From her hit YouTube series “Meet My Rapist” to her recent web series The Skinny, Jesse Kahnweiler has long been one of the most fascinating YouTube personalities. Her ultra-confessional style of interviewing people, along with her glib glee in saying and doing the most ridiculous things in order to uncover deep dark societal truths is entirely unique.
Needless to say, when I found out she was doing a podcast, I was excited.
Her new series “Schmucks” is a three episode mini-series on Stitcher Premium where Jessie talks to the people that the internet loves to hate and tries to understand what makes them do the things they do.
The first episode is about Steve Rannazzisi, star of the television show The League and the fallout that occurred when it was revealed that he wasn’t really at 9/11 when it happened like he said he was. Spoiler: He’s really really sorry.
In episode two Jessie talks to Nicole Arbour, a very popular YouTube star whose videos all involve her telling large groups of people what they should be doing to change their lives for the better. Her video “Dear Fat People” brought her fame to new heights and an equal amount of people that couldn’t stand her. Naturally Jessie tells her right away that she wanted to hate her because she was so pretty, and they kind of become friends.
What else is there to say about the third guest Martin Shkrelli? He raised the price of a drug called “Daraprim” from $13 dollars to $750 million earning instant notoriety in the process. From his smug answers before Congress, to paying $2 million for a Wu-Tang album and not letting anyone listen to it, Martin Shkrelli is basically a wrestling heel. He absorbs his audiences boos and smiles back at them. Jessie was terrified to talk to him. Did she survive?
We got on the phone with Jessie Kahnweiler to find out!
Observer: Since you document yourself so much does it feel like you’re always performing?
Jessie Kahnweiler: I live in L.A. I feel like everybody’s performing. I think that’s a human problem. I’m just finding that as I get older there’s a certain amount of ease that comes with being in my 30s. I mean I’m still crazy, but I feel more comfortable in my crazy and less of a need to prove myself.
Have you ever gone out with a guy who said “Jessie, I just want to know the real you?”
I’m like yeah me too. I would love to know that. I would love to know who I am. No I’ve gone out with guy who was like “I found the real you. I’m out I’m done.”
But really the show is about unmasking these parts of myself that I keep hidden, and about how in the process of talking to these characters I discover stuff about myself. There’s this idea of hating people or judging people online, which is so easy to do. We wanted to explore why people feel this way. Like why do I feel so much hatred or judgment or jealousy or disgust towards somebody that I don’t know and what would happen if I had to actually sit down and come face to face with them?
What ended up happening was that I did discover some kind of truth about myself. It was mostly something scary that I didn’t realize. You think you know who you are, especially when you make work and you’re like “oh this is my brand. People aren’t brands though, they’re people.”
You said Martin Shkrelli was your dream guest. Now that you’ve done that, do you have another dream guest?
That’s a really good question and people keep sending me emails about how I should get Milo or you know Trump, and other horrible people.
Is there anybody that you wouldn’t want to talk to?
I definitely wouldn’t turn down Trump, although I hope that I wouldn’t have any dreams about him because I don’t think I’d be able to live with myself if I did. We wrote to Charles Manson, and I’m still waiting for him to write back. We kind of wanted to draw a line, because at first I was like well “let’s talk to pedophiles or talk to murderers. Let’s talk to people that are in prison for doing these immoral acts.” But, I kind of didn’t really want to get into the territory of talking to somebody who’s not mentally stable. Because it becomes a different kind of interview, and they don’t really understand it, then it’s like kind of ethically murky.
I think what was really nice about the guests that we did get is I think they’re kind of what I like to call a modern day witch hunt or the new Internet villain. They’re born of the Internet, and there’s this amazing headline, and they are amazing clickbait for a week or two, and we look at it, and we say “fuck them.”
We share that article, and then we move on. And so I really wanted to find out what happened to these people afterwards. What are they doing now and how did this affect them? Do they feel remorse? I wanted to target people that have done something that I think I could have done. I’ve certainly made videos that have offended people. I’ve certainly lied about shit. I haven’t stolen billions of dollars and denied people medical drugs that they needed. I don’t know if that might make sense.
Do you have an underlying thought of how great it would be if people listened to these stories and gained empathy for other people?
I don’t try to give people any people any way to feel. With a scripted show, I can have kind of a personal mandate, but with this show we didn’t. It really is a documentary. It was happening as it was happening. We were making it because there was a part of me that was like “Oh I’m curious about these people. I’m curious about their lives.” I know that people are multidimensional, but I really don’t want to tell anyone how to feel about it, especially because I still don’t know how to feel about it. I’m still confused. I still think Martin is a fucking asshole, and he’s kind of compelling. Afterwards I felt frustrated that I wasn’t harder on him. I just hopefully give people some kind of feelings. If they’re feeling hatred or disgust at me, which I’ve gotten too, then you know that’s cool, at least they’re feeling something you know. How people feel about things or why is between them and their therapist.
I think it’s interesting the way that you approached each one of the guests from a different perspective. You talked with Steve about his real experience with a cab driver and how running away from the World Trade Center felt as real as the story he told. Then with Nicole you talked body positivity and made her feel good. You related to them as people and I love the way you did it.
Thanks! Those really good podcasts like Mark Marons make you just feel like you’re in the room. That’s the feeling I wanted, and a lot of that does come from being in a tiny room with these people. We were in Steve’s house, and we were in a tiny room with Martin, and it’s very intimate. There was no moment where I was like ‘OK now this is when I make them feel comfortable and relate to them.’ It was just what I naturally do. And I think that’s why I’ve gotten a lot of pushback from people that are like “you we’re too nice to them”, or “why didn’t you grill them” or whatever. And I’m like, “go sit in a room with somebody that you don’t like.” “Go sit in a room with somebody that did something you don’t agree with.” There is a natural empathy that happens and we can’t help but relate. We can’t help but find common ground.
I think if I was a woman that was deeply affected by Nicole’s video, or if I was somebody that was at 9/11, then maybe it would have been a different story. I totally acknowledge that I didn’t have a personal connection to all these people and what they did. I just thought like ‘oh he’s just a fucking guy, but he did something terrible.’ Maybe he is terrible.
But you know he takes a shit like everyone else.
Do you think it’s important that people think of themselves as good people even if they aren’t?
That’s a really good question. It’s certainly a fascinating concept that came up in the show a lot. Steve was very like “I did a shitty thing and I totally own it.” And Martin, not only does he not think he’s a horrible person, he thinks he’s Robin Hood. He thinks he’s saving the world, and people just have to catch on and wait for it. So you kind of have two very polar opposite guests. I think it’s important for people to be in touch with the truth. Now something that is happening in the world right now is we are living in a post truth world. So what does it mean to tell the truth? Somebody like Martin can go online and say horrible things and then go ‘yeah but I mean just kidding the Internet’s not real.’ Then somebody else can say “but Martin said a horrible thing and it it really affected me”, or “this person bullied me.” I guess what I’m trying to say is, that I feel like we need to take a step back and collectively figure out what is the literacy of the Internet. We need to have a universal literacy rate so we all understand how we’re communicating now.
I think that the thing is we’re too binary. We think that this person is good, and this person is bad, and the internet makes that so easy. Everybody is everything. We need to stop being, in my opinion, so ashamed of all of our deep dark bits. It adds a whole feeling of being gross or sad or scared or horny. All of these feelings that we’re told are not acceptable to feel creates this layer of shame. For me in my 30s with my eating disorder people tell me “ok well don’t feel that.” It created this whole other layer of shame on top of all the bad stuff I was feeling. We’re wired to have all these different feelings, and I think if we can accept the bad quote unquote bad feelings we’re less likely to retaliate and act on them.
What do you think Donald Trump thinks about before his head hits the pillow? Like how much shame is inside that person? Maybe if he was hugged a little bit more or told “little Donny like it’s OK to be upset because your brother is an alcoholic” like its ok to feel sad and jealous and rageful then maybe he wouldn’t be ruining the world.
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I honestly believe it. Now I’m thinking about how upset I was about our new president. Eventually I realized that I had to get over it. But how can you get over it if you don’t empathize with the guy? I’ve been having a hard time doing that. Have you felt the same way?
I’ve been dissociating it, but again I think the answer to that is to just keep talking about it, keep the dialogue open. The part of you that is angry, we have to keep opening up to that. I hated myself because I didn’t get the right interview with him. I felt all this pressure, and I felt like a failure, and it was so unacceptable. It was a hard experience to go through within the show.
I don’t know if it’s a female thing, but I will turn on myself because of all the horrible stuff that’s going on in the world. I feel like I’m not doing enough. I’m not volunteering enough. “Oh my god I’m a piece of shit.” That’s something to really watch for, because there are some things going on in the world right now that are really fucking scary. I can’t yell at myself and hate on myself just because I feel vulnerable.
I think everybody is exploring their rage right now, and that’s what Martin was talking about. He said he felt he could be a different person on the internet than he is in real life. Do you think that’s a valid form of escapism or expression?
I think not if you’re hurting other people. He’s talking to people that don’t understand that he’s kidding. I just think the Internet is not the place for it, because I am somebody that is getting tortured on the Internet on the daily and it does feel real. People tell me I should just brush it off because no one’s being threatened. When your life is being threatened, that’s real.
That person may not mean it, but it’s so scary. But I think that something else that the show taught me is that we need to try to understand each other better on the Internet. Zuckerberg needs to step it up, and we need to develop some emotional intelligence around this stuff. We need to take our power back because it feels like a drunk baby, and we need to sober up.