A couple of years back, stand-up comic Brandon Wardell laid down two markers for success: befriending Drake and hooking up with Ariana Grande. Neither has come to pass, but the 24-year-old, who grew up as an itinerant Air Force brat, is feeling OK about being an "alt-famous" voice of a generation. On Twitter this year, he spawned a crazily popular absurdist meme, "Dicks Out for Harambe," which random bros still shout at him. He stars in a Snapchat show for Comedy Central, gets paid for half-assed DJ sets, peppers his stand-up with hip-hop references, and consults for corporations as a millennial whisperer. But his relationship to his generation is complex: "I'm hyperinvolved in the culture but also hate everything about it," says Wardell, who takes aim at peers' performative social awareness by declaring himself "the creator of feminism" and designating "tru gd mf respecting women hours" on Twitter. He takes those corporate gigs seriously, though. "I'll troll," he says, "until it fucks my money up."
What have you been up to today?
I woke up, had breakfast at Millie's Cafe in Silverlake with a girl that's like, not my girlfriend, but, like, is, basically. You know how that is. And then I've just been looking over this fucking pilot audition. For some Comedy Central thing.
How are you at auditions?
Any time I've like gotten acting work, it's basically just been offers. I'm not good at auditions. I hate them so much.
And how do you rate yourself as an actor?
I mean, I think I'm a good actor. Acting is pretty easy. I think entertainers give themselves way too much credit, generally. But stand-up has always been like the main hustle. It’s something I've been doing since I was 17.
How important is Twitter to your work?
What I love about Twitter is it’s the purest form of expression that I have. There's something super-visceral about Twitter. It's just a lot of like brain vomit. But I'll stand by every single tweet. If you pull on up, I'll be like, "Yeah, that post was good as hell." But Twitter's basically just a website that actively rewards mental illness, you know?
"What I love about Twitter is it's the purest form of expression that I have. But [it's] basically just a website that actively rewards mental illness, you know?"
So how did you come up with "dicks out for Harambe"?
Are you familiar with my friend Sexual Jumanji?
Only from your Twitter.
Twitter's allowed me to build this very weird world of, like, supporting characters. But anyway, Sexual Jumanji posted a picture of him holding a fake gun to the camera and was like "we come in with dicks out to avenge Harambe." And then like a day later I was at a Fourth of July party and we kept quoting this Sexual Jumanji tweet. I was like has anyone taken out the violence aspect and just made this an act of love? And I searched "dicks out for Harambe" on Twitter. No one had tweeted it. So I just tweeted that with nothing else and then I made like a couple Vines that day where it was like me chanting it with people at the party or whatever, and I told everybody at the party to tweet it. [Then] I told everybody that followed me to tweet it. Then the next day I did a show at UCB where I had them play "See You Again" by Charlie Puth and Wiz Khalifa and I started a "dicks out for Harambe" chant. Danny Trejo was in the crowd.
He came up to me afterwards and asked, "Hey man, what was that gorilla's name?'" I told him: Harambe. "Oh man, hilarious set. I gotta steal that dicks out for Harambe bit." Which was weird, 'cause I was like, Danny Trejo doesn't do stand up, so I don't know what he's gonna do with this bit, but OK, yeah. [Laughs] Then I pull out my phone and make the Vine where I'm like, "Hey dicks out for Harambe, you know who the fuck it is." And Danny is like. 'HEY! Dicks out for Harambe.' And then I posted it and within like, 10 minutes, it was like fucking way too viral. Like it had like 2,000 retweets super fast and I was like, "Oh no, I regret this." Immediately. It's a very easy thing to understand. It's absurd and dumb and very accessible, so I should've realized that dumb people would get obsessed with it. And so then like bros were super into it.
And then when it got bad was when, a week later, people texted me that [alt-right figure] Milo Yiannopoulous said "Dicks out for Harambe." All of a sudden the Alt-Right was super into "dicks out for Harambe." And I was just like: Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, abort mission, abort mission. It slowly got Pepe'd. I do a bit about it now where basically I'm creating a meme and then having it be co-opted by the alt-right. Like if you had a child that you like loved – and that child just fell in a zoo enclosure. [Laughs]
You should just pitch the Dicks Out for Harambe Variety Hour or something. Lean into it.
Yeah. Dicks out for Harambe: The Movie.
When you first stepped onstage as a teenager, you remembered one joke and then forgot the entire rest of your set, right?
Well, literally the first joke I ever told on stage was, "You might recognize me from my work as Tegan and Sara." And then I just forgot the rest of my stuff. I kept asking how much time I had; everybody thought that it was like a planned-out bit. So it was like a best-case scenario for me fucking up.
Do you buy into the critique of older comedians who say, "I'm afraid of playing colleges" because of a perceived censoriousness there?
I think they kind of have a point. But all that shit is a lot more nuanced than the Internet makes it out to be. Making jokes to make fun of reactionary culture does a lot more for dialogue than just boringly stating opinions we all know are morally right. I did a show at Oberlin recently where like people were, like, feeling me, and then I used the word "triggered" which I don't think helped my cause. Sometimes audiences and bloggers can be too sensitive, but I think on other hand, there are comedians that react to that by, like, being, actively racist. That's insane too.
Part of your thing is also mocking dudes who try overly hard to be perceived as woke.
I hate [vocally feminist actor] Matt McGorry, you know. [Laughs] I'm always making fun of pandering "Male Feminists" who aren't really doing anything for the cause. More than anything, Matt McGorry is helping Matt McGorry. He's not helping feminism. He likes to brand himself as a woke bae, which is crazy. Using social causes as a means of self-promotion is just actively insane. I think it's sociopathic.
Do you worry about being misunderstood?
You can't spend your whole life shaping what you do based on how the dumbest people are going to interpret it. Especially with comedy.