a very long sketch.”
You’ve been making videos for a long time. But what was the moment you realized that you can make this a full time gig as a career?
I had done a sketch about the Queer Eye cast that was the first one I saw really get outside of just the people that were following me, and I saw it kind of blow up. Then I saw another boom during the pandemic, when everyone was inside and watching their phones. It was kind of a communal thing that would make me happier, and hopefully the people that followed me. It kept me busy during a pretty terrifying time for all of us, I think. But it has been four years of really hard work.
What was it about the zodiac sign videos that you think really hit?
I think maybe in the age of the internet, we’re all narcissists. So it was that moment of like, “This is me. OK, you made this video about me.” People really love their sign. They love something to attribute their personality traits to. I think I am one of them. Like, I so believe I am a Scorpio in my heart of hearts. I know that I’m very sensitive and very passionate about everything, and definitely at times I can have like some nice dark humor. And yeah, and I have an occasional desire to get revenge or be petty, which I think is just super healthy.
What’s your favorite celebrity impression and who is the hardest celebrity to impersonate?
I think my favorite right now is Kris Jenner. She is always fun for me to be. I gave her a backstory of actually being in cahoots with the devil, which makes it fun to play. Or Shawn Mendes being like your sister’s very earnest boyfriend, which is a funny storyline for me. Lana [Del Rey] is my favorite to do. I’m obsessed with her. She’s everything to me. She’s so fun because I love an Americana moment, but I love doing the wing liner. I love doing the poetry. I love doing the overlined lips. I think she’s fascinating and like, truly like a gift.
Have you heard from her about your impression?
No, no. I find that musicians in general are just scarier to do because of their fan bases. Their fan bases are so scary. They really take anything as like a dig or mean that you hate them. But I think all the stan accounts know that I absolutely adore her. I’m a ride-or-die.
I saw you got a lot of hate from the Shawn Mendes stan accounts, and I never knew that Shawn Mendes fans were like, that scary.
Gen Z can fucking light you up. They’ll say things like, “this wasn’t giving what you thought it was,” and I’m like, “That’s the meanest thing anyone’s ever said to me. You’re literally so fucking mean.” But then once Sean approved of it, then they were really sweet. So thank you, Sean. I’m really glad he gave me the sign off. That’s all it takes sometimes.
You no longer do Britney Spears — was that more of your own concern or was it the result of pressure from fans?
I’ve loved Britney since I was a kid. Originally, I didn’t know about the conservatorship in that way. I just took them down because I was like, “If these are contributing in any way to people not thinking she has a right to her freedom in her life, I absolutely don’t want these anywhere,” but they were never made with malice. And I think that was a great learning lesson for me of really listening and not being immediately on the defensive. I don’t want to contribute any negativity to a conversation, especially to someone who has faced all of those things. And I’m so happy she’s free. Fuck yeah.
Have you ever heard directly from a celebrity who has been like, “This is rude. Stop that”?
Oh no. And I I think that’s because I always pick people I love and respect and obviously care about. So I’ve never had that. I think it would be kind of my worst nightmare. As someone who was called a faggot a lot in high school, I’m not trying to be a bully on the internet. I think at times I’m just poking at internet perception, like maybe the characters that we’ve created for ourselves. I’m poking at the idea of Kris Jenner actually talking to the devil. That’s funny to me. I really hope that people can see it’s never coming from a mean place. And that’s why I don’t make anything on someone that I don’t respect. It would just be like, “Oh, this feels uncomfortable.” That’s not fun to watch.
“Turning into a Republican meme wasn’t really on my to do list, but I think I looked cute.”
What was it actually like to meet Kris and Kourtney after you had parodied them for so long?
They were so sweet. I mean, I completely disassociated. It was so strange to hear them talk in person. It was just like, “What the fuck is going on? Especially at the level of celebrity they are, it’s just really still crazy that they do exist.
I want to ask about the video that you did with the Biden administration, which got a lot of backlash from conservative media. Were you anticipating all of that?
I think a little bit, maybe not to the extent that it was and maybe not it being taken so out of context. That was kind of shocking to me. Some people really believed that that character is real and not a satirical bit. Like, I’m not actually Kooper and I don’t actually work at the White House. That was just bizarre and so sad. Turning into a Republican meme wasn’t really on my to-do list, but I think I looked cute. I’m glad I’m in Thom Browne for all those memes.
Did it dissuade you from making your content more political, or do you plan on going more in that direction in the future?
No, it didn’t dissuade me. I think it was a good moment for me to see that I lived in New York for four years and now L.A. for two, and I’ve definitely been in a bubble of safety and a cultural bubble. So I think it was good to know that there’s still a huge population that believes these really disgusting and homophobic and transphobic things. And obviously, we’re seeing that with what’s happening [with Florida’s Don’t Say Gay bill]. So no, I think there’s a lot more that I want to say, and I think I am looking for places outside of the internet to say those things because it can be taken so out of context.
What was the most surprising thing about being in the White House and working with Jen Psaki?
That was the funniest thing, too. I paid for everything, including my Sweetgreen that day. So no tax dollars were spent. And I was with her for five minutes, but she couldn’t have been more lovely. She did call me when I was getting some of those death threats and it was really, really kind and she was really thoughtful. I definitely do not envy her job, nor the things that are said about her every day. I don’t know how she does that, but I really respect her so much. And I will say the one thing about the White House: the ceilings are really low. It’s like, tiny. And that was shocking.
Is there a celebrity that you’re looking forward to parodying?
I’m very excited to do Julia Fox. She really feels like the moment, and there’s a lot to do there, especially costume wise, because I love latex. I think I want her working at Urban Outfitters as performance art, you know, something like that where she’s showing the viewer how to make like a crop top out of a big skirt. I think that might be the vibe. You know, she’s just taking care of you at Urban as performance art, like she doesn’t need to work there. I think that’s funny to me.
I would be remiss if I did not ask you to workshop your Julia Fox impression.
[In Julia Fox voice] “Hey girl, what’s up? Let me show you how to take this little Calvin Klein wifebeater, sexy little tank. And we’re just going to crop it.” Something like that, with the cat-eye.