It’s a Monday afternoon and Rickey Thompson struts into the downtown Los Angeles studio that we’re photographing him, wearing an impeccably-cropped, green, vintage Guess sweatsuit that he altered himself and corresponding green-and-black Nike Air Jordans. The iPhone clutched in his hands has a cover akin to an early '00s Nokia cell phone. Originally from Raleigh, North Carolina where he was raised in a religious household, a cross hangs from the 23-year-old neck. Just a few days prior, Rickey and a gaggle of other famous internet personalities opened up about gigs, goals, and more at the 2019 Teen Vogue Summit. As the panelists exited the stage, fans swarmed Rickey and company.
“It’s a good feeling, but sometimes it'll get overwhelming. Because there are some days where I look a mess. Then someone's dying for a picture, I'm like y'all, I don't want to embarrass myself,” he tells Teen Vogue. “But if I look put together and people do it, it's like the best time ever. When I was younger, I saw that happen to other people and I never thought it would actually happen to me.”
He’s come a long way since Kylie Jenner posted one of his Vines and turned him into an overnight, online sensation. Even after Vine shut down, Rickey kept up that momentum, bringing his comedic chops to Instagram videos and YouTube vlogs that exude unapologetic confidence and show off his keen sense of style. Whether he’s sauntering across a room, breaking out his dance moves, or going off about something that annoys him, you can’t peel your eyes away from the screen.
Teen Vogue sat down with Rickey to get to know him a little better, what he’s hoping for in the future, and more.
Teen Vogue: When you were first starting off on YouTube, how did you keep up with all the different trends?
Rickey Thompson: It was so hard because with YouTube, people just want views. That's what gets your channel out there. So I would literally try to follow every single trend, like reacting to things and ASMR. I found myself not enjoying it so I started doing more fashion videos. People were like, “Rickey, yes, this is it for you.” I see different people do hauls and it's just like this is what I bought, oh. But with me, I want to talk about where would I wear this, how do I feel in it. I'll do like a skip around in the outfit or whatever just giving that extra bit of fun, comedy content.
TV: Your big break came from when Kylie Jenner reposted one of your videos. What was that moment like?
RT: It was honestly so crazy because I was bullied from elementary school until my junior year in high school. That's when Kylie posted me and when everyone was like “whoa, why are we picking on this kid? He's actually so funny, he's so talented.” I went from like the least popular to the most popular kid in school. I was nervous at first because all those people were so mean to me, but then everyone wanted to be my friend. Honestly, I was living for it.
TV: Your first major role was on the YouTube Original Foursome. What was that experience like?
RT: It was the best experience ever and it made me realize that is literally what I want to do: become an actor. Two weeks after I moved to LA, I got the audition. I thought I failed, but I ended up getting [the role]. It taught me a lot. I didn't know the acting world is that hard. You’re on set for 14+ hours every day. I was one of the main characters so I was on set every single day. We would have night shoots where I would get to set around 6 p.m., get off at 8 a.m. It was like a switch. I love being able to go on set and not be Rickey. It was so much fun putting on costumes, makeup, really going full into this character and not being myself.
TV: How have you translated your hilarious internet videos into the more traditional comedic acting?
RT: It's a whole lot different because I don't have full control of things. In my videos, I'm just ranting about my life. Like anything I go through, I'll talk about it but I don't want to make it in a sad way, I want to make it funny. My videos are more improv. And here, I have to learn, memorize a script, and go in front of an audition in front of producers and stuff, which is so scary. Usually, it's just me and my phone.
TV: What sort of roles do you want now that you’re more seriously pursuing acting?
RT: I definitely want to work with the SNL cast. I literally love Maya Rudolph so much and I really want her to write something that I'm in. She's one of my favorite comedians. The writers of Big Mouth, I love stuff like that. I want her to be my hormone monster so bad. I want to make my big break in the comedy world and then eventually get into drama. I want to play a very dark character.
TV: In a couple of interviews, you talk about how you’re actually really shy. Do you feel like that’s changed in recent years?
RT: My shyness has never really left me. It just depends on the situation I'm in. If I have to go to an event by myself, I'm terrified. If I'm going to an event with my manager, I'm still nervous, but at least I feel a whole lot more comfortable. Every year I grow up and it goes away a little bit, but I'm still a shy boy. Denzel [Dion]'s my plus one for everything.
TV: What advice would you give to someone who’s having a hard time being themself online?
RT: You have to keep going. You have to stay consistent with it. Once I stopped doing the thing that everyone else was doing, I did notice a very big decrease in my views. But I found out that it made me happier, that I wasn't doing a job all the time. I was like doing a hobby. It's not easy, but I'm trying to tell you the authentic people are the ones who stay forever, are the ones who are really skyrocketing, really successful.
