“Slowly, the penguins steal my sanity.”—message on T-shirt worn by friend in high school
Among my very favorite memories of adolescence are the times that my sister and I would grab a camera and just goof off, filming some sort of silly sketch that would make both of us laugh. Perhaps most memorable of all was the time that my sister undertook an insanely ambitious project: she was going to adapt J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone as a film starring me as all of the characters. Since we were’t using any editing software, we shot the entire thing in chronological order, thus requiring me to continuously change costumes and voices in every shot. Needless to say, we didn’t get past Platform Nine and Three-Quarters, but the resulting footage has a wonderfully warped quality to it, chronicling the supposed breakdown of a Harry Potter superfan as he undergoes a sexual identity crisis (he ultimately ends up as Mrs. Weasley).
I was reminded of those blissful days when I stumbled upon the YouTube videos of Pupinia Stewart, one of the most misunderstood comic talents on the Internet. Many people have interpreted her filmed confessions as a terrifying reflection of modern youth in all their chronic cluelessness. Yet it was clear to me from the get-go that this young woman—most likely age 17 (according to her videos)—was embracing her online platform as an opportunity to experiment with what I’d refer to as absurdist performance art.
Stewart’s first video that caught my attention was entitled, “I’m Pregnant.” It was originally uploaded last August, yet I only saw it recently when a Facebook friend posted it on his feed. She begins the video by speaking in the sort of mumbly monotone you’d expect from a teen on a public forum. It’s only as she continues to talk that you realize that she’s articulating her whole-hearted crush on Donald Trump, whom she claims “made her pregnant” simply by the way he adjusts his hat that famously reads, “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN.” Her eyes well up with tears as the words spill out of her mouth with startling emotion, and the whole thing is scarily convincing. It is also hilarious. Not only is Stewart skewering one of the most despised personalities in American political history, she’s also sending up videos made by girls her age who claim that a guy’s sheer hotness has impregnated them. From then on, I was hooked.
The reason why many people are fooled by Stewart is because they are blindsided by how good of an actress she is. Her monologues to the camera have the spontaneous flow of improvisation, and you never sense her straining to sell a punchline. The insanity in her words speaks for itself. Consider “England is Confusing,” the video that apparently received howls of outrage online. After declaring that she speaks fluent American, Stewart reveals her confusion about the British term “pounds,” and whether it indicates that England exists in a different part of the solar system. The illogic in her theory defies all calculation, and the fact that people took it seriously is rather astonishing. It all has to do with Stewart’s performance, which is like a masterclass in the art of deadpan line delivery.
Other things that prove to bewilder Stewart are her mother’s bra, which she mistakes for a slingshot, and her menstrual cycle, while she believes is satanically influenced. In a style akin to Sarah Silverman’s parody of ignorance, Stewart’s persona is unable to deal with the complex reality of existence, opting to reside in a surreal fantasy of her own creation. She can barely contain her bewilderment at having to deal with a “gender binary” customer at her shaving shop, and her delivery of the line, “So how was your…day?”, reminded me of Parker Posey’s cavernous pauses in “Waiting for Guffman.” There are even videos, such as one called, “I joined a fandom,” where it takes her a seemingly eternity to get around to acknowledging the alleged subject of her post. That’s because she’s too busy coughing, burping and fiddling with Silly Putty. It’s almost as if she’s daring you to switch her off, and yet I found myself unable to look away (Andy Kaufman would’ve approved).
Perhaps the one thing that I do share with Stewart is her volcanic hatred of those inescapable vexations, the minions, and I may not be the only one, considering that her video, “I HATE MINIONS SO MUCH,” earned well over a million views. She has also offered her opinions on such cultural touchstones as the new “Star Wars” film, which she hated (naturally), though she did have nice things to say about “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip.” Some of her funniest sketches take the form of instructional videos, such as a church makeup tutorial and a prom dress fitting (for Donald Trump) that culminates in a dance that must be seen to be disbelieved. I also love the way she looks at her doll, Jojo, as if she genuinely expects it to speak during a sublimely awkward interview.
Another reason why Stewart’s videos are addictive is because they are unpredictable. You never know when she will venture into satirical territory of a considerably darker nature. Her video, “A Message to Santa Claus,” might be the most disturbing thing she’s ever posted, and had anyone else uploaded it, her agonized words could’ve easily been interpreted as a cry for help. Stewart is at her cockiest when she argues that she’s a much better comedian than Amy Schumer, and to demonstrate, she delivers a joke that is truly horrifying, earning the sort of purposeful unease that Neil Hamburger routinely elicits. There’s also a storytime segment in which Stewart reminisces about dating a member of ISIS, as well as a splendidly morbid bit of freestyle poetry where she whispers a tale of homicide. My favorite Pupinia video that I’ve seen thus far has got be “my pedo friend,” in which she deflects the advances of a pedophile simply because she doesn’t understand them. For once, her innocence has resulted in an accidental triumph.
There has been speculation as to whether Pupinia Stewart is in fact the actress’s real name, and some commenters have pointed out that the name “Pupinia” may be a joke in itself, since it can be pronounced “poop-in-ya.” This appears to have been confirmed in a video offering a “candid peek” into Stewart’s life, where she’s seen caring for her and Trump’s baby, Diarrheania. A more telling moment suggesting the reality of Stewart’s situation occurs in “I’M A FURRY,” which ends with her quickly switching off the camera as her bedroom door is swung open, presumably by one of her parents. If she was secretly making these videos back when I was a teen (I graduated high school in 2004), she might’ve shared them with a few friends and they’d have had a good laugh. Now thanks to YouTube, she can literally try out her material on a global stage, while making money in the process. So much of the stuff on that site is instantly forgettable, but her videos stick with you because they carry the tangible spark of inspiration.
What made me especially nostalgic was her fan-requested film production, “Pupinia the Hero,” which rivals my “Harry Potter” one-man show in terms of its uproariously amateurish zeal, particularly when it utilizes split screen. Whoever Stewart is, she has been doing this sort of thing for a while (as evidenced by a priceless archival upload), and is destined to be experimenting with her oddball satire for many years to come. This young comedian is the real deal. Here’s hoping that people like Christopher Guest and, yes, Amy Schumer take note. Until then, all hail Queen Poopinya!