Halima Jibril speaks to the internet’s princess about her viral TikToks, that Carrie Bradshaw newspaper dress, and being unapologetically feminine
“She’s actually a saint. She’s a perfect person, and she’s never done anything wrong in her entire life.” This is not only dialogue from one of Sabrina Brier’s many viral TikTok videos but precisely how I would describe Brier herself.
Originally from Connecticut, the actress, writer, director and comedian has amassed a loyal and dedicated fanbase on TikTok, where she has over 610,500 followers at time of publication. Brier often plays an incredibly fashionable young woman with an extremely inflated sense of self. One day, she’s your horrible friend; the next, a loyal companion; and the week after that, she’s your annoying acquaintance who’s just moved to New York. No matter the character, the internet loves her deeply – and hates her deeply, too.
We spoke to the internet’s princess about comparison, Sex and the City, shame as a motivator for her work and how she has dreams beyond the internet.
I watched a movie to prepare for this interview – can you guess which one it was?
Sabrina Brier: Hmm.. I’m thinking something in New York. I want to say Sex and The City: The Movie?
No, but that’s a good guess.
Sabrina Brier: OK. It’s definitely girly and New York. A comedy. Something about a girl who moves to New York. Is it Francis Ha?
No, but you’re close.
Sabrina Brier: OMG, was it Mistress America?
Sabrina Brier: That’s so funny. Now I have to watch it. I have been seeing all the Greta Gerwig comparison stuff concerning me. So I am aware, but I didn’t realise that particular scene everyone is talking about is from Mistress America. But the scene is so spot on.
It’s so your character.
Sabrina Brier: Before I was putting myself out on the internet and people saw my acting, I was told, ‘Oh, you’re kind of like Greta Gerwig,’ like a Greta Gerwig type. Like Greta went to Barnard, I went to Smith, so we’re women’s college girlies, and we both have the same birthday.
Isn’t that crazy? Something clicked in my brain when I learned that through Twitter. It just made sense!
Sabrina Brier: Yeah, it’s crazy. I have a funny list. I share a birthday with Greta Gerwig, Meghan Markle, Barack Obama and Dylan and Cole Sprouse. Is there a more interesting group of people? Can you imagine a dinner party with all of us?
It would be amazing. Two girl bosses, a war criminal and the Sprouses! What more could you want?
Sabrina Brier: Right!
How do the comparisons to Greta Gerwig make you feel?
Sabrina Brier: It’s always kinda funny to be told you’re like someone else because you’re like, ‘am I me?’ Of course, the first thing that comes to mind is that I’m extremely flattered. I look at her as a multi-hyphenate in a way that I want to be. With all her success with Barbie, it’s so exciting for young women to watch, especially for someone like me, who went to a similar college to her. I could absolutely see myself following in those footsteps. I love directing, and I can see myself going down that path, so the comparison between us feels a bit cosmically interesting.
Comparisons can undoubtedly be scary, but it’s also beautiful. Especially as creatives, I think we build off of each other, and our work really can speak to one another.
Sabrina Brier: I also get some comparison with Carrie Bradshaw and Girls. To me, that’s all exciting because those were really formative things for me, and the hope is that I make it my own. But like you’re saying, it’s so important to build on those narratives and stories because all those media pieces are just women’s stories, and that’s what I’m into.
I did write in my notes that when I think about your work, I think about Girls and Lena Dunham. Girls was so unafraid to be cringe and ridiculous and honest, and I find that your work is so much like that, too.
Sabrina Brier: When I was in high school and college, Sex and the City and Girls were two shows that showed me, when I was developing my voice, that television can play out very realistic situations, and they can still be drama; they can still be funny. I love any media that’s cathartic. I love being funny, but I love being funny in a way where it feels like there’s something very real and dramatic behind it, something that’s hard to watch underneath it. That’s always been the type of comedy I’ve connected with. Comedy that has emotion behind it, that isn’t just slap-sticky for comedy’s sake.
That’s not to say there’s not so much value in that. It’s just that I’ve always been drawn to realistic, dramatic situations that are told in a comedic way. And I think those are two shows that showed me that there could be women, in front of and behind the camera, telling everyday stories of what it’s like to live our lives, fight with our friends, look for a partner and to deal with job stress. They could deal with all of these everyday things and tragedies, and they were still seen as interesting, funny and important. Those shows started to allow that to click into my brain. And then I went from being immersed in that media, to going to a women’s college, so any women’s story references I see said about me on Twitter, I’m like, ‘slay.’
I mean, you are a feminist icon. Going to a women’s college! There’s nothing more feminist than that.
Sabrina Brier: OMG, I know. Thank you so much. But for real, going to a women’s college was hugely formative for me. I don’t think I would have joined improv if I were at a co-ed school. I knew I had the ability to make people laugh, and I always knew I was a goofy person. My mom, sister and dad are all hilarious, and my mom was a sketch comedian back in the day, so I knew I had that in me. But I thought of myself more as wanting to be a capital A actress.