TV: How’s it like navigating making new friends when you’re internet famous?
RT: It is honestly so hard to find real, loyal friends in this industry because I feel like a lot of people are just trying to see who's coattails they can ride to get to the top. I've been backstabbed, hurt, but once I found out that if you keep your circle small and you surround yourself with positive people, they are going to lift you up.
TV: How about dating?
RT: Dating and trying to find someone to settle down with is honestly so awful, especially in LA. I feel like a lot of people will mess around and try to get with me. And it's happened, where guys try to get with me because they [think] they will get something in return, which is so not true. It's so hard to try to find the real. So, yeah, I'm still searching.
TV: It seems like brands are finally taking content creators like yourself seriously. What sorts of things do you look for before you agree to doing a partnership or working with a certain company?
RT: When I first got started, I used to say yes to anything. Because I was like, OK if I'm out here in LA, I have to make this money, I have to. Then I noticed that I became a yes man and that's what I hated. I didn't want to become oversaturated. So now, I'm very, very careful about what brands I work with. I'll have my team do background checks if they sense anything problematic or if they are doing stuff that's wrong. You really have to do your research on a company before you say yes. You could say yes to a company and they have done so much bad stuff behind closed doors. Then when that comes out, people judge you, not the company.
TV: Speaking of which, there have been so many conversations about cancel culture this past year. What are you feelings about it?
RT: Honestly I hate it. A lot of people make mistakes. We have to learn from our mistakes, but you don't have to learn in a way where people are just being rude to you, and bashing you, saying stuff like you should die. I feel like they need to take personal time and really figure out themselves. So I hate cancel culture I really do. The only person who needs [to be cancelled] is Donald Trump, that's it.
TV: Do you ever think about the possibility that Instagram and YouTube might just disappear one day, similar to what happened to you and your Vine following?
RT: I think about it a lot because I was so sick when Vine died. Because I was like, "oh my God what do I do now? I'm on Instagram but I'm just posting pictures. I'm on YouTube, but I'm not seeing the growth that I want like I did with Vine." When Vine died, I had 2.5 million [followers]. So when that was gone, I was like, "what do I do now?" That's why I try to be a triple threat. I try to get into everything. Fashion, modeling, acting. So if that day were to ever come, I’m fine.
TV: What about the influencer bubble potentially popping? That in the near future influencers and content creators might not make the sort of money they’re seeing today?
RT: Oh my gosh. I never thought about that. That would be very scary. But I feel like I prepare myself enough that if were to happen. I got my savings. Literally every single check I get goes right to my savings. My mom taught me to always save your money. Always, always, always. There's people out here blowing their money like crazy. But all I do is buy food and I'll buy clothes or whatever, but nothing too serious. Always keep track of what you're spending. You don't have to spend your money on the nicest things to be popular. I feel like a lot of now, everyone's like, oh my God I have to have the most expensive brands to fit in and stuff like that. I'm like no. I still thrift clothes. Be very careful what you do with your money. Be smart with it. I would also say invest.
TV: How is online Rickey different from offline Rickey?
RT: I will say this, I am a positive person who's always going to make you laugh. But I will say I'm not a loud person all the time. I hate causing a scene, I really do. I love to keep to myself with my friends. I'll make them laugh, they die. But I'm not always that loud, screaming person. I like to keep it down sometimes.
TV: You were on the cover of Gay Times earlier this year. What’s it like being in the spotlight as a gay black man?
RT: It's such a great feeling because I'm letting people know that you can be whoever you are and still be successful. That's my main message. People are out here in this world and they see the average person on magazines, in the movies. There should be more people like me and are a whole lot different, making moves. I’m just really glad that I'm able to showcase that.
TV: Are you a sentimental person?
RT: I am such a sentimental person. I keep everything that has given me a memory, that has taken my career to the next level. My awards, I keep them all. I remember I kept the shirt that I wore in the first Vine that Kylie Jenner posted. I just have to keep this type of stuff.
TV: So, I went back and watched your first video on YouTube.
RT: Ew. Oh my God.
TV: Why do you keep it up there if you have that sort of reaction to it now?
RT: I hate it because I look back at that person, that person was so scared and so afraid of everything. It just reminds me of a time where I was down. I was just very like, I want to be myself but I'm scared to be myself. But it's also good to look back at it because I'm like wow, look how far I've come. I look better, I'm successful. That was a time — and now I'm here.
TV: Is Bojangles still your favorite restaurant?
RT: Oh my God, yes. I wish they had a Bojangles here. Honestly, it's the best chicken place ever. I eat Popeyes, but it doesn't give me the same excitement.
Photographer: Kaleb Marshall
Stylist: Michelle Li
Groomer: Michael Fernandez
Producer: Paige Viti
Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue