Photos by Jay Versace, Edgar Cutino, Ryan Reed, Oscar Alva, and Mylik Steen. Collage by Maria Chimishkyan for MTV News.
There should be no humor in a barrel-chested pastor giving last rites before a grave. And yet. Millions of times over, people laughed at a six-second video of a botched funeral, posted in 2014 on the mobile application called Vine. The dove the pastor clutched was supposed to fly, to represent the flight of the human spirit into the great heavens. But it had died in his hands, and it smacked into the ground when he released it.
The infinite-loop function coded into Vine emphasized the absurdism of moments like this. Launched in 2013, the application became a trove of found content, a sort of America's Funniest Home Videos for the internet age. Young people, in particular, exploited its limitations. A number of young black Viners became internet-famous on the platform and beyond for their uncanny, refreshing takes on the canonical styles of black comedy. They did impressions, performed skits, cross-dressed, ranted, sang, tried standup. Vine gained cult status as a repurposed hub for comedy from up-and-coming black stars.
Last week, Twitter announced that it would shutter Vine "in the coming months." #RIPVine almost immediately started trending on Twitter and Instagram, featuring an impromptu parade of the best videos the application had hosted during its three-year reign. Many analyses written in the wake of the announcement argued that Twitter's decision reflected a fundamental apathy toward young content creators of color and tech's inability to recruit their labor. Because Vine was best used by black people, the argument goes, its value wasn't recognized. Others posited, rightly, that Vine had just declined, and that its purpose — easily shareable video — was no longer unique. As Jazmine Hughes wrote in The New York Times, though, "[Vine's] effect and utility ... as a venue for black art to be created, disseminated, and understood will be its legacy."
MTV News spoke with six of the biggest stars to come out of Vine: Jay Versace, Kelz Wright, Khadi Don, Landon Moss, Victor Pope Jr, and Yung Poppy. The interviews yielded a complicated history, one that confirms, negates, and complicates conventional ideas about social media, comedy, blackness, branding, and fame.
On the Early Days
Yung Poppy: I'm from San Diego, but when I turned 19, I moved to the Bay, out here in Cali. When I moved up here, I worked for two years at a pizza parlor. Everybody from early Vine remembers me making videos there. I started on Vine in 2014. I got into the Vine community. I met people through Vine in different states. Once I got those connections, it was easy for me to make my videos and spread them all over the internet. They would go viral.
Khadi Don: I was born in Michigan. I currently live in Los Angeles. Before I did all the videos, I actually was in school for basketball and fine arts. But then I got into acting and doing comedy. In addition to the videos, I paint, I design. I joined Vine in 2013.
Kelz Wright: At first, I did not know anything about the app at all. I would say it was 2014. My cousin was telling me to try it, but I wasn't really big on social media. I took his advice. Once I did, it was like, Yo, why am I getting all these followers? Why are my numbers going crazy when I'm just ranting and being myself?
Jay Versace: I grew up in this weird town called Pleasantville in South Jersey. I lived there my whole life until I just moved to L.A. this summer. I'm 18. I like Capri Sun. I first began my account in 2014. I was making videos here and there but not really seriously. I got serious about making videos in the summer of 2014. September was when things escalated for me. I went to sleep with 3,000 followers and woke up with 20,000. The next month I had 200,000. In a couple months, I had a million.
Victor Pope Jr: It was toward the end of 2014. I had been doing standup since 2012. I was just doing open mic nights [in Texas] and opening for other people. But I wasn't making enough money to survive off my craft. I did one video [on Vine] and it went viral. And I was like, Oh, this is really easy. I found out other people were making a lot of money from it, and the people making money from it weren't funny at all. I realized this was something I could do.
I was working 40 hours a week. When I saw that Vine was the way to go, I quit my job. It was a big deal for me because I got bills and at the time I had a five-year-old. I didn't have any money saved, I had just enough for two or three months. I took the risk and it paid off.