When I was in college and wasn’t feeling super satisfied with the number of opportunities in the theatre department – although the opportunities were great – I was just hungry for more. That’s when I turned to improv, and I don’t think I would have done that if I were at a co-ed school. Because of the environment I was in and the encouragement I received, I could be uninhibited and crazy. I’d get up on stage, throw myself around, and not care because I didn’t have any crushes there, so it was fine.
Returning to what you mentioned before, about your interest in comedy that deals with serious things: I’m doing my master’s dissertation on the representation of abortion in feminist television, and what I’ve discovered is that the narrative of abortion is in a lot of comedies. That begs the question: can abortion ever be funny? There’s this idea that certain things don’t belong in comedy, but I think your work and the work of the women we’ve spoken about previously proves that that isn’t the case.
Sabrina Brier: Totally. Abortion, for example, is something we’re very socialised to feel a lot of shame around, and I think shame is a huge motivating factor for me in what I create. Sometimes, I’ll have those moments where I’m being ghosted, or I’m mad at someone, or I feel like I’m not being my best self, or I’m experiencing a friend not being her best self. I take those moments, and they’re the things you’re kind of like, ‘I don’t want to admit,’ and then I realise, ‘Oh, maybe I should admit it, and I should just make fun of it.’ It lets people know they’re not alone in that feeling and go, ‘Yeah, I do that too.’ Especially as women and femmes, I think it doesn’t feel like we can make fun of ourselves or be vulnerable. I think the pressure is just too high. We have to be perfect to prove ourselves. But the success I found shows me more and more that we do want to be talking about things; we do want to make fun of ourselves.
Do you feel a lot of pressure to go viral now, because your content does perform so well? How do you balance enjoying making your content without feeling the pressure of how your work will be perceived?
Sabrina Brier: That was more so in the first year. I was dealing with the internal and mental health pressures of being chronically online. I felt those general pressures of wondering what people thought of me, if I’m being annoying or when I’d go viral again. Now, I’ve learned that there will always be highs and lows. So now when I experience a low, I’m like, ‘OK, well, I’m going to put my energy into this and just really be consistent.’ I try to be a candle in the wind about it. I also know I’m not just doing what I’m doing because I like notifications. I have goals that I want to say are bigger than the internet because while the internet is great, I want to have my own TV show, I want to direct an indie, and I want to be able to take these small ideas and put them out there in bigger ways. Overall, I try not to get too nitty gritty about it and focus on the bigger picture. I try to ask myself, ‘Did I do something today that gets me there?’ because that’s all I can do. The rest is out of my hands, especially with the internet, because you can’t predict the internet.
OK, we need to talk about your fashion and style. I always see people talk about how well-dressed you are in your videos. You gagged everyone with that Carrie Bradshaw newspaper dress. Have you always been into fashion?
Sabrina Brier: My fashion evolution started with me being a weird kid. I was popular but very off. Then I was in college, and I was not wearing bras, wearing harem pants, shouting ‘fuck the male gaze!’ Then, when I first came to the city, I would always wear clogs. So, I don’t want to claim this fashionista thing, but I do think of myself as a director. I’m very interested in visuals. I love to express myself through visuals and how I’m presenting. TikTok has allowed me to think outside the box with it. I learned just by seeing things on myself all the time and seeing what works. I also have to give credit to my sister. My older sister is like my secret weapon. We’re best friends. She lives in Connecticut. She has a beautiful baby, and I’m there all the time. She helps me with a lot of my ideas and is excellent at forcing me to think outside the box with clothes. We’re obsessed with thrifting, we’re obsessed with deals. Deals are the spice of life.
Clothing-wise, my huge inspiration is, of course, Carrie Bradshaw. I’m obsessed with her. She’s a fellow outgoing Jewish New York woman and her fashion is so part of her story. I really do love how fashion has become such a key part of my character and so I try to just pay attention to that.
From how you dress and the characters you play, to the fact that your favourite colour is pink, you come across as someone who is unapologetically feminine – which might seem insignificant or silly, but a lot of young women have grown up being told that girly stuff was lame or less than. But from your content to how you present yourself, you seem so proud of it all.
Sabrina Brier: I love the term unapologetically feminine, and I will be stealing it. I remember one time this girl in high school who I used to be friends with, who was one of those not your real friend type of friends, and I remember going to her like, ‘Yeah, boys are always saying that I’m dumb,’ and she goes, ‘Well, Sabrina, you are dumb.’ People made those comments to me because I have this little girlie giddiness to me, which, of course, now has ironically served me. I think it’s because I’m easy to make fun of, which at that time felt disempowering but now, it is very empowering because I can make a career out of it.
When people do make those comments, it’s giving misogyny, for sure, but because of those experiences, I want to lean into the femme almost even more. I love dressing up and all those things, but that is not the only side of me that I put out there. Before TikTok, I was kind of anti-dressing up for a while. But those negative comments make me want to make a statement and be like, ‘Yeah, I’m actually really hard-working, smart and girly.’ Those things can exist at the same time.
What is one thing you want the world to know about you, Sabrina?
Sabrina Brier: I’m not a narcissist. I swear!