How Jaboukie Young-White, Twitter Comic, Fights 'Numbness' of 'Endless Scroll'

Comic Jaboukie Young-White talks about the symbiotic link between social media and standup routines, politics, why he loves memes

Of his love for memes, Young-White says: "I like how you can condense an idea into something so consumable, but at the same time, so spreadable. It's really a great propaganda tool," Credit: Amy Lombard for Rolling Stone

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Meet Jaboukie Young-White: budding standup comedian, meme king, and casual cultural anthropologist. The 23-year-old Brooklyn-based comic is defying the ever-morphing conventions of social media while building a career in standup – and a huge fan base.

When Young-White first began producing social media content, it was his standup that informed his tweets. Now, it's starting to flip. "I use Twitter as a writing tool a lot," he tells Rolling Stone. Sometimes he'll take one tweet and develop it into a five-minute bit, such as this one:

The tweet was originally a simple throwaway observation for Young-White. When it received thousands of likes and retweets, he added it to his set. "After delivering it on stage a few times, it was clear that my 'attitude' had become more impatient and hedonistic, with a light spritz of nihilism," he recalls. It was through this process – starting with a skeletal tweet, then expanding and refining it into a bit – that he found what he calls his URL/IRL voice.

Social media, in general, is something he thinks should be taken seriously. "Developing a following and maintaining that is so much free labor – just for the love of it. It's the longest, most intense internship, basically."

Young-White's online presence is as political as it is playful. Like many comedians, he strives to create ease in a time of dis-ease. "It's sort of numbing," he says. "There's so much going on that it's hard to not just [let] everything wash over you."

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Thanks in part to his obsession with  The Daily Show and his mom's political science books, Young-White has been passionate about politics from a young age. The initial problem with threading such material into his standup routines: no one cared. "A 19-year-old talking about that, people [are] like, What the fuck. You don't know anything. [Now,] I'm talking about my experiences and my existence and the ways in which [they] has been politicized, rather than me being like, Let's take apart this abortion bill. I am really just speaking from what I know personally."

With about 75,000 followers between his Twitter and Instagram accounts, Young-White is still trying to prove himself. "I never feel like it'll be something where like, 'Aha, I've got it. I'm funny for the rest of my life. I don't need to tell jokes anymore. I just am comedy.'"

One of his favorite online devices is the meme. "I like how you can condense an idea into something so consumable, but at the same time, so spreadable. It's really a great propaganda tool," he explains, adding that he aims to help fans "avoid the numbness that can come with the endless scroll." 

Young-White is currently focusing on his standup material, doing shows in Brooklyn and on college campuses. There's also a television pilot in sight, and of course, countless memes, Tweets, and Instagram posts to create.