The actor, comedian, and Insta legend discusses parodies, horoscopes, and how the Kardashian beauty aesthetic has helped his career explode
As well as being a bronzed sex goddess, an important activist for transgender rights and an all-around 21st Century trailblazer, Munroe Bergdorf has managed to squeeze in the time to become our LGBTQ+ Editor at Dazed Beauty. From Kim Petras, to Victoria Sin, to Laith Ashley, she’s asked her favourite queer people: when your identity is inherently marginalised, what does it take to feel beautiful? Below, the latest in the series.
Benito Skinner AKA Benny Drama is a viral internet sensation. Try to watch his parody videos without cry-laughing and you may struggle. From skits like “A Kardashian Krismas” to “JVN stars in Jesus”, to the writer-performer’s hilariously accurate reads on star signs, Benny uses drag, an extensive wig collection and his natural wit to heighten the... well… drama. And there is plenty! “I’ve followed pop culture provocateur Benny Drama for a while and love his ability to create hilarious parodies without tearing down his subjects,” Munroe Bergdorf explains. “He is the comedic talent the queer community deserves.”
Here, she talks to him about his wig collection, favourite products, obsession with horoscopes and dream collaborators.
I’ve loved you forever, but for new fans of Benny Drama, can you describe what you do?
Benny Drama: I’m an actor and comedian from Boise, Idaho. I went to Georgetown University, studied film, and when I graduated I came out of the closet and started making sketches, mostly for Instagram. It kind of progressed and now I post to Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook. I do parody videos, impressions, dance videos, make-up videos. I have my own characters, and I do anything that is character-based! Now, I do live shows as well, so I toured last year and hopefully have another coming this spring.
Pop culture obviously plays a huge part in what you do as a comedian and part of your aesthetic. Who is your favourite character to play?
Benny Drama: It’s so hard. I have favourites at different times. I do love being Kris Jenner – anytime I can be her, that’s really fun because there’s so much make-up attached to it, it’s a whole process. The more make-up and more costume, the easier it is as an actor to become a character. So, the second I have the wig and the cheekbones on, the voice comes and we’re good to go.
How do you become Kris Jenner?
Benny Drama: I love Fenty foundation for videos – it looks so good on camera – so I always use it and I go the lightest shade for her base. Then I take one of their contour sticks – the colour I use is ‘Coco’ – and I create half a heart shape on the side of my face with the contour stick, coming right from the nose. I don’t really blend it that much because I want it to look sharp on camera. Then I smoke out the eyes with as much Pat McGrath black eyeshadow as humanly possible.
I love that you keep it high end!
Benny Drama: I have to say, that is the one lucky thing that has come from my videos. I do get sent really nice make-up now, which is really great because in the past I was using anything I could find. I was literally using expired make-up from my friends for my videos because I could not afford any make-up. My skin was just like, ‘girl, this is not appropriate’. I was having rashes, it was not a look.
So you’ve got Kris Jenner to thank for your make-up glow up! When did you first realise that you could express yourself through portraying other people?
Benny Drama: It was a Kim Kardashian video that I did where I was doing a re-enactment of her Snapchat a while back. The first time I had a Kim video, I used a t-shirt on my head as a wig and I think I bought a NYX cosmetic contour stick, which I’ve used for a really long time. I probably still have it. I just went to town on my face. I feel like that was the first time I could really commit... I was really comfortable in my skin at that point.
Has exploring make-up with your characters had an impact on your beauty journey?
Benny Drama: Yeah. They definitely all helped me learn how to truly take care of my skin. Some days I’m shooting a Kardashian video and I have six layers of make-up on because I’m doing that many characters. It helped me learn how to properly take off make-up, take care of my skin after, and make sure I don’t get a skin rash or a breakout.
You’ve always got such good skin though. Every single time that I see you I’m just like ‘The skin! The hair!’
Benny Drama: Oh my God, stop! I did Accutane in college and it did make my skin clear but since that, I have such dry and sensitive skin so I just cake – cake – moisturiser on all the time.
What kind of hero products do you use?
Benny Drama: I love Dr.Jart+ Ceramidin serum. Drunk Elephant’s Lala Retro Whipped Cream moisturiser is insane. I use a lot of Paula’s Choice – it’s amazing especially if you have acne-prone skin. I’m a huge advocate for chemical exfoliants. So Drunk Elephant’s TLC Sukari Babyfacial and Paula’s Choice does chemical exfoliants so well! I use all of their BHA stuff. Make-up wise, I’m learning how to bake, brighten, and all that stuff from Kardashian videos. I do that if I’m doing a live show and I want to make sure I look beat to hell... which is nice.
Oh my God, the tip that changed my life. It was in a Khloe Kardashian Vogue Beauty Secrets video and she talked about carving out your jaw. I do that every day. I love Dior make-up for the everyday too. I don’t use it as much in videos because I just look super natural and obviously a lot of the time I’m not meant to. But I love their bronzer, it has gold flecks in it which is pretty. I love the Fenty bronzer because it doesn’t have shimmer. Oh and Anastasia Beverly Hills! Their eyeshadows are insane. Norvina! Yeah, she did that. I use them for like every video.
“Some days I’m shooting a Kardashian video and I have six layers of make-up on because I’m doing that many characters. It helped me learn how to properly take off make-up and take care of my skin after” – Benny Drama
Why do you think that me, you and the rest of the world are so obsessed with Kylie, Kim and their make-up endeavours?
Benny Drama: Both are so iconic in the beauty space. You have to applaud them for innovation in a lot of ways. I’m sure Pat McGrath was probably doing contouring and highlighting before anyone but, at the same time, the amount of trends that they brought into the beauty community is so impressive to me.
