There are plenty of YouTube “stars” on the Internet — written with quotation marks because they rarely are recognized by age groups outside their target audience of teenagers. But this past week, Spoken Reasons, born John A. Baker Jr., went beyond his subscribers' computer screens and onto the silver ones in theaters nationwide with The Heat , alongside Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy. He plays Terrell Rojas, the unlucky drug dealer who gets dropped onto the hood of a car in the film's trailers.
Unlike the typical rise-to-fame tale of an actor being discovered from oblivion before being launched into stardom, Spoken Reasons already has a sizable fan base. While he's on YouTube, he tries to emulate the career path of his inspiration, Dave Chappelle. “He did it on TV, and I'm just doing it on the Internet,” he says. “I'm not necessarily trying to follow his complete footstep. I'm following a big portion of it. I just want to be an overall entertainer.” And he's got the versatility for it.
Spoken Reasons' channel started four years ago as a platform for his poetry, commenting on topics like the unfairness of guilty celebrities getting off easy in court to people's readiness for marriage. Then, people found him funny, so his videos evolved comedic sketches and music videos with the flavor of exaggerated, slapstick-y parodies, like his recent ode to fellow YouTube personality Jenna Marbles.There is also his video called “The Record Deal” where he meets with Russell Simmons, loud-mouthing his way into getting thrown out by security.
But poetry is still close to his heart, and he feels his more comedic content is still a form of poetry because it's just other ways for him to spread his truths. “I uploaded a video,” he says, “and people just happened to like my thoughts.”
Now, “people” refers to over a million subscribers. He still keeps track of how well his YouTube videos do, listing off the numbers of some of his latest releases in our interview in the low-key restaurant area of the Culver Hotel.
Good fortune didn't really come as a surprise to Spoken Reasons for two main reasons. For one, his life had followed this lucky pattern since he started out. At his first poetry reading, he received a standing ovation. His first standup comedy show, he won five hundred dollars. And now, the first time he auditions for a role in a movie, he gets it. “The casting process was kinda weird,” he says. “I signed with UTA on a Wednesday, I believe, of May. The next day, I went home to Orlando, and they told me, 'We have a script for you. It's called The Heat with Sandra Bullock.'” They wanted him to send in a video audition, but he refused, wanting to do so in person, and flew himself back to Los Angeles overnight to audition for Paul Feig, director of The Heat (and Bridesmaids). Hollywood dream accomplished.
Which leads to the second reason, which is that he genuinely lives by the advice he preaches to his fans: #FCHW (Faith, Consistency, Hard Work). It's not a wholly original motto, but he firmly believes in these ingredients for success. He admits he doesn't go out much and is diligent about releasing regular videos on his channel. This stems from a sense of responsibility for his fans (some of whom have even tattooed #FCHW on themselves), which is why he says, despite his recent venture into film, he will never leave YouTube.
“YouTube is the new TV,” he says. “I'm the voice of the young people. I feel like kids these days don't watch TV anymore… No, I will never leave YouTube. Never ever ever… If I do, you can do whatever you want to me.”
He feels that YouTube is a place where someone can be themselves and make their own rules. And he's very proud of the fact he has gotten to Hollywood without compromising that. He says that even his role in The Heat was like playing himself — minus the criminal part. He's in-your-face, mischievous and the class clown.
The set was quite the learning experience — Spoken Reasons mostly kept his mouth shut and absorbed everything going on around him. Working with Bullock and McCarthy was a lesson in opposites: While Bullock preferred keeping to the script, McCarthy would be more improvisational and experimental with her lines. And seeing the grandeur of this large scale summer feature has inspired him to make a film at some point — he's begun writing one.
At times he enjoys the limelight — after our interview, he sat at the piano and performed for the Culver Hotel restaurant patrons. But not always. One time, a few of his fans found his Florida address and knocked on the door. In response, he turned off the lights and pretended no one was home. (If they try now, he won't be there, since he moved to L.A. in December.)
Also, there are times when fans spy him on the streets and trail behind him. “Just tell me you like my work,” he says, so he knows you're not trying to rob him And though he is flattered that some believe so much in his hashtag (#FCHW) that they've permanently inked it onto their bodies, he would appreciate a warning if anyone were considering getting a tattoo of his face on them. (By the way, he doesn't have any tattoos himself.)
“My goal before I die is to get all of my thoughts out” in whatever form he can, he says. On top of his YouTube videos and his feature, he has an album coming out soon called The Game Changer. When asked if he'd ever write a book, he comes with a title for one on the spot: What Am I Really Thinking?
And with the upward trajectory of his career, more and more people will probably want to find out just that.
The Game Changer is now available. The Heat is now out in theaters And you can watch his videos at his YouTube channel.