In 2006 a man from Louisiana joined Youtube. Over the years he has garnered over one hundred million views and a following of thousands for his distinctive and often thought-provoking social commentary. He’s expressed his views on everything from sex to politics, from religious conflicts to the Transformers film franchise. Most recently, this man spoke about the rise of atheism in America as a guest on CNN. Born Terroja Lee Kincaid, the Internet knows this man as,
David Luna: What was your first YouTube video about, and what brought you to upload it?
TJ Kincaid: It was really kind of an introduction video, and it was a discussion of how first videos are always awful, and they are. They’re just horribly awkward things, for the most part. No one really knew what to do on YouTube at that time. There’s kind of an expected formula now, but at that time it was kind of like in its very early, punk rock type of stages. No one really quite knew what to do to be entertaining or how to get an audience to pay attention. So it was really a lot of people out there that were just turning on a camera and talking into it, and for most people, it didn’t work. For me, for some reason, it did. The response was pretty immediate. By today’s standards it wouldn’t have been anything major, but at the time it was pretty successful for a first video, but it didn’t really have much of a subject—it was really just very introductory, probably most notable in the fact that I walked into a shadow and said, “I look like a nigger right now.” I said it for shock value purposes, but I kind of wish that I hadn’t because it kind of followed me for a while after that. I took it down because I didn’t want to be associated with that particular joke. It was a very poor video. I really don’t have any sort of affection for it. I don’t look back on it like, “Ah, my first video,” I look back on it like, “Ugghhh, my first video.”
DL: Do you ever feel like you’re not credited as being a pioneer of sorts? You’ve been around for a while and there are other “YouTube personalities” who are much less notable than you, but they have their own Wikipedia pages.
TJ: Well, it’s kind of the price you pay for being the black sheep. There was a time when I was definitely at a crossroads where it was like, “Okay, I can play the game as I’m expected to, or I can kind of still keep doing my own thing, but still use their format to do it in.” And I chose the latter. As long as I’ve been around, I’ve had an audience. I’ve always had a respectably sized audience watching my videos on YouTube, and I’ve seen so many people explode onto the scene, and then I’ve seen the same people fall into obscurity. And yet I’ve had a consistent audience, and I think the reason I’ve had a consistent audience is because I’ve been consistently honest. I still just make the videos I want to see, but I try to put them in a format that I think would be entertaining for others.
DL: The people who are most honest in their work are too often discredited just for being “real.”
TJ: You can’t really complain about it, though. It’s the risk you take when you do that sort of thing. Part of what I do is going to be stepping on toes. I’m not impressed with people in general who have to sit around bitching about how they don’t get the recognition they deserve or anything like that. I get plenty of recognition. I’m fine. My audience likes me. I don’t need a fucking Wikipedia page. I don’t need to be the top “YouTuber.” It would be nice. I wouldn’t turn it down. It would be absolutely lovely. But I’d rather be Bill Hicks than Dane Cook.
DL: Do you make it a point to inject humor into your commentary, or does it naturally come with making a video?
TJ: I’m not the kind of guy that’s always making everybody laugh, but when I’m in that particular zone, I’ve always been someone who uses humor to make points. I think there’s some people who just are funny for the sake of being funny, and that’s great; I totally appreciate that. I watch those kinds of comedians, I watch those kinds of entertainers, but I can’t do it. I don’t want to be the clown; I want to be the guy that is actually making a point. I want to be the George Carlin, or the Bill Hicks, or the Doug Stanhope, or someone in those lines. I compare myself to comedians even though I’m really not a comedian myself, because I don’t perform in front of crowds. But I do draw a lot of inspiration from those kinds of people. I look at what they do, I look at how they express themselves, how they emote certain ideas, I look at the pacing, I look at how they speak, how they inflect certain things, how they move their bodies, how they move their faces, how they move their eyes, and I try to imitate that and pull little pieces of that into what I do, and it seems to be very successful.
DL: In making your videos, is there a point that you’ve made that you felt most proud of, or at least most satisfied with?
TJ: I guess I’ve never really thought of it like that. I’ve never been like “Ahh, I made THE SHIT out of that point!” Really, it’s about catharsis. It’s about sharing a particular worldview. But it’s also about letting other people with that worldview know that they’re not alone in thinking that way and that it’s okay to have thoughts outside of whatever the mainstream press and movies tell you that you can feel. I think that there’s a tremendous pressure for intellectual and emotional homogeny in America, and I feel like everything I do is working to subvert that. Now, obviously I’m not some guy that’s totally out there on the fringes with the tinfoil hats and shit, but I do try to show people that you don’t have to fit into—like with this recent tragedy (well, it won’t be recent by the time this interview comes out), this shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. There’s all these groups forming right now. There’s people saying, “Oh, it’s the guns! It’s violent entertainment! Oh no, it’s mental illness! It’s because he had autism!” It’s all these different things. There’s such a huge witch-hunt right now where everyone is trying to scapegoat everyone else. Some Republicans are saying it’s because there’s not enough prayer in schools. I mean, what a non sequitur. They’re all non-sequiturs. The liberals going after guns really doesn’t make that much more sense. There’s this idea out there that every time something bad happens in the world, not only do we have to find the cause, but we have to make major sweeping changes. It’s not as if there’s a school shooting every fucking week. These things have been going on. There were school shootings in the 90s, when I was growing up. There were school shootings in the 80s before I was born. There were school shootings in the 70s, in the 60s, in the 50s, in the 40s. There’s a long history of school shootings. There’s a long history of shootings everywhere. And it’s only been in recent times where we have this massive media complex where everyone feels like they have to be divided into sides and they have to be cheerleaders for a certain solution. You don’t have to be part of some false solution. You can say that the problem has been exaggerated. And that’s the point of view that you’re made to feel like you’re not allowed to have. But of course you’re allowed to have it.
But I make videos all the time where I espouse these forbidden positions, and I find massive support. How do you explain this swell of support? How do explain people who never would have even considered this point of view coming to me and saying, “Oh, I never thought of it that way before?” That to me is the moment when I feel like I’ve accomplished something.
DL: What’s the most difficult part of having this central to your life?
TJ: It started off at a hobby, at this point it’s still fun for me, but it is definitely more of a job. A lot of people don’t realize what a job it can be. There’s a lot of effort that goes into doing what I do. I write these things out, I contemplate my delivery, I try to figure out what I’m going to do for certain things, I try to shoot them well, I try to light them well, I try to make sure that they reach the right audience, I try to engage in the audience in the comments section afterwards. I sometimes am working on these things for weeks in advance. They don’t look like they’re the product of that much effort, because it is, at the end of the day, just me ranting into a camera, but the rants are pretty down to the gnat’s ass. I know what I’m going to say. It’s very rare that I go out there and just wing something.
DL: If money and time were no object, what would be your dream project?
TJ: If money and time were no object, I would much prefer to be making motion pictures than videos. I would like to delve into the visual storytelling medium. I would like to tell stories. I have certain ideas that I’d like to do. I’ve always been interested in film. I’ve always had a fondness for it. My movies would be more of a dialogue driven sort of thing. It wouldn’t be something that relies on visuals either. It would be very cerebral, and a lot of talking heads.
DL: Growing up, who or what made you laugh the most?
TJ: George Carlin. I still am a very huge fan of George Carlin. Every time that my ego gets a little bit too large, even for me to stomach, I’ll watch George Carlin and realize how far I have to go. So I definitely drew a lot of inspiration from that.
DL: Are there any current comics or comedy writers that you enjoy?
TJ: I don’t care for a lot of modern comedy in like films and stuff. I do enjoy Patton Oswalt as a comedian. I liked some of the earlier Judd Apatow stuff, like “The 40-Year-Old-Virgin,” and “Superbad,” but I haven’t cared for the most recent stuff from him. It’s hard for me to get into comedic film
DL: If you could have a conversation with any dead person from history, who would it be?
TJ: I always find that sort of question very strange, because it seems like if I resurrected Abraham Lincoln or something, he would have a lot better things that he wanted to do than sit around talking to a fat fucking “YouTuber.” There’s better people for him to converse with. If I wanted to have a conversation with someone, I think I’d just go and bring back some random fucking caveman and we’d just sit around carving spears and making wheels and shit. That seems more my speed. I don’t think I’m worthy of conversing with “The Greats” throughout history or anything.
DL: If you could return after death as any animal, what would it be?
TJ: Would I have my same human level of consciousness?
TJ: Hmmm. [Long pause.] I don’t know. I think I’m pretty satisfied with the whole human thing. Everything I can think of, like, “Maybe I’d be a lion,” but then I think of the lion that I see on the National Geographic special and he’s got all these flies, and there’s no way to get rid of them because he doesn’t have hands that he can put up to his head, and even if he does brush them away, they just come right back. And then I could be a shark, but then I’d just be swimming around all day, trying to find fucking seals to eat, and it really doesn’t sound like that much fun. If I was going to be an animal, I’d probably just come back as a dog so someone else can take care of me.
DL: Is there something you’d want to be remembered for after you die? Or do you even care about being remembered once you’re dead?
TJ: I don’t know. If I die when I’m old, I don’t even know what I’ll have accomplished in life. I don’t know if I’ll just have done some YouTube when I was younger and then gone to just be some guy who paints houses or something, I don’t know.
Hopefully there will be an alien invasion of some sort, and I will be the first person killed by the aliens. “The Amazing Atheist, YouTube vlogger extraordinaire, was the first to be gunned down by the aliens before they enslaved the human race.”
DL: I think that would go on Wikipedia, actually.
TJ: Then I’d have my own Wikipedia page!
DL: If you could choose your death, how would you go?
TJ: Well, there’s so many good deaths, you know? There’s so many interesting ways you could die. It’s hard to come up with something on the spot, because there’s so many different creative ways that it could be done. Some people will say, “I want a quick death,” but then it’s like you didn’t even have enough time to get your affairs in order. Now everything is fucked because you weren’t expecting to die. I think if I’m going to die I’ll have a chick with a big ass just sit on my face until I suffocate to death. That seems like it would be more fun than cancer, or getting hit by a bus, or dying of a brain aneurism.
DL: Realistically, how do you think your life will end?
TJ: I don’t know. Who knows! If anyone knew how they were gonna die, or had any fucking faint clue, it would be a totally different experience. It’s so up there in the open. I could have a brain aneurism right now. I could just keel over and die of mysterious circumstances. Maybe the grilled cheese sandwich my brother just cooked for me an hour ago was fucking poisonous, I don’t know. I could smoke some bad weed that had some parasites in it, and it fucking grows in my lungs and I turn into tree man and then I die. It’s so open ended. That’s kind of what makes the whole human experience exciting to an extent, is that death could come at any moment. I think it’s kind of funny, how many people just sit around and do nothing with their lives knowing that it could just end. Especially the people who have some ambition and want to accomplish something and they’re like, “Well, I’ll get around to it.” Maybe not, motherfucker. You might just die. There’s no reset button. There’s no, like, “Oh shit, do over! Mulligan, please?” It doesn’t work that way, unless the people who believe in reincarnation are right.