Why is Lea Michele Insisting She Knows How to Read?

Lea Michele
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Lea Michele really wants everyone to know that she can read.

As she gears up for her debut in Funny Girl, the actress spoke with The New York Times about the show, the backlash over her casting, and the general social media response to her in recent years — including the long-running joke that she is secretly illiterate.

“I went to Glee every single day; I knew my lines every single day. And then there’s a rumor online that I can’t read or write?” she lamented. “It’s sad. It really is. I think often if I were a man, a lot of this wouldn’t be the case.”

For people who aren’t extremely on the internet, her fervent insistence of her literacy probably raises more questions than answers, so let’s dive back into one of the wildest pop culture conspiracy theories in recent history.

Why do people think Lea Michele can’t read?

This all started with a 40 minute video from the people behind the One More Thing podcast, self-proclaimed major Gleeks who came up with a pretty hilarious theory about how because Michele spent her childhood on Broadway, playing roles with minimal speaking required, she never actually learned how to read.

They provided ample amounts of “evidence,” including co-star Naya Rivera’s claim that Michele refused to go off book when Tim Conway guest starred on the show and wanted to improvise, as well as suggesting the actress never refuted these claims because she couldn’t even read Rivera’s memoir to find out about them. They also theorized the actress only works with Glee creator Ryan Murphy these days because he knows her secret and reads all of her lines to her so that she can memorize them.

The video has since been removed from the internet, although a TikTok summarizing it is still making the rounds:

It spread like wildfire across the internet due largely to the obvious absurdity of the claim, and “Lea Michele can’t read” jokes became an undying favorite of both genuine fans and those who were more prone to criticize the actress after several cast members came forward about bullying they claimed to have experienced from her on set.

Speaking as someone who has watched the entire glorious 40 minutes of the original video, it was clearly intended to be in good fun. And after Michele herself caught wind of the joke, she initially took it that way as well.

Years after her acknowledgement, the theory persists, and was frequently deployed on Twitter in response to her being cast in Funny Girl.

Various “evidence” has been added to the back-and-forth about whether Michele can actually read, with so many people committing fully to the bit even after she actually read a book out loud on video (we can’t see her other ear to check for an earpiece!), and a background actor on the show recounted a time in which she allegedly read tweets about her and got his then-boyfriend fired over them.


#stitch with @Patty Breaking News; I have personal information re: Lea and her set behavior #gleek #canleamicheleread #leamichelecantread #backgroundactor #extras #gleecast

Unfortunately for Michele, the whole thing was a lot more fun when she was acting like she was in on the joke. Taking it seriously and scolding people for, in her mind, genuinely questioning her literacy isn’t winning anyone over.

And honestly, it’s not going to stop the jokes anyway — not that she'll ever get the chance to read them.

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