One Friday in July 2010, Jenna Mourey drove home from her job at a tanning salon in Boston; she had to shower and change for her night gig as a go-go dancer. As she walked into her apartment, she decided to film herself getting ready.
She enjoyed go-go dancing (getting paid to dance — in flats!). But she had a master's degree from Boston University in sports psychology and counseling. Her life was, as she says, "ridiculous."
"I went to school, tried really hard, did everything I was supposed to do, and now, like, what the fuck is this mess I'm in right now?" the 25-year-old recalls thinking. "I'm going to work dancing in my underwear, making myself look like a whore on purpose."
That night she edited together a video called "How to Trick People Into Thinking You're Good-Looking" and posted it on YouTube. By the time she got to her night gig, the other dancers had already passed it around Facebook. It has since been watched 38 million times.
Jenna Marbles, as she now calls herself, eventually started posting weekly to her YouTube channel, which has 2.9 million subscribers (No. 6 on the site), and almost half a billion views. Most of her fans are teenage girls, who relate to her foul-mouthed, brutally straightforward comedy sketches on the plight of young womanhood.
Her video "How to Avoid Talking to People You Don't Want to Talk To," for example, was inspired by a guy who was pestering her in a Rhode Island nightclub. She gave him a bizarre look — picture a scared clown — and didn't say a thing. The technique spread among her female fans, to the point where the creepy guys now know what it is and give it back. Articles about "the face" painted her as some kind of YouTube feminist but, like most entertainers, her process is instinctual. "I fucking hate that," she says. "They're giving me way too much credit."
L.A. is a magnet for successful YouTubers, so in September Marbles moved from Boston with her boyfriend to a three-story townhouse on Montana Avenue in Santa Monica. She'll meet with production companies ("Those are so stupid") and occasionally audition ("I'm terrible"), but traditional Hollywood doesn't yet know what to do with her, and she already probably makes six figures from YouTube ad revenue.
Marbles' power has started to dawn on her. She's often recognized while hanging out with her boyfriend on the Santa Monica Pier. One fan who has cancer emailed her to say that she watched Marbles' videos from her bed, and her mom cried because it was the first time she had seen her daughter laugh in months.
But despite her success, Marbles still films her videos with her laptop camera in her bedroom, which, one recent day, was littered with T-shirts and shampoo bottles. Her weekly deadline is Wednesday at sundown, as her only light source is the window.
"The way I work is not necessarily effective," she says. "It's pretty messed up."
Here are our five favorite Jenna Marbles videos:
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