They’ve also created this new energy of, if you want to sharpen something you can sharpen it. I like that they don’t make you feel bad about it, like ‘Oh I feel like I’ve got a big nose so if I want to make it smaller and that’s bad’. That’s the beauty of make-up, you can do whatever you want and if it makes you feel better, that’s the point. They’re definitely a part of that movement like, ‘Okay, I overline my lips because I want my lips to be a bit bigger.’
Do you think that’s why the LGBTQ+ community at large are so gagged by them? Because it is kind of drag, if you like. It’s not subtle makeup.
Benny Drama: Absolutely. Also drag make-up is so fun. It’s so great to finally see people take risks and I think that is why we tend to be gagged by them.
We love a wig at Dazed Beauty. How many wigs do you own for starters?
Benny Drama: Oh my God, if I counted it would probably make my boyfriend sick because I try to jam them all in my apartment. If I had to guess, I probably have upwards of 60 wigs.
Benny Drama: Yeah, because so many characters require multiple. But I’ve given away quite a few over the years. Wigs and Plus in New York is where I go if I need one on the spot. Then Shop Will Beauty, he is such a legend and he does my Benita wigs. He did my Kim Kardashian for the Legally Blonde one that was, I think, four feet long. If I want a really, really nice one I go to him. If it’s like in a pinch, Amazon, but I try not to because I want Wigs and Plus in New York to stick around for a long time.
Yes, support local businesses! What draws you to a good wig? What do you look for?
Benny Drama: Well, if it’s Benita, I love volume. I sometimes wear cheap wigs and I love them just as much, as long as the hairline looks decent. I like it to be thick, if it’s thin it’s just going to look terrible. $10 is just too little to pay for a wig. You can see the ribbing at the back of it and it just looks terrible. You get what you pay for in the wig market, there’s no doubt about that.
Let’s talk about horoscopes! Where did the interest in horoscopes come from?
Benny Drama: I’ve always loved my own sign. I feel like I share that with people. I’m Scorpio. What are you?
I’m a Virgo.
Benny Drama: Love, okay, obsessed. Virgos keep me so clean, organise my closet. I feel a lot like a Scorpio. I’m super passionate about things, I definitely had a goth moment and I definitely hold grudges! I also love my secrets! So that’s how it started – I just wanted to make a video roasting myself essentially. I did it as my goth character Shade. The response was crazy, so immediate. I’ve never seen a video take off like that. I thought it could be fun to see what other characters could work and also learn about the other signs.
The second one was Sagittarius and it went really well, so I buckled up and I did it for the whole year. It’s been really fun to see the new people who have come to my shows, or found me through their horoscope, or felt better because I revealed what it’s like to date their crazy-ass boyfriend. It was fun but really intense. Even now people are like ‘Where’s this video!’ and I’m like ‘I promise it’s there, just scroll!’ I can’t make any more of these videos.
No more horoscope videos?
Benny Drama: Well, when I do it, I like to do them all in the same video. I don’t think I’d do one at a time anymore. It’s the waiting and the pressure. Libras waited literally a year so I was so nervous that the final video was not going to come through. It can be a lot. They were fun. So many wigs. So much make-up.
Can you give us a little bit of insight into how you write parodies?
Benny Drama: It can be one thing that I think of. So when I did JVN as Jesus, I had this line in my head where it was JVN saying, ‘Okay, Judith, rude!’ and I just kept thinking about it and it made me laugh. I was like, ‘Oh that could maybe be a fun video, I’m curious to see what else I can think of’. So I just take out the Notes app on my laptop and I just go to town and see if there’s enough for a video. If there’s not, I’ll just leave it and sometimes I’ll come back to it. I’ll write five videos at once and then I won’t get another idea for like two weeks. The inspo can be from something I hear somebody say right next to me in a restaurant and I’m like ‘Oh my God, that’s a video’ and I’ll write it down in my phone. So, my friends are cautious around me!
“I feel like Kylie would be so fun to make a video with. She’s liked a few of my things in the past, she gets it. My dream also would be Jennifer Coolidge. I love her more than anything, I’m obsessed. I would love her to play my mom in something or Benita’s sister” – Benny Drama
I think my favourite of your recent videos is Antoni from Queer Eye.
Benny Drama: I do love being him. Yeah he’s fun. He has a very good sense of humour about it too, he’s said very nice thing. I promise this is all in love you guys.
Who would your dream collaboration be with?
Benny Drama: Well we need to collab! I have a few. I love Rihanna. I feel like Kylie would be so fun to make a video with. She’s liked a few of my things in the past, she gets it. I would like to make something with JVN, I feel like that would be really fun.
We need you on Drag Race!
Benny Drama: Oh God, I would be so bad on it. I think I do good make-up and then I see a real drag queen and I’m like, ‘Oh, I’m trash’. I’m an actor, they’re true legends, I could never. But I would love to be a guest judge, that would be fun. I guess when I was Kylie for Halloween, that’s as much drag as I’ve ever done. I did nails, a corset, moderate tucking. It was about an hour in... I was like ‘I can’t walk, I can’t breathe, my head hurts.’ How do drag queens do it! It was absolute hell, hell on Earth. Too much respect. I would love for a drag queen to do my make-up: Raja definitely has a place in my heart, Miss Fame, Naomi Smalls.
I love Naomi Smalls so much.
Benny Drama: I love that bitch. My dream also would be Jennifer Coolidge. I love her more than anything, I’m obsessed. I would love her to play my mom in something or Benita’s sister. I might force her into that. I’ll put it out into the universe and see what happens.
Finally, anything that you want to plug?
Benny Drama: I’m writing my new live show right now, so dates will probably happen at some point within the spring or summer. I think this one will be global. I’ll come to London for you obviously. So many new videos are coming that I’m really excited about. I’m also working on something that will kind of take my stuff outside of the internet, some more TV stuff which I’m excited for.