Landon Moss: I was living in Alexandria, Virginia, and I was a senior in high school. I was coming home every day, after basketball and football season were over. It was a down period where I was half-assing school. One of my friends from back home in Kansas was making a lot of videos online on something called Vine. I tried it out and it became an addiction. It was something new. I didn't think too much of it. I just thought it would be a hobby, something I'd share with my friends.
When I was in college at Coastal California I was playing football. I had a full scholarship. I decided to drop out and not tell my mom. She was in Africa on a humanitarian mission. And so I came out to L.A. She actually figured out I wasn't in school. She was like, "I been known. I was seeing how long it was going to take you to tell me." That was two years ago.
On Their Signature Styles
Kelz Wright: My ratchet character, Sasha, is based on the girls I went to school with. When I do my mom character, it's actually a little bit of my mother and my grandmother. There was this headwrap. My cousin and I were in the mall and there was a cheetah scarf I wanted so bad, but at the time I couldn't afford it. Once we walked out of the mall, my cousin was like, "Here, I got you something," and it was the headwrap. That's when I decided to use the scarf as hair for this character to be different.
Yung Poppy: I would say the funniest was the "If you want a burger" video. Kylie Jenner shared that, and then Zoe [Kravitz] from the Dope movie, and then her sister, [Kendall] Jenner, she even shared it. And then my other vine, "Bitch, what, you thought I wouldn't come in this shit and murder some shit?" They hella shared that one.
Jay Versace: On Vine, my most popular videos are lip-syncing videos. I would make a lot of jokes that people liked because they were corny, because they were set up to be that way. My number-one comedy inspiration is Rickey Smiley, then Tyler Perry. That's really it. Smiley is my favorite comedian of all time. If you look at my videos and then look at his, you can see how I'm inspired by him.
Victor Pope Jr: It was a bit I did with standup comedy. It didn't work well on stage, so I figured maybe it was more of a sketch kind of thing. It was "When God was giving animals their voices." I did it on Vine and it translated really well. And it went viral on Tumblr.
Landon Moss: I posted one video right after Ray J dropped [singing] "I Hit It First." It blew up, but it was more of a regional thing. Everybody around North Virginia was like, "Aw, man, this is so funny." I was thinking, I'm the man in the city.
On Comedy in Six Seconds
Khadi Don: It felt like how I can accept the challenge. Six seconds? That's tough. You have to do a whole skit in six seconds. I was getting that much love. I was like, if I can do it in six seconds, just imagine what I can do in 60 seconds or six minutes. Then I knew I'm capable of doing this for real. I'll do anybody. If it's popping, I'll do a sketch on it.
A lot of people would judge us, like, "You guys are funny in six seconds, but can you do it in 60 seconds?" I was like, I could do it in 60 minutes. But when I started doing longer videos, it did get harder and tiring.
Kelz Wright: I was one of the first people to start doing comedy because it was all over the place. You'd see others' videos, but it wasn't clear they were trying to be comedians. So then I said, "I want to take it to another level. Why don't I start doing little skits and sketch comedy?" Once I did that, it skyrocketed. I would say I was in the group of people who were pretty Vine-famous in the beginning.
You have to be extremely talented to do a video in six seconds. I saw some Vines that looked like they were movies.
Yung Poppy: I didn't even care, because I can be funny in six seconds, in 15 — I'm a comedian. Wherever the wave is, that's where I'ma go. I ain't even tripping. Shit, they can give me three. I'll still make them laugh.
Jay Versace: I could find a six-second joke. At that point, social media comedy, it was a lot simpler than it is now. Jokes were just new to social media then. It was easy to make any regular joke and then see it go trending. When you started having a lot of people start expressing their sense of humor, then you had to start being more creative. Because then every was on Vine. It was challenging.
Landon Moss: Vine helped out with learning how to get straight to the punch. When a lot of people start out in comedy, they might have a joke that they stretch out so long that it kills the moment. But with Vine you only have six seconds. So you have to come with heat damn near instantly. It helps out in all fields. I do other genres like romances and tragedies. Attention spans are so short nowadays, you have to get straight to the point.
Landon Moss: This is no lie. I was the first person to do promo on Vine. I'm probably the reason Vine died [laughs]. A few years ago, this dude had a clothing line called Fly Federation. He hit me up. He said, "You've got hella followers. We'll send you some shirts if you shout us out." I was like, "Yeah man, I got you, just give me a hundred dollars." So he gave me a little hundred dollars and I made a video. We did this for a week and a half straight. This dude made about $15k and I made about $500. I really believe that was the beginning of ads on Vine. And then it got into bigger brand deals. I did one with the movie Don't Breathe with Universal. They sent me out to Madrid. I met the director. It was a bunch of influencers out there. That kind of stuff I would have never experienced if it wasn't for Vine.
Khadi Don: Badoo, this dating app, they would hit us up to do a six-second Vine for promotion for them and then we'd post it. Or re-Vines. Like, "Hey, I'll give you three hundred dollars if you re-Vine this for a day." That's how we got paid. But Vine the company didn't care about us.
I was getting a little change here and there. I was able to put food in the apartment, put a little gas in the car. I wasn't able to get no Bugatti like some of them. It was cute.
Yung Poppy: I stopped working like two or three years ago. I don't work no more. I can just post a promo and I'll be good. Out here in San Diego, we hustle. I did my thing before, but seeing internet money, that was crazy. I never had that. When I first made the ringtone [from the Vine video], 30,000 people downloaded it at first. I was tripping.
When Vine died, my money started to come from Instagram. People still hit me, like, "Can you post on Instagram, Twitter, and Vine for me?" And I will, for a rate. I still got 2.9 million on there. But if it's gone, people will just ask me to post on Instagram and Twitter. People pick what platform they think they'll get more juice from. As long as I'm making my money, I'll post it.
Kelz Wright: I do promo deals, I do advertising deals. I'm also starting my own clothing line. So I'm doing pretty well. Vine was a major help, but I made money on Facebook and Instagram. But Vine got my name out.
Victor Pope Jr: [I make money] through monetization, through YouTube, through brand deals. Punching up skits, people who come to me and say, "You're funny. Do you want to come and punch up my script?"
I never expected Vine to pay me directly. Most apps, like YouTube, run advertising before your videos. It's like, why would you run a 15, 30-second ad before your video? So Vine didn't pay me directly, but it did put me in a position to make money.
On the Decline of Vine
Yung Poppy: I was surprised. Actually — not so much. I wasn't even on Vine like that at the time. I feel like I made a fanbase from Vine and then I went to other platforms. I got to promo myself on other platforms from Vine. People stopped really getting tuned into Vine like that. Even my Instagram stuff was more viral than my Vine stuff. It was dying anyway.
I hella made my mark on Vine. I go outside and people recognize me. I feel like I got something to build off. I'm not tripping that Vine's gone, but it is sad. I can't say Vine is where I came from because they'll be like, "What's Vine?" Because it won't be there no more. Same thing I did on Vine, I'll do anywhere. My YouTube videos still pop. A couple of months ago I made the "If You Want a Burger" video and it's almost at half a million views.
Khadi Don: I honestly seen it coming, unfortunately. A lot of people were jacking Vine. Instagram did the videos, then Snapchat came, then Facebook, then Twitter. It's kind of like Vine got left behind, like the first child, and then all the other kids come and everybody forgot about it. And the fact that it was still six seconds; people got tired of doing that.
Kelz Wright: You didn't want to forget about Vine. Vine was like your grandparent — you started off there. You're still gonna show it love because you don't want to forget where you came from. But I started to realize it was declining.
Jay Versace: What I thought was going happen was that everyone was going to stop using it, they'd eventually close Vine and no one would notice. For them to just to announce that Vine would not be here, that honestly ruined my day. It's like losing a friend. I look around and know that I would not be here. Most of the things I've been blessed to have, I wouldn't have without it. Vine were the people who first invited me to L.A. They did so much for me. When they said that they were done, it was like losing a family member.
I wanted to stay on Vine to make little videos. But I got so much hate from that app. All my comments were hate. I'd post a regular video, like, "Hey guys, just letting you know I'm still alive, love you guys," and I'd get met with hate. So I backed away from it. All the good people who supported me followed me to other platforms, but the haters stayed on Vine.
Victor Pope Jr: I wasn't surprised because, I mean, Vine was dying. The usership was going down a lot. It was like if your great-grandma died. You know her time was coming. It was the first time an app had actually shut down. For example, we stopped using Myspace, but Myspace didn't just delete itself. I was kind of surprised at that. I stopped Vining so much anyway. I started doing standup, and I translated well into Vine because of standup, and I'll do well after Vine because of standup. At the end of the day, it's all comedy.
Landon Moss: Vine was getting oversaturated with the same kind of content, the same type of video. You'd scroll down your timeline and it was all the same thing. That gets old. It's like, When am I gonna see something new? No knock to the people who were creating.
I'm rolling with it. I appreciate Vine for creating the app. No knock to them, but they didn't do anything for me, really. I thank them because they created an avenue to reach supporters, and they got me to where I am. That is what I'm grateful for. Vine reached out to a lot of people, but they didn't reach out to me. I wish they would have done better as far as communication. They only talked to the top 30 Viners. Why wouldn't you promote people who were outside the top 30? Let's say 50 to 100. They're still going hard. Why don't you work with them?
Vine definitely had more opportunities to make money. But I feel like black creators didn't get the same opportunities as others. I noticed that some of the top black creators don't get a lot of brands outside of boutiques or promoting music. I feel like we need to figure out a way to compensate our black creators. You have to be a certain way to make money. Why can't I put out content that caters to a predominantly black audience and get brands? It irks the hell out of me. You're reaching a different demographic through black creators, but at the end of the day, don't you want to reach people?
On Other Social Media Platforms
Yung Poppy: I would say that at the end of last year, I stopped really messing with Vine. I would post every 10 days. But before I used to post every day. It used to be lit, bruh. But then everybody stopped posting so much. Even the big creators, people that I knew were verified, they weren't even posting that much. They were just on Instagram. I was like, "If that's where the wave is going, I'm going to get on Instagram too."
The biggest thing for me was my hashtags. On Instagram, it's not the same. I make longer skits. Instead of six seconds, they got 15, 30, 60 seconds. But the hashtag — it's harder to get that going on Instagram. There's more people there, and so many are trying to create their own. You gotta get them to remember that that hashtag, it's yours. It's harder to get people tuned into a hashtag, rather than making a funny video that will go viral. A viral hashtag is what you really want. Like "Juju on the Beat."
Khadi Don: On Instagram and Twitter, it was much easier to gain followers. Around the end of 2015, I had to divorce from Vine. It was harder to get a lot of followers on Vine. The culture meant you had to be so consistent with putting a lot of content out. I joined Instagram last year. I had Instagram when it first came out but I really didn't post on it. But once Instagram did the videos, that's what really made me get on.
Jay Versace: I still have the most followers on Vine. I have less followers on every other app, but I'm more recognized on those than I was when I was only doing Vine. People share my videos more. Vine was the app where people actively followed me. I switched to YouTube so I make money from them. You can make money from Twitter.
Kelz Wright: I wanted to challenge myself. I was like, Okay, I can do six-second videos. Let's take another step. So I decided to go on Instagram and Twitter to see if I could accomplish it, and I did. So i was like, You know what? Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter are going to be my new home. I want people to see that I'm extremely talented and that I'm more than just six seconds.
Victor Pope Jr: Everybody already migrated to Snapchat and Instagram. People were making that move anyway. I'm pretty strong across all my platforms. I have over 100k on everything. I'm pretty good to go in that regard.
On Being a Black Creator and Community
Victor Pope Jr: In the past couple of years, people were creating a lot of pop culture through Vine. It was mostly black creators. That space was definitely taken away from them in a sense. I became good friends with Meech on Mars, Dope Island, Kenny Knox. Just a bunch of group chats. Joking around.
Khadi Don: A lot of people hear about Black Twitter. There's also a little community on Vine and Instagram, these little illuminatis going on. Our comedy is a little different from everybody else's. We try, but it's hard to be in a community with everybody. For example, Black Vine, we would have a lot of meetups. Of course, there would be a little sprinkle of white people and other races, but it was almost all black people. A lot of comedy that we did on Vine — like trending topics — the other races probably wouldn't understand. That's why it was just us.
Yung Poppy: It's not just black people. It's white people, Mexicans, Asians, people from different countries. People inbox me from London and Canada. I can say I do a lot of ratchet stuff. They got tuned into [my character] Kiesha Red.
Kelz Wright: I wouldn't say that [black people] built Vine, but we did play a major part. Anybody that started on Vine actually built the app. We all live out here in L.A., so I'm pretty good friends with the people who are out here. I am friends with Khadi Don, with Liza — a lot of them. Khadi, that's my sister. Landon Moss, that's my brother as well.
Landon Moss: I was making black content that could be consumed universally. It was black comedy, but everybody was watching it. As opposed to BET — a predominantly black channel. Vine gave us the avenue for other people to see that there was a lot of comedy in these young black kids. I made some of my closest friends [on Vine]. Me, Kelz, Wellington Boyce, Omar Ghonim, Jojoe, Special K, Yung Poppy — a bunch of us.
Jay Versace: When I look at the actors in L.A, they are so similar. I have a different taste in comedy because of me being black and my personality, the way I see things. I have something they don't see that often. So once I really get out there, it'll be good in this industry. It'll also show other black people that they can be themselves and try their own things.
On What’s Next
Landon Moss: I'm doing comedy [for] the majority. That's the stuff I love doing. Laughter is something that can erase so much pain. I'm trying to shift my comedy. When I first started out, I thought that whatever I thought was funny, was funny. But I didn't realize the influence I had, especially with millennials, young adolescents, and preteens. We have so much influence over their thought processes and their behaviors. Some of the content people put out — like a girl walking by with a fat ass, that whole thing — we have to be better. We have to find a way to make people laugh and to teach them a lesson. So that's what I'm focusing on now.
I got a sitcom that I'm working on. I can't say too much about it, but it's comedy with morals — so basically another Fresh Prince, or Friends, or Martin, or The Jamie Foxx Show. We're actually shooting this weekend so I'm super excited about it. I kind of want to keep it on social media because that's where the majority of people will watch it.
Kelz Wright: I'm taking acting classes. We're pitching a pilot to Netflix and Hulu, and it got picked up. I can't really say anything about it now. Actually, me and Khadi and Jasmine Luv [did it].
Yung Poppy: I might have to audition for stuff, but I've gotten offers. I tried out for Wild'n'Out, they called me for that. And then some low-budget movie thing. And then some on-demand stuff that I flew out to New York for. But I'm still striving to get bigger things. One of my friends was just in the Madea movie. I texted her right after the movie and I was like, "Bruh, I just saw you in a movie." It's Liza. We all were on Vine, and we all know each other. It made me want to go harder than I do right now.
Victor Pope Jr: I am working on doing my special. I plan on maybe dropping a comedy album soon. Just writing jokes now. I'm not as involved with social media as I was a year or two ago. I moved toward doing standup and writing scripts. I plan on moving to L.A. December 1st.
Khadi Don: I've been getting a lot of emails about people wanting to work with me, to possibly do shows, longer-length videos for YouTube, webseries. Just a lot of stuff is in the works. It's the snowball effect.
Jay Versace: I'm working on a couple of things. I'm making longer videos, closer to a minute. On Twitter, some are two minutes.